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Infectious Diseases

Updated 14 October 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: Latest on vaccines, and fears of 'super-spreader' event in Cape Town

Second Covid vaccine trial paused for unexplained illness; MMR vaccine trial launched in SA; and call for probe after dozens of Covid-19 cases linked to a party in Cape Town.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Trial launched in SA to test whether MMR vaccine protects healthcare workers against Covid-19

Scientists from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Witwatersrand (Wits) are launching a clinical trial to test whether the childhood vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) can protect frontline health-care workers from Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, or reduce the severity of illness for infected individuals.

Researchers of the trial are hoping to learn whether the vaccine can elicit an immune response that slows the spread of the virus and protects frontline healthcare workers who work in high-risk settings from developing Covid-19.

The MMR vaccine was approved almost 50 years ago and has since been safely given safely to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the vaccine is widely used for the immunisation of children in certain regions of the world due to its advantages over individual vaccines.

In a news release by the universities, the research team leading the SA trial point out that growing evidence suggests that the MMR vaccine may be beneficial beyond protecting against measles, mumps and rubella, and could broadly boost an individual’s immunity. In addition, it may also prevent infection from SARS-CoV-2 for a limited period.

“We know that the MMR vaccine is safe and we think there are two main reasons that it could prevent Covid-19,” said Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, one of the trial’s national principal investigators, and a research professor at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI).

“Firstly, this type of vaccine, which contains small amounts of very weakened measles, mumps and rubella viruses, appears to strengthen the body’s immune response to infections in general, not just to the viruses in that particular vaccine.”

READ | Second Covid vaccine trial paused for unexplained illness

A second coronavirus vaccine trial was paused on Monday after an unexplained illness surfaced in one of the trial's volunteers.READ | Covid vaccines 101

Johnson & Johnson, which only began a phase 3 trial of its vaccine last month, did not offer any more details on the illness and did not say whether the sick participant had received the vaccine or a placebo. The trial pause was first reported by the health news website STAT.

While Johnson & Johnson was behind several of its competitors in the vaccine race, its candidate has an advantage in that it doesn't need to be frozen and it could be given in one dose instead of two, The New York Times reported.

The J&J vaccine is also the focus of the largest Covid-19 vaccine trial, with a goal of enrolling 60 000 volunteers.

"Adverse events - illnesses, accidents, etc - even those that are serious, are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies," the company said in a statement.

"We're also learning more about this participant's illness, and it's important to have all the facts before we share additional information."

"It's actually a good thing that these companies are pausing these trials when these things come up," Dr Phyllis Tien, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, a vaccine trial site for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, told the Times.

"We just need to let the sponsor and the safety board do their review and let us know their findings."

READ | Comorbidities and Covid-19: How pre-existing conditions significantly increase risk of death

Underlying medical conditions have been known to put individuals at risk of severe Covid-19 illness and death, but there are certain medical conditions that can particularly put patients at an increased risk of death, researchers from Penn State College of Medicine have found.

According to their international study, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, strokes and cancer can increase a patient's risk of dying from Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

The study was recently published in Plos One.

The research team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 international studies and analysed data from more than 65 000 patients.

"We took an all-inclusive, global approach for this study by examining 11 chronic conditions and including patients from four continents: Asia, Europe, North America and Africa," Dr Paddy Ssentongo, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the College of Medicine and study co-author, said in a news release by Penn State University.

The studies were published between December 2019 and July 2020, and revealed which chronic conditions put hospitalised patients at risk of Covid-19 mortality.

Patients in these studies were on average 61 years old, the researchers wrote.

The following co-existing conditions that may pose a risk of severe Covid-19 disease and death among patients were explored: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic liver disease, and HIV/Aids.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 694 537.

According to the latest update, 18 028 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 625 574 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.4 million tests have been conducted, with 15 534 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide were nearly 38 million, while deaths were close to 1.1 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 7.8 million, as well as the most deaths - just over 215 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Tin Roof party: Winde wants probe after dozens catch Covid-19, but club says it followed protocols

The number of Covid-19 cases linked to a club converted into a bar in Cape Town's southern suburbs has risen to 63 cases, amid fears of a "super-spreader" event caused by the alleged violation of required safety protocols.

Premier Alan Winde stated on Tuesday that a pattern of new cases was picked up by doctors who worked in the area.

"There are some other concerning allegations around this event, and we are now requesting a full investigation into this bar/club in question - including by SAPS and the Western Cape Liquor Authority," he said.

Winde said this did not mean there was a second wave in the province, but that it was an example of people letting their guard down.

"As long as there is even one Covid-19 infection, it will be possible for the virus to spread to other people," he said.

"The virus is still out there, and it remains important that we keep ourselves safe. If we don't dothis, it is possible that we will also experience a new wave of infections in the future, as is being witnessed elsewhere in the world."

