COVID news and trends @ 06 November

The numbers

To 1 November, each of the preceding seven weeks set a new record global weekly number of COVID-19 cases, from 2,042,545 in the week ending 20 September, to 3,410,708 in the week ending 1 November.

The bulk of the world’s active cases remain in the US, Latin America, Europe and India. Nine countries have recorded more than one million total cases; of them, the US has the most with more than 9.19 million, and the UK the least, with more than 1.07 million. Four countries – (in order) the US, Brazil, India and Mexico – account for about 50% of total global COVID deaths (all data from WHO).

In the Australian state of Victoria, site of the country’s largest community outbreak of COVID, which peaked in July/August, only six new cases have been posted since 25 October, and none since 29 October.

The Victorian Department of Health & Human Services reported that the last remaining active case of COVID-19 linked to an aged care facility outbreak in the state was cleared late on Wednesday 4 November. Before 5 November, the last day without active cases in the Victorian aged-care sector was 15 June.


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Credit: sinology/Getty Images

As at 16:00 CET on Wednesday 4 November, cases confirmed worldwide by national authorities stood at 47,362,304 (436,068 of them reported in the preceding 24 hours). 1,211,986 deaths have been recorded (7084). (Source: WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard)

Johns Hopkins University’s Centre of Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) reported (at 14:30 AEST on Thursday 5 November) 48,008,175 confirmed cases and 1,224,144 deaths.


The Department of Health reported on 4 November that national confirmed cases stood at 27,662, a rise of 13 in 24 hours. 907 deaths have been recorded.

State by state: ACT 114 total cases (first case reported 12 March); NSW 4443 (25 January); NT 33 (20 March); Qld 1177 (29 January); SA 504 (2 February); Tas 230 (2 March); Vic 20,345 (25 January); WA 771 (21 February).


Anxiety expressed online

Dealing with a global pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health, and researchers from MIT and Harvard in the US say they can measure the effect by looking at the language people use online.

They analysed the tone and content of more than 800,000 Reddit posts during the first wave of COVID-19 and detected several key changes in conversations about mental health, including an overall increase in discussion about anxiety and suicide. They also revealed varying impacts on people who already suffer from different types of mental illness.

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Credit: martin-dm / Getty Images

The researchers analysed posts from 15 subgroups devoted to a variety of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder, as well as a handful of groups devoted to general topics such as personal finance, fitness and parenting.

“Reddit gives us the opportunity to look at all these subreddits that are specialised support groups,” says Harvard’s Daniel Low. “It’s a really unique opportunity to see how these different communities were affected differently as the wave was happening, in real time.”

The researchers found that while people in most of the support groups began posting about COVID in March, the group devoted to health anxiety started in January. However, as the pandemic progressed, the other mental health groups began to closely resemble the health anxiety group, in terms of the language that was most often used.

At the same time, the group devoted to personal finance showed the most negative semantic change from January to April 2020, and significantly increased the use of words related to economic stress and negative sentiment.

They also discovered that the mental health groups affected the most negatively early in the pandemic were those related to ADHD and eating disorders.

Using another algorithm, the researchers grouped posts into clusters such as loneliness or substance use, and then tracked how those groups changed as the pandemic progressed. Posts related to suicide more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels, and the groups that became significantly associated with the suicide cluster during the pandemic were the support groups for borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The findings are published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.

Air pollution may increase COVID risk

US scientists report a positive correlation between historical exposure to fine-particle air pollutants and vulnerability to death from COVID-19.

Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health analysed data from 3089 US counties and concluded, in a paper in the journal Science Advances, that an increase of just one microgram per cubic metre in long-term average is associated with an 11% increase in a county’s COVID mortality rate.

Xiao Wu and colleagues note that their analysis cannot account for individual-level risk factors but say the findings may still inform immediate policy actions, such as prioritising precautionary measures should be in high-pollution areas.

It has been hypothesised that COVID-19 outcomes may be worsened by long-term exposure to PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres), which harm the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, but, the researchers say, a lack of publicly available individual-level data has inhibited research.

