Category: COVID

Half Dose of COVID Booster Yields Similar Immune Response to Full One

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Reducing the dose of a widely used COVID booster vaccine produces a similar immune response in adults to a full-dose with fewer side effects, according to a new study published in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific. The research found that a half dose of a Pfizer COVID booster vaccine elicited a non-inferior immune response to a full dose in Mongolian adults who previously had AstraZeneca or Sinopharm COVID shots. But it found half-dose boosting may be less effective in adults primed with the Sputnik V COVID vaccine. 

The research, led by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the National Centre for Communicable Diseases in Mongolia, is part of an international clinical trial investigating the different COVID booster shot approaches to help guide future vaccination strategies. 

The first batch of findings, and involving 601 participants over 18 years old from Mongolia, reports on the initial responses seen 28-days after vaccination. The study is the first of its kind to assess and compare COVID-19 vaccines widely used in low- and middle-income countries.

MCRI Professor Kim Mulholland, who also sits on the WHO SAGE committee, said the study found that fractional doses elicited an immune response that was non-inferior to a full dose with fewer side effects and was less costly.

“Fractional dosing may improve COVID booster acceptability and uptake and reduce the per-dose cost of COVID-19 booster programs,” he said. “Policymakers and immunisation advisory committees can draw upon this data to make flexible boosting schedules decisions.”

The study found that participants receiving a half dose reported fewer local reactions than those receiving full doses (60% versus 72%) including less pain and tenderness. They also reported fewer systemic reactions (25% vs 32%) including less fevers, vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches. 

The cohort will be followed up at six and 12 months with the data to answer key questions on other aspects of the immune response including the rate of waning and breakthrough infections. 

Source: Murdoch Children’s Hospital

Having Pets did not Result in Better Well-being During COVID

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Although pets are generally perceived as having a positive impact on well-being, a new study has found that there was no association between well-being and owning a pet during the COVID pandemic. This finding, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, was in spite of pets owners reporting that pet ownership improved their lives.

There is a general understanding that pets have a positive impact on one’s well-being. A new study by Michigan State University found that although pet owners reported pets improving their lives, there was not a reliable association between pet ownership and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study assessed 767 people over three periods in May 2020. The researchers took a mixed-method approach that allowed them to look at several indicators of well-being while also asking people in an open-ended question to reflect on the role of pets from their point of view. Pet owners reported that pets made them happy. They claimed pets helped them feel more positive emotions and provided affection and companionship. They also reported negative aspects of pet ownership like being worried about their pet’s well-being and having their pets interfere with working remotely.

However, when their happiness was compared to nonpet owners, the data showed no difference in the well-being of pet owners and nonpet owners over time. The researchers found that it did not matter what type of pet was owned, how many pets were owned or how close they were with their pet. The personalities of the owners were not a factor.

“People say that pets make them happy, but when we actually measure happiness, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” said William Chopik, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study. “People see friends as lonely or wanting companionship, and they recommend getting a pet. But it’s unlikely that it’ll be as transformative as people think.”

The researchers explored several reasons why there is not a difference between the well-being of pet owners and nonpet owners. One of them being that nonpet owners may have filled their lives with a variety of other things that make them happy.

Source: Michigan State University

WHO Updates COVID Treatment Guidelines

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A panel of international experts representing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Guideline Development Group has updated its guidance on treatments for patients with COVID.

The new recommendations published by The BMJ are part of a living guideline, developed by the WHO with the methodological support of MAGIC Evidence Ecosystem Foundation, to provide up to date, trustworthy guidance on the management of COVID and help doctors make better decisions with their patients.

The guidance incorporates the latest clinical trial evidence for existing and new COVID therapies and takes account of evidence relating to safety, prognosis, resources, access, and equity issues, as well as patient values and preferences. 

The updates include:

  • Distinct risk categories to help doctors more accurately assess whether an individual is at high, moderate, or low risk of hospital admission and tailor treatment accordingly.
  • A new treatment benefit threshold of 1.5% (down from 6%) reduction in the risk of hospital admission. This reflects the lower baseline risk for most patients with non-severe COVID as well as more safety evidence and wider availability of therapies.
  • A recommendation to use the antiviral drug nirmatrelvir-ritonavir in patients with non-severe COVID at high and moderate risk of hospital admission.
  • A recommendation against use of the antiviral drugs remdesivir and molnupiravir for patients with non-severe COVID at moderate and low risk of hospital admission (treatment is suggested for patients at high risk of admission).
  • A recommendation against use of a new antiviral (VV116) for patients with COVID except in clinical trials, regardless of illness severity.
  • A strong recommendation against the use of ivermectin for patients with non-severe COVID(advice against use of ivermectin in patients with severe or critical COVID, except in clinical trials, still exists).