Earlier, News24 reported that 47 school pupils who visited the Tin Roof Bar in Claremont had tested positive for the virus after a night out there.

Winde said health teams had contacted all the schools affected and were ensuring that the necessary protocols were being followed.

READ | You'll soon be able get a Covid antibody test at Clicks - with results in 15 minutes

Clicks will soon offer a cheap Covid-19 antibody test at its clinics nationwide, for just R199 - and the results will be available while you wait.

Unlike many other antibody tests currently on the market, these rapid tests do not require blood to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Instead, much like an HIV finger-prick test, they can produce a result in 15 minutes, and don’t require a visit to a doctor’s office.

Several companies who have received licences to import and distribute these tests in South Africa are pinning their hopes on consumers being curious about the possibility of having unknowingly contracted the virus - but not so curious that they’re willing to visit a doctor, part with a vial of blood, and wait up to two days for the results.

Unlike the widely-used reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests, however, these rapid antibody tests won’t tell you if you have an active case of coronavirus.

“This is not a Covid-19 test. The test is aimed at anyone who suspects they may have contracted the virus, even though they did not show symptoms,” Rachel Wrigglesworth, Clicks chief commercial officer, told Business Insider South Africa. 

Instead, Wrigglesworth says the test is aimed at “consumers [who] are wanting to determine whether they have built up any Covid-19 antibodies”.

There are two main types of antibody tests approved for use by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) - one that requires a vial of blood for processing in a laboratory, and another that delivers results at its point of testing from a drop of blood extracted from a fingertip.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: Chinese city tested 3 million people in 2 days, showing how US, Europe lag in testing capacity

A Chinese city has tested 3 million people for Covid-19 in just 48 hours, the latest example of just how far the US and much of Europe lag behind in terms of testing capability.

On Sunday, the eastern city of Qingdao announced it would test all 9 million residents after identifying 12 cases of coronavirus linked to a local hospital. Officials said everyone would be tested within five days.

In a Tuesday update, the Municipal Health Commission of Qingdao said none of the 1.1 million tests that had returned so far were positive, according to the Associated Press.

China effectively rid itself of the coronavirus in August, having recorded its first day without a new locally transmitted case on May 23.

The news from Qingdao after a dozen new cases shows just how seriously the country is still taking the virus.

Testing 3 million people in 48 hours is a feat that would be unheard of in cities across Europe and North America.

Many authorities in US cities, who struggled to roll out comprehensive testing programs during the worst weeks of the outbreak in July, are still failing to do so in the face of another surge in cases this autumn and winter.

"One of the biggest obstacles to containment has been the fact that we don't have a testing strategy and people don't know their status," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Business Insider in August.

READ | US may have seen 75,000 'excess' deaths due to Covid in five months

Approximately 75,000 more Americans may have died from causes related to Covid-19 from the beginning of March to the beginning of August, according to a new study published Monday by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While the researchers determined that approximately 150,000 deaths during the five months in the US had been officially attributed to Covid-19 during the time period, there were more than 225,000 excess deaths during the same months that were studied.

According to data analysed by Johns Hopkins University, there have been at least 215,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the US, resulting from more than 7.8 million infections.]

The study was published in the Journal of American Medicine by researchers in Richmond, Virginia, who examined death certificates between March 1 and August 1 of this year.

"There have been some conspiracy theories that the number of deaths from Covid-9 have been exaggerated," Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, told USA Today.

"The opposite is the case. We're actually experiencing more death than we thought we were."

According to the study, between the months of March and July, there were 1,336,561 deaths in the US, 20% more than had been anticipated during that time period.

Of the excess deaths, 67% were officially attributed to Covid-19, while others in the excess were attributed to factors like heart disease and Alzheimer's disease, according to the study.

READ | Covid-19 wrap : Facebook to ban ads discouraging vaccines, Iran's death toll rises

Facebook Inc will start banning ads that discourage people from getting vaccinated, the social media company said on Tuesday, as it also announced a new flu vaccine information campaign.

The company said in a blog post that ads advocating for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines, including a Covid-19 vaccine, would still be allowed.

Facebook will begin to enforce the new policy in the next few days.

Facebook, which has been under pressure from lawmakers and public health groups to crackdown on anti-vaccine content and misinformation on its platform, said that although a Covid-19 vaccine would not be available for some time, the pandemic had highlighted the importance of preventative health behaviors.

Facebook's rules prohibit ads with vaccine misinformation, but ads expressing opposition to vaccines had been allowed if they did not contain false claims.

This summer, Facebook Public Policy Manager Jason Hirsch told Reuters the company believed users should be able to express such personal views and that more aggressive censorship could push people hesitant about vaccines towards the anti-vaccine camp.

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

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