The COVID-19 Booster: Latest news from the pandemic

Cosmos Magazine summarises the latest and most interesting research into COVID-19 emerging around the world.

What’s the data today?

Globally, there are 585 086 861 confirmed cases and 6 422 914 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

In Australia, over 95% of eligible Australians have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 70% of people over 16 have received a booster, and over 37% of eligible people have received a fourth dose.

There are 245,897 estimated active cases in Australia.

Of these, 4,274 are hospitalised, 135 are in ICU and 41 are currently ventilated.

There have been over 9.6 million cases of COVID-19 in Australia, and 12,653 deaths. Data

COVID news in brief

Data: COVID-19 is the third-biggest killer in Australia

Research from the Actuaries Institute has found COVID-19 is likely to be the third leading cause of death in Australia this year, behind heart disease and dementia, but higher than lung cancers and cardiovascular disease. Of more than 6,800 more deaths registered in the first four months of this year, more than half were due to COVID-19 alone. Actuaries predicts excess mortality of around 3,500 for May – July this year. See the data.

Long COVID: 1 in 8 may experience ongoing symptoms

Research published in The Lancet by scientists from University Medical Center Groningen (Netherlands) has found 1 in 8 people with COVID-19 may experience ongoing symptoms three to five months after infection. Although there are varying definitions of what symptoms constitute long COVID, increasing research into the ongoing nature of the disease has found anywhere from five to twenty percent of people may continue to feel the effects of the disease after the assumed recovery period of 28 days after infection. This study compared the long-term symptoms of COVID-19 to those without infection, with study lead author Professor Judith Rosmalen saying it provides more accurate predictions of long COVID prevalence.

“There is urgent need for data informing the scale and scope of the long-term symptoms experienced by some patients after COVID-19 illness,” Rosmalen says.

“However, most previous research into long COVID has not looked at the frequency of these symptoms in people who haven’t been diagnosed with COVID-19 or looked at individual patients’ symptoms before the diagnosis of COVID-19.”

Risk assessment: Researchers have developed a method to estimate the next coronavirus

Researchers from the EcoHealth Alliance (USA) have estimated the potential risk associated with new zoonotic (animal-to-human) coronavirus emerging in Southeast Asia. Published in Nature Communications, the research looked at SARS-related coronaviruses that lead to diseases like SARS, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Swine acute diarrhea syndrome (SADS) and COVID-19, and 26 known ‘reservoir’ bat species. The researchers overlayed the distribution ranges of these bats with human populations, then used epidemiological data and probability-based risk assessment methods to suggest tens of thousands of coronavirus cases occur in the region annual. However, while the report authors and other independent disease and ecological experts say the research provides useful insights, but requires a greater degree of precision.

Australia: Your child’s nose could be better at fighting off earlier COVID-19 strains

At the early stages of the pandemic, children were found to experience less severe symptoms from COVID-19. Now, research from the University of Queensland may have found a possible reason: the lining of a child’s nose may inhibit infection and replication of the original and Delta strains of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The research published in PLOS Biology, found that strains of the ancestral and Delta SARS-CoV-2 were able to replicate less effectively when exposed to cells from the nasal epithelium of a child, as opposed to adult samples. However, Omicron was better able to replicate when exposed to a child’s nasal cells, suggesting that this line of defence may be weaker against new strains.

“Children have a lower COVID-19 infection rate and milder symptoms than adults, but the reasons for this have been unknown,” explains one of the study’s authors Dr Kirsty Short.

“We’ve shown the lining of children’s noses have a more pro-inflammatory response to the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 than adult’s noses, but we found it’s a different ball game when it come to the Omicron variant.”

…But your saliva is just as good as nasal swabs

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research found that saliva tests had very similar detection rates as nasal swabs. The study analysed tests performed on around 200 New Zealanders from different parts of the country and found the saliva tests detected 91% of positive COVID-19 cases – two percentage points shy of nasal swabs (93%).

In the case of New Zealand, the researchers suggest that saliva sampling provides “more tolerable options to nasopharyngeal swabs is desirable for people presenting for testing.”

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