Coronavirus morning recap: Brain abnormalities, vaccine hesitancy, and curbing outbreaks



READ | Covid-19: Brain scans reveal a spectrum of abnormalities that cannot be fully explained

Covid-19 appears to be affecting the brain in ways that are not yet properly understood. A sudden loss of smell and taste and other strange neurological effects such as stroke, seizures and swelling of the brain (medically known as encephalitis) have all been described in previous case reports.

Some studies have also found confusion, delirium, dizziness and difficulty concentrating creeping up as some unusual experiences in patients.

Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine (BCU) and the University of Pittsburgh wanted to understand how exactly Covid-19 disturbs patterns of normal brain function, using an EEG (electroencephalogram).

An EEG is used to record brain activity and is performed by placing electrodes on a patient's scalp, and in this context could help indicate any Covid-related encephalopathy (signs of damage to brain function).

To do this, they collated and analysed the data of close to 620 Covid-19 patients from 84 studies that included the EEG waveform data. All these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals and preprint servers.

Their review was published in Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy.

READ | Loss of smell more common in Covid-19 than thought

Loss of smell is common in Covid-19, but fewer people say they have this symptom than objective tests reveal, a new study finds.

In fact, about 77% of Covid-19 patients who were directly measured had smell loss, but only 44% said they did, researchers found.

Direct measures of smell involve having patients smell and report on actual odours, while self-reporting includes getting data through patient questionnaires, interviews or electronic health records, the study authors explained.

"Objective measures are a more sensitive method to identify smell loss related to Covid-19," said study co-author Mackenzie Hannum, a postdoctoral fellow at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Subjective measures, "while expedient during the early stages of the pandemic, underestimate the true prevalence of smell loss," said Vicente Ramirez, a doctoral student at the University of California, Merced, and summer intern at Monell.

The research suggests subjective measures underestimate the true extent of smell loss and that it may be an effective tool for diagnosing Covid-19 early, the authors said in a Monell news release.

OPINION | Covid-19: A global survey shows worrying signs of vaccine hesitancy

It has been nine months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of Covid-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a “public health emergency of international concern”. Since then, more than 44 million cases have been recorded and over one million lives lost. Economic costs measure in trillions of dollars. Global recovery will take years.

A safe, effective Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be developed in record time and may be approved for production, distribution and acceptance some time in 2021. Public health experts say that at least 70% of any community must get vaccinated with a Covid-19 vaccine to achieve an acceptable level of immunity to protect its members.

We recently surveyed 13 426 people in 19 countries. We included two of Africa’s most populous and visible nations, Nigeria and South Africa, which are among the most affected by Covid-19 on the continent.

Overall, we found that 71.5% of participants said they would take a “proven safe and effective vaccine” while 14% would refuse it outright. An additional 14% said they would hesitate to take the vaccine.

But that average figure is deceptive. It was raised by favourable responses from two Asian countries that also recorded very high trust in government health recommendations. More than 80% of Chinese respondents and 75% of South Koreans said they would accept a vaccine.

South Africans came closer than any other country to the 70% standard, at almost 65%. But only 46.3% of Nigerians said they would do so. This is slightly higher than the results we found in Spain, Sweden, Poland, Brazil and Ecuador.

These vaccine hesitant people are not necessarily vaccine opponents. A large number of them consistently vaccinate their children against numerous childhood diseases.


SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 728 836.

According to the latest update, 19 539 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 659 249 recoveries.

So far, over 4.8 million tests have been conducted, with 15 692 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide were close to 47.4 million, while deaths exceeded 1.2 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 9.3 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 232 000.


Latest news:

READ | Principal, deputy die of Covid-19 at Eastern Cape school

More than 960 learners and 25 teachers of Noninzi Luzipho Primary School in Uitenhage are receiving counselling after the school's principal and deputy principal died of Covid-19 three days apart.

The Eastern Cape education department confirmed this to News24 on Tuesday.

Principal David Daniel Mavikela died on Saturday at Netcare Cuyler Hospital in Uitenhage afterpreviously complaining of breathing difficulties, while his deputy, Esther Namfu, died on Wednesday.

