Officials and scientists fought misinformation with data and clear communication — offering a game plan for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, experts say.
A leading Italian virologist says he hasn’t been able to get a simple flu shot, raising questions about Italy’s ability to carry out a mass vaccination drive to combat Covid-19.
Under MedAdvantage plans, the major insurer is sending packages including Tamiflu and coronavirus tests to those considered especially vulnerable to Covid and the flu.
Health officials say there is no link between the deaths and the flu vaccines. But the deaths, after two recent vaccine recalls, have raised safety fears among the public at a critical time.
Oxford scientists working out of the school’s Department of Physics have developed a new type of COVID-19 test that can detect SARS-CoV-2 with a high degree of accuracy, directly in samples taken from patients, using a machine learning-based approach that could help sidestep test supply limitations, and that also offers advantages when it comes to detecting actual virus particles, instead of antibodies or other signs of the presence of the virus which don’t necessarily correlate to an active, transmissible case.
The test created by the Oxford researchers also offer significant advantages in terms of speed, providing results in under five minutes, without any sample preparation required. That means it could be among the technologies that unlock mass testing – a crucial need not only for getting a handle on the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also on helping us deal with potential future global viral outbreaks, too. Oxford’s method is actually well-designed for that, too, since it can potentially be configured relatively easily to detect a number of viral threats.
The technology that makes this possible works by labelling any virus particles found in a sample collected by a patient using short, fluorescent DNA strands that act as markers. A microscope images the sample and the labelled viruses present, and then machine learning software takes over using algorithmic analysis developed by the team to automatically identify the virus, using differences that each one produces in terms of its fluorescent light emitted owing to their different physical surface makeup, size and individual chemical composition.
This technology, including the sample collection equipment, the microscopic imager and the flourescence insertion tools, as well as the compute capabilities, can be miniaturized to the point where it’s possible to be used just about anywhere, according to the researchers – including “businesses, music venues, airports,” and more. The focus now is to create a spinout company for the purposes of commercializing the device in a format that integrates all the components together.
The researchers anticipate being able to form the company, and start product development by early next year, with the potentially of having a device approved for use and ready for distribution around six months after that. It’s a tight timeline for development of a new diagnostic device, but timelines have changed already amply in the face of this pandemic, and will continue to do so as we’re unlikely to see if fade away anytime in the near future.
With fears of a “twindemic” in the United States this fall, here’s a guide to understanding what’s making you feel terrible.
The Maryland company, which has never brought a vaccine to market, has started its Phase 3 trial in the United Kingdom, with plans to begin in the United States in October.
Experts worry that the two diseases could overwhelm the health care system and create a new shortage of hospital beds and personal protective equipment.
Americans will need to take pandemic precautions well into 2021 — yes, even after a vaccine arrives.
SARS-CoV-2 has been slowly changing in small ways, without getting more dangerous.
How Hong Kong’s food culture has adapted to epidemic after epidemic, fending off disease while saving its favorite dishes, and its soul.
New regulations require a ramp-up in testing for patients with symptoms, as well as people who weren’t tested before they died.
Two new studies of elite athletes found that working out amplifies the immune response to a flu shot.
You could help prevent a “twindemic” of influenza and Covid-19, they say. Doctors have specific advice for people over 65, pregnant women and those with egg allergies. Here’s what you need to know.
Doctors offer advice on when and where to safely get vaccinated.
Pharmacists may now vaccinate young children under a new federal emergency rule aimed at helping families who missed well-child visits during the pandemic.
There’s no vaccine for Covid-19, but there’s one for influenza. With the season’s first doses now shipping, officials are struggling over how to get people to take it.
A new report from South Korea throws into question an earlier finding regarding transmission by older children.
This spring, death rates rivaled those seen during the country’s deadliest pandemic, a new study finds. “What 1918 looked like is basically this.”
Most people won’t spread the virus widely. The few who do are probably in the wrong place at the wrong time in their infection, new models suggest.
Reports of influenza and a host of other infectious diseases have plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic has driven people into lockdowns.
In many places, social distancing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus may be smothering the spread of other infectious diseases at the same time. But, in other places, the pandemic may simply be masking disease spread, as people may avoid seeking care for more routine infections while health care systems stretched thin by the pandemic may struggle to conduct routine, surveillance, testing, and reporting.
