COVID Booster: Dreams, orphans and faster testing

Fast or accurate: what’s a better test?

A paper in PLOS Computational Biology has suggested that more, and faster, COVID tests might be better at controlling spread than slower tests that have higher rates of accuracy.

The researchers, based at Ashoka University in India, used modelling to compare rapid antigen tests, which give almost immediate results, with gold-standard PCR tests, which are more expensive and will always take at least a few hours.

The researchers found that there were ways for rapid antigen testing to be as effective at lowering population-wide cases.

“Tests are continually improving, and the trade-offs are in favour of rapid testing, even if it is less sensitive,” says Gautam Menon, co-author on the paper. “Modelling the effects of using different combinations of tests, keeping in mind their relative costs, can suggest specific policy changes that will have a substantial effect on changing the trajectory of the epidemic.”

More Melbourne mask modelling

We know at this point that masks are great at reducing COVID-19 spread, but modelling from the Burnet Institute has shown just how helpful they were during Melbourne’s second wave.

“We had a unique situation in Melbourne where masks were made mandatory as a single policy change, and compliance went from low use to very high use of masks in the community very rapidly,” says Dr Nick Scott, head of Burnet’s Modelling and Biostatistics Group.

“What we saw was a significant 20–30% reduction in the effective reproduction rate that correlated with that policy, so it turned the epidemic around from case numbers that were increasing every day to a situation where we could see the numbers were getting back under control.”

The research, which is published in PLOS One, used thousands of photos from a newspaper library to compare overall mask use before and after the mandate with COVID prevalence.

COVID is affecting our dreams

A paper in the Journal of Sleep Research has found that during lockdown people had more trouble getting to sleep, woke up more, remembered their dreams, and had more lucid dreams than after lockdown had ended.

The researchers, based at the University of Rome, Italy, asked 90 Italian adults to log their sleep and dreams for a fortnight during lockdown and after lockdown.

“Both sleep and dream measures showed critical differences between lockdown and post-lockdown periods,” write the authors.

Around 1.5 million children have lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver to COVID-19

A study in The Lancet has compared COVID-19 mortality data with global fertility rates to estimate that around the world, one million children have lost a parent, 1.1 million have lost a parent or custodial grandparent, and more than 1.5 million have lost a parent, custodial grandparent, or caregiver to COVID-19 between March 2020 and April 2021.

“For every two COVID-19 deaths worldwide, one child is left behind to face the death of a parent or caregiver,” says study author Dr Susan Hillis, of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“By April 30, 2021, these 1.5 million children had become the tragic overlooked consequence of the 3 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and this number will only increase as the pandemic progresses.”

“We have strong evidence from HIV and Ebola to guide solutions,” says co-author Professor Lucie Cluver, Oxford University, UK, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“We need to support extended families or foster families to care for children, with cost-effective economic strengthening, parenting programs, and school access. We need to vaccinate caregivers of children – especially grandparent caregivers.”

Routine vaccinations still happened in lockdown

Fewer people seek healthcare during lockdown – even though medical treatment remains one of the key reasons you can leave your home. Fortunately, routine vaccination rates don’t appear to have changed much during tight restrictions in Victoria last year.

Researchers from the University of Sydney compared vaccination rates in 2019 and 2020 in Victoria, making note of when Stage 3 and Stage 4 restrictions were in place.

“Neither Stage 3 nor Stage 4 lockdown restrictions were associated with marked changes in administration rates for diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis-containing vaccine (dose 1: 2 months of age); 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (dose 2: 4 months of age); or measles/mumps/rubella vaccine (12 months of age),” they write in a paper describing their study, published in The Medical Journal of Australia.

HPV vaccinations dipped initially while schools were closed, but then picked up again.

The researchers believe this is due to “effective messaging by health authorities that routine vaccination is an essential health service, the rapid adaption to COVID-19-safe vaccination delivery by local councils in particular, continued engagement of parents and carers, and lower COVID-19 rates than in many countries.”

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