The following is an overview of some of the latest scientific studies of the new coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines against COVID-1
COVID-19 severity associated with diet
People on meat-free diets had lower odds of getting moderate to severe COVID-19, according to a study from six countries published Monday in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. Plant-based diets were linked to a 73% lower risk of serious illness, researchers found in a study of 2,884 healthcare providers who cared for COVID-19 patients. By combining them on a plant-based diet and people who also ate fish but not meat, researchers found 59% lower odds of serious illness. The study could not prove that specific diets protected against severe COVID-19 and that diet did not appear to reduce the risk of becoming infected. But plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are important for a healthy immune system, the researchers noted, and fish provide vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. However, healthy eating has been problematic during the pandemic, according to two presentations this week during a virtual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. Consumption of healthy foods such as vegetables and whole grains fell, according to researchers who compared diets from more than 2,000 Americans before and during the pandemic. In a separate study, researchers who collected diet data in June 2020 for 3,916 adults in the United States found that many had increased their consumption of unhealthy snacks, desserts, and sugary drinks during the pandemic. “Individuals may need help to avoid making these dietary changes permanent,” said Dr. Sohyun Park from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-author of the latter study. (https://bit.ly/3g91dUc; https://bit.ly/3xfox8t; https://bit.ly/3zhcSYz)
No serious problems with AstraZeneca vaccine in Scotland
A study of side effects from AstraZeneca’s (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine in Scotland found only a link with a virtually harmless bleeding condition and no link to the potentially fatal venous coagulation in the brain, known as CVST, which has caused concern in Europe and led to pauses in use. Researchers tracking 5.4 million people in Scotland found around a further case of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) per year. 100,000 people after the first AstraZeneca shot. ITP is a treatment-related condition with low platelet counts and has not caused any deaths among the 1.7 million recipients of the vaccine in the study, the authors reported Wednesday in Nature Medicine. Due to the rarity of CVST, the Scottish study may have been too small to allow for any conclusions, co-author Aziz Sheikh of the University of Edinburgh told a media briefing. “The overall message is only the rarity of these results,” Sheikh said. “This is reassuring data.” (https://go.nature.com/3crKglC; https://go.nature.com/356SUBI; https://reut.rs/3gkG48m)
Aspirin does not help hospitalized COVID-19 patients
Aspirin did not improve survival or reduce the severity of the disease in a study of nearly 15,000 patients admitted with COVID-19. Researchers had hoped that because aspirin helps reduce blood clots in other diseases, it may be helpful in COVID-19 patients who have a higher risk of coagulation problems. Patients randomly assigned to aspirin 150 mg once daily had fewer blood clots but no lower risk of becoming ill and requiring mechanical ventilation or better odds of being alive after 28 days. And they had a higher risk of serious bleeding complications, a not uncommon problem with aspirin treatment. They had slightly better odds of getting out of the hospital alive, researchers reported on medRxiv Tuesday ahead of peer review. But “this does not seem to be sufficient to justify its widespread use in patients admitted with COVID-19,” said Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, co-lead researcher of the trial. (https://bit.ly/3cu4fQx; https://reut.rs/3gnY9SO)
COVID-19 control policies are still needed in hot weather
In the absence of lockdowns and social distancing, weather and congestion have the greatest impact on COVID-19 proliferation, a new study shows. But while virus transmission tends to be somewhat lower in warmer conditions, summer weather cannot “be considered a substitute for mitigation policies” because population density means more than temperature, according to the Imperial College London report published Wednesday in PNAS. Warmer regions should not expect to ease mobility restrictions before colder regions, especially because “warmer regions tend to have higher population densities – for example, the population in Florida is more densely packed than in Minnesota,” co-author Will Pearse said in a statement. Lockdowns have stronger effects than either temperature or population density, his team reported. Because temperature changes have a much smaller effect on transmission than policy interventions, “while people remain unvaccinated, governments must not drop policies like lockdowns and social distance just because a seasonal change means the weather is warming up,” said co-author Dr. Tom Smith. The study also suggests “that lower fall and winter temperatures may lead to the virus spreading more easily in the absence of policy interventions or behavioral changes.” (https://bit.ly/3vedKKk)
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