Breathing with face mask does not alter oxygen level; virus can last nine hours on skin

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Breathing with face masks does not affect the lungs

The average face mask may be uncomfortable but does not limit the flow of oxygen to the lungs, even in people with severe lung diseases, researchers say. They tested the effect of wearing surgical masks on gas exchange – the process by which the body adds oxygen to the blood while removing carbon dioxide – in 15 healthy physicians and 15 military veterans with severely impaired lungs via a quick paced six-minute walk on a flat, hard surface. Oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood were measured before and after the walking test. Neither the healthy doctors nor the patients with diseased lungs showed any major changes in gas exchange measurements after the walking test or up to 30 minutes later. Mask discomfort is likely not due to rebreathing of carbon dioxide and decreases in oxygen levels, the researchers reported on Friday in the journal Thorax. Instead, masks may be causing discomfort by irritating sensitive facial nerves, warming inhaled air, or inducing feelings of claustrophobia. Any such discomfort should not cause safety concerns, researchers said, as that could contribute to reduction of “a practice proven to improve public health.”

New coronavirus survives nine hours on human skin

Left undisturbed, the new coronavirus can survive many hours on human skin, a new study has found. To avoid possibly infecting healthy volunteers, researchers conducted lab experiments using cadaver skin that would otherwise have been used for skin grafts. While influenza A virus survived less than two hours on human skin, the novel coronavirus survived for more than nine hours. Both were completely inactivated within 15 seconds by hand sanitizer containing 80% alcohol. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends using alcohol-based hand rubs with 60% to 95% alcohol or thoroughly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Studies have shown that COVID-19 transmission largely occurs via aerosols and droplets. Still, the authors of the new study conclude in a report published on Saturday in Clinical Infectious Diseases, “Proper hand hygiene is important to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections.”

Obstructive sleep apnea linked with worse COVID-19

A common sleep disorder appears to put COVID-19 patients at higher risk for critical illness, a new study finds. Using Finnish national databases, researchers found that while the rates of infection with the new coronavirus were the same for people with and without obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), among people who did become infected, those with OSA had a five-fold higher risk of hospitalization. When people with OSA are asleep, their breathing stops briefly and then restarts, often multiple times during the night. OSA is associated with health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, but was linked with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 even after researchers took all these other factors into account. The study cannot prove that OSA caused the more severe outcomes. But in a paper posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review, researchers advise doctors evaluating patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection to recognize that the sleep disorder is a risk factor for severe COVID-19.

Infrared thermometers may be inaccurate in adults

Non-contact infrared thermometers, long used in children and now being used to screen for fever in public places, may not accurately measure body temperature in adults, a small study suggests. The devices are held a short distance from the forehead. Because they never touch the skin, they help prevent transmission of germs and do not need to be sterilized after each use. In a study of 265 adults at two hospitals, Australian researchers compared infrared thermometers with “temporal artery” thermometers, which are rubbed across the forehead. When body temperatures were below 99.5 degrees F (37.5 C), the devices yielded similar results. But for higher body temperatures, the non-contact thermometers “demonstrated poor accuracy,” with greater discrepancies as temperatures rose, according to a report published on Friday in the American Journal of Infection Control. As only 37 study participants had fever, larger studies are needed to confirm these findings, researchers said. Meanwhile, they added, when an infrared thermometer shows a temperature above 99.5 F in an adult, it might be wise to get a direct measurement with a thermometer that makes contact with the body.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

T cell shortage linked to severe COVID-19 in elderly; antiseptic spray may limit virus spread

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Shortage of ‘naive’ T cells raises COVID-19 risk in elderly

A lower supply of a certain type of immune cell in older people that is critical to fighting foreign invaders may help explain their vulnerability to severe COVID-19, scientists say. When germs enter the body, the initial “innate” immune response generates inflammation not specifically targeted at the bacteria or virus.

Within days, the more precise “adaptive” immune response starts generating antibodies against the invader along with T cells that either assist in antibody production or seek out and attack infected cells.

