Coronavirus morning recap: Latest on immunity, and how smoking worsens infection

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Coronavirus immunity: Promising news from latest research

Scientists have been scurrying to understand immunity against reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that can lead to Covid-19).

It is still not entirely clear how long contracting the virus confers immunity, with early studies suggesting a period of a few months, which, therefore, means that it may only provide temporary protection against reinfection.

One of these studies, for instance, found that antibody levels "waned quite rapidly" after infection in the British population, suggesting a risk of multiple infections, Health24 reported.

However, newer studies indicate immunity could last longer.

According to a study published in the renowned journal Nature Medicine, people who have recovered from Covid-19 have powerful and protective killer immune cells, even when antibodies are not detectable.

This, the authors wrote, “represents major determinants of immune protection on an individual as well as population level”.

SEE | Smoking worsens Covid-19 infection in the airways, new study reveals

Since the early days of the pandemic, questions have been raised about the link between smoking and Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

In June this year, the World Health Organization stated that, based on existing literature assessing the association between smoking and Covid-19, there was “insufficient information to confirm any link between tobacco or nicotine in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19”.

However, more recent studies have shown that while smokers are not at risk of contracting infection, their risk of severe disease and death, once infected, is higher than that of non-smokers, although the ways that cigarette smoke exposure affects airway cell infection by SARS-CoV-2 have not been very clear.

A new study by scientists at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California has helped understand how this happens by investigating SARS-CoV-2 infection on a cellular and molecular level – using a model of airway tissue created from human cells.

Their report was published in Cell Stem Cell.

To perform their study, the scientists employed a platform known as an air-liquid interface culture. Essentially, this is grown from human

READ | Covid-19 collateral damage: When hand sanitisers become a double-edged sword

When Covid-19 started spreading across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the best way to prevent Covid-19 infection is through physical distancing, wearing cloth masks, as well as frequent and proper handwashing and surface decontamination.

The call for regular handwashing led to an exponential rise in the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, which has increased the incidence of hand eczema in healthcare workers as well as the general population.

Hand eczema characteristically presents as a red itchy, sometimes burning or even tender, rash. The rash may be dry with cracked and scaly skin, or wet with blisters, oozing and crusting. Certain individuals, such as those with underlying atopic (a general disposition to develop) eczema, are at greater risk of developing alcohol rub hand eczema due to the inherent impaired barrier function of the skin characterising this condition.

In a study from Hubei province in China, 434 healthcare workers were interviewed, with 321 (74%) reporting that they sanitise their hands more than 10 times per day. Of those healthcare workers, 246 (76.6%) reported symptoms of hand eczema, with the most common being irritant contact hand eczema and less commonly allergic contact hand eczema.

Another study from Milan reported that from 9 March to 4 May 2020 there were 24 new cases of hand eczema in the general population related to the use of alcohol-based sanitisers.

Some of the issues with alcohol-based hand sanitisers include the use of non-standard formulae (meaning that methanol is used instead of ethanol); types of alcohol such as isopropyl alcohol vs. ethanol; as well as varying amounts of alcohol (<60%). The various recipes making the rounds on social media in the early days of lockdown illustrate this point.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 759 658.

According to the latest update, 20 671 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 702 544 recoveries.

So far, more than 5.21 million tests have been conducted, with 24 456 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Late on Thursday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 56.65 million, while deaths were more than 1.35 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 11.62 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 251 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | 'We are not adhering to rules': Winde warns of downsized festive events as Garden Route cases rise

In a bid to contain a second wave of Covid-19, the Western Cape is making it compulsory for organisers of large potential "superspreader" events to now also get medical compliance certification.

"We are not adhering to the rules," Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said in a joint briefing on Thursday with health authorities on the resurgence.

Winde added that 752 people were now in hospitals after hovering at around 500 cases.

Cases on the Garden Route continue to rise.

"We need to downsize those events during the festive season," he said. "We need to take lessons from what happens in other parts of the world."

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said awareness drives were ongoing, as was mask distribution to help instill behavioural change.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | A woman woke up from a Covid-19 coma to learn she gave birth to twins 16 days earlier

Perpetual Uke, a pregnant hospital worker in the UK, fell ill from the coronavirus in late March, several UK outlets reported.

She was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, and was placed in a medically induced coma while on a ventilator, according to Sky News.

When Uke woke up nearly a month later, she no longer had a pregnant belly and feared the worst. Then she learned that her twins, a boy and a girl, were born by C-section 16 days earlier.

"I was pregnant at 24 to 25 weeks, at that stage, and by the time I woke up, I was so disoriented," Uke told Sky News. "I thought I'd lost my pregnancy because I couldn't see my bump any more. I was really worried.

But her babies - Sochika Palmer and Osinachi Pascal - were born on April 10. Uke was only 26 weeks pregnant at the time. Both babies weighed under two pounds when they were born, according to Sky News.

The twins were placed on incubators in a neonatal intensive care unit and cared for by their father, who was also minding their two older children.

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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