Some of the resulting declines are dramatic. Countries across the Southern Hemisphere have reported much lower numbers of influenza than usual. Australia, for instance, began 2020 with a relatively high level of flu—reporting around 7,000 lab-confirmed cases in both January and February. But the outbreak crashed in March, with reports of only 229 cases in April, compared with nearly 19,000 in April 2019, as noted by the New Scientist.
Transmission through aerosols matters — and probably a lot more than we’ve been able to prove yet.
There’s not just one coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Now there are many, each requiring its own mix of solutions.
Novavax just received the Trump administration’s largest vaccine contract. In the Maryland company’s 33-year history, it has never brought a vaccine to market.
If seasonal influenza roars back this fall while the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, the combined weight of the diseases could cause US healthcare systems to collapse, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday.
The grim warning comes as COVID-19 is spreading out of control in many areas of the country, which is now seeing upwards of 60,000 new cases a day.
“I am worried,” CDC director Robert Redfield said in a live interview with Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of the medical journal JAMA. “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times we’ve experienced in American public health.”
As scientists race to understand how coronavirus aerosols may spread indoors, a new study on influenza offers some clues.
SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t the first coronavirus that spawned fears of a pandemic; there were worries about SARS and MERS before it arrived. But influenza viruses have also been a regular source of worries, as they can often spread from agricultural animals to us. Earlier this week, a report was released that described an influenza virus with what the researchers who identified it called “pandemic potential.” The virus is currently jumping from agricultural animals to us, but it is not currently able to spread between humans.
The institutions that some of these researchers are affiliated with—the Key Laboratory of Animal Epidemiology and Zoonosis, the Chinese National Influenza Center, and the Center for Influenza Research and Early-Warning—provide some indication of how seriously China has been taking the risk of newly evolved influenza strain.
For seven years, these centers supported the researchers as they did something that makes whatever you did for your thesis research seem pleasant: taking nasal swabs from pigs. Nearly 30,000 of these swabs came from random pigs showing up at slaughterhouses, plus another 1,000 from pigs brought in to veterinary practices with respiratory problems. Why pigs? Well, for one, some historic pandemics, named for their species of origin, are called swine flu. And there’s a reason for this: pigs are known to be infected by influenza viruses native to other pigs, to birds, and to us humans—who they often find themselves in close proximity to.
Here’s what to do if you feel sick and are worried it may be the coronavirus.
Fresh off a $100 million Series C funding round, molecular diagnostics startup Cue Health has more good news – it has received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its rapid, point-of-care COVID-19 test. The company got a $13 million grant from BARDA in March to help it scale its development and deployment of rapid diagnostics, and its COVID-19 test is obviously a key focus of that effort given the current global pandemic.
Cue’s test is portable, and uses an RNA detection method to confirm the presence of the actual virus in a patient’s system using nasal swab samples. The company says that it can provide results in as little as 25 minutes, and it’s relatively simple to administer, both factors that make it potentially very useful in efforts to scale COVID-19 testing as the pandemic and its ensuing global health crisis continues.
The Cue Health test comes as a kit that includes the sample collection wand, along with a test cartridge. The cartridge connects to an app on a smartphone and transmits the diagnostic results to that device. Under the terms of the EUA granted by the FDA, the Cue test can be administered anywhere, so long as it’s done under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. Cue says it’s seeking additional authorizations from the FDA to expand use of the test to include allowing it to be done in settings including workplaces, schools and even in-home use.
To start, Cue Health’s COVID-19 test will be rolling out in partnership with “leading healthcare institutions,” according to the company, and then from there the plan is to expand it to a number of additional healthcare facility settings. Ultimately, Cue’s goal is to create a range of molecular diagnostic testing solutions for not only COVID-19, but also influenza and other viruses, with the ability to flexibly deploy and conduct them in basically any setting where they’re needed.
An old woman leaves a pot of food on a rock outside her daughter’s house. A century later, others roll trays of meals to people with Covid-19.
Acting before or very soon after an infection is the best way to handle most acute viral diseases. Why aren’t we focusing on that with Covid-19?
Fitbit’s activity-tracking wearable devices are already being used by a number of academic institutions to determine if they might be able to contribute to the early detection of COVID-19 and the flu, and now Fitbit itself is launching its own dedicated Fitbit COVID-19 Study, which users can sign up for from within their Fitbit mobile app.
