Coronavirus science | Week in review: Obesity, sudden hearing loss, and test swab found in a lung



READ | Risk of severe Covid-19 high for obese people, regardless of other factors

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, obesity has been one of the top triggers for severe cases. Outside of the disease, obesity has always had a detrimental effect on health through chronic inflammation, a higher risk of heart disease and a weakened response to viral infections.

But how much does it matter in relation to other conditions, age, sex and race when it comes to contracting a severe coronavirus infection?

To answer this question, Brazilian researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nine studies from five countries on severe Covid-19, which included more than 6 500 patients. More than half were male and had comorbidities such as hypertension (51.51%), diabetes (30.3%), cardiovascular disease (16.66%), lung disease (15.99%), renal disease (7.49%), cancer (5.07%), and immunosuppression (1.8%). A high proportion of patients were smokers and suffered from dyslipidemia - a condition involving high levels of cholesterol or fat in the blood.

They wanted to investigate the prevalence of obesity as a contributing factor in severe Covid-19 cases that required admission to ICU. They also looked at the best treatments that helped obese patients recover from the virus.

The studies they analysed included case studies and series, clinical trials and randomised controlled trials that mentioned obesity. They found that in more than half of severe cases, people suffered from obesity. In terms of other comorbidities, just less than half had hypertension, while type 2 diabetes, lung disease, smokers, cardiovascular disease were each around the 20% mark.

Not only is obesity a major factor for severe Covid-19, the condition also indicates that these patients are also more likely to be infected with the coronavirus in the first place.

PICS | Swab gets stuck inside woman’s lung during coronavirus test

A 51-year-old patient ended up with a snapped coronavirus test swab inside her lung after it was inserted into a breathing tube in her neck, a BMJ case report revealed.

The woman was undergoing brain surgery in a UK hospital to remove a fragment of her skull. As part of her treatment, a tracheostomy tube – placed into the windpipe to assist with breathing – was fitted.

After the operation, medical staff at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS (National Health Service) Trust sent the patient to undergo a coronavirus test as part of normal protocol before discharging her to a nursing home.

Since the patient had been breathing through the hole in her neck and could have potentially become infected with the virus through this airway, medical staff took a swab through her tracheostomy tube.

However, a nurse carrying out the test felt the swab snap during the procedure, and part of it ended up in the patient’s windpipe.

The test swab is designed to snap into a test tube to be sent to the lab.

READ | 'Silent' mutations gave Covid-19 virus an evolutionary edge

Understanding the features of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is crucial for predicting the future, and in a recent study, scientists may have come one step closer.

According to Duke University (DU) researchers, a number of “silent” mutations in the roughly 30 000 letters of the virus’s genetic code may have given it an advantage and caused it to thrive in the human population after crossing over from bats and other wild animals.

"We're trying to figure out what made this virus so unique," said lead author Alejandro Berrio, a postdoctoral associate in biologist Greg Wray's lab at DU.

In their paper, they explain how the subtle changes, or mutations, influenced how the virus unfolded its RNA molecules within human cells.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.

For their study, the researchers wanted to identify adaptive changes that occurred in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in humans, but not in closely related coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins.

READ | Covid-19: Sudden hearing loss, while rare, occurs in some patients - and needs to be caught early

The first case of sudden hearing loss due to Covid-19 infection was reported in the United Kingdom and doctors are urging people to become aware of the symptom because prompt treatment could completely or at least partially reverse it.

While the report states that the condition is uncommon, doctors warned that if the condition remains undetected, and subsequently untreated, the damage is likely to be irreversible.

The case study was published in BMJ Case Reports and details how a 45-year-old patient, who suffers from asthma, was admitted to hospital following 10 days of Covid-19 symptoms.

In hospital, the patient needed to be intubated and was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU).

He remained intubated for 30 days and his stay in hospital was further complicated because of a number of other conditions, including pneumonia and anaemia. After going through several courses of medication, including remdesivir, intravenous steroids and plasma exchange (to treat Covid-19), he was extubated and transferred out of the ICU.

A week after leaving the ICU, the patient noticed a ringing in his left ear and a sudden loss of hearing. The patient was officially diagnosed with sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL).

READ | Lockdown: Scientists looked at personality traits to understand why some defy the rules

People with certain common personality traits are less likely to remain at home when government policies are less restrictive, a global survey done during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has found.

The study researchers investigated the so-called Big Five personality traits: conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness and its association with complying with lockdown measures.

"The pandemic led us to revisit one of psychology's most fundamental and most basic questions in a high-stakes context: What determines human behaviour?" the authors wrote.

Their findings were published by the American Psychological Association.

For their study, the research team used data from the "Measuring Worldwide Covid-19 Attitudes and Beliefs" project – a global survey that aimed to assess people's behaviours and perceptions of others' behaviours during the pandemic.

The team analysed responses from more than 101 000 participants in 55 countries.


SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 715 868.

According to the latest update, 18 968 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 646 170 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.69 million tests have been conducted, with 19 997 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Late on Sunday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 42.77 million, while deaths were more than 1.51 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 8.58 million, as well as the most deaths - almost 225 000.

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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