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Infectious Diseases

Updated 07 October 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: WHO says vaccine may be ready by year-end, symptoms and Covid recovery

The WHO says a vaccine may be ready by year-end; researchers want loss of smell to be recognised as a Covid symptom, and tips for recovery from mild cases.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Researchers calling for loss of smell to be recognised globally as Covid-19 symptom

When the Covid-19 outbreak started, most guidelines listed the main symptoms as fever, a cough and fatigue. But as the disease progressed, many people reported a variety of symptoms. One of these, loss of smell, was reported by may patients and is now recognised by the UK medical guidelines as one of the key symptoms.

New research also suggests that this symptom could be significant for guidelines and help medical professionals and potential patients to recognise Covid-19 more rapidly, which could spur on self-isolation and help curb the spread of the disease.

According to a new study published in PLOS Medicine, four out of five people experiencing a loss of smell and/or taste tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies, while 40% of those did not even experience a cough or fever.

The study was conducted by Professor Rachel Batterham and colleagues from the University of London.

While loss of smell and/or taste seems to be a key indicator of Covid-19, the link is not yet fully understood.

For their study, the team verified symptoms via telemedicine consultations and then performed an antibody test on 567 participants who experienced a loss of smell and/or taste.

Of these participants, 78% had antibodies. Those with a loss of smell were almost three times more likely to test positive for antibodies than those who lost taste. This suggests that this symptom should be taken seriously by policymakers globally, as most countries currently do not recommend self-isolating and testing when someone acutely loses their sense of taste or smell.

READ | Mental health issues double the odds of dying with Covid-19, study finds

People suffering from a psychiatric disorder could be more than twice as likely to die if they become infected with Covid-19, a new study suggests.

People diagnosed with any type of psychiatric problem – anxiety or depression, dementia, psychosis – were up to 2.3 times more likely to die in the hospital from Covid-19, researchers found.

"Those who had Covid who had a prior psychiatric diagnosis had a higher mortality," said lead researcher Dr Luming Li. She's an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and medical director of clinical operations at the Yale New Haven Health System.

Li and her colleagues tracked the health of 1 685 patients hospitalised at Yale New Haven Health, a five-hospital system in Connecticut, between February and April. Of those patients, 28% had received a psychiatric diagnosis prior to hospitalisation.

People who'd struggled with a mental problem were more likely to die, particularly early in their illness:

  • 36% of Covid-19 patients with a psychiatric diagnosis died within two weeks of hospitalisation, compared with 15% of those with no such diagnosis.
  • 41% of patients with mental illness died within three weeks, compared with 22% of those without.
  • The four-week mortality rate was 45% for those with a diagnosed psychiatric condition and 32% for those without.

The findings were published online on 30 September in JAMA Network Open.

READ | Most Covid infections are mild - so what if you're infected? Some 'common-sense' tips for recovery

There's no magic bullet for recovering from Covid-19. If you have a mild case and can recover at home, it's best to treat it like you would the flu.

Professor Christine Jenkins, a respiratory disease expert from UNSW Medicine, says you should apply "common-sense rules" to your recovery.

Here are some of them:

Rest, rest, rest

If you were not hospitalised and are recovering at home, the best thing you can do is make your bed super comfortable and ride it out with your favourite TV shows, as advised by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Don't overexert yourself, sleep lots, with no late nights or early mornings and be kind to yourself. Mental rest is as important as physical rest.

Stay hydrated

As with any disease, you can become dehydrated quickly and it's important to maintain your fluid intake. Water is your best friend in this case, and make sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can dehydrate you.

Eat the right foods

Just like when recovering from the flu, there are some foods that can help speed up the process while still providing comfort.

There's a reason soup is such a classic "sick" food as it helps you to rehydrate, is easy to digest and usually packed with nutrients. Chicken soup can even help reduce inflammation.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 683 242.

According to the latest update, 17 103 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 616 857 recoveries.

So far, almost 4.3 million tests have been conducted, with 14 591 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 more than 35.6 million, while deaths were over 1 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 7.5 million, as well as the most deaths - nearly 211 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | UIF corona payouts: 157 employers investigated for fraud, R3bn in wrong payments recovered

The Unemployment Insurance Fund has already recovered R3.2 billion in coronavirus payouts that were made in error, while nine employers have been arrested for fraudulent claims.

Due to incorrect UIF calculations, companies received overpayments worth billions of rands – and an estimated R1 billion was paid to individuals who were not entitled to the payouts.

