The following is a summary of some of the latest scientific studies on the new coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Diet-related severity of COVID-19
People on meatless diets were less likely to get moderate to severe COVID-19, according to a six-country study published Monday in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. Plant-based diets were associated with a 73% lower risk of serious illness, the researchers found in a survey of 2,884 healthcare providers caring for COVID-19 patients. Combining those on a plant-based diet and people who also ate fish but not meat, the researchers found 59% less likely to suffer from a serious disease. The study cannot prove that specific diets protected against severe COVID-19, and the diet did not appear to reduce the risk of infection. But plant-based diets are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are important for a healthy immune system, the researchers noted, and fish provides vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Healthy eating, however, has been problematic during the pandemic, according to two presentations this week during a virtual meeting of the American Nutrition Society. Consumption of healthy foods like vegetables and whole grains declined, according to researchers who compared the diets of more than 2,000 Americans before and during the pandemic. In a separate study, researchers who collected dietary data in June 2020 for 3,916 American adults found that many had increased their consumption of unhealthy snacks, desserts and sugary drinks during the pandemic. “People may need help to prevent these dietary changes from being permanent,” said Dr. Sohyun Park of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a co-author of the latest study. (https://bit.ly/3g91dUc; https://bit.ly/3xfox8t; https://bit.ly/3zhcSYz)
There are no serious problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Scotland
A study of the side effects of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Scotland found only an association with a largely harmless bleeding condition and no link to life-threatening venous clotting in the brain, known as CVST, which has caused concern in Europe and caused pauses in its use. Researchers who tracked 5.4 million people in Scotland found approximately one additional case of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) per 100,000 people after the first injection of AstraZeneca. ITP is a treatable low platelet count condition and has not caused any deaths among the 1.7 million vaccine recipients 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 conclusions, said co-author Aziz Sheikh of the University of Edinburgh at a press conference. “The overall message is simply the rarity of these results,” Sheikh said. “These are reassuring data.” (https://go.nature.com/3crKglC; https://go.nature.com/356SUBI; https://reut.rs/3gkG48m)
Aspirin Doesn’t Help Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients
Aspirin did not improve survival or reduce disease severity in a study of nearly 15,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The researchers hoped that because aspirin helps reduce blood clots in other diseases, it might be helpful in COVID-19 patients who are at increased risk for clotting problems. Patients randomized to receive 150 milligrams of aspirin once a day had fewer blood clots, but no lower risk of becoming ill and requiring mechanical ventilation or a better chance of being alive after 28 days. And they were at increased risk for serious bleeding complications, a not uncommon problem with aspirin therapy. They had slightly better odds of leaving the hospital alive, the researchers reported in medRxiv on Tuesday before peer review. But “this does not appear to be sufficient to justify its widespread use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” said Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, co-lead investigator on the trial. (https://bit.ly/3cu4fQx; https://reut.rs/3gnY9SO)
COVID-19 control policies are still needed in hot climates
In the absence of lockdowns and social distancing, weather and overcrowding have the biggest impact on the spread of COVID-19, a new study found. But even if virus transmission tends to be somewhat lower in warmer conditions, summer weather “cannot be considered a substitute for mitigation policies,” because population density matters more than temperature, according to the Imperial report. College London published Wednesday in PNAS. Warmer regions should not expect to ease mobility restrictions earlier than colder regions, especially since “warmer regions tend to have higher population densities; for example, the population in Florida is more densely populated than in Minnesota.” said co-author Will Pearse in a statement. The closures have stronger effects than temperature or population density, his team reported. Because changes in temperature have a much smaller effect on transmission than policy interventions, “as long as people remain unvaccinated, governments should not abandon policies such as closures and social distancing just because a seasonal change means that the weather is warming up, “said co-author Dr. Tom Smith. The study also suggests that “lower fall and winter temperatures can make the virus spread more easily in the absence of policy interventions or behavioral changes.” (https://bit.ly/3vedKKk)
Open https://tmsnrt.rs/3c7R3Bl in an external browser to see a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.
(Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Megan Brooks, Ludwig Burger, and Vishwadha Chander; Edited by Bill Berkrot)