COVID Booster: Osteoporosis, trust and screen time

Osteoporosis medication as an immune booster?

Researchers have found that bisphosphonates – a common osteoporosis treatment – enhances immune cells in the lung and may help fight respiratory infections like pneumonia (or potentially a certain other respiratory disease currently on everyone’s minds?).

Experimental mouse models showed that treatment with bisphosphonate stimulated lung macrophages – ‘first responder cells’ which recognise, engulf and destroy a pathogen during an immune response – to mount an even stronger response against an immune challenge.

Published in eLife, the study follows previous clinical trials in which it was observed that individuals taking bisphosphonates had a reduced risk of pneumonia.

“Macrophages are one of the first lines of defence against infection,” says Professor Mike Rogers of the Garvan Institute. “If bisphosphonates are ramping up the ability of these cells to respond when they encounter a viral or bacterial infection, a stronger initial immune response may help clear the infection and lead to a better outcome. This is what we will be investigating next.”

However, it remains to be seen whether these could have a role in the treatment of COVID-19 also.

Increased pandemic screen time is detrimental to children

We’ve all seen some major changes to our daily routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but children have had to deal with distancing, isolation, and school closures on top of the basic stressors of just being a kid.

We’ve seen higher levels of electronic screen use in children compared with pre-pandemic levels, but a recent study – published in JAMA Network Open – has shown that during the pandemic those with higher screen time were more unhappy.

Researchers followed the screen time of over 2,000 children in Canada from mid-2020 to mid-2021 and regularly asked their parents to assess their behaviour and mental health.

High amounts of screen time were found to be associated with greater depression and anxiety levels in older children, and higher behavioural problems in toddlers.

So, it might be wise to put down the phone and switch off the TV, at least for a little while, while we deal with the latest stretches of quarantine and isolation.

Trusting societies fared better in the pandemic

Countries with citizens that trust each other more were better at controlling COVID-19, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

The researchers examined the resilience of 150 countries to COVID-19 – the speed with which cases declined in each country after a peak. They compared this data to information from the 2017–20 World Values Survey: specifically, one question from the survey which asks participants how much they agreed with the statement ‘most people can be trusted’, as well as a few questions on trust in government and politics.

Countries where over 40% of respondents agreed that most people could be trusted were more resilient to COVID-19. Australia was over this threshold, with 48.5% agreeing.

“Our results add to evidence that trust within society benefits resilience to epidemics,” says lead author Professor Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter, UK.

“Building trust within communities should be a long-term project for all nations because this will help them cope with future pandemics and other challenges such as extreme events caused by climate change.”

Free rapid antigen tests for everyone might save money

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are hard to come by at the moment, and can be very expensive. A pre-print (not peer-reviewed) study by researchers from Flinders University, South Australia, has suggested that making them free for all, via government subsidies, would be cheaper in the long run.

The modelling rests this prediction on increased rates of isolation if rapid antigen tests are more widely available. A small increase in isolation from more tests will result in a reduction in COVID-19 cases, meaning fewer severe cases and thus lower public health costs.

The researchers believe that their model indicates that even with low COVID prevalence – and Australia is currently experiencing record highs – free rapid antigen tests would be cost-effective.

N95 masks could be safely re-used 25 times

N95 respirators – the best way to lower COVID-19 infection risk, used particularly by medical staff – are ostensibly single-use only, but many have been used more with shortages of medical equipment. And as the pandemic rolls on, medical waste has piled up.

A team of US researchers has found that using a standard method of decontaminating the respirators can clean them enough to be re-used without decreasing their function and effectiveness.

The researchers undertook quality control tests on seven N95 masks, after treating each one with vaporised hydrogen peroxide (VHP), which is used to clean laboratories.

They found that the masks only started to degrade after 25 of these treatments and tests.

“The findings from our study expand upon previous findings that VHP is a relatively safe method for reprocessing N95 respirators, and could help address shortages in future epidemics,” says Dr Christina Yen, an infectious diseases physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, US, and lead author on a paper describing the research, published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

“It is important that we now find ways to scale and translate this capability to smaller hospitals and resource-limited healthcare settings that could benefit just as much – perhaps more – from this type of personal protective equipment reprocessing in future disaster scenarios.”

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