The study will help the company figure out if it can successfully develop an algorithm to accurately detect a COVID-19 infection before the onset of systems. In order to gather the data needed to see if they can do this, Fitbit is asking users in either the U.S. or Canada who have either had or currently have a confirmed case of COVID-19, or flu-like symptoms that might be an indicator of an undiagnosed case, to answer some questions in order to contribute to its research.
The answer to these questions from participants will be paired with data gathered via their Fitbit to help identify any patterns that could potentially provide an early warning about someone falling ill. Pre-symptomatic detection could have a number of benefits, mostly obviously in ensuring that an individual is then able to self-isolate more quickly and prevent them from infecting others.
Early detection could also have advantages in terms of treatment, allowing health practitioners to intervene earlier and potentially prevent the worst of the symptoms of the infection. Depending on what treatments ultimately emerge, early detection could have a big impact on their efficacy.
Fitbit is asking those who would take part in the study to answer questions about whether or not they have or have expressed COVID-19 or flu, its symptoms, as well as other demographic and medical history info. Participation in the study is voluntary, in case you’re not comfortable sharing that info, and once in, participants can decided to withdraw whenever they want.
COVID-19 early detection could be a big help in any safe, actually practical return-to-work strategy for reopening the economy. It could also serve as a means of expanding diagnosis in combination with testing, depending on how accurate it’s found to be across these studies, and with what devices. A confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis doesn’t actually have to mean a test result; it could be a physician’s assessment based on a number of factors, including biometric data nd symptom expression. Depending on what a comprehensive mitigation strategy ends up looking like, that could play a much bigger role in assessing the scale and spread of COVID-19 in future, especially as we learn more about it.
In Michigan, fewer than half of infants 5 months or younger are up to date on their vaccinations, which may allow for outbreaks in diseases like measles.
An infectious outbreak can conclude in more ways than one, historians say. But for whom does it end, and who gets to decide?
The drug failed as a treatment for hepatitis and Ebola. With federal funding, scientists trained it on the coronavirus.
New revelations have left people wondering about ailments early this year. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained cases. Medical examiners are looking for possible misdiagnosed deaths.
Now is an excellent time to read about the 1918 flu. Or maybe just watch the Fast & Furious movies.
Even as the president plays down that possibility, the C.D.C. chief and other experts warn of a dual challenge.
The idea has been around for centuries. But it took a high school science fair, George W. Bush, history lessons and some determined researchers to overcome skepticism and make it federal policy.
BenevolentAI, a startup which has raised $292 million to apply AI to create drugs faster, today says it has uncovered an already approved drug as a potential treatment for COVID-19, after it applied its AI platform and team to the problem. The revelation, which has now appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has already entered clinical trials with a major pharmaceutical company, could offer a glimmer of hope to a world locked-down by the pandemic.
In February, BenevolentAI set up a specialist scientific team and launched an investigation using its drug discovery platform.
Baroness Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI, explained: “In response to the COVID-19 global health emergency, we turned our AI drug discovery and development platform toward understanding the body’s response to this novel infectious disease.”
Key to their approach was that “rather than focusing solely on drugs that could affect the virus directly, we explored ways to inhibit the cellular processes that the virus uses to infect human cells,” she said.
The idea was to identify approved drugs that could potentially stop the progression of COVID-19, inhibit the “cytokine storm” and reduce the inflammatory damage associated with this disease.
Diseases such as covid-19 and influenza can be fatal due to an overreaction of the body’s immune system called a cytokine storm.
Cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.
The body’s response to infection goes into overdrive when SARS-CoV-2 – the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic – enters the lungs, triggering an immune response, and attracting immune cells to the region to attack the virus. This resulting in localized inflammation. Some people experience worse symptoms than others at this point. But in some people, excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released which then activate more immune cells, resulting in ‘hyperinflammation’ which can seriously harm or even kill the person.
BenevolentAI’s team fed everything they knew about COVID-19, and the drugs that could inhibit the cellular processes that the virus uses, into their platform.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Peter Richardson, BenevolentAI’s VP of Pharmacology, explained how the discovery came about.
“Using the BenevolentAI Knowledge Graph there were two processes. One was finding the connections, and the regulators,” he said.
“It’s incredibly, incredibly difficult to hold in your head what’s irrelevant, all the time, without having the Knowledge Graph to show you the basic points. It’s really good at showing the basic interactions that are so important in understanding a biological process. Cellular tracking is an amazingly complicated thing to process.”
But, he said, the BenevolentAI platform handled the information with aplomb: “This took an hour for the platform to process.”