The experts say the new recommendations reflect changes in the virulence and transmissibility of circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants and sub-variants, along with changes in immunity related to global vaccinations, which have led to lower baseline risks of severe illness and death for most patients with non-severe COVID.

They acknowledge that there are still uncertainties around COVID therapeutics and emerging evidence and say these recommendations need to be used in light of these uncertainties.

An interactive decision support tool is available to accompany this guidance.

Source: The BMJ

Pre-existing Allergies Increase Risk of Experiencing Long COVID Symptoms

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In an analysis of published prospective studies of people of all ages with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection who were followed for at least 12 months, pre-existing allergic conditions were linked to higher risks of experiencing long-term symptoms associated with COVID, or ‘Long COVID’.  

The analysis, which is published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, identified 13 relevant studies (with a total of 9 967 participants) published between January 1, 2020 and January 19, 2023.

Although the data as a whole from the studies suggested that individuals with asthma or rhinitis might be at increased risk of long COVID after SARS-CoV-2 infection, the evidence for these associations was very uncertain. Therefore, more robust epidemiological research is needed to clarify the role of allergy in the development of Long COVID.

“We need a better, harmonised definition of what is considered Long COVID for epidemiological studies of this sort. Regardless we will be updating our analysis once further studies have been published in the next few months,” said corresponding author Christian Apfelbacher, PhD, of the Institute of Social Medicine and Health Systems Research, in Germany.

Source: Wiley

Why People in Japan are Still Wearing Masks after COVID

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When you think of Japan in the age of COVID, you might imagine a crowd of people wearing masks. But many of them are still wearing masks after the pandemic has ended. In an article published this month in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, a researcher from Osaka University analysed mask use before and after the government of Japan downgraded the legal status of COVID. Results showed that many people continue to wear masks for socio-psychological reasons – including reasons related to ‘relief’ and ‘norm’.

Of course, the obvious motivation for mask use is disease prevention. In the first half of 2020, masks were recommended worldwide because they help to prevent COVID transmission. Japan has since had one of the highest rates of mask usage throughout the pandemic.

However, on May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization declared the end of COVID as a global health emergency. Furthermore, on May 8, Japan downgraded the legal status of COVID to the same level as seasonal influenza.

Michio Murakami, the study’s author, notes, “The online survey shows that 59% of Japanese participants are still wearing masks, even after the downgrading of the legal status of COVID. That is only slightly down from 67%, which was before the downgrading.”

The surveys were conducted among people aged 20 to 69 in Japan. The first survey was performed in April 2023, before the policy changes, while the second was performed after the changes in June 2023. A total of 291 participants completed both surveys.

So what reasons, besides disease prevention, might lead people to continue wearing masks? “One common socio-psychological reason involves what we call ‘relief’. This means that wearing a mask can help relieve anxiety for many people,” explains Murakami. “There’s a second sociological reason, too: a ‘norm’. This refers to when people think they should wear a mask because they see others wearing masks,” he explains. People that have this trait are more likely to wear a mask when others around them are wearing masks, unsurprisingly.

Murakami was also able to document correlations between mask-usage motivations and actual mask usage. For instance, citing psychological reasons for mask use in April was correlated with actually wearing a mask later on in June. Furthermore, wearing a mask in April was associated with citing infection avoidance as a reason to wear masks in June.

“So many Japanese people prefer to wear masks,” notes Murakami. “This study helps us understand why people might do so, even in light of reduced infection risk.”

Source: Osaka University

World-renowned Vaccinologist Shabir Madhi Awarded CBE

Professor Shabir Madhi has been appointed as an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by King Charles III.

Wits Professor of  Vaccinology Shabir Madhi led the Oxford University sponsored Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials in South Africa

Wits University and the University of Oxford contributed scientifically to informing the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and globally.

Madhi receives the Order in recognition of his services to science and public health in a global pandemic.

Madhi led South Africa and the continent’s first Covid-19 vaccine trials in 2020/2021 as founder and Director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics (Wits VIDA) Research Unit.

An internationally recognised leader in his field, the National Research Foundation A-rated scientist was involved in multiple clinical and serology epidemiology studies on Covid-19, in addition to his research on vaccines against other life-threatening diseases.

