Tag Archives: Covid

Scientists identify the specific gene that protects against severe COVID-19

Researchers from Karolinska University have discovered a gene that reduces the severity of Covid infections by 20%. In their paper the scientists state that this explains why the disease’s symptoms are so variable, hitting some harder than others.

Why do some people fall severely ill from COVID-19 while others don’t? In addition to risk factors like age or obesity and plenty of other environmental factors, it also comes down to our varying genetic makeup. Therefore, researchers across the globe have begun the mammoth task of mapping the genes involved in making people more susceptible to catching SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and developing a severe infection.

These large-scale efforts have thrown up more than a dozen genomic regions along the human chromosome containing large clusters of genes associated with severe COVID-19. However, the specific causal genes in these regions are yet to be identified, hampering our ability to understand COVID-19’s often selective pathology.

Now, scientists build on these findings to pinpoint a gene that confers protection from critical illness.

Neanderthal DNA protects against severe COVID-19

The previous studies from 2020 concentrated on the genetic data of people of European ancestry recorded by multi-disciplinary teams all over the world for the 1000 Genomes Project. This monumental collaboration uncovered a specific segment of DNA known as the OAS1/2/3 cluster, which lowers the risk of developing an acute COVID-19 infection by 20%. Inherited from Neanderthals in roughly half of all people outside of Africa, this segment is responsible for encoding genes in the immune system.

The genetic array came about as a result of the migration of an archaic human species out of the African continent about 70,000 years ago who mated and mingled DNA with Neanderthals reproduced in their offspring’s haplotypes, a set of inheritable DNA variations close together along a chromosome. 

However, most human haplotypes outside Africa now include DNA from Neanderthals and Denisovans (an ancient human originating in Asia). Consequently, this ancient region of DNA is heaving with numerous genetic variants, making it challenging to distinguish the exact protective gene that could serve as a target for medical treatment against severe COVID-19 infection.

A possible solution is that people of African descent do not contain these archaic genes in their haplotypes, making them shorter and easier to decipher.

To test this theory, the researchers checked the 1000 Genomes project database for individuals carrying only parts of this DNA segment – focusing on individuals with African ancestry who lack heritage from the Neanderthals. Remarkably, the researchers found that individuals of predominantly African ancestry had the same protective gene cluster as those of European origin.

Genetic studies should be a multi-cultural affair

Once they established this, the researchers collated 2,787 COVID-19 cases with the genetic data of 130,997 individuals of African ancestry to reveal the gene variant rs10774671 G thought to convey protection against COVID-19 hospitalization. Their results correspond to a previous, more extensive study of individuals of European heritage, with analysis suggesting it is likely the only causal variant behind the protective effect.

Surprisingly, this previously ‘useless’ ancient variant was found to be widespread, present in one out of every three people of white European ancestry and eight out of ten individuals of African descent.

In evolutionary terms, the researchers write that the variant exists today in both these gene pools “as a result of their inheritance from the ancestral population common to both modern humans and Neanderthals.” Accordingly, their data adds more weight to the standard held theory that a common ancestor originated in Africa millions of years ago before sharing their DNA across the globe.

And while there’s much more to uncover regarding the newly discovered variant, the researchers can firmly suggest at this stage that the protective gene variant (rs10774671 G) works by determining the length of a protein encoded by the gene OAS1. As the longer version of the protein is more effective at breaking down the virus than the unaltered form, a life-threatening infection is less likely to occur.

Using genetic risk factors to design new COVID-19 drugs

Despite their promising results, the team cautions that the 1000 Genomes Project does not provide a complete picture of this genomic region for different ancestries. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the Neanderthal haplotype is virtually absent among individuals of primarily African ancestry, adding, “How important it is to include individuals of different ancestries” in large-scale genetic studies.

Senior researcher Brent Richards from McGill University says that it is in this way “we are beginning to understand the genetic risk factors in detail is key to developing new drugs against COVID-19.”

If these results are anything to go by, we could be on the cusp of novel treatments that can harness the immune system to fight this disease.

New COVID variant identified in France — but experts say we shouldn’t fear it

Scientists have identified a previously unknown mutant strain in a fully vaccinated person who tested positive after returning from a short three-day trip to Cameroon.

