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Countries turn to rapid antigen tests to contain second wave of COVID-19

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Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays and shortages that have plagued efforts to diagnose and trace those infected quickly.

Germany, where infections jumped by 4,122 on Tuesday to 329,453 total, has secured 9 million so-called antigen tests per month that can deliver a result in minutes and cost about 5 euros ($5.90) each. That would, in theory, cover more than 10% of the population.

The United States and Canada are also buying millions of tests, as is Italy, whose recent tender for 5 million tests attracted offers from 35 companies. Switzerland, where new COVID-19 cases are at record levels, is considering adding the tests to its nationwide screening strategy.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now recommends antigen tests to complement existing molecular PCR tests, which have become the standard for assessing active infections but which have also suffered shortages as the pandemic overwhelmed laboratories and outstripped manufacturers’ production capacity.

PCR tests detect genetic material in the virus while antigen tests detect proteins on the virus’s surface, though both are meant to pick up active infections. Another type of test, for antibodies the body produces in response to an infection, can help tell if somebody has had COVID-19 in the past.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-rapid-tests/countries-turn-to-rapid-antigen-tests-to-contain-second-wave-of-covid-19-idUSKBN26Y2PXHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Covid-19 death rates are lower worldwide, but no one is sure whether that’s a blip or a trend

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After working for three months straight at Detroit Medical Center, Said El Zein noticed that the coronavirus patients who began arriving in May appeared less sick than those who came before.

More than 4,000 miles away in northern Italy, researcher Chiara Piubelli was struck by the same thing.

Rafael Cantón, an infectious-disease specialist in Madrid, also marveled at the change. “It’s totally different,” he said last month of the falling admissions at his medical center, noting that only 130 of 1,000 beds were full despite surging infections — a huge change from early spring when every bed was occupied.

Death rates from the novel coronavirus are lower in hot spots around the world, even as new infections accelerate in what may be the pandemic’s next wave. Scientists are confident the change is real, but the reasons for it — and whether it will last — are a matter of intense debate.

“Is this a trend or a blip?” asked Joshua Barocas, an infectious-disease specialist at the Boston University School of Medicine. “Nobody really knows.”

The mortality rate of the coronavirus has been a moving target since the outbreak began.

Early reports out of China put it as high as 7 percent. But that was based mostly on hospitalized patients, and by the time the wave hit the United States, epidemiologists believed it was closer to 2 to 3 percent. Now, factoring in asymptomatic infections, as well as mild cases that might not be part of official tallies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the mortality rate at 0.65 percent.

One prominent but still unproven theory suggested by early research is that we miscalculated humanity’s susceptibility to the coronavirus, and that a slice of the population may be partially immune, perhaps due to previous exposure to the common cold coronavirus, childhood vaccinations or something else.

The other possibility is that something important has changed in our environment — the weather, behaviors or the virus itself.

Most viruses lose their killing edge eventually, due to a lack of hosts, mutations that make them less deadly, or new treatments or vaccines. The novel coronavirus will, too, experts say, but it’s a matter of when and how many lives are lost until then. But most scientists doubt that’s what we are seeing now, based on genetic sequencing research.

One idea that has generated a lot of discussion recently, bolstered by two back-to-back studies — El Zein’s and another from Italy, presented in late September to the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases — is that social distancing and masks are reducing the dose of virus people are receiving, resulting in less-severe illness.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/09/covid-mortality-rate-downHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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A new study in Italy found that deaths from Covid-19 are less likely to occur in the communities with higher rates of flu vaccines

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What is the relationship between influenza vaccination and Sars-Cov-2? A new study by the Monzino cardiology center reveals that in the period of the lockdown it was possible to observe an inversely proportional relationship between coverage of influenza vaccinations and the number of infections and deaths from Covid in the Italian regions. And what data in hand, a 1% increase in vaccination coverage would have made it possible to avoid 1,989 deaths from Covid 19.

“What we did was to relate the regional data on last year’s influenza vaccination rates with those on the spread of Covid in the over 65s”, explains Mauro Amato , researcher at the Monzino cardiology center and first author of the article. “A rather clear situation emerged from the results: the prevalence of Sars-Cov-2 infections, admissions to hospital with symptoms attributable to Covid, admissions to intensive care and deaths, all resulted higher in regions where vaccination had been lower ”.

A fact – explains Amato – which is also confirmed by the results of similar research carried out in countries such as Brazil. And that if for now it cannot prove a causal link between the flu vaccine and Covid, it still allows us to formulate some hypotheses. “It is known that Covid 19 in children has a lower incidence and symptoms that tend to be milder”, emphasizes Damiano Baldassare,coordinator of the study, head of the Unit for the study of morphology and arterial function of Monzino and professor of the Department of Medical Biotechnology and Translational Medicine of the University of Milan. “Among the hypotheses proposed to explain this resistance there is also the fact that in the pediatric age one is more often subjected to vaccinations of some kind: it is known that vaccines can lead to cross immunity, or better trained, even against other infectious pathologies “.