The next process was for the human team to find possible drugs to inhibit regulators. These were then fed into the Knowledge Graph. Richardson said this “took roughly half an hour to process.”
The result was that they identified baricitinib as a potential drug with both anti-viral and anti-cytokine properties, with 90 minutes of computing time, inside three days of additional human work.
Benevolent’s research findings were published in The Lancet in early February and again twice in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. These proposed baricitinib as a potential treatment with both anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties for COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital prior to the development of critical lung damage.
By March, investigator-led studies began recruiting and treating infected patients with baricitinib. Today, Eli Lilly and the US National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have announced that the drug will now begin it’s first large randomized trial in COVID-19 patients.
Baricitinib, sold as a prescription drug called Olumiant, is an already approved drug developed by Eli Lilly and Incyte for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
The randomized trial announced by Eli Lilly with NIAID will investigate the efficacy and safety of baricitinib as a potential treatment for patients with serious COVID-19 infections.
The study will begin in the US in late April with planned expansion to additional sites in Europe and Asia, with the results being expected within the next two months. This new trial joins a Canadian government randomised trial already underway assessing baricitinib as a potential treatment.
Commenting, Shields said: “We are pleased that Eli Lilly is progressing baricitinib to clinical testing for COVID-19 patients. While we wait for a vaccine to be developed, there is an immediate need for medicines that can prevent life-threatening respiratory and other serious complications of COVID-19 infections.”
Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., Lilly’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories said: “Lilly is moving at top speed and using all available resources to help fight this pandemic. Developing potential therapeutic medicines for COVID-19 is part of our vital and humanitarian mission.”
Professor Justin Stebbing from Imperial College, London, who has been collaborating on this work between Eli Lilly and BenevolentAI, also commented, saying: “There are no specific therapeutic agents for any coronavirus infections – we rely on quarantine, isolation and public health policies to prevent disease spread, and on supportive care measures for those who become ill. What we lack is a specific agent to treat the infected and, optimally, decrease viral shedding and subsequent transmission. The results of such trials will be central to clinical care as the outbreak continues and we anticipate that this treatment will improve mortality and reduce the pressure on hospitals and ICU’s worldwide. This research is notable for its incredible speed from computer to bench and bedside within a few months.”
Commenting, Richardson added: “If you turned the BenevolentAI 250-person team and turned all of them into 65-year old ex-pharmacology teachers, it would have taken probably a year to come up with this treatment. Instead, it took my three colleagues working so two hours a day, and myself working full time, three days to come up with this. We’ve gone from computer to bedside, as it were, in two months.”
A decade of health disinformation promoted by President Vladimir Putin of Russia has sown wide confusion, hurt major institutions and encouraged the spread of deadly illnesses.
The brutal toll taken by the flu that claimed 20,000 lives in the city has not been forgotten as Philadelphia braces for the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Smart thermometer maker Kinsa has been working on building accurate, predictive models of how seasonal illnesses like the flu travel in and among communities — and its fever map is finding new utility as the novel coronavirus pandemic grows globally. While Kinsa’s US Health Weather Map has no way of tracking the spread of COVID-19 specifically, as it looks only at fevers tied to geographic data, it could provide easy-to-grasp early indicators of the positive effects of social distancing and isolation measures at the community level.
At the time that Kinsa’s health weather map was covered in the New York Times in February, the company had around a million thermometers in market in the U.S., but it had experienced a significant increase in order volume of as many as 10,000 units per day in the week prior to its publication. That means that the company’s analytics are based on a very large data set relative to the total U.S. population. Kinsa founder and CEO Inder Singh told me this allowed them to achieve an unprecedented level of accuracy and granularity in flu forecasting down to the community level, working in partnership with Oregon State University Assistant Professor Ben Dalziel.
“We showed that the core hypothesis for why I started the company is real — and the core hypothesis was you need real-time, medically accurate, geolocated data that’s taken from people who’ve just fallen ill to detect outbreaks and predict the spread of illness,” Singh said. “What we did with our data is we punched it into Ben’s existing, first-principle models on infectious disease spread. And we were able to show that on September 15, we could predict the entire rest of cold and flu season with hyper-accuracy in terms of the peaks and the valleys — all the way out to the rest of flu season, i.e. 20 weeks out on a hyperlocal basis.”
