As the death toll rises and the virus itself travels farther and farther, unfortunately not all types of coronavirus updates travel as quickly. Media sources expose the growing master list of cities under quarantine and update guidelines for practicing social distance. But as a result there is disparity between how the situation looks from our perspective on the outside and how it may look up close.
As of Tuesday, March 17, 2020, a number of countries are under lockdown, 116 governments around the world have closed public schools and the death toll in Italy alone has increased by 16% in 24 hours, as of Tuesday, March 17 (x, x).
It’s important to be aware of how the virus is taking a toll on communities worldwide and these statistics will have serious economic, educational and social consequences. But it’s also important to dig past the fear of the rising numbers and look at how far research is always progressing.
Institutions to Begin First Coronavirus Vaccine Trials
In the midst of the panic is a coronavirus update that we’ve all been waiting for. A biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Moderna Therapeutics partnered with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop the first experimental vaccine for COVID-19 (x, x).
At Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, researchers are conducting a six-week trial to test the vaccine. Then the researchers plan to follow up with the participants and observe how their immune systems respond to it.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
According to an article published in The Guardian, the researchers were able to develop this vaccine so quickly because they used a fairly new genetic method (x). The vaccine contains mRNA to detect coronavirus proteins and inject them into the body. Then the code instructs the body to replicate a protein on the coronavirus so that the immune system can recognize the protein to fight it.
In an interview with TIME, Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, compared the vaccine to a “software molecule.” He explains, “our vaccine is like the software program to the body, which then goes and makes the [viral] proteins that can generate an immune response (x, x).”
However, the scientists anticipate collecting the data over a 14-month period with data in about three months. According to Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, realistically the public would not have access to the vaccine for at least a year if it is successful.
Researchers Discover Possible Factor in High Transmission Rates
There’s a lot we don’t know about this new virus, but one thing that researchers are desperate to uncover is how it spreads so quickly (x). In a Nature Research journal, Smriti Mallapaty explores coronavirus updates and new details that may play a role in future vaccinations and treatment options.
According to David Veesler, a structural virologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, “understanding transmission of the virus is key to its contaminant and future prevention.”
The article explains that coronaviruses have a “spike” protein on their surfaces and receptors that bind to cell membranes, creating a pathway for the virus to enter a cell. Enzymes activate the proteins and allow the virus to infect the tissue.
How Is COVID-19 Different?
However, the protein on the COVID-19 virus activates as a result of an enzyme called furin, which is present in several tissues in the human body. This specific activation site may make it easier for the COVID-19 to infect multiple organs, including the lungs, liver and small intestines.
Lia Hua is a structural biologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China and notes that this enzyme may be responsible for some of the complications, such as liver failure, that may develop as a result.
Other researchers support these findings as well, noting that other easily-spreading viruses have similar activation sites, such as “severe strains of the influenza virus.” Researchers may be able to use these findings to block the pathogen from entering human cells (x). However, other experts are not as convinced. Peter White, a virologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, claims that the activation site on the new corona is not the same as those on flu viruses.
Although this coronavirus update is not definitive, it may be a useful step in a positive direction.
Researchers Estimate Reduced Death Rates
Perhaps the most common coronavirus update—whether we actively search for it or not—is how far the virus spreads and how many lives it claims. But fortunately, research published in Stat News may spark hope.
Research teams in Wuhan, China—the first city to experience the outbreak—note a significantly lower fatality rate in patients with symptoms, from 2-4% to 1.4% (x, x). Of course, coronavirus cases vary in severity based on the individual (x), but researchers suspect that the “infection fatality rate” may be lower than they think, simply because a large percentage of people with the virus never get sick or show symptoms.
Epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University believes there are more confirmed cases than the media reports without any apparent symptoms.
Studies from Joseph Wu, Kathy Leung and their colleagues from the University of Hong Kong state, “To date, the death-to-case ratio in Wuhan has been consistently much higher than that among all the other mainland Chinese cities.”
Even though this research applies specifically to Wuhan, it may be an effective model for other nations, especially if social distancing is successful in reducing transmission.
Businesses Accommodate Store Hours for Senior Shopping
A common coronavirus update is that certain groups are more at risk for serious illness and complications from the virus than others, including the elderly. Medical experts attribute the risk to the fact that the immune system changes with age and that older adults may be more susceptible because of underlying health conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes or history of an organ transplant.
According to U.S. Health, elderly patients “are most likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath and fever.” It also increases the risk for more severe complications that the body may have a harder time recovering from, especially because COVID-19 is a new strain of the virus (x, x).
When you take that fact into consideration, social distance is even more important even if you don’t feel sick or experience coronavirus symptoms yourself. People who are asymptomatic may still carry the virus and infect other people, especially members of these high-risk groups.
But to accommodate, TIME reports that several local and chain stores—like Stop & Shop and Dollar General—across the U.S. are making changes to their operating hours to carve out shopping time for elderly or other high-risk members of their communities (x).
However, experts state that there are still risks if higher-risk patients go places that are usually more crowded, like grocery stores. Felicia Wu is a professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University and advises “more vulnerable individuals” to have someone who is less vulnerable shop for them, if possible. But if that isn’t an option, Wu encourages the idea, saying it is a “good idea” so that grocery stores may sanitize beforehand to reduce the risk for transmission.
From some of what we’ve seen, the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel may be a little brighter from behind the scenes. This isn’t to disregard, discredit or understate the severity of the situation. Medical experts encourage all citizens to be wary of the virus and follow safe hygiene as well as social distancing practices to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. We should all take steps to stay safe and aware, keep up with coronavirus updates and news and remember not to panic.
Take the necessary steps to stay healthy overall—eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise and with a doctor’s approval, consider adding dietary supplements to your diet to make sure you’re getting all your necessary vitamins and minerals. But at the same time, keep in mind that research is progressing and there is hope.
Here are some common supplements for overall health and immunity:
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