Academics based at the IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille, France, discovered the new variant on December 10. So far, the variant doesn’t appear to be spreading rapidly and the World Health Organization has not yet labeled it a variant of concern. Nevertheless, researchers are still describing and keeping an eye on it.

The discovery of the B.1.640.2 mutation, dubbed IHU, was announced in the preprint server medRxiv, in a paper still awaiting peer review. Results show that IHU’s spike protein, the part of the virus responsible for invading host cells, carries the E484K mutation, which increases vaccine resistance. The genomic sequencing also revealed the N501Y mutation — first seen in the Alpha variant — that experts believe can make COVID-19 more transmissible.  

In the paper, the clinicians highlight that it’s important to keep our guard and expect more surprises from the virus: “These observations show once again the unpredictability of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction from abroad,” they write. For comparison Omicron (B.1.1.529) carries around 50 mutations and appears to be better at infecting people who already have a level of immunity. Thankfully, a growing body of research proves it is also less likely to trigger severe symptoms.

Like many countries in Europe, France is experiencing a surge in the number of cases due to the Omicron variant.

Experts insist that IHU, which predates Omicron but has yet to cause widespread harm, should not cause concern – predicting that it may fade into the background. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Thomas Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the mutation had “a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialized. So it is definitely not one worth worrying about too much at the moment.”

The strain was first uploaded to a variant tracking database on November 4, more than two weeks before Omicron was sequenced. For comparison, French authorities are now reporting over 300,000 new cases a day thought to be mostly Omicron, with data suggesting that the researchers have identified only 12 cases of IHU over the same period. 

On the whole, France has good surveillance for COVID-19 variants, meaning health professionals quickly pinpoint any new mutant strains. In contrast to Britain, which only checks three in ten cases for variants. The paper’s authors state that the emergence of the new variant emphasizes the importance of regular “genomic surveillance” on a countrywide scale.

Pregnant women with COVID 22x higher risk of dying than uninfected

In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, an international team of researchers from Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, France, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the US and led by investigators from the University of Oxford (UK) studied 2,130 pregnant women age 18 and older and their newborns at 43 different institutions in 18 different countries from March to October 2020, as part of the observational INTERCOVID Multinational Cohort Study. For each woman who tested positive for COVID-19 before delivery, two unmatched, uninfected women of similar gestational age (±2 weeks) were enrolled.

The 706 COVID-19 patients were at much higher risk than their 1,424 uninfected counterparts for preeclampsia/eclampsia (eclampsia is a serious condition where high blood pressure results in seizures during pregnancy), pregnancy-related high blood pressure, infections requiring antibiotics, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, referral to a higher level of care, preterm delivery, medically indicated preterm delivery, severe neonatal illness, and severe perinatal illness and death.

Women with COVID-19 diagnosis, already at high risk of preeclampsia and COVID-19 because of preexisting overweight, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac and chronic respiratory diseases, had almost 4 times greater risk of developing preeclampsia/eclampsia, which could reflect the known association with these comorbidities and/or the acute kidney damage that can occur in patients with COVID-19.

Compared with uninfected women, those who tested positive for COVID-19 had a lower rate of spontaneous labor but higher rates of cesarean birth and preterm delivery and fetal distress (signs before and during childbirth indicating that the fetus is not well). The most common indications for preterm delivery among women with a COVID-19 diagnosis were preeclampsia/eclampsia (24.7%), small fetus for gestational age (15.5%), and fetal distress (13.2%).

Of the COVID-19 patients, 13% of their 416 newborns tested were also positive for coronavirus. Exclusive breastfeeding and newborn test positivity were not linked.

Cesarean birth was linked to an increased risk of newborn infection, while breastfeeding was not. Mean maternal age was 30.2 years, and 48.6% of infected women were overweight early in pregnancy, compared with 40.2% of uninfected women.

