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Scientists May Be Using the Wrong Cells to Study Covid-19

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(Wired) – By now there’s little doubt about hydroxychloroquine: It doesn’t work for treating Covid-19. But there’s a bigger, more important lesson hidden in the story of its failure—a rarely mentioned, but altogether crucial, error baked into the early research. The scientists who ran the first, promising laboratory experiments on the drug had used the wrong kind of cells. Instead of testing its effects on human lung cells, they relied on a supply of mass-produced, standardized cells made from a monkey’s kidney. In the end, that poor decision made their findings more or less irrelevant to human health. Worse, it’s possible that further research into novel Covid-19 cures will end up being compromised by the same mistake.

Beirut Explosion: UN Warns of Lebanon Humanitarian Crisis

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(BBC) – UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon after Tuesday’s devastating blast in Beirut. Lebanon was already suffering a major economic downturn before the explosion, which left at least 154 people dead, 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless. The World Food Programme said the damage to Beirut’s port would interrupt food supplies and push prices up. The World Health Organization said the health system was seriously damaged, with three hospitals out of action.

Thousands Volunteer for COVID-19 Vaccines Study

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(Scientific American) – The Coes’ eagerness to offer up their bodies to science reflects the widespread public interest in participating in the pivotal, late-stage clinical trials of the first two COVID vaccine candidates in the United States. Those trials began rolling out July 27. During the next two months, vaccine makers hope to recruit 60,000 Americans to roll up their sleeves to test the two vaccines, one made by Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company, and the other by biotech startup Moderna. While small tests earlier this year showed the preventives were safe and led to participants developing antibodies against the virus, the final phase 3 testing is designed to prove whether the vaccine reduces the risk of infection.

Covid-19 Patients Not Showing Symptoms May Carry Just as Much Virus as Those Who Do, New Study Finds

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(CNN) – Covid-19 patients not showing symptoms may have similar amounts of the novel coronavirus in their bodies as those who do show symptoms, according to a new study from South Korea. This would suggest that they could still spread the virus to others. The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Thursday, included data on 303 Covid-19 patients who were in isolation in March at a community treatment center in South Korea. The patients, mostly young adults, had a median age of 25.

COVID-19 in Africa: Dampening the Storm?

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(Science) – Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread rapidly and extensively to most countries in the world, resulting in considerable mortality in Europe and the United States, as well as in numerous upper-middle-income countries in South America and Asia. Experts predicted millions of COVID-19 deaths in Africa because many countries in the continent rank poorly on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. However, more than 4 months after the first cases in Africa were detected, prevalence and mortality are still low. It remains unclear if Africa is really spared from substantial cases and deaths. However, differences between Africa and the most affected countries in reliable reporting and death registration, lockdown stringency, demography, sociocultural aspects, environmental exposures, genetics, and the immune system could help to explain the experience of COVID-19 in Africa.

Even Asymptomatic People Carry the Coronavirus in High Amounts

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(New York Times) – Most of the evidence for asymptomatic spread has been based on observation (a person without symptoms nevertheless sickened others) or elimination (people became ill but could not be connected to anyone with symptoms). A new study in South Korea, published Thursday in JAMA Internal Medicine, offers more definitive proof that people without symptoms carry just as much virus in their nose, throat and lungs as those with symptoms, and for almost as long.

Some Volunteers Want to Be Infected with Coronavirus to Help Find a Vaccine. But It Isn’t That Simple.

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(FiveThirtyEight) – Given the urgency to find a vaccine for COVID-19, these kinds of trials are attracting a lot of attention from researchers, bioethicists and the public at large. It’s encouraging that there are tens of thousands of people like Kleinwaks willing to put their health, and their lives, on the line to get a vaccine sooner. But human challenge trials are not as simple a proposition as they seem, and there’s ongoing debate within the scientific community about whether the risks outweigh the benefits.

Coronavirus: India Becomes Third Country to Pass Two Million Cases

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(BBC) – More than two million Indians have now tested positive for Covid-19, according to official figures. The country confirmed the last million cases in just 20 days, faster than the US or Brazil which have higher numbers. Testing has been expanded considerably in India in recent weeks but the situation varies across states.