The first of (subsequently two) Wits University-led South African Covid-19 vaccine trials, Madhi led the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials in South Africa, in association with the University of Oxford.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford, and Madhi’s UK counterpart in these Covid-19 vaccine trials, says of Madhi’s CBE appointment: “I am delighted that Professor Shabir Madhi CBE has been honoured by King Charles for his remarkable contributions to global public health and particularly for his extraordinary leadership in the midst of a global pandemic. It has been a huge privilege for me to work alongside him and his team on the development of the globally impactful Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Over the course of the pandemic (2020-2022), Madhi had been an outspoken, articulate, and ardent advocate of Covid-19 vaccination as well as for increased access to these and other vaccines in Africa.

On his appointment as CBE, Madhi says: “The privilege of being conferred this honour is credit to the tremendous effort of the incredible Wits VIDA research team that I have the privilege of leading at Wits University – before, during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. As a collective, and together with colleagues at the University of Oxford and in South Africa, we are proud to have contributed scientifically to informing the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and globally.”

Source: Wits University

Which Entryway a Coronavirus Uses Affects its Infection Severity

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Until now, the reason why some coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 affect humans more severely than other seasonal ones has eluded scientists. Now, results published in Nature have provided a piece of the puzzle by identifying a gateway used by the seasonal coronavirus HKU1 to enter human cells. HKU1 binds to a different receptor than SARS-CoV-2, which may partly explain the difference in severity between these two coronaviruses.

Receptors provide a useful means of figuring out coronavirus transmissibility and pathology as part of surveillance work on viral evolution. Seven coronaviruses are known for their ability to infect humans. Four of these are generally mild: HKU1, 229E, NL63 and OC43, while the other three are more pathogenic: SARS-CoV-1, Mers-CoV and SARS-CoV-2.

The HKU1 virus was first identified in an elderly patient with severe pneumonia in Hong Kong in 2005. Like SARS-CoV-2, HKU1 mainly infects upper respiratory tract cells. However, it rarely affects the bronchi and alveoli in the lungs. The HKU1 virus causes colds and other mild respiratory symptoms. Complications may also occur, including severe respiratory tract infections, particularly in young children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals. It is estimated that 70% of children are infected before the age of 6. In total, 75 to 95% of the global population has been exposed to HKU1, which is comparable to other seasonal human coronaviruses.

At the cellular level, coronavirus spike proteins are cleaved after binding to their receptors. This cleavage phenomenon is vital for viral fusion, entry and multiplication. Some coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2 and NL63) use the ACE2 receptor as a gateway for entering cells. Until now, HKU1 and OC43 were the only coronaviruses with unknown receptors.

Through collaboration between scientists at eight Institut Pasteur units, it was possible to identify the TMPRSS2 enzyme as the receptor to which HKU1 binds to enter cells. Once binding has occurred, TMPRSS2 triggers fusion of HKU1 with the cell, leading to viral infection. Through a combination of techniques performed in vitro and in cell culture, the scientists demonstrated that the TMPRSS2 receptor has high affinity with the HKU1 spike, which is not the case for SARS-CoV-2.

“Once a receptor has been identified for a virus, it is possible to characterise target cells more accurately, while also gaining insights on viral entry and multiplication mechanisms and infection pathophysiology,” comments, Olivier Schwartz, co-last author of the study and Head of the Institut Pasteur’s Virus and Immunity unit.

“Our findings also shed light on the various evolution strategies employed by coronaviruses, which use TMPRSS2 either to bind to target cells or trigger fusion and viral entry,” adds Julian Buchrieser, co-last author of the study and scientist in the Institut Pasteur’s Virus and Immunity unit.

These human-pathogenic viruses’ use of different receptors probably affects their degree of severity. Receptor levels vary among respiratory tract cells, thus influencing the sensitivity of cells to infection and viral spread. Once the route of viral entry into cells is known, it should also be possible to fight infection more effectively by developing targeted therapies and assess the risk of virulence posed by any future emerging coronaviruses.

In parallel with this work, Institut Pasteur teams led by Pierre Lafaye and Felix Rey have developed and characterised nano-antibodies (very small antibodies) that inhibit HKU1 infection by binding to the TMPRSS2 receptor. These reagents have been patented for potential therapeutic activities.

