COVID Booster: Hair conditioner, virtual PPE checks, and sperm counts after mRNA vaccines

Hop on Zoom to get your PPE checked

Wearing personal protective equipment properly is a critical part of medical care, especially when dealing with infectious disease. But if you’re dealing with something as contagious as COVID, you’re likely to be donning and doffing on your own – making it more likely that mistakes will happen.

A group of Melbourne researchers have proposed that healthcare workers connect remotely with their colleagues while donning and doffing, so that they can spot – and correct – each others’ mistakes.

The researchers ran a study where healthcare worker ‘buddies’ were asked to observe a colleague donning or doffing PPE, either in person or via a livestreamed laptop. The PPE wearer included random errors in their procedures, which their buddies had to identify.

Remote and in-person buddies were equally good at spotting the PPE mistakes.

“Having a trained observer monitor PPE compliance is important for health care safety,” write the researchers in a paper in The Medical Journal of Australia.

“The high level of accuracy and the agreement between onsite and remote buddies were encouraging.

“Apart from identifying errors, remote buddies could also provide step-by-step instruction in donning and doffing procedures, which could improve compliance and minimise contamination.”

AI trained to hear COVID-19 in a cough

There have been a few AI algorithms released that can distinguish coughs caused by COVID from non-infected coughs, but a group of RMIT researchers believe they’ve developed the best one yet.

“We’ve overcome a major hurdle in the development of a reliable, easily-accessible and contactless preliminary diagnosis tool for COVID-19,” says Hao Xue, research fellow in RMIT’s School of Computing Technologies, and lead author on a preprint describing the research.

Flora Salim, co-author on the study, says they’ve improved the algorithm by finding a way to train it on a greater number of coughs compared to previous research.

“The annotation of respiratory sounds requires specific knowledge from experts, making it expensive and time-consuming, and involves handling sensitive health information,” she says.

“What’s most exciting about our work is we have overcome this problem by developing a method to train the algorithm using unlabelled cough sound data.”

mRNA vaccines don’t affect sperm

To answer a question we’re sure has been sheepishly searched through private browsers around the world, a group of US researchers have investigated the effects of mRNA COVID vaccinations on sperm motility, sperm count, and a range of other characteristics.

The researchers, who are based at the University of Miami, US, looked at the sperm of 45 people both before their first dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and then 70 days after their second dose.

There was no significant decrease in any of the sperm parameters tested.

The researchers note that the sample size is small, but they think it provides ample evidence that mRNA vaccines don’t affect male fertility.

“Because the vaccines contain mRNA and not the live virus, it is unlikely that the vaccine would affect sperm parameters,” they point out in a paper describing their study, published in JAMA.

Three doses of the vaccine?

Some people – such as organ transplant recipients – have an inadequate immune response to the vaccine, making them still vulnerable to COVID infection. Some transplant recipients don’t form any COVID antibodies after vaccination, while others only form low numbers. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine has sought to counter this, by giving transplant recipients a third vaccine shot.

The researchers, who are based at Johns Hopkins University in the US, administered a third dose of an mRNA vaccine to 30 organ transplant recipients. They found that all patients who had low antibody levels after the second shot increased their antibody levels after dose three. A third of patients with negative antibody levels increased their antibodies too.

Hair conditioner defends against COVID-19 aerosols

Aerosols bouncing off uncoated plexiglass. Credit: Huang et al – Chem

A group of chemists have used a common hair conditioner ingredient to make a surface spray that traps aerosols, which they believe could be used to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

“Facing a pandemic, we need to proactively leverage all of the different layers of defense mechanisms, including the physical barriers,” says Jiaxing Huang, a professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, US.

“After all, these viruses must travel through physical space before reaching and eventually infecting people.”

Huang’s team tested the efficacy of PAAm-DDA, a moisture-locking polymer used in hair products. They used it to create a hydrophilic substance that they showed to be good at capturing tiny water droplets, preventing them from bouncing off surfaces and moving back into the air.

A plexiglass barrier coated with the substance reduced aerosol bouncing by 80%.

“We did an extensive literature search, but didn’t really find much work for capturing aerosol droplets. Perhaps there wasn’t a strong need for such aerosol-trapping coatings before the pandemic,” says Huang. He hopes that the coating, and others like it, can be used in future outbreaks to reduce transmission.

A paper describing the coating is published in Chem.

Aerosols trapped on coated plexiglass. Credit: Huang et al – Chem

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