Healthcare Workers of Color Nearly Twice as Likely to Contract Covid-19–Study

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(The Guardian) – Healthcare workers of color were more likely to care for patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, more likely to report inadequate or reused protective gear and nearly twice as likely as white colleagues to test positive for the coronavirus, according to a new study from Harvard Medical School. The study also showed that healthcare workers of color were five times more likely than the general public to test positive for Covid-19.

Why Pregnant Women Face Special Risks from COVID-19

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(Science) – Data on pregnancy and COVID-19 are woefully incomplete. But they offer some reassurance: Fetal infections later in pregnancy appear to be rare, and experts are cautiously optimistic that the coronavirus won’t warp early fetal development. But emerging data suggest some substance to the other worry of Afshar’s patients: Pregnancy does appear to make women’s bodies more vulnerable to severe COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. That’s partly because of pregnant women’s uniquely adjusted immune systems, and partly because the coronavirus’ points of attack—the lungs and the cardiovascular system—are already stressed in pregnancy.

‘We Are No Less American’: Deaths Pile Up on Texas Border

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(Associated Press) – On America’s southern doorstep, the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. failure to contain the pandemic has been laid bare. For nearly a month, this borderland of 2 million people in South Texas pleaded for a field hospital, but not until Tuesday was one ready and accepting patients. In July alone, Hidalgo County reported more than 600 deaths — more than the Houston area, which is five times larger.

US to Pay Johnson and Johnson $1 Billion for COVID-19 Vaccine

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(Voice of America) – The U.S. has agreed to pay Johnson and Johnson more than $1 billion to create 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in a deal announced Wednesday by the company. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is in its experimental phase, currently using early-stage human trials in the U.S. and Belgium. Late-stage human trials of the vaccine are scheduled for September, according to Johnson and Johnson’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels.

Cheap, Easy Deepfakes Are Getting Closer to the Real Thing

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(Wired) – There are many photos of Tom Hanks, but none like the images of the leading everyman shown at the Black Hat computer security conference Wednesday: They were made by machine-learning algorithms, not a camera. Philip Tully, a data scientist at security company FireEye, generated the hoax Hankses to test how easily open-source software from artificial intelligence labs could be adapted to misinformation campaigns. His conclusion: “People with not a lot of experience can take these machine-learning models and do pretty powerful things with them,” he says.

Nursing Home Residents Moved Out to Make Way for COVID-19 Patients

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(NPR) – In some nursing homes, 100% of the residents are positive for the coronavirus. That’s by design. These facilities have volunteered to devote part or all of their buildings exclusively to treating COVID-19 patients, who bring in more government money. But to make room for them, the original residents can be forced out of the places they’ve called home.

Novavax’s Covid-19 Vaccine Shows Promising Immune Response, Early Data Show

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(STAT News) – A potential Covid-19 vaccine from the biotech company Novavax showed a promising immune response in a small, early trial, but not without a high rate of mostly mild side effects. The results, published Tuesday, are the latest encouraging sign in the global effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, which has killed nearly 700,000 people around the world. But the Novavax data, much like results recently published by Moderna and AstraZeneca, are too preliminary to draw any conclusions about how well the vaccine might protect against Covid-19, experts said.

US Launches Advanced Trials of Antibody Treatment for Covid-19 Patients

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(CNN) – Two new trials soon will be underway in the United States to investigate antibody treatment approaches for Covid-19 patients. The National Institutes of Health announced on Tuesday that it is launching two advanced trials to test monoclonal antibodies in patients with Covid-19, one for patients with mild disease and another for patients who are hospitalized.


We Can’t Skip Steps on the Road to a COVID-19 Vaccine

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(The Verge) – The process is long and intensive for a reason, though. Just because a vaccine exists doesn’t mean it’s reasonable or ethical to just give it to people before there’s proof it works, and sticking to the process is why the vaccines on the market today are so safe. “It’s just fundamentally wrong to think that because there’s an emergency, that we should somehow throw out aspects of scientific research,” says Alex John London, director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. 