They also identified other predictors of COVID-19 mortality in their model, including median household income and percentage of Black residents.

“While incomplete and not yet fully vetted by the broader scientific community, pathfinding studies such as that of Wu et al. set the stage for more traditional environmental epidemiology research,” Jeremy Jackson and Kip Hodges from Science Advances write in an editorial.

Spread began from Europe, study suggests

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An empty Empty Brandenburg gate during the COVID-19 crisis. Credit: alvarez / Getty Images

Researchers in Portugal and the UK have mapped out the dispersal of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, putting Europe centre stage.

Their study of 27,000 virus genomes sampled from all around the world confirms, they say, that the virus originated in China and most likely jumped into humans from horseshoe bats, but that its spread to America and other parts of the world was largely via Europe.

“It seems likely that travel bans established throughout the world in the second half of March helped to decrease the number of intercontinental exchanges, particularly from mainland China, but were less effective between Europe and North America where exchanges in both directions are visible up to April, long after bans were imposed,” they write in a paper in the journal Microorganisms.

The researchers – from the University of Minho and University of Huddersfield – usually work on tracking ancient human migrations using mitochondrial DNA, and they capitalised on the fact that the virus genome is similar in crucial respects.

Still, the mammoth size of the database, even back in May when the study began, makes this one of the biggest analyses of its kind ever undertaken, they say.

In brief

Research from the UK suggests tinnitus is exacerbated by COVID-19. The study of 3103 people from 48 countries – though most from the UK and the US – was led by Anglia Ruskin University and published in Frontiers in Public Health. It found that 40% of those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 simultaneously experienced a worsening of their tinnitus. Females and the under-50s found it significantly more bothersome during the pandemic. Some people reported that the condition was triggered by developing COVID-19 symptoms. Many, particularly in the UK, also believe tinnitus is made worse by social distancing measures, which lead to significant changes to work and lifestyle routines, and thus increased anxiety.

Asian ethnicity is strongly linked to COVID-related stroke, reveals an analysis of stroke centre activity in England and Scotland during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Among patients with ischaemic stroke, which is caused by a blocked artery, nearly 20% of those with COVID-19 infection when they had their stroke were Asian – more than twice the proportion seen in ischaemic stroke patients without COVID-19. Ischaemic strokes were also more extensive and severe, and more likely to result in greater disability and death, when associated with COVID-19, the findings indicate. The findings are published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Support staff and Black and Latinx hospital employees with and without patient care responsibilities are at highest risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection in health care settings, a US study has found. Researchers from Rutgers School of Public Health screened 3904 employees and clinicians at a New Jersey hospital between late April and late June for the virus and for lgG-antibodies to the virus, whose presence suggests past recent infection. The findings are published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases. “The risk to workers in health care settings with little or no patient contact has attracted relatively little attention to date, but our results suggest potentially high infection rates in this group,” says lead author Emily Barrett. “By contrast and to our surprise, physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians showed much lower infection rates.”

Delirium accompanied by fever could be an early symptom of COVID-19, according to Spanish researchers who reviewed the body of scientific work published on the effects of the virus in relation to the central nervous system. It highlights that some patients have experienced a state of confusion, alongside the loss of the senses of taste and smell and headaches, in the days prior to the manifestation of coughing and breathing difficulties. The researchers from Universitat Oberta de Catalunya present their findings in the Journal of Clinical Immunology and Immunotherapy.

A study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, US, examined blood samples and cells from patients who had recovered from mild to moderate COVID-19 and found that while antibodies against the virus declined in most individuals after disease resolution, a subset of patients sustained anti-virus antibody production several months following infection. These antibody “sustainers” had a shorter course of symptoms, suggesting that some individuals who recover from COVID-19 faster may be mounting a more effective and durable immune response to the virus. An important limitation of the study, the team notes, is that most of the volunteers were adult white women. The results are published in Cell.

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