In a small study published on Wednesday in Cell, COVID-19 patients with milder disease had better adaptive immune responses, and in particular, stronger T-cell responses to the coronavirus.

People over age 65 were much more likely to have poor T cell responses, and a poorly coordinated immune response in general, coauthor Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology said in a news release.

As we age, our supply of “naive” T cells shrinks, he explained. Put another way, we have fewer “inexperienced” T cells available to be activated to respond to a new invader. “Ageing and scarcity of naive T cells may be linked risk factors for failure to generate a coordinated adaptive immune response, resulting in increased susceptibility to severe COVID-19,” the researchers said.

Antiseptic nasal spray may help limit coronavirus spread

An antiseptic nasal spray containing povidone-iodine may help curb transmission of the new coronavirus, preliminary research suggests.

In test tube experiments, a team of ear, nose and throat doctors found that a povidone-iodine nasal spray inactivated the virus in as little as 15 seconds. The nasal spray they tested is typically used to disinfect the inside of the nose before surgery. Formulations designed for use on skin are not safe in the nose, the researchers note.

They reported on Thursday in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery that they now have their patients use the spray before intranasal procedures, to reduce the risk of virus transmission through the air via droplets and aerosol spread.

They also suggest instructing patients to perform nasal decontamination before coming to appointments, to “further decrease intranasal viral load and … prevent spread in waiting areas and other common areas.” They caution, however, that routine use of povidone-iodine would not be safe for some people, including pregnant women and patients with thyroid conditions. Larger clinical trials have not yet proved that viral transmission is curbed by intranasal povidone-iodine solutions, but “these studies are already underway,” the researchers said.

Not all COVID-19 antibody tests are equal

Some COVID-19 antibody tests are much more reliable than others. But even with the best ones, reliability varies among patient subgroups, a new study suggests. Some tests look for IgM or IgA antibodies, the first antibodies produced by the immune system in response to an invader, which do not remain long in the body.

Other tests – the most common kind – look for IgG antibodies, which generally develop within seven to 10 days after symptoms begin and remain in the blood for some time after the patient recovers.

In a study posted on medRxiv on Wednesday in advance of peer review, researchers analyzed data from 11,809 individuals whose COVID-19 had been diagnosed with highly rated tests to see how well the various antibody assays would “recall” that the patient had been infected.

The most commonly used assays, which look for IgG, had a 91.2% recall rate. But the IgA and IgM assays had estimated recall rates of 20.6% and 27.3%, respectively, coauthor Natalie Sheils of UnitedHealth Group told Reuters. “Recall varies significantly across sub-populations and according to timing of the tests, with performance becoming relatively stable after day 14,” she said. “The tests performed better for men versus women, for non-whites versus whites and for individuals above age 45.” More research is needed to understand why these variations occur, Sheils added.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. could have capacity of 3 million COVID-19 tests per day, HHS official says

(Reuters) – The United States could have a capacity of 3 million coronavirus tests per day this month, and scale up to a high of as much as 135 million tests a month by October, a top health official told a U.S. Congress panel on Wednesday.

Half of the three million tests would be rapid point-of-care tests, said Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The average turnaround time for lab-based tests was now about 1.5 days on average, Giroir told the U.S. Senate panel.

Officials also stressed that coronavirus vaccines would not be immediately available to the broader public after regulatory clearance.

It would take around 6 to 9 months for enough people to be vaccinated for effective immunization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Carl O’ Donnell in New York; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Shounak Dasgupta)

U.N.’s Guterres calls for $35 billion more for WHO COVID-19 program

ZURICH (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for $35 billion more, including $15 billion in the next three months, for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “ACT Accelerator” program to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.

Some $3 billion has been contributed so far, Guterres told an online event on Thursday, calling it “seed funding” that was less than 10% of what the WHO wants for the program, formally called Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

Financial support has, so far, lagged goals, as nations or governments including the European Union, Britain, Japan and the United States reach bilateral deals for vaccines, prompting Guterres and WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to plead to nations to contribute.