Of the women with a coronavirus diagnosis, 1.6% died (maternal death ratio, 159 per 10,000 births); four of them died of severe preeclampsia, three of respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, and one of a pulmonary embolism. Five women had worsening respiratory failure before delivery, two of whom underwent cesarean delivery and later died, and two developed cough, shortness of breath, and fever within 7 days after a normal delivery and died. Among the uninfected women, one died due to preexisting liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Women infected with SARS-CoV-2 stayed in the ICU for, on average, 3.73 days longer than uninfected women. Increased risk of serious maternal complications in COVID-19 patients was tied to fever and shortness of breath, as were complications in newborns. But the 44.0% of infected women with no symptoms were at higher risk for only maternal illness and preeclampsia.

This multinational cohort study showed that COVID-19 in pregnancy was associated with consistent and substantial increases in severe maternal morbidity and mortality and neonatal complications.

Vaccine manufacturers tell Congress they’re ready to double, maybe triple production

Drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna are ramping up production of their COVID-19 vaccine. Johnson & Johnson is waiting for approval for their one-shot vaccine. According to a statement presented to a House subcommittee earlier today, this could end up doubling, possibly tripling the vaccine supply in the US in the coming weeks.

Image via Pixabay.

Last year, getting an effective vaccine against the coronavirus was all the rage. This year, it’s actually getting that vaccine injected into your arm. With the whole world waiting for one, demand far outstrips supply, even considering that there are already multiple vaccine options available. With this in mind, manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, arguably the two largest suppliers of the vaccine worldwide, are planning to dramatically increase production.

Meeting demand

The announcement was made earlier today during a congressional hearing on the US’s immunization campaign. Alongside these two manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson (J&J, whose one-shot vaccine is being reviewed for approval) also said they would be able to ship millions of vaccine doses around the country.

In early February, Pfizer supplied around 4 to 5 million doses a week, according to chief business officer John Young. They plan to increase this to 13 million doses a week by mid-March. Moderna, who are currently shipping around 20 million doses a week, plans to increase this to around 40 million a week by April, explained Dr. Stephen Hoge, the company’s president.

Moderna is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put 15 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in every vial, instead of the present 10 doses — which would allow it to ship many more doses with relative ease. Pfizer, on the other hand, says “significant investment” in several manufacturing sites along with improvements to the production process would allow for the planned increase in output.

J&J testified that they could produce enough one-shot vaccine for around 20 million Americans by the end of March. A single-shot vaccine would make the immunization process faster and smoother, as every individual will only need to visit a vaccination center once. The shot has not yet been approved for use, but J&J plans to start shipping as soon as they get approval. An independent panel of FDA advisers will be reviewing the compound on February 26th. If everything goes well, emergency approval should come a few days after that.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is being reviewed on February 26 by a panel of independent FDA advisers and if the panel vote is favorable, emergency clearance could come soon after.

With the U.S. currently being the single worst-hit country in the world, both by the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, any improvements to their vaccination drive is extremely welcome. Hopefully, the efforts of these companies will end up saving many lives.

University in Idaho warns its students to stop trying to catch COVID-19 to sell their plasma

Most of us here can agree that we wouldn’t say no to some extra pocket money. We’d also likely agree that helping to heal the sick, especially during times such as these, is also a good cause. But some college students in Idaho may have mixed the two a bit too much, according to local outlet KIVI-TV.

Image credits Ken Lund / Flickr.

The Brigham Young University (BYU) Idaho recently put out a statement condemning a “deeply troubling” trend among its student body. According to the institution, some students may be intentionally trying to become infected with the coronavirus in order to overcome the disease and sell antibody-laden plasma.

Premium plasma

“Students who are determined to have intentionally exposed themselves or others to the virus will be immediately suspended from the university and may be permanently dismissed,” BYU-Idaho explained in a statement.

The story likely began with local plasma centers saying they will pay extra for the blood of donors who have COVID-19 antibodies in their system. This move was prompted by the fact that Madison County (where the university is located) has the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the county; last week, it was listed as a High-Risk area. As of Sunday evening, there were 326 active cases of COVID-19 in Madison County.

Convalescent plasma, which is harvested from people that have successfully fought off a COVID-19 infection, can be used to treat patients with the antibodies it contains. Transfusion centers in the area are thus making an effort to encourage former patients to donate, so that as many lives can be saved as possible.

Since then, the University has been receiving “reports of students […] intentionally exposing themselves to COVID-19” in order to sell convalescent plasma, according to KIVI-TV. A news release explains that the institution is “deeply troubled” by and strongly “condemns” this behavior, adding that it is “actively seeking evidence of any such conduct among [the] student body”.