In short, vaccines do not only protect against the pathogen they are addressed to, but tend to enhance the body’s immune reactions in a generalized way. And this could help defend against Sars-Cov-2 as well, decreasing the chances of infection and reducing the severity of symptoms and complications.

https://www.repubblica.it/salute/2020/09/28/news/coronavirus_meno_decessi_dove_ci_si_e_vaccinati_di_piu_contro_l_influenza-268786544/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Italy to offer 30-minute Covid tests before flights to make sure ‘everyone is negative on board’

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Italy are launching quick Covid-19 tests for passengers boarding their flight, to ensure the journey is “Covid-free”.

With results in just 30 minutes, passengers will be able to fly knowing other travellers do not have the virus.

Marco Troncone, ADR chief executive who run the airport, told the Times: “On those flights you know the person next to you is negative.”

Anyone who tests positive will be stopped from boarding the flight and forced to take another test, although will also be given a voucher for an alternative flight.

If the trials are successful, it will be rolled out from Rome to New York flights, reassuring passengers for the seven-hour route.

Mr Trocone added that it would also make sure “there would be no need for quarantine” if the flight is Covid-free.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/travel/12684098/italy-quick-coronavirus-test-covid-free-flights/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Positive Covid tests in no-lockdown Sweden hit lowest rate since pandemic began

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Sweden carried out a record number of new coronavirus tests last week with only 1.2% coming back positive, the health agency said on Tuesday, the lowest rate since the pandemic began at a time when countries across Europe are seeing surges in infections.

Sweden avoided a lockdown and instead emphasized personal responsibility, social distancing and good hygiene in a bid to slow rather than eradicate a disease deemed here to stay.

The strategy drew fierce criticism home and abroad as deaths shot up during the spring but has also been lauded by WHO officials as a sustainable model.

“The purpose of our approach is for people themselves to understand the need to follow the recommendations and guidelines that exist,” Swedish Health Agency Director-General Johan Carlson told a news conference.

Whereas many countries have changing rules and lockdown restrictions, Carlson said the Swedish guidelines were designed to be easy to understand and retain for an extended period.

More than 5,800 people with the disease have died, many times higher per capita than in neighbouring Nordic countries but lower than Italy, Spain and the UK.

Sweden carried out over 120,000 tests last week with just over 1,300 coming back positive, far below the 19% positive tests hit during some weeks in the spring, and now has the lowest rate of spread in Scandinavia.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-sweden-strategy/positive-covid-tests-in-no-lockdown-sweden-hit-lowest-rate-since-pandemic-began-idUSKBN25Z2TMHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Iceland has very good news about coronavirus immunity

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The emergence of a handful of people reinfected by SARS-Cov-2 — including individuals in Hong Kong, Italy and the U.S. — has sparked panic over the future course of the pandemic.

A study on the pandemic in Iceland published in the New England Journal of Medicine offers some evidence to dispel such fears. The researchers have looked at serum samples from 30,576 individuals, using six different types of antibody testing (since different techniques often produce conflicting results).

The paper’s central findings are that, out of 1,797 tested people who’d recovered from COVID, 91.1 percent produced detectable levels of antibodies. Moreover, these levels hadn’t declined four months after the diagnosis. The immune response was higher among older individuals — who are at greater risk of developing a more dangerous form of the coronavirus — and among those who presented the worst symptoms.

But the broader immune response is potentially good news for the efficacy of any vaccine and appears to confirm that reinfections, at least shortly after the first illness, may indeed be rare.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/09/06/commentary/world-commentary/iceland-coronavirus-immunity/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Coronavirus cases are mounting but deaths remain stable. Why?

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Something rather odd is happening in the two Europeans nations worst hit by Covid-19. The UK and Italy have a rising number of cases but a stable and very low number of deaths, even weeks after the cases started rising again.

At the time of writing, the UK records 1750 new cases daily and one death in a population of 67 million. With a roughly similar population and an average of 602 cases a day, Italy has had just over four deaths a day over the last month. The ratio of cases to deaths is nowhere near what it was at the height of the pandemic. The other notable feature is a shift of cases to a younger population.

There can be several explanations for this trend. First, the viral agent may have mutated to a less virulent form. Although there are some published studies showing minor mutations, these are what you would expect from an RNA virus which is inherently unstable (think of the influenza viruses, which perpetually change their suits).

Second, we may have got better at dealing with Covid-19. Apart from dexamethasone in the small population admitted to intensive care units, there are no specific treatments for the disease, and as we are not observing a substantial increase in admissions or severity of the disease, this seems also an unlikely explanation.

Third, our preventive measures may have worked, only allowing new cases when lapses have occurred. If this were the case we would expect effectiveness against all forms of acute respiratory infections, like the winter illnesses. This has indeed happened in the Southern hemisphere, but the age shift does not fit with this theory.

A fourth possible and much more complex explanation is what we call the ‘reality problem’. There is rapidly accumulating evidence that the tests used worldwide to identify cases in a binary mode ‘Yes or No’ are being used in a simplistic and uncoordinated way. We have already explained the limits of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to carry out mass testing.