The MEC for education in the Eastern Cape, Fundile Gade, has sent his condolences.

Departmental spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said: "The department has been involved from the beginning at the school, and officials to counsel the learners and educators are on site as we speak.

"The MEC sends his heartfelt condolences to the families and district officials have been dispatched to visit the families of the deceased."

Mtima said the Kwanobuhle township-based school remains open and that teachers and learners are receiving the necessary support.

READ | 19 UKZN students in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19

Nineteen University of KwaZulu-Natal students, from the same residence, are in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19.

Tests were conducted on 200 at Siphiwe Zuma Residence on Howard College campus after the 19 tested positive on Friday.

"The affected students have been sent to the Department of Health (DOH) facilities for isolation.This development saddens us as we have taken every precaution possible to ensure the safety of our students. It is also incumbent on our UKZN community to be as vigilant as possible," said UKZN's acting executive director of corporate relations Normah Zondo.

The university said its health teams were dealing with the outbreak.

"The university has teams of healthcare experts who are currently dealing with this outbreak and we thank them for their professionalism, generosity of spirit and for rising to the occasion and caring for our university community," said Zondo.

Zondo said they had begun contact tracing and decontamination where necessary. Access to the residence had also been limited.

"(We have) limited visits to the residence to ensure the safety of other students. Security has beenincreased to prevent visitors from entering this residence," said Zondo.


Latest news:

READ | Covid-19 wrap | Coronavirus record in Spain, warnings in the UK, and curfews in Europe

New Covid-19 cases in the US hit another record high last week, while Spain reported its biggest daily increase in infections since the start of the pandemic as Europe faces fresh curbs to contain a second wave of the outbreak.


Britain, which has the highest official death toll in Europe, is grappling with more than 20 000 new cases a day and scientists have warned the "worst-case" scenario of 80 000 dead could be exceeded.

Greece will impose a two-week lockdown in northern regions and suspend flights, while Italy will tighten restrictions but is holding back from reintroducing a nationwide lockdown as infections, hospital admissions and deaths surge.

The ambulance service in northwest England, one of the areas worst-hit by Covid-19, declared a major incident over an exceptionally high volume of calls, especially in the Greater Manchester area.

The Hungarian government will decide later this week whether to impose new restrictions.

Sweden is set to double the funding allocated to regions for fighting the coronavirus, Finance Minster Magdalena Andersson said.

A growing number of Russians are unwilling to be inoculated against Covid-19 once a vaccine becomes widely available, a pollster said.


Argentina is expecting 10 million doses of Russia's main experimental Covid-19 vaccine between December and January.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said he was pondering declaring a state of emergency as a preventive measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus at a time when infections are soaring.

READ | Countries controlling the coronavirus have 3 strategies in common: masking, robust testing and tracing, and a consistent federal plan

Nine months into the pandemic, the US and parts of Europe are seeing their coronavirus outbreaks spiral even further out of control, with record-breaking daily infection counts.

And then there's Taiwan, which just marked its 200 consecutive day without a single new Covid-19 case.

Or take the epicentre of Australia's pandemic, the state of Victoria, which recorded zero cases for the first time in four months on both October 26 and 27.

South Korea's daily case count, too, continues to hover around 120 — about 1/1000 of the nearly 100,000 new cases reported in the US on Friday.

According to public-health experts, these successes are the result of a clear recipe: Create a cohesive federal plan with consistent messaging, get everyone to wear masks, and implement widespread testing and contact tracing.

The countries failing to curb their outbreaks are missing at least one of those elements. The US lacks all of them.

"I think an organised federal response and the populace trusting their leaders and public-health officials is the most important, and we have failed miserably at both," Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Business Insider US.

Emma Hodcroft, a scientist from Basel, Switzerland, who studies the coronavirus' genetic code, said she sees a common trend among governments that got the virus under control: They have a plan in place in case cases rise, communicate it clearly to the public, and enact it quickly whenever numbers start going up.

"A lot of countries have tried to kind of figure this out as they go in the autumn, rather than having pre-set limits and recommendations on when and what measures should be taken, and by whom this is done, and at what level," Hodcroft told BI. 

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

Image credit: Getty Images

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