“The contraction and spread of COVID-19 is not a light matter. Reckless disregard for health and safety will inevitably lead to additional illness and loss of life in our community,” it explained. “As BYU-Idaho previously cautioned, if recent trends in Idaho and Madison County continue, the university may be forced to move to a fully-remote instruction model.”

While seeking to get infected in the pandemic isn’t exactly responsible, or very smart, behavior, BYU acknowledges that “the physical, emotional, and financial strain of this pandemic is very real” on students, and that it is prepared to offer help.

Exactly how the BYU plans to determine which students actively sought out infection and which of them contracted COVID-19 unwittingly is still unclear. The story also raises questions regarding tuition fees in the wider USA. This could be seen as students feeling they lack viable alternatives to pay for their college, especially in today’s labor market — as one Reddit comment put it, they “gotta pay that tuition somehow”.

Alternatively, some could be doing it just as an easy way to make a quick buck. Regardless of the underlying intent, I think we can all agree that it endangers both them and the wider community. We all want to educate ourselves to the best of our ability, and we all like to pad up that bank account, but intentionally harming our health and potentially the lives of those around us shouldn’t be a way to pay for either. 

Nose-administered COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in mice

New research at the Washington University School of Medicine (WU) in St. Louis is closing in on an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.

Image via Pixabay.

The researchers have developed a single-dose vaccine that’s deliverable via the nose and effective at preventing infection with SARS-CoV-2 in mice. The results warrant further research on primates and, eventually, humans, the team writes. If these tests are successful, this would be the only COVID-19 vaccine deliverable via the nose, not an injection.

A nose for vaccines

“We were happily surprised to see a strong immune response in the cells of the inner lining of the nose and upper airway—and a profound protection from infection with this virus,” said senior author Michael S. Diamond, MD, Ph.D.

“These mice were well protected from disease. And in some of the mice, we saw evidence of sterilizing immunity, where there is no sign of infection whatsoever after the mouse is challenged with the virus.”

The team says that the vaccine had a particularly strong effect in the nose and deeper respiratory tract of the mice. Since this area is where the virus first establishes its foothold, fighting it off here can prevent an infection altogether.

The vaccine was created by inserting the coronavirus’ distinct spike protein, the biochemical structure it uses to enter our cells, into another type of virus — an adenovirus, the class that causes the common cold. This adenovirus forms the base of the vaccine. It was further manipulated by the researchers to make it unable to cause any illness and then introduced into the nose. This way, our cells can interact with it and ‘see’ the spike protein, which enables our body to create an appropriate antibody, while being completely safe.

The team adds that they added two mutations to the spike protein to keep it stable in a specific shape, making it easier for our bodies to generate antibodies.

Still, the biggest news regarding this vaccine is the method of administration. Adenoviruses are often used as mediators in vaccines, for example in those for Ebola and tuberculosis, but they’re administered through injection. What few other vaccines we currently have that are administered via the nose use a weakened, live virus. This limits the cases where they can be administered, and also are likely to pose a greater risk, as the viruses can, at least in theory, replicate inside the host.

“The nose is a novel route, so our results are surprising and promising. It’s also important that a single dose produced such a robust immune response,” says co-senior author David T. Curiel, MD, Ph.D., the Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology at WU.

“Vaccines that require two doses for full protection are less effective because some people, for various reasons, never receive the second dose.”

So did it work? The team says yes. They compared the intranasal administration technique to that of an intramuscular injection. The injected one caused the mice to become resistant to pneumonia, but didn’t prevent a SARS-CoV-2 infection in the respiratory tract. In a human equivalent, this would make patients experience a less-severe form of COVID-19, but wouldn’t protect them against becoming infected or spreading the virus.

The intranasal vaccine, meanwhile, completely prevented infection in the upper and lower respiratory tract. In a human equivalent, this would completely prevent an infection from taking root, and would stop carriers from spreading the disease.

Naturally, we should temper our enthusiasm — the vaccine has only been tested on mice so far. Until more research can be done, especially using human participants, this vaccine is far from being confirmed as efficient.