PCR is a very sensitive test, which means that it detects the smallest fragments of the virus it is looking for by amplifying the sample millions of times. However, a fragment is not a whole virus, capable of replication and of infecting other human beings. It is a small part of the viral structure that the PCR primer is looking for, not the whole microorganism. Only whole viruses can infect us.

To avoid this dual reality and the dangers of isolating non-infectious people or whole communities we need an international effort to standardise testing, periodic calibration against culture or other recognised measures of infectiousness and strict laboratory protocols and procedures probably with a central licensing authority. A lot more work needs to be done to correlate cycle thresholds, patients’ characteristics and intelligence on virus circulation. Medicine and public health are about people, not printouts.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/coronavirus-cases-are-mounting-but-deaths-remain-stable-why-HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Promising treatments for COVID-19 advanced by Canadian scientists

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When most people think of Canadian medical innovation, the first thing that typically comes to mind is insulin. And while Banting and Best’s discovery was a breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes, it also took place almost a century ago.

“We always go there, don’t we?” says Pamela Fralick, president of Ottawa-based Innovative Medicines Canada, an association representing the Canadian pharmaceutical industry. But we should also recognize the accomplishments of James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who discovered stem cells; Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, who identified the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis; Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, whose HIV prevention vaccine is currently in clinical trials. And many, many more.

From the first whispers last year about the emergence of a deadly respiratory coronavirus in China, Canadian scientists have been researching and developing possible treatments, cures and vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19.

Already, a promising discovery has come out of Vancouver-based biotech company AbCellera Biologics Inc. – a potential treatment for the virus developed in record time. In partnership with U.S. drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. and with $175-million in funding from the Canadian government, the lab-produced treatment that mimics antibodies isolated from a recovered patient has already entered into human testing.

University of Toronto molecular engineer Dr. Sachdev Sidhu and his team are designing synthetic therapeutic antibodies.

Already there are good results in trials in which antibodies collected from someone who has recovered are transferred to someone who is sick, Dr. Sidhu says. For many, this could be a successful treatment, he explains, keeping sicker patients off ventilators and, in less dire cases, alleviating symptoms and kickstarting patients’ own immune systems.

Dr. Sidhu says his engineered antibodies work in a similar way – except that they are more potent and targeted than naturally occurring antibodies and, because they are engineered, can be produced in massive quantities.

Dr. Sidhu says his treatment is ready to scale up, but after an initial $500,000 research grant from the federal government, no further funds have been advanced for clinical trials. Fortunately, he says, a $7.6-million commitment from Italy means his team will be doing clinical trials there. There is also interest from the Indian government to do the same.

“That’s good news for us; our drug will advance,” Dr. Sidhu says. But without additional funding from the Canadian government, he adds, it will be made and tested elsewhere and then brought back to Canada eventually as an approved treatment.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/featured-reports/article-promising-treatments-for-covid-19-advanced-by-canadian-scientists/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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The Intensive Care section of the hospital of Bergamo, Italy, which has been the most COVID-battered city in the world, is now COVID free

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Intensive care at the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo no longer has patients infected with the coronavirus, after 137 days from the first hospitalization on Sunday 23 February. This is what the hospital itself reports.

Some patients affected by the virus remain hospitalized in the Bergamo hospital, but are now negative.

Intensive covid-free therapy to Pope John was symbolically celebrated by the general manager Maria Beatrice Stasi, with the health director Fabio Pezzoli and the director of the Emergency Department of urgency and critical area Luca Lorini, in the presence of a representation of the operators of intensive care . In memory of the victims, a few moments of silence were respected and then applause for the result achieved by the approximately 400 operators working in Pope John’s intensive care, including doctors, nurses, support workers and cleaning staff.

https://www.ansa.it/sito/notizie/topnews/2020/07/08/intensiva-ospedale-bergamo-e-covid-free_75328b17-223d-466b-ad06-b43819ddf29a.htmlHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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More covid-19 patients are surviving ventilators in the ICU

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An increasing number of U.S. covid-19 patients are surviving after they are placed on mechanical ventilators, a last-resort measure that was perceived as a signal of impending death during the terrifying early days of the pandemic.

Early reports out of Wuhan, China, and Italy cemented the impression that the vast majority of patients who required the breathing devices ultimately succumbed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

But as the pandemic has continued, U.S. hospitals are reporting much lower mortality rates, results on par with death rates for patients with similar severe lung problems caused by other diseases.

Experts say that’s because clinicians have become more skilled and are deploying new tactics as they learn more about the course of covid-19; some are using ventilators more selectively; many hospitals are less overwhelmed than when the virus first inundated Wuhan, parts of Italy and New York City; and early data on ventilation and death did not present a true picture.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/more-covid-19-patients-are-surviving-ventilators-in-the-icu/2020/07/03/2e3c3534-bbca-11ea-8cf5-9c1b8d7f84c6_story.htmlHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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