U.S. nursing homes still face COVID-19 test delays; you can wash Halloween candy

Nancy Lapid
·5-min read

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) - The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

U.S. nursing homes lack access to prompt COVID-19 diagnoses

Most U.S. nursing homes still cannot get prompt results of COVID-19 tests of staff and residents, researchers reported on Friday in JAMA Internal Medicine. They received responses from more than 15,000 skilled nursing facilities to the question: In the past two weeks, on average how long did it take you to receive COVID-19 test results? Only 14% said they get results of the most reliable viral tests back in less than one day, while 40% said it took at least three days to get results. Study co-author Dr. Michael Barnett of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health called that "an unacceptably slow turnaround." This was true "even among homes in hotspot counties supplied with rapid testing machines from the federal government, which implies that these machines are not helping nursing homes with the rapid turnaround they need," he said. Nursing homes account for more than 40% of U.S. COVID-19 deaths, he noted. "Our results show that despite knowing about this vulnerability for a long time, nursing homes still lack the basic capacity to screen staff effectively to prevent new COVID-19 outbreaks." (https://bit.ly/2HLYFMQ)

You can wash your Halloween candy to cut infection risk

The risk of catching COVID-19 on Halloween can be reduced somewhat with a simple candy-washing method, researchers reported Thursday in mSystems. In an accompanying press statement, they advise mixing three ounces (85 grams) of dish soap detergent containing Sodium laureth sulfate, or SLS (sometimes written as Sodium dodecyl sulfate, or SDS) per gallon (3.8 liters) of water, then submerging the candy so that all surfaces of the wrappers are covered. After being submerged for at least a minute, the candy should be rinsed with clean water. To test this approach, they had 10 recently diagnosed COVID-19 patients handle typical individually-wrapped Halloween candy. When the candies were not washed afterward, researchers found virus on 60% of candies that had been handled by unwashed hands or deliberately coughed on. Treating candy with the dishwashing detergent reduced the amount of virus by 62%, they found. While cleaning Halloween candy "is reasonable if one wants to be extra cautious ... the main risk of COVID-19 transmission during trick-or-treating is airborne transmission," coauthor Rodolfo Salido of University of California, San Diego said in a news release. (https://bit.ly/35SG3mV)

Shift in immune response seen as COVID-19 progresses from mild to moderate

The immune response to the new coronavirus shifts dramatically as patients transition from mild to moderate illness, information that has implications for patient care, researchers reported on Wednesday in Cell. "Moderate disease (hospitalized but not intubated) is very different from mild disease ... but pretty similar to severe disease," said coauthor James Heath of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, whose team studied 139 COVID-19 patients of all severity levels. Once COVID-19 patients become moderately ill, "strong inflammatory signals urge the body to mount a strong response," Heath explained. "However, there is a severe depletion of nutrients in the blood that provide the raw materials for building that response," and "unusual and dysfunctional immune responses begin to appear, increasing as the severity increases." The same is true in severe disease, only more so, he said. The findings suggest new drugs should be tested in moderately ill patients. "It is easier to treat patients at that stage because they are more likely to respond," Heath said. Furthermore, the depletion of blood nutrients suggests that non-pharmaceuticals, such as dietary supplements, might help the response of these patients, he said. (https://bit.ly/2TDQjcS)

Wearable sensors might improve recognition of COVID-19

Wearable fitness devices could someday help detect early or mild cases of COVID-19, new research suggests. More than 30,000 people from across the United States volunteered to use a smartphone app that collects smartwatch and activity tracker data on heart rate, sleep and activity levels, as well as self-reported symptoms and diagnostic testing results. Overall, 3,811 reported symptoms. Most did not get tested for the coronavirus, but of those who did, 54 tested positive and 279 tested negative. "The team was able to identify, with roughly 80% prediction accuracy, whether a person who reported symptoms was likely to have COVID-19," a significant improvement compared to only asking people about their symptoms, said coauthor Giorgio Quer of Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. Participants could connect their data using Fitbit devices, the Apple HealthKit, or Google Fit. "As the depth and diversity of data types from personal sensors continue to expand ... the ability to detect subtle individual changes in response to early (infection) will potentially improve," researchers said in their report on Thursday in Nature Medicine. "Early identification of those who are pre-symptomatic or even asymptomatic would be especially valuable, as people may be infectious during this period," Quer added. "That's the ultimate goal." (https://go.nature.com/3kKVVxP)

Open https://tmsnrt.rs/3a5EyDh in an external browser for a Reuters graphic on vaccines and treatments in development.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)