In total, the UIF paid out almost R42 billion to millions of workers as part of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).

Netwerk24 reports that UIF acting commissioner Marsha Bronkhorst and minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi presented an update on TERS on Tuesday, during an online sitting of the select committee on trade and industry, economic development, small business development, tourism, employment and labour.

Bronkhorst told the committee that nine employers have already been arrested due to fraudulent TERS claims - and more arrests are expected, Netwerk24 reports.

So far, some 157 employers are being investigated for fraud. Some 90 of these companies apparently claimed for employees who don't exist, or they claimed for workers who could do their work as per usual during the first phase of lockdown. Some also claimed for employees who left the company before the pandemic.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19 wrap | WHO says vaccine may be ready by year-end, while global death toll at 1 045 097

A vaccine against Covid-19 may be ready by year-end, the head of the World Health Organisation(WHO) said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for solidarity and political commitment by all leaders to ensure equal distribution of vaccines when they become available.

"We will need vaccines and there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine.There is hope," Tedros said in closing remarks to the WHO's Executive Board meeting that examined the global response to the pandemic.

The EU health regulator has launched a real-time review of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, it said on Tuesday, following a similar announcement for rival AstraZeneca's jab last week.

The announcement by the European Medicines Agency(EMA) could speed up the process of approving a successful vaccine in the bloc.

Nine experimental vaccines are in the pipeline of the WHO-led COVAX global vaccine facility that aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

So far some 168 countries have joined the COVAX facility, but neither China, the United States nor Russia are among them.

The Trump administration has said it is relying instead on bilateral deals to secure supplies from vaccine makers."Especially for the vaccines and other products which are in the pipeline, the most important tool is political commitment from our leaders especially in the equitable distribution of the vaccines," Tedros said.

READ | Donald Trump faces backlash for removing mask on White House return following Covid-19 treatment

US President Donald Trump faced a fresh backlash on Tuesday for removing his mask when he returned to the White House and for urging Americans not to fear the Covid-19 disease that has killed more than 209 000 people in the country and put him in hospital.

Trump arrived at the White House on Monday in a made-for-television spectacle in which he descended from his Marine One helicopter wearing a white surgical mask, only to remove it as he posed, saluting and waving, on the mansion's South Portico.

"Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it," Trump said in a video after his return from the Walter Reed Medical Center military hospital outside Washington, where he was treated for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"I'm better, and maybe I'm immune – I don't know," he added, flanked by American flags and with the Washington Monument in the background. Get out there. Be careful."

Trump, who was treated by an army of doctors and received experimental treatment, has repeatedly played down a disease that has killed more than a million people worldwide and left his own country with the highest death toll in the world.

The Republican president, running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden in the 3 November election, was admitted to hospital on Friday after being diagnosed with the disease.Trump has repeatedly flouted social distancing guidelines meant to curb the virus' spread and ignored his own medical advisers.

He also mocked Biden at last Tuesday's presidential debate for wearing a mask at events, even when he is far from others.

His decision to remove his mask after climbing the staircase to the White House South Portico – a perch that put him at some distance from others – and his insistence that Americans should not fear the disease, horrified some physicians.

READ | Cargo carriers warn that getting a Covid-19 vaccine to everyone on Earth could take up to two years

Even if a Covid-19 vaccine can be developed, approved, and mass produced quickly, getting it to countries and communities around the world quickly enough to make a difference will present an unprecedented challenge for the global logistics industry.

The air-cargo industry is planning to ship up to 20 billion doses of a Covid-19 vaccination, according to a new report from Doug Cameron at the Wall Street Journal.

But without knowing how many doses they'll actually need to ship, where they will be made, and how they will need to be stored during transit, there is only so much that carriers can figure out ahead of time.

Complicating matters is a reduction in cargo-hold freight capacity on passenger airliners, with many airlines cutting routes and frequencies during the pandemic; increased demand for shipping as people continue to work from home and avoid non-essential trips; and the coming peak shipping season that runs from fall until February.

According to the Journal, space on scheduled cargo flights is already filling up through February, with holiday shopping and consumer electronics leading the demand. Releases of an expected new iPhone and Sony's PlayStation 5 will only strain availability further.

Although airlines have said they will prioritise space for a vaccine — as they have for other medical supplies and PPE throughout the pandemic — challenging storage requirements for a vaccine would make freeing up last-minute space harder than it has been for other supplies.

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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