“We now need $35 billion more to go from ‘start up’ to ‘scale up and impact’,” Guterres said in online remarks at a meeting of a council formed to help the ACT Accelerator gain traction. “There is real urgency in these numbers. Without an infusion of $15 billion over the next three months, beginning immediately, we will lose the window of opportunity.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged backing, having in August already promised 400 million euros ($474 million) to the COVAX vaccine portion of the program.

“It is difficult to find a more compelling investment case. The European Commission will remain deeply and entirely committed to the success of the ACT Accelerator,” von der Leyen said. “The world needs it, we all need it.”

Tedros renewed calls for scaling up COVID-19 clinical trials. AstraZeneca this week suspended late-stage trials on its potential vaccine after an illness in a participant in Britain. Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said on Thursday if safety reviewers allow a restart, the company should still know by year’s end if its vaccine works.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)

Severe COVID-19 riskier than heart attack for young adults; antibiotic shows no benefit

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

More young adults survive heart attacks than severe COVID-19

Among COVID-19 patients treated at 419 U.S. hospitals from April through June, only about 5% were ages 18 to 34. But that group had “substantial rates of adverse outcomes,” according to a report on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine. Roughly one in five needed intensive care, one in 10 needed mechanical ventilation, and nearly 3% died. While the mortality rate is lower than in older adults, it is roughly double the death rate of young adults from heart attacks, the authors say. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes were tied to higher risk for adverse events. For young adults with more than one of these conditions, the risk of a bad outcome was similar to middle-aged adults without the risk factors. More than half of hospitalized young adults were Black or Hispanic, “consistent with prior findings of disproportionate illness severity in these demographic groups,” the authors said. “Given the sharply rising rates of COVID-19 infection in young adults, these findings underscore the importance of infection prevention measures in this age group,” the concluded.

Antibiotic fails to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients

The antibiotic azithromycin did not appear to provide any benefit to hospitalized COVID-19 patients who were having trouble breathing, according to a study in Brazil. At 57 hospitals, 243 COVID-19 patients who needed oxygen or mechanical ventilation were randomly assigned to receive azithromycin, while 183 similar patients did not get the antibiotic. All received other standard treatment, which in Brazil included hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that other studies have shown provides little or no benefit. While azithromycin did not appear to do any harm, after 15 days it was not associated with any patient improvement nor did it reduce their risk of death. In an April survey of more than 6,000 physicians in 30 countries, azithromycin was the second most commonly prescribed treatment for COVID-19, the study investigators wrote in The Lancet medical journal. The absence of any benefit in this new study “suggests that the routine use of this strategy should be avoided,” they said.

Risk of catching COVID-19 while hospitalized can be low

Among nearly 8,500 patients admitted to a large Boston hospital between early March and the end of May, only two became sick with coronavirus infections that may have been acquired while they were hospitalized, doctors report. One likely was infected by a spouse who initially appeared well during daily visits but who developed symptoms while the patient was still hospitalized. That was before visitor restrictions and universal masking rules had been implemented. The other patient developed symptoms four days after leaving the hospital. The source of the infection is not known. According to a paper published on Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, infection control efforts at the hospital included dedicated COVID-19 units with airborne infection isolation rooms, personal protective equipment for staff and monitoring to make sure those were used correctly, universal masking, visitor restriction, and liberal COVID-19 testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. These “robust and rigorous infection control practices may be associated with minimized risk” of COVID-19 spreading through hospitals, the authors conclude. Their findings, if replicated at other U.S. hospitals, “should provide reassurance to patients,” they said.

Longer-term COVID-19 lung damage can improve over time

COVID-19 lung damage persists long term but tends to improve, researchers reported on Monday at the European Respiratory Society International Virtual Congress. Researchers studied 86 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 48% of whom had a smoking history and 21% of whom required intensive care. At 6 weeks after discharge, 47% of patients still reported feeling short of breath. By 12 weeks, that dropped to 39%. CT scans still showed lung damage in 88% of patients at six weeks, dropping to 56% at 12 weeks. “Overall, this study shows that COVID-19 survivors have persisting pulmonary impairment weeks after recovery. Yet, overtime, a moderate improvement is detectable,” lead researcher Dr. Sabina Sahanic, from University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria, said during a press briefing. A related study featured at the meeting stressed the importance of early pulmonary rehabilitation after COVID-19 patients come off a ventilator. This should include balance and walking, muscle strengthening, respiratory exercises and endurance training. “The sooner rehabilitation started and the longer it lasted, the faster and better was the improvement in patients’ walking and breathing capacities and muscle gain,” coauthor Yara Al Chikhanie, from Grenoble Alps University in France, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