The paper “A single-dose intranasal ChAd vaccine protects upper and lower respiratory tracts against SARS-CoV-2” has been published in the journal Cell.

How fundraising is affected by the coronavirus outbreak

Image credits: Aneta Pawlik.

Coronavirus disruption

Fundraising is in a weird position. Many fundraising efforts have been severely hampered, as they rely on massive events and crowds — both of which will remain banned, in the name of public health, for some time.

The London Marathon, for example, raised over $70m for charity, and it’s been canceled. Most marathons are actually important fundraising efforts, as are most major sporting events in general. In 2018, 25 sports events raised over £150m for charities in the UK alone. Now, all those events have been delayed or canceled.

It’s very unlikely that we will have any marathons in the near future, or triathlons or any type of crowd-gathering event, for that matter, where fundraising can be carried out. Even door to door fundraising has been canceled for the foreseeable future.

It’s hard to say just how long the situation will continue, but since there is no vaccine or approved antiviral treatment, large gatherings — the bread and butter of fundraising — won’t likely be allowed in the next 12-24 months.

“If coronavirus peaks over the next couple of months and then life starts returning to normal towards mid-summer, we will have lost maybe £1m, but in the grand scheme of things we can still carry on doing what we are doing,” says Richard Lee, director of fundraising at Crisis, a national charity for homeless people. “If it lasts into autumn or winter, then we risk really significant impact.”

There’s also the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis: people’s incomes are taking a serious hit, and this might cascade into their willingness to support charities.

Just in the UK, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to £4 billion in lost income across the charity sector, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) warned.

It’s also worth noting that while online fundraising is expected to increase in the following period, it’s hard to believe it can compensate for real-life events. Small-scale events tend to bring the community together, while larger-scale events tend to bring in massive support for charities.

It’s hard to imagine something like this in the near future. Running events might be canceled for a long time in the future. Image credits: Mārtiņš Zemlickis.

Fundraising for coronavirus

While overall charities are taking a hit in this period, medical research fundraising — and especially, anything related to the coronavirus itself — has seen an impressive surge.

The BBC’s Big Night In raised a whopping £67m during its three-hour telethon on Thursday night, April 23.

Meanwhile, Virgin Money Giving, the not-for-profit fundraising platform, said donations had increased 72% compared to year-to-year data. Revolut, a popular financial app for Europeans, recorded a 59% rise in donations brokered by the app.

Troubled times are handled with creativity

As stated earlier, the 40th London Marathon has had to be canceled due to the pandemic. However, the organizers flexed their creative muscles and thought of something to do instead. In place of the 26-mile race, the nation has been invited to join the 2.6 Challenge.

Participants in the 2.6 Challenge are encouraged to participate in any sporting activity of their choosing, as long as the numbers two and six are featured. For example, cycling 2.6km or doing 26 press-ups. This is also expected to garner attention and funds for charitable causes.

What this all means

These are very uncertain times for charities, but organizers shouldn’t give up. Some donors are going to pull back on giving for the time being. But there will be others who step up to help during a time of extreme need.

Unfortunately, some causes will have to wait as most of the support and donations will be directed towards medical charities aiming to help medical staff and those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis.

In any event, fundraisers shouldn’t despair. The sky won’t fall and the world is not going to end. Our society has gone through many desperate episodes, from world wars to natural calamities. But even during stressful times, even the poorest and most unfortunate had found a place for charitable giving.

Only around 6% of coronavirus infections worldwide are detected so far, German researchers estimate

A new paper published by researchers at the University of Göttingen suggests that the official numbers of COVID-19 cases is underestimating the reality in the field — dramatically so.

State Public Health Laboratory in Exton Tests for COVID-19.
Image credits Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr.

According to the team’s model, only 6% of all infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been detected worldwide, placing the real number of infections, potentially, in the tens of millions. The authors say that their findings should serve as a warning against relying too heavily on the reported number of cases for policymakers.

While definitely worrying, the results are based largely on reports from cases in the Wuhan province, China. As there are growing concerns that the country has misreported data pertaining to the COVID-19 epidemic to the wider world to appease its own political machinations, having “concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak [by] under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease,” the findings are best taken with a grain of salt. While the exact figures reported on in this paper may suffer due to the unreliability of data, the larger general trends identified in this paper may still be sound.