COVID-19 Measures Could Disrupt Rare Polio-Like Disease

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(Associated Press) – Health experts once thought 2020 might be the worst year yet for a rare paralyzing disease that has been hitting U.S. children for the past decade. But they now say the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt the pattern for the mysterious illnesses, which spike every other year starting in late summer. Scientists say it’s possible that mask wearing, school closures and others measures designed to stop spread of the coronavirus may also hamper spread of the virus suspected of causing the paralyzing disease. 

A Summer Camp Covid-19 Outbreak Offers Back-to-School Lessons

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(Wired) – As policymakers, school administrators, and public health officials in the US fiercely debate whether it’s safe to reopen schools at the end of the summer, one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been a lack of reliable information about how easily children and young people can spread the virus that causes Covid-19. But that data is starting to trickle in. A few super-spreading events involving kids have been documented so far: a private school in Chile, a childcare center in Australia, and now, several summer camps in the US. At one, in Georgia, more than 250 children and young adults tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

‘The Biggest Monster’ Is Spreading. And It’s Not the Coronavirus.

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(New York Times) – This insidious disease has touched every part of the globe. It is tuberculosis, the biggest infectious-disease killer worldwide, claiming 1.5 million lives each year. Until this year, TB and its deadly allies, H.I.V. and malaria, were on the run. The toll from each disease over the previous decade was at its nadir in 2018, the last year for which data are available. Yet now, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, consuming global health resources, these perennially neglected adversaries are making a comeback.

From ‘Brain Fog’ to Heart Damage, COVID-19’s Lingering Problems Alarm Scientists

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(Science) – Athena Akrami’s neuroscience lab reopened last month without her. Life for the 38-year-old is a pale shadow of what it was before 17 March, the day she first experienced symptoms of the novel coronavirus. At University College London (UCL), Akrami’s students probe how the brain organizes memories to support learning, but at home, she struggles to think clearly and battles joint and muscle pain. “I used to go to the gym three times a week,” Akrami says. Now, “My physical activity is bed to couch, maybe couch to kitchen.”

WHO Promotes China’s Organ Transplant Program, Despite Allegations of Human Rights Abuses

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(Fox News) – At a time when the relationship between the World Health Organization (WHO) and China is under intense scrutiny, human rights activists and health experts also are questioning the organization’s stance on Beijing’s questionable organ donation program. Earlier this year, the London-based China Tribunal determined that, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” hearts, lungs, kidneys and livers were being harvested from ethnic and religious minorities – sometimes while still alive and otherwise healthy.

Should Youth Come First in Coronavirus Case?

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(New York Times) – In April, as the coronavirus was rampaging through the Northeast, Larry Churchill considered what he would do if the pandemic caused medical shortages. Should he, a 75-year-old, direct care to younger people before him if he got sick? He was in a good position to raise the question. A bioethicist retired from Vanderbilt University, he published an essay on the Hastings Center’s bioethics forum saying that he intended to avoid hospitals if they became overwhelmed and forgo a ventilator if equipment grew scarce. When a vaccine became available, he would move to the end of the line.

‘A Huge Experiment’: How the World Made So Much Progress on a Covid-19 Vaccine so Fast

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(STAT News) – Never before have prospective vaccines for a pathogen entered final-stage clinical trials as rapidly as candidates for Covid-19. Just six months ago, when the death toll from the coronavirus stood at one and neither it nor the disease it caused had a name, a team of Chinese scientists uploaded its genetic sequence to a public site. That kicked off the record-breaking rush to develop vaccines — the salve that experts say could ultimately quell the pandemic.

‘We Could See This Tsunami of People Coming’: Inside the Secret World of Intensive Care

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(The Guardian) – By mid-March, intensive care was at the centre of the unfolding drama. ICUs were expanded to deal with the most serious Covid-19 cases, while surrounding wards were quickly repurposed to support them. As the crisis deepened and the prime minister himself was, for a brief period, cared for by an ICU team, critical care soon occupied a new place in the UK’s consciousness. Numbers of critical cases have since declined across most of the country, but Brunner said he and his team are still working harder than ever before.