COVID-19 often goes undiagnosed in hospital workers; virus may impair heart functions

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

COVID-19 often undiagnosed in front line hospital workers

A high proportion of COVID-19 infections among U.S. healthcare personnel appear to go undetected, according to a report on Monday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between April and June, among more than 3,000 front line workers in 12 states, roughly 1 in 20 had antibody evidence of a previous COVID-19 infection, but 69% of those infections had never been diagnosed. Among those with antibodies to the novel coronavirus, about one-third did not recall having symptoms in the preceding months, nearly half did not suspect that they had been infected, and some two-thirds had never had a positive COVID-19 test. Infections among front line healthcare personnel may be going undetected, the study authors say, because some infections may be only minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic and also because personnel with symptoms may not always have access to testing. COVID-19 antibodies were less common among workers who reported using a face covering for all patient encounters and more common among those who reported a shortage of personal protective equipment. The researchers call for more frequent testing of healthcare personnel and universal use of face coverings in hospitals.

Virus may impair heart’s beating, contracting

Following recent reports that the new coronavirus can invade heart muscle cells comes the discovery that infected cells show impairments in function. In test tube experiments, researchers infected “myocytes,” or heart muscle cells, with the new coronavirus and found that before the infected cells die, they progressively lose their “electrophysiological and contractile properties.” This means they have trouble transmitting the electrical impulses that regulate heartbeats and shortening or lengthening their fibers so the heart can expand and contract to pump blood. In a paper posted online Sunday on bioRxiv ahead of peer review, the researchers note that their test tube experiments likely do not exactly replicate what happens with cells in the body, and more research is needed to confirm their findings. Still, they say, their results suggest that cardiac symptoms in COVID-19 patients are likely a direct effect of the virus and warn that “long-term cardiac complications might be possible … in patients who recover from this illness.”

Eye symptoms common in children with COVID-19

Children with COVID-19 often have non-serious eye symptoms like itching, discharge, or pink eye, a study from China suggests. Among 216 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak there, 23% had these kinds of eye issues, doctors found. Eye problems were more common in children with other symptoms such as cough or fever. In all cases, the eye problems were mild and eventually went away either without treatment or with “minimal” eye drops, researchers reported in JAMA Ophthalmology. It is reassuring that most of the children had other symptoms first, said Dr. Douglas Fredrick, chief of pediatric ophthalmology at the Mount Sinai Health system in New York City, who was not involved in the study. If conjunctivitis, or pink eye, were always among the first symptoms, “we’d be more worried that children could spread this by pink eye from one child to another,” he told Reuters. Still, he said, the study doesn’t completely rule out that type of transmission.

Cell phone activity may predict COVID-19 spread

Cell phone use patterns suggest that when people stay home, coronavirus infection rates go down, researchers say. For a study published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, they analyzed publicly available de-identified cell phone activity and location data collected between January and May from 2,740 counties across the United States. After mid-February, when the coronavirus outbreak began, cell phone activity declined significantly in workplaces, stores and restaurants, and mass transit stations and increased in homes – with the greatest initial changes seen in areas with higher rates of COVID-19. Two weeks after cell phone activity shifted away from workplaces and retail locations, the counties with the most pronounced changes had the lowest rates of new COVID-19 cases. “Perhaps reassuringly,” the researchers said, cell phone activity at grocery stores and in areas classified as parks was not strongly associated with rates of growth in COVID-19 cases. They speculate that publicly available cell phone location data might help health offices better predict COVID-19 growth rates and inform decision about where to implement shutdowns and re-openings.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Linda Carroll; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Scientists see downsides to top COVID-19 vaccines from Russia, China

By Allison Martell and Julie Steenhuysen

TORONTO/CHICAGO (Reuters) – High-profile COVID-19 vaccines developed in Russia and China share a potential shortcoming: They are based on a common cold virus that many people have been exposed to, potentially limiting their effectiveness, some experts say.