A drop in a bucket

“These results mean that governments and policy-makers need to exercise extreme caution when interpreting case numbers for planning purposes,” Sebastian Vollmer, Professor of Development Economics at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the report, explained in an article for the University.

“Such extreme differences in the amount and quality of testing carried out in different countries mean that official case records are largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information,” adds Dr. Christian Bommer, the report’s second author. “Major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections and contain the virus are urgently needed.”

The duo drew data from a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal which estimated the mortality rate of COVID-19 and the time until death — i.e. the time between contracting the virus and a patient’s death. Based on these figures, they developed a mathematical model to help them estimate the quality of official case records, giving them an idea of how many cases are likely detected out of the total number spreading through society.

All in all, official numbers “dramatically understate” the true number of infections, the two report.

The team believes that some European countries such as Spain and Italy are seeing much higher casualty rates from the virus than others, for example Germany, because they have only detected a smaller number of their overall infections — and this lack of data artificially makes the virus seem more deadly here. According to their estimates, Germany has detected around 15.6% of infections compared to only 3.5% in Italy and 1.7% in Spain. the United States and the United Kingdom — two countries that have received widespread criticism from public health experts for their delayed response to the pandemic — are looking at ever lower detection rates, of 1.6% and 1.2% respectively. On the other end of the spectrum are countries such as South Korea, which appears to have detected about half of all its SARS-CoV-2 infections.

If these results are true, it would mean that there are currently in excess of ten million infected in the United States, over five million in Spain, around three million in Italy, and around two million in the UK. In Germany, the team estimated that the number of infections is close to 460,000. On the same day this report was published (31st of March), there was a total of about only 900,000 confirmed cases worldwide.

How accurate the team’s estimates are hinges on how accurate the official data made available by Chinese authorities is, in turn. Regardless of this, the report is a good reminder that the official figures currently at our disposal aren’t the reality on the ground, they’re just the best attempt we currently have at gauging it. In the absence of mass testing, it’s simply impossible to know how many are truly infected. Until such measures become possible, the report aims to caution policymakers and healthcare experts on the limits of the data they work with.

The report “Average detection rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections is estimated around six percent” is available on the University of Göttingen’s page.

Human immune response against COVID-19 mapped for the first time

On Tuesday, Australian researchers reported that they have successfully mapped the human body’s immune response to the coronavirus.

A soldier takes the temperature of a commuter at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys (Camp Humphreys), South Korea, Feb. 27, 2020.
Image credits U.S. Army / Pfc. Kang, Min-jin.

This is the first time anyone has mapped the general immune response of our bodies against the new virus, with potentially huge implications for the discovery of a cure. The findings were made from blood samples taken from a COVID-19 patient that was hospitalized with moderate symptoms.

How to heal

“We saw a really robust immune response that preceded clinical recovery,” Katherine Kedzierska, from the University of Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told AFP.

“We noted an immune response but she was visually still unwell, and three days later the patient recovered.”

By establishing a baseline condition for patients with moderate cases of the disease, the team explains, we can start piecing together what’s different or missing in patients who become fatally ill.

The team says that their findings have two important applications. First, it will allow virologists to develop a vaccine, as vaccines aim to replicate the body’s natural immune response to viruses. They identified four distinct groups of immune cells in the blood of the COVID-19 patient during recovery, which is “very similar to what we see in patients with influenza,” according to Kedzierska. This is particularly exciting as we do have a broadly-effective influenza vaccine.

Until then, the findings could also help authorities better screen for infected individuals, and make more reliable predictions about at-risk groups in future outbreaks. The immune system markers identified in this study could, at least in theory, also be used to predict which patients will develop a mild case of the disease, and which are at risk of developing a more severe case.

Most COVID-19 deaths were recorded in elderly patients or those who had preexisting medical conditions, most notably heart disease and diabetes. Kedzierska said that more research is needed to understand why but, so far, children seem to avoid infection and show few or no symptoms after contracting the virus.

Hopefully, the findings of this study will be translated into an efficient cure or vaccine as soon as possible.

The paper “Breadth of concomitant immune responses prior to patient recovery: a case report of non-severe COVID-19” has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.