Coronavirus research recap: Allergies vs Covid-19, more evidence on masks, and lung fungi



SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19, is mainly spread through respiratory droplets, especially when we cough and speak in indoor spaces with inadequate ventilation.

In the absence of a safe, effective vaccine, we are resorting to face masks to reduce the risk of getting sick while returning to the outside world. To date, various studies suggested that although masks can’t keep us 100% protected against Covid-19, they can reduce the risk of spreading droplets.

Now, new research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that masks significantly reduce the possibility of droplets becoming airborne. The study was published on medRxiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed. 

READ MORE | Even more scientific evidence that masks help protect us against coronavirus-laden droplets 

Is that cough just an allergy – or is it the "rona"?

Allergies and Covid-19 have similar symptoms, turning the upcoming allergy season into a potential nightmare for sufferers.

As South Africa gets ready for spring – the prime time for pollen – allergy sufferers are going to carefully analyse every sneeze and cough.

“Hay fever is activated by airborne allergens, such as pollen, which leads to a runny and itchy nose, scratchy throat, as well as allergic conjunctivitis in the eyes," says Professor Jonny Peter, head of the Lung Institute’s Allergy and Immunology Unit at the University of Cape Town.

"While Covid-19 and hay fever share certain symptoms, there are some key differences. In Covid-19, fevers, body aches and headache are common, but these are rarely associated with seasonal allergies. In contrast, an itchy nose or eyes and sneezing signal allergy symptoms and are not common in coronavirus infections."

READ MORE | Pollen season is upon us - know when your sneezes, sniffles are allergies and not something worse

In the largest such study yet, researchers have found that two classes of common blood pressure medications seem tied to better survival against Covid-19.

The UK findings should allay any worry that the two types of mediations – angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) – might actually harm Covid-19 patients.

"We know that patients with cardiovascular diseases are at particular risk of severe Covid-19 infection," noted lead researcher Dr Vassilios Vassiliou. "But at the start of the pandemic, there was concern that specific medications for high blood pressure could be linked with worse outcomes for Covid-19 patients," he said.

Instead, the researchers found that the drugs weren't harmful but rather lowered the risk of death and critical outcomes by about one-third.

READ MORE | Blood pressure meds could improve survival in Covid-19 patients 

Scientists have discovered that the types of fungi living in the lungs play a big part in the severity of a life-threatening condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

In ARDS – a condition developed by many patients with severe cases of Covid-19 – the lungs are unable to supply adequate oxygen to vital organs. Patients with ARDS are usually placed on ventilators.

Researcher Noel Britton, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, noted that in terms of numbers, fungi are outnumbered by bacteria "by several orders of magnitude". Researchers wanted to know more about their involvement in activating and regulating the human immune system. ARDS is characterised by an overreaction of the immune system.

"There are no known therapies for the successful treatment of ARDS and very little is known about why some patients have a hyper-inflammatory response," Britton said. "The diversity of the microbiome, and specifically of fungi, may play an important role in understanding why some patients develop ARDS and some do not."

READ MORE | Types of fungi in the lungs could affect Covid-19 outcomes 


SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 625 056.

According to the latest update, 14 028 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 538 604 recoveries.

So far, over 3.6 million tests have been conducted, with 21 902 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 over 25 million, while deaths were 843 842.

The United States had the most cases in the world - almost six million, as well as the most deaths - 182 789.


Latest news:

A more infections mutation of the new coronavirus has been found in Indonesia, the Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology said on Sunday, as the Southeast Asian country's caseload surges. 

Indonesia reported 2 858 new infections on Sunday, data by the health ministry showed, below the previous day's record 3 308 but above the past month's daily average. It's total number of cases was 172 053, with 7 343 Covid-19 fatalities. 

The "infectious but milder" D614G mutation of the virus has been found in genome sequencing data from samples collected by the institute, deputy director Herawati Sudoyo told Reuters, adding that more study is required to determine whether that was behind the recent rise in cases. 

READ MORE | More infectious mutation of coronavirus found in Indonesia as cases jump

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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