CanSino Biologics’ vaccine, approved for military use in China, is a modified form of adenovirus  type 5, or Ad5. The company is in talks to get emergency approval in several countries before completing large-scale trials, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

A vaccine developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, approved in Russia earlier this month despite limited testing, is based on Ad5 and a second less common adenovirus.

“The Ad5 concerns me just because a lot of people have immunity,” said Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “I’m not sure what their strategy is … maybe it won’t have 70% efficacy. It might have 40% efficacy, and that’s better than nothing, until something else comes along.”

Vaccines are seen as essential to ending the pandemic that has claimed over 845,000 lives worldwide. Gamaleya has said its two-virus approach will address Ad5 immunity issues.

Both developers have years of experience and approved Ebola vaccines based on Ad5. Neither CanSino nor Gamaleya responded to requests for comment.

Researchers have experimented with Ad5-based vaccines against a variety of infections for decades, but none are widely used. They employ harmless viruses as “vectors” to ferry genes from the target virus – in this case the novel coronavirus – into human cells, prompting an immune response to fight the actual virus.

But many people already have antibodies against Ad5, which could cause the immune system to attack the vector instead of responding to the coronavirus, making these vaccines less effective.

Several researchers have chosen alternative adenoviruses or delivery mechanisms. Oxford University and AstraZeneca based their COVID-19 vaccine on a chimpanzee adenovirus, avoiding the Ad5 issue. Johnson & Johnson’s candidate uses Ad26, a comparatively rare strain.

Dr. Zhou Xing, from Canada’s McMaster University, worked with CanSino on its first Ad5-based vaccine, for tuberculosis, in 2011. His team is developing an inhaled Ad5 COVID-19 vaccine, theorizing it could circumvent pre-existing immunity issues.

“The Oxford vaccine candidate has quite an advantage” over the injected CanSino vaccine, he said.

Xing also worries that high doses of the Ad5 vector in the CanSino vaccine could induce fever, fueling vaccine skepticism.

“I think they will get good immunity in people that don’t have antibodies to the vaccine, but a lot of people do,” said Dr. Hildegund Ertl, director of the Wistar Institute Vaccine Center in Philadelphia.

In China and the United States, about 40% of people have high levels of antibodies from prior Ad5 exposure. In Africa, it could be as high as 80%, experts said.

HIV RISK

Some scientists also worry an Ad5-based vaccine could increase chances of contracting HIV.

In a 2004 trial of a Merck & Co Ad5-based HIV vaccine, people with pre-existing immunity became more, not less, susceptible to the virus that causes AIDS.

Researchers, including top U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a 2015 paper, said the side effect was likely unique to HIV vaccines. But they cautioned that HIV incidence should be monitored during and after trials of all Ad5-based vaccines in at-risk populations.

“I would be worried about the use of those vaccines in any country or any population that was at risk of HIV, and I put our country as one of them,” said Dr. Larry Corey, co-leader of the U.S. Coronavirus Vaccine Prevention Network, who was a lead researcher on the Merck trial.

Gamaleya’s vaccine will be administered in two doses: The first based on Ad26, similar to J&J’s candidate, and the second on Ad5.

Alexander Gintsburg, Gamaleya’s director, has said the two-vector approach addresses the immunity issue. Ertl said it might work well enough in individuals who have been exposed to one of the two adenoviruses.

Many experts expressed skepticism about the Russian vaccine after the government declared its intention to give it to high-risk groups in October without data from large pivotal trials.

“Demonstrating safety and efficacy of a vaccine is very important,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a Harvard vaccine researcher who helped design J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine. Often, he noted, large-scale trials “do not give the result that is expected or required.”

(Additional reporting by Christine Soares in New York, Kate Kelland in London, Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Global records

India reported 78,512 new novel coronavirus infections on Monday, slightly fewer than its record set the previous day when it posted the biggest, single-day tally of infections of any country in the pandemic. On Sunday, India’s total of 78,761 new cases exceeded the previous record of 77,299 in the United States on July 16, a Reuters tally of official data showed.

Despite the surging case numbers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing for a return to normalcy to lessen the economic pain of the pandemic, having earlier imposed strict lockdowns of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus surpassed 6 million on Sunday as many states in the Midwest reported increasing infections, according to a Reuters tally. While the United States has the most recorded infections in the world, it ranks tenth based on cases per capita.

More than eight months into the pandemic, the United States continues to struggle with testing. The number of people tested has fallen in recent weeks. Public health officials believe the United States needs to test more frequently to find asymptomatic coronavirus carriers to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Mutation found in Indonesia

A more infectious mutation of the new coronavirus has been found in Indonesia, the Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology said on Sunday, as the Southeast Asian country’s caseload surges.

The “infectious but milder” D614G mutation of the virus has been found in genome sequencing data from samples collected by the institute, deputy director Herawati Sudoyo told Reuters, adding that more study is required to determine whether that was behind the recent rise in cases.

The strain, which the World Health Organization said was identified in February and has been circulating in Europe and the Americas, has also been found in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Vaccine approval and use underway in China

Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s coronavirus vaccine candidate CoronaVac was approved for emergency use as part of a program in China to vaccinate high-risk groups such as medical staff, a person familiar with the matter said.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), also said it had obtained emergency use approval for a coronavirus vaccine candidate in social media platform WeChat last Sunday. CNBG, which has two vaccine candidates in phase 3 clinical trials, did not say which of its vaccines had been cleared for emergency use.

China has been giving experimental coronavirus vaccines to high-risk groups since July, though officially it has given little details on which vaccine candidates have been given to high-risk people under the emergency use program and how many people have been vaccinated.

Lighter traffic in Seoul; masks on in Auckland

Private tuition centers shut for the first time and traffic was lighter in South Korea’s capital on Monday, the first working day of tighter social-distancing rules designed to halt a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks.

The decision came after earlier restrictions on movement failed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections from erupting at churches, offices, nursing homes and medical facilities.

Meanwhile in Auckland, schools and businesses reopened on Monday after the lifting of a lockdown in New Zealand’s largest city to contain the resurgence of the coronavirus, but face masks were made mandatory on public transport across the country. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was confident the new measure would be taken up across New Zealand, adding that “a bit of smiling with the eyes behind the mask” and kindness to Aucklanders in particular, would help get the country through the latest outbreak.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Trump to resume coronavirus briefings after hiatus

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, under fire over his administration’s response to the surging coronavirus, said on Monday he will resume holding news briefings on the pandemic after a lengthy hiatus.

He told reporters in the Oval Office the resumption was prompted by a “big flareup in Florida, Texas, a couple of other places.” The virus has killed 140,000 Americans and infected some 3.7 million, both figures leading the world.

White House debate has centered on whether Trump should risk doing daily briefings after he was mocked for musing that people might inject household disinfectants as a way to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

The briefings ended in early May after the new White House of chief staff, Mark Meadows, sought a new focus for the president’s messaging on the subject.

Trump said he expected the first new briefing would take place about 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Tuesday.

“We’re going to give you a lot of briefings over the next week and the next few weeks,” he said.

He said he would bring in the heads of some companies involved in the search for vaccines and other treatments for the virus, such as Johnson & Johnson.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller)

How a vaccine made of mosquito spit could help stop the next epidemic

By Clare Baldwin

(Reuters) – Five years ago, in an office complex with a giant sculpture of a mosquito just northwest of Phnom Penh, Jessica Manning struck on a novel idea. Rather than spend more years in what felt like a futile search for a malaria vaccine, she would take on all mosquito-borne pathogens at once.

Her idea revolved around mosquito spit.

