COVID Booster: drug hits and misses

WHO says hydroxycholoroquine won’t prevent COVID-19

A panel of experts from the World Health Organisation have strongly advised against the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19.

The anti-inflammatory drug made international headlines last year as it was endorsed and decried by both scientists and non-scientists. According to the WHO, six randomised-controlled trials have now found that it has no meaningful effect on death and hospital admission (with high certainty), and no effect on confirmed infection (with moderate certainty).

The drug is no longer a research priority, and the panel recommends that resources are directed to other more promising treatments and prophylactics.

The guidelines are published in the BMJ.

Decline in cancer screening during Victorian outbreak

Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia has found a drop in cancer pathology notifications during the extended Victorian lockdown.

The authors used a model based on data from previous years to predict that there would be 54,000 pathology notifications between 1 April and 15 October 2020 in Victoria. In reality, there were approximately 49,000: a drop of 5000. The gap between expected notifications and reality was highest in April.

The researchers estimate that this means there were 2530 undiagnosed cancers.

“Changes in care delivery during the restrictions, including suspension of screening services and outpatient clinics and postponed surveillance of existing cancers, may have affected notification numbers for some tumour groups and consequently the estimated number of delayed diagnoses,” write the authors.

They warn that there may be a subsequent surge in cancer diagnoses over the coming months as a result of these delays.

COVID-19 has had an indirect impact on Aboriginal communities

Another study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has examined the effect of COVID-19 on Aboriginal communities in New South Wales.

The research organised three discussions between Aboriginal community members who are employed in health services across Eora, Wilyakali, Bundjalung, Yuin and Gumbaynggirr lands.

They identified three ways the pandemic has affected health in their community: intra-community support, social determinants of health, and access to health care. All three have been affected by reduced in-person gatherings and facilities.

“When we look at the provision of health care for our mob, one of the biggest barriers is having to sit in front of a computer. And talk to a computer, rather than a human connection,” said one community member. “Our mob like to connect and have a yarn.”

“The recent drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 are compounding risk factors for mental health issues and suicide,” write the authors.

“Our view is that drawing on the lived experience and realities of Aboriginal peoples, taking firm action on the social determinants of health and working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples and communities is the most effective way to address the indirect impacts of COVID-19.”

Arthritis drugs can help critical COVID-19 patients

A team of Australian researchers have identified two drugs that have a significant impact on the survival of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab, which are used to treat arthritis, were found to reduce mortality by 8.5% in intensive care.

They also improved recovery times, with patients discharged a week earlier on average.

“We found that among critically ill adult patients – those receiving breathing support in intensive care – treatment with these drugs can improve their chance of survival and recovery,” says Steve Webb, a professor at Monash University and researcher in the trial.

“Australia is fortunate to have had relatively few COVID-19 cases, but the pandemic continues to have a devastating impact in many countries,” says Steve Burnell, a representative from the Minderoo Foundation, which funded the study. “These latest results will ensure more critically ill patients around the world receive the life-saving treatments they need.”

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some mammals miss tourists, others don’t

A team of Japanese and US scientists has reviewed the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on mammals in tourist hotspots around the globe, finding mixed results.

200622 lion
Credit: Nimit Virdi / 500px, via Getty Images

Some mammals in zoos thrived without spectators, while others missed the enrichment that came from visitors.

Other mammals had less to eat as tourists stopped offering them food, and poaching increased in some places as tourism revenue declined.

But on the plus side, marine mammals may have less pollution to deal with in their waterways, and more habitats to live in.

The review is published in Mammal Review.

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