Prior to this, there have been efforts to track and predict flu transmission, but the “state-of-the-art” to date has been predictions at the national or multi-state level — even trends in individual states, let alone within communities, was out of reach. And in terms of lead time, the best achievable was essentially three weeks out, rather than multiple months, as is possible with Kinsa and Dalziel’s model.
Even without the extraordinary circumstances presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic, what Singh, Dalziel and Kinsa have been able to accomplish is a major step forward in tech-enabled seasonal illness tracking and mitigation. But Kinsa also turned on a feature of their health weather map called “atypical illness levels” a month ago, and that could prove an important leading indicator in shedding more light on the transmission of COVID-19 across the U.S. — and the impact of key mitigation strategies like social distancing.
“We’re taking our real-time illness signal, and we’re subtracting out the expectation,” Singh says, explaining how the new view works. “So what you’re left with is atypical illness. In other words, a cluster of fevers that you would not expect from normal cold and flu time. So, presumably, that is COVID-19; I cannot definitively say it’s COVID-19, but what I can say is that it’s an unusual outbreak. It could be an anomalous flu, a strain that’s totally unexpected. It could be something else, but at least a portion of that is almost certainly going to be COVID-19.”
In the example above, Singh says that the spike in fevers coincides with reports of Miami residents and tourists ignoring guidance around recommended distancing. The steep drop-off, however, follows after more extreme measures, including beach closures and other isolation tactics were adopted in the area. Singh says that they’re regularly seeing that areas where residents are ignoring social distancing best practices are seeing spikes, and that as soon as those are implemented, via lock-downs and other measures, within five days of those aggressive actions, you begin to see downward dips in the curve.
Kinsa’s data has the advantage of being real-time and continually updated by its users. That provides it with a time advantage over other indicators, like the results of increased testing programs for COVID-19, in terms of providing some indication of the more immediate effects of social distancing and isolation strategies. One of the criticisms that has appeared relative to these tactics is that the numbers continue to grow for confirmed cases — but experts expect those cases to grow as we expand the availability of testing and identify new cases of community transmission, even though social distancing is having a positive impact.
As Singh pointed out, Kinsa’s data is strictly about fever-range temperatures, not confirmed COVID-19 cases. But fever is a key and early symptom of COVID-19 in those who are symptomatic, and Kinsa’s existing work on predicting the prevalence of fevers related to cold and flu strongly indicate that what we’re looking at is in fact, at least to a significant degree, COVID-19 spread.
While some have balked at other discussions around using location data to track the spread of the outbreak, Singh says that they’re only interested in two things: geographic coordinates and temperature. They don’t want any personal identification details that they can tie to either of those signals, so it truly an anonymous aggregation project.
“There is no possible way to reverse engineer a geographic signal to an individual — it’s not possible to do it,” he told me. “This is the right equation to both protect people’s privacy and expose the data that society and communities need.”
For the purposes of tracking atypical illness, Kinsa isn’t currently able to get quite as granular as it is with its standard observed illness map, because it requires a higher degree of sophistication. But the company is eager to expand its data set with additional thermometers in the market. The Kinsa hardware is already out of stock everywhere, as are most health-related devices, but Singh says they’re pressing ahead with suppliers on sourcing more despite increased component costs across the board. Singh is also eager to work with other smart thermometer makers, either by inputting their data into his model, or by making the Kinsa app compatible with any Bluetooth thermometer that uses the standard connection interface for wireless thermometer hardware.
Currently, Kinsa is working on evolving the atypical illness view to include things like a visual indicator of how fast illness levels are dropping, and how fast they should be dropping in order to effectively break the chain of transmission, as a way to further help inform the public on the impact of their own choices and actions. Despite the widespread agreement by health agencies, researchers and medical professionals, advice to stay home and separated from others definitely presents a challenge for everyone — especially when the official numbers released daily are so dire. Kinsa’s tracker should provide a ray of hope, and a clear sign that each individual contribution matters.
A nation ravaged by the Spanish flu figured out how to vote back then. Not without incident, but with democracy intact.
The sisters of Philadelphia were lifesavers during the Spanish flu epidemic. They are an inspiration today.
Will we endure 2.2 million deaths? Or will we manage to turn things around?
Government exercises, including one last year, made clear that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic like the coronavirus. But little was done.
A company that makes internet-connected thermometers has followed the flu more closely than the C.D.C. can. Now the devices may be turning up cases of Covid-19.
The fear is similar, but the medical reality is not.
A series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing came during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier.