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 death rates improving in U.S. hospitals
The U.S. health care system is getting better at caring for COVID-19 patients, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Tuesday. When researchers analyzed insurance claims of COVID-19 patients in nearly 400 hospitals, they found the average death rate had fallen to 9.3% in the May-June period, from 16.6% in the January-April period. “The strongest determinant of improvements in hospital-level outcome was a decline in community rates of infection,” the researchers wrote, adding that the association between community COVID-19 case loads and death rates “suggests hospitals do worse when they are burdened with cases and is consistent with imperatives to flatten the curve.” (https://bit.ly/3heR7zP; https://bit.ly/3hdVafH)
Obesity impairs COVID-19 antibody production
The body’s ability to generate an antibody response to the new coronavirus is impaired in obese patients, a new study shows. Researchers found levels of so-called IgG antibodies, which usually develop within seven to 10 days after symptoms begin, went down as body mass index – a ratio of weight to height – went up. Obesity itself is known to cause inflammation and immune system dysfunction, the researchers noted in a paper posted on medRxiv on Sunday ahead of peer review. They found that lower antibody levels in obese COVID-19 patients were also linked with higher levels of lung inflammation and inflammatory proteins in the blood. The new findings, they say, could improve doctors’ ability to recognize which obese patients are most vulnerable to the effects of the virus and eventually could help lead to treatments to bolster these patients’ immune responses. (https://bit.ly/38xOO70)
Masked faces not a complete mystery to children
Young children can sometimes read the emotions of adults who are wearing face masks, according to a new study. Researchers asked 81 children, aged 7 to 13, to assign one of six emotions to photographs of faces that were either unobstructed, covered by a surgical mask, or wearing sunglasses. The children correctly identified the emotions in 66% of the uncovered faces. When faces were masked, they correctly identified sadness 28% of the time and anger 27% of the time, the researchers reported on Wednesday in PLoS One. Sunglasses made some emotions harder to identify. “Emotions aren’t conveyed solely through your face,” coauthor Ashley Ruba of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a statement. “Vocal inflections, the way that someone positions their body, and what’s going on around them, all that other information helps us make better predictions about what someone is feeling.” (https://bit.ly/3mLmbZl)
Allergy experts issue vaccine advice
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) on Tuesday said allergic reactions to the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, such as those manufactured by Moderna and by Pfizer-BioNTech, are rare but the vaccines should be given in health care settings where reactions can be monitored. The ACAAI said anyone with a severe allergic reaction to the first shot should not get the second shot. People with allergies to medications, foods, insects and latex are no more likely than the general public to be allergic to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, the ACAAI said. (https://bit.ly/34WddCv)
Open https://tmsnrt.rs/3a5EyDh in an external browser for a Reuters graphic on vaccines and treatments in development.
(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Tiffany Wu)