Coronavirus morning recap: Resurgence in cases in WC, high blood sugar risk, and immunity

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LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Even if you’re not diabetic, high blood sugar could be fatal with Covid-19

The deadly impact of Covid-19 on diabetic patients has been well-established during the coronavirus pandemic, but more research is showing that high blood sugar can be fatal, even if you don’t suffer from diabetes.

Earlier research in July first revealed this sinister complication in coronavirus patients, and the latest study from Spain is the largest to date, using data from more than 11 000 patients.

Published in Annals of Medicine, the study took a closer look at the blood sugar levels of Covid-19 patients at the time of their hospital admission, regardless of their diabetic status.

The researchers established that high blood sugar – also known as hyperglycaemia – upon non-critical admission is an early warning sign that a Covid-19 patient might need mechanical ventilation and have a higher risk of death. 

In those without diabetes, hyperglycaemia can be triggered by infection, trauma, medications and other chronic conditions.

"Although several studies and meta-analyses have shown that patients with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of severe Covid-19 and increased mortality rates," write the researchers, "the impact of hyperglycaemia itself, rather than the presence of [diabetes], has not been sufficiently described in non-critical patients hospitalised with Covid-19".

OPINION | South African researchers are looking at medicinal plants for possible Covid-19 treatments

South Africa has a long tradition of using plants for medicinal purposes. Some of these, such as Aloe ferox, Sutherlandia frutescens and Kiggelaria africana, have been studied as sources of useful compounds. But most still need to be scientifically validated as treatments for particular diseases.

Medicinal plants are gradually gaining prominence in scientists’ search for potential treatment agents for Covid-19. Currently there is no specific antiviral drug to treat this new respiratory disease. Most treatment strategies focus on managing symptoms and supportive therapy such as supplementary oxygen and mechanical ventilation.

My colleagues and I from the Durban University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa are among the researchers looking for potential Covid-19 treatments from plants. We recently completed the first phase of our project, which ultimately seeks to develop a novel SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic.

Our aim in the first phase was to identify bioactive compounds in plants that are indigenous to South Africa which could be effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. We looked for potential Covid-19 therapeutic agents from a list of 29 bioactive compounds.

The species chosen were based on their use for the common cold, flu, other respiratory conditions, antimalarial, antiviral and antioxidant activity.

Our initial findings show that some compounds had the potential to inhibit SARS-CoV-2. We are now in the second phase of our study, which will test the compounds rigorously in the laboratory. This is a starting point in the search for a novel SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 775 502.

According to the latest update, 21 201 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, more than 5.35 million tests have been conducted, with 29 437 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Late on Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were 60 186 902, while deaths were over 1.4 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world – 12 727 447, as well as the most deaths - close to 262 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Resurgence of Covid-19 in Western Cape after 52.1% increase in new cases in a week - Winde

Premier Alan Winde on Wednesday confirmed an established Covid-19 resurgence in the Western Cape, after the province saw new cases increase by 52.1% over the last week alone.

"There is also now established community transmission of the virus again in this province, which means that it is spreading within communities at a faster rate. This growth is primarily driven by two districts in the Western Cape: the Garden Route and the Cape Metro," he said. 

"Last week, we issued a hotspot alert for the Garden Route, following an alarming growth of cases in the area. This surge has continued to gain momentum and there are now more active cases in George and Knysna sub-districts than at any point in the pandemic to date."

Winde warned that the City of Cape Town was following a similar trajectory, although it looked to be about 10 to 14 days behind.

"We are, therefore, also issuing a hotspot alert for the metro. It is important to highlight that the growth in cases in the City is being recorded in every sub-district and is not being driven by any one area. This is verified by waste-water treatment testing," he said.

"While the growth in cases province-wide has mainly been driven by these two districts, we are also worried about the Cape Winelands, which is starting to record a concerning number of new cases."

According to the province's Covid-19 dashboard, 993 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours.

READ | Covid-19: Eastern Cape responsible for half of new daily infections - Mkhize

Whether the resurgence of Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape will become a second wave of infections, depends on how successful that area is contained, says Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who is heading to the province.

On Wednesday, Mkhize was briefing a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committees on Health and Women, Children and People with Disabilities on a report by the Commission for Gender Equality looking at the forced sterilisation of HIV-positive women, when DA MP Siviwe Gwarube asked him for an update on the situation in the Eastern Cape.

Mkhize responded that, at the peak of the pandemic, there were around 13 000 new cases per day, but that this had dropped to about 1 000 per day.

"But now those cases have started creeping up. And, as they creep up, we see that the increase is actually coming from the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape.

"More significantly, the Eastern Cape is now on a daily basis responsible for between 50 and 55% of new positive cases recorded."

According to Mkhize it is too early to call it a second wave.

"It’s a cluster outbreak that’s beginning to respond to what we define as a resurgence - whether that’s already the next whole wave or not depends on how successful we are in containing that area".

Mkhize is also concerned about the Garden Route in the Western Cape.

He is going to the Eastern Cape to look at human resources and the availability of equipment, including oxygen, at local level.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | How to interpret the 'vaccine efficacy' rates of coronavirus vaccines

95%. 94.5%. 70%. Lots of numbers are being thrown around lately, touting how effective different coronavirus vaccines are looking so far, based on trials on tens of thousands of volunteers around the world.

But what do these percentages really mean?

Vaccine efficacy measures how well a vaccine works at preventing disease in a well-managed clinical trial. The same concept, when applied to how well a vaccine works in the general public, is called vaccine effectiveness.

Either way, this "VE" metric measures how well a vaccine works at preventing disease. So, the closer the efficacy or effectiveness % is to 100, the better a shot works at keeping vaccinated individuals healthy.

Polio vaccines, for example, at 99%-plus, are near-perfect. Annual flu shots, which typically range from 40-60% effective, are not as great at completely halting that disease — but they may make a case of the flu, or another disease like the coronavirus, milder if a person who got the flu shot later gets sick.

So far, vaccines for the coronavirus appear to be performing very well at preventing future illnesses, in the trials that vaccine makers have been conducting around the world in recent months.

READ | We now have the best evidence yet that Covid immunity lasts 6 to 8 months, perhaps even years

We now have the best answer yet to a crucial, lingering question about Covid-19: how long immunity lasts.

New research suggests that recovered coronavirus patients likely have a robust immune memory that persists for at least eight months. This memory relies on more than just antibodies — it also involves white blood cells known as T cells and B cell that have impressive powers of recollection.

Combined, these layers of protection enable the immune system to recognize and re-attack the coronavirus should it ever invade again, thereby preventing another infection.

A scanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte (also called a T cell) from the immune system of a healthy donor.

To assess how long immunity to the virus lasts across these various layers of the immune system, scientists measured how many - and what types of — immune cells recovered coronavirus patients had months after they got sick.

Their research, though not yet peer-reviewed, offers hope that those who've already gotten infected likely won't be ill again for quite some time.

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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