A lab technician Nhek Sreynik works with mosquitoes, at a lab in Kompong Speu Province, in Cambodia, June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Chantha Lach

Building on the work of colleagues and other scientists, Manning, a clinical researcher for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believed she could use pieces of mosquito saliva protein to build a universal vaccine.

The vaccine, if it pans out, would protect against all of the pathogens the insects inject into humans – malaria, dengue, chikungunya, Zika, yellow fever, West Nile, Mayaro viruses and anything else that may emerge.

“We need more innovative tools,” said Manning. A vaccine like this would be “the Holy Grail.”

On Thursday, The Lancet published the initial results of this work with her colleagues: the first-ever clinical trial of a mosquito spit vaccine in humans.

The trial showed that an Anopheles mosquito-based vaccine was safe and that it triggered antibody and cellular responses.

Michael McCracken, a researcher not involved in the study, called the initial results “foundational.”

“This is big, important work,” said McCracken, who studies immune responses to mosquito-borne viruses at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. “Mosquitoes are arguably the deadliest animal on Earth.”

A boy sits in the pediatrics ward at Kampong Speu District Referral Hospital, at the beginning of a dengue, also called ‘breakbone fever’, epidemic in Krong Chbar Mon, Cambodia April 2019. Jessica Manning/Handout

Malaria alone kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Those deaths occur mostly in poor countries that do not receive as much vaccine research and funding. Because of global warming, however, those mosquitoes that thrive in the tropics are moving into more countries each year.

The global disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a sharp focus to infectious diseases and vaccine research. One of the key areas of concern are pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes.

The novel coronavirus, believed to have originated in bats, has so far infected more than 7.4 million people and killed nearly 420,000 worldwide. The Asian Development Bank estimates the pandemic could cost the global economy as much as $8.8 trillion.

TARGETING THE CARRIER

Manning’s research is specific to mosquitoes but is an example of how scientists are broadening their thinking about how to tackle infectious diseases, and the new types of tools they are developing.

What Manning is looking for is called a vector-based vaccine. A vector is the living organism – like a mosquito – that transmits a pathogen such as malaria – between humans, or from animals to humans.

All existing vaccines for humans target a pathogen. Manning’s goes after the vector.

The idea is to train the body’s immune system to recognize the saliva proteins and mount a response that would weaken or prevent an infection.

Scientists have known for decades that mosquito spit helps establish mosquito-borne infections and enhance their severity. Just recently, scientists have begun to exploit this.

A study of macaque monkeys published in 2015 showed vaccination with sand fly saliva reduced leishmaniasis lesion size and parasite load. A study of mice published in 2018 showed immunization with Anopheles mosquito spit protected against malaria. Another mouse study published last year showed immunization with Aedes mosquito saliva improved survival against the Zika virus.

The study published in The Lancet was conducted in 2017.

The Phase I trial conducted at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, tested for safety and side effects in 49 healthy volunteers.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of two versions of the vaccine or a placebo. After a few weeks, hungry mosquitoes were placed on the arms of study participants. The study measured immune response to the mosquito spit proteins but did not involve pathogens.

More trials are needed to determine the effect the mosquito spit vaccine would have against actual pathogens.

No systemic safety concerns were identified. One participant developed an 8-centimeter (3.15 inches) reddened area around the injection site and was treated with steroids and antihistamines.

“I’m not as worried about redness as I would be about something more systemic like fever, headache, muscle aches, nausea or vomiting,” said Stephen Thomas, an infectious disease expert at SUNY Upstate Medical University who was not involved with the study.

Thomas has previously worked on dengue vaccine programs for the U.S. Department of Defense and helped manage its response to Ebola and the Zika virus.

Another scientist at the University of Maryland is running a follow-up trial with more mosquito spit proteins and a different vaccine formulation.

Meanwhile, Manning has returned to Cambodia and is running a field study to identify vaccine-candidate spit proteins in Aedes mosquitoes. She also has a separate project sequencing the genomes of all pathogens found in Aedes and Culex mosquitoes, some of which can infect humans.

One worrying discovery so far? “They carry a ton of different viruses that we are only just discovering.”

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Editing by Elyse Tanouye and Bill Berkrot)