Source: Institut Pasteur

Study Finds Urological Effects of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Men

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A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine indicates that SARS-CoV-2 infection may worsen lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) in men. The study researchers found that a enlarged prostate as a result of COVID was involved.

The study included 17 986 men receiving medication for LUTS within the public healthcare system of Hong Kong in 2021–2022, half of whom had SARS-CoV-2 infection. The group with SARS-CoV-2 had significantly higher rates of retention of urine (4.55% versus 0.86%); blood in the urine (1.36% versus 0.41%); clinical urinary tract infection (4.31% versus 1.49%); bacteria in the urine (9.02% versus 1.97%); and addition of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, which are drugs prescribed for enlarged prostate. (0.50% versus 0.02%). These urological manifestations occurred regardless of COVID severity.

The findings might relate to the presence of certain proteins targeted by SARS-CoV-2 that are known to be expressed in the prostate.

“We are excited to be the first to report the effects of COVID on complications of benign prostatic hyperplasia – or enlarged prostate – and also demonstrate the alarming extent of its urological effects,” said corresponding author Alex Qinyang Liu, MD, of Prince of Wales Hospital, in Hong Kong.

Source: Wiley

Not Just ‘Long COVID’: Researchers Find ‘Long Colds’

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A new study from Queen Mary University of London, published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine, has found that people may experience long-term symptoms, termed ‘long colds’, after non-COVID acute respiratory infections.

The ‘long cold’s’ most common symptoms included coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhoea more than four weeks after the initial infection. While the severity of an illness appears to be a key driver of risk of long-term symptoms, just why some people suffer extended symptoms while others do not is a focus of further research.

The findings suggest that there may be long-lasting health impacts following non-COVID acute respiratory infections such as colds, influenza, or pneumonia, that are currently going unrecognised. However, the researchers do not yet have evidence suggesting that the symptoms have the same severity or duration as long COVID.

The research compared the prevalence and severity of long-term symptoms after an episode of COVID versus an episode of another acute respiratory infection that tested negative for COVID. Those recovering from COVID were more likely to experience light-headedness or dizziness and problems with taste and smell compared to those who had a non-COVID respiratory infection.

While long COVID is now a recognised condition, there have been few studies comparing long-term symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection versus other respiratory infections.

The study is the latest output from COVIDENCE UK, Queen Mary University of London’s national study of COVID, launched back in 2020 and still in follow-up, with over 19 000 participants enrolled. This study analysed data from 10 171 UK adults, with responses collected via questionnaires and statistical analysis carried out to identify symptom clusters.

Giulia Vivaldi, researcher on COVIDENCE UK from Queen Mary University of London and the lead author of the study, said: “Our findings shine a light not only on the impact of long COVID on people’s lives, but also other respiratory infections. A lack of awareness – or even the lack of a common term – prevents both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions.

“As research into long COVID continues, we need to take the opportunity to investigate and consider the lasting effects of other acute respiratory infections.

“These ‘long’ infections are so difficult to diagnose and treat primarily because of a lack of diagnostic tests and there being so many possible symptoms. There have been more than 200 investigated for long COVID alone.”

Source: Queen Mary University of London

Does COVID Infection or Vaccination Worsen Migraines?

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Headaches are a frequent complaint of those with a COVID infection, or have received a COVID vaccination, and it is thought that it may subsequently increase the frequency of migraines. To put this to the test, an observational study published in the European Journal of Neurology investigated the effects on migraine frequency of having had either been infected with COVID or having received a COVID vaccination.

Among 550 adults who had received migraine-related care at a Spanish headache clinic, 44.9% (247) reported COVID at least once and 83.3% (458) had been vaccinated; 61 patients (24.7%) reported migraine worsening since COVID and 52 (11.4%) since vaccination.

In participants who perceived that their migraines worsened, those who had been infected were 2.5-times more likely to be concerned about migraine worsening and patients who had been vaccinated were 17.3-times more likely to have this concern.

When investigators examined patients’ e-diary information, they observed no significant difference in headache frequency one month before and after infection or vaccination, even when comparing patients with and without self-reported migraine worsening.

“In the case of COVID-19, we reported previously that indeed headache is a frequent and disabling symptom of the infection; yet, it may not necessarily be linked to an increase in migraine frequency,” the authors wrote. “In light of our results, we believe that clinicians should deliver to patients a more reassuring message that COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines may marginally affect migraine course and that probably the impact of the infection and vaccines is less than the individual rhythmicity to have attacks. This information may help minimise their worry.”

Source: Wiley