COVID Booster: Friend shield effect; passing the sniff test; the eyes have it.

Friends do not make things more COVID-safe

A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied has described the “friend-shield” effect: the conscious or subconscious belief that you are at a lower risk of catching COVID-19 from your friends, and the habit of taking fewer precautions as a result.

Through a series of five different online experiments (each with several hundred participants) the researchers found that people are less careful about COVID when they’re thinking about being with their friends – even if they’re in a public space.

“We think health safety campaigns should make greater efforts to inform the public regarding the friend-shield effect and aim for a more holistic response to future pandemics by taking both physical infection rates and psychological risk perceptions into account,” says co-author Associate Professor Eline De Vries a researcher in marketing, at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain.

You want to pass this sniff test

An international team of researchers have found that an online tool asking people to smell household items – including coffee, toothpaste, and mustard – can be 79% sensitive at detecting COVID-19. Crucially, this was still the case among asymptomatic people.

The tool, called smelltracker, compiled data from 13,484 participants around the world on the strength and scent of smelly household objects. Among the study group, 462 participants were COVID-positive.

After asking a user to smell and rate 5 different objects, the tool uses an algorithm to determine the likelihood that they have COVID-19. While this study wasn’t done with the rigour of a clinical trial, the researchers say that it provides useful data on the link between COVID and olfactory senses.

A paper describing the tool is published in Communications Medicine.

Are long COVID patients treated the same as those with chronic fatigue?

Many researchers draw clinical comparisons between people with long COVID and those with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS).

But what about the social comparisons? A paper in the Journal of Health Psychology has pointed out that people with ME/CFS have often been marginalised and subject to negative stereotypes, and evaluate the risk of this happening to long COVID patients too.

The researchers say that currently, the fact that many long COVID patients are healthcare professionals themselves, combined with so much research being done on COVID-19 means the stigma is smaller. But they caution against politicisation of long COVID patients, and list a range of recommendations to improve the treatment of both groups.

A 30-second COVID test that’s as accurate as PCR

A team of US researchers have entered into a licensing agreement with a company that plans to make and sell a super-fast, highly accurate COVID test.

The device, which uses antibodies and electronics to spot SARS-COV-2 in saliva, can detect the virus in 30 seconds. It’s 90% accurate, and as sensitive as a PCR test.

It could also be used to diagnose other diseases – with some tweaks.

“There is nothing available like it,” says Professor Josephine Esquivel-Upshaw, a researcher at the University of Florida, US, and a member of the team which developed the device.

“It’s true point of care. It’s access to care. We think it will revolutionise diagnostics.”

COVID-19 in the eye

A study in Stem Cell Reports has found that SARS-CoV-2 can infect and replicate in retinal cells.

The study focussed on an experiment with organoids: tiny clusters of lab-based cells used to replicate larger organs.

“Our retina organoid system replicates the anatomically complex structure of the human retina remarkably well,” says co-author Yotam Menuchin-Lasowski, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Germany.

When incubated with SARS-CoV-2, the researchers found that the organoids could grow the virus – a class of cells called retinal ganglion cells were particularly good at growing it.

“Our current retina-organoid study shows that infection with SARS-CoV-2 can have direct pathological consequences for retinal ganglion cells, even though visual impairment is not common in patients with Covid-19,” says co-author Thomas Rauen, also from Max Planck.

“But our data give us reason to believe that so-called long-COVID symptoms may include degenerative retinal disease.”

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