Nine months after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Asia, scientists around the world are still working tirelessly to unravel the mysteries of the coronavirus. As the search for a vaccine accelerates, recent findings are helping to better understand its effects and to adapt our lifestyles.
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1. Sniffer dogs to detect the virus
Capable of detecting explosives, drugs, and even forms of cancer, dogs’ hyper-developed sense of smell could also be used against COVID-19. In Finland, Helsinki Airport began a pilot project on 23 September in collaboration with a local university using sniffer dogs to detect infection in international passengers who land.
According to the British daily The Guardian, the canines “were able to identify the virus with an accuracy close to 100%, even a few days before the onset of symptoms”, during preparatory tests.
Concretely, travelers must sponge their skin with a compress. The wipe is placed in a container which is then placed among other containers containing various perfumes. Ten seconds would be enough for the dog to detect the coronavirus.
If the animal barks, hisses or lies down, this is a bad sign for the passenger, who is advised to take a real test using a swab to verify the dog’s verdict.
Already, in June, a French study concluded that there is “a very high probability” that the smell of sweat from people with COVID-19 is distinct and noticeable by dogs.
What Doctor Béliveau thinks
The normal metabolism of our cells generates an array of volatile organic compounds which are eliminated through the lungs (exhalation), sweat, urine and stool. The study of these metabolites (metabolomics) shows that the quantity and type of these volatile compounds vary according to a person’s state of health and that they can therefore serve as markers for certain diseases. Dogs have extraordinary noses. Their sense of smell being a million times more sensitive than ours, they are able to detect certain smells and several studies have shown that they can identify with great precision the presence of certain types of cancer simply by sniffing the breath, the skin or the stools of a person with dementia. We can presume that the infection of cells with the coronavirus also causes major metabolic disturbances in our cells, and it seems that dogs can detect these variations.
2. Young adults don’t live in a bubble
In the United States, cases have exploded this summer among 20 to 29 year olds, accounting for 20% of new coronavirus cases. In the southern regions, plagued with numerous outbreaks, a federal study found that outbreaks of cases in 20- to 39-year-olds were generally followed nine days later by waves of new infections in adults 40 to 59 years of age. .
About 15 days later, there was a resurgence of the disease in those aged 60 and over. “The prevalence of cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in young adults likely contributes to community transmission of COVID-19, including in people at higher risk of serious illness, such as the elderly,” conclude researchers, who urge focus on mitigation strategies targeting young adults.
3.4 out of 5 patients have a neurological problem
The coronavirus causes neurological symptoms in a majority of the people it infects, a US study has found.
These symptoms are very varied, but fortunately not serious most of the time. The authors went through the medical records of 509 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in the Chicago area.
No less than 82% of them have experienced a neurological symptom at one time or another.
The most common manifestation was muscle pain (45%), followed by headache (38%). Almost a third have experienced impaired brain function (encephalopathy) which can cause disorders ranging from simple loss of attention to coma in the most severe cases. Sixteen percent reported loss of taste.
“The long-term effects of COVID-19 on the nervous system remain uncertain,” the authors raised.
4. Moderna: encouraging results in the elderly
Effective and safe in adults between 18 and 55 years old according to preliminary studies, Moderna’s vaccine candidate against COVID-19 would be just as effective in those 55 years and older, including people over 70 years old.
This is what the results from the first phase of the American company’s clinical trial, obtained from around 40 volunteers, suggest.
While caution is required given the size of the sample, these data give hope that the vaccine can protect a particularly vulnerable age group.
According to Moderna, the vaccine induced levels of neutralizing antibodies in older volunteers “comparable” to what was seen in younger subjects, and the product was “generally well tolerated”.
We will know more after the phase 3 clinical trial, which is currently underway, since it aims to test the vaccine in real conditions, on thousands of people.
What Doctor Béliveau thinks
This is crucial information, as the elderly are by far the most at risk for complications from COVID-19. The study also showed that in addition to an antibody production comparable to that observed in the youngest, the vaccine induced a strong activation of T lymphocytes, this bodes very well for the effectiveness of the vaccination.
5. An “innate” immune response to help children
Why does the new coronavirus affect children less than adults? According to an American study published in September in the journal Science Translational Medicine, this may be due to a very special skill of the immune system that is “innate” in children and is lost over time.
Because of their young age, the immune system of children more often encounters pathogens that it does not know.
Their defenses would thus be put on alert more quickly and with great vigor, according to the authors of the study interviewed by the New York Times. They compared the immune response of 65 children and young adults with that of 60 older adults admitted for COVID-19 in New York hospitals. The younger the patients, the more elevated levels of interleukin 17A and interferon gamma, immune molecules, were in their blood.
These would help, among other things, to fight severe respiratory symptoms, according to scientists.
The state of research in Quebec
Based in Quebec and Halifax
- Synthetic vaccine candidate addressing four weaknesses of the coronavirus and delivering the active ingredients over a long period
- Start of clinical trials by the end of the year
Based in Quebec
- Imminent end of phase 1 of clinical trials involving 180 volunteers
- Vaccine candidate designed with innovative plant production technology
Based in Montreal
- Vaccine candidate based on the chemistry of sugars and acting on the carbohydrates of the coronavirus
- Currently in preclinical phase, start of human trials scheduled for early 2021
- Work of Dr Denis Leclerc, researcher in microbiology-infectiology
- Small team of 5 people
- Candidate-vaccine based on the use of nanoparticles
- Preparatory tests on rodents in progress
What Doctor Béliveau thinks
It is very likely that at least one of the vaccines that are currently at an advanced stage of development (Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca) will be sufficiently effective against the coronavirus and will be approved in the coming months, if it is found to be as safe. that it will have been in phase 1 and 2. However, it should be kept in mind that the clinical endpoint of clinical trials on these vaccines is the reduction in the incidence of mild and moderate forms of COVID-19. There is therefore a risk of not knowing the effectiveness of these vaccines against the severe forms responsible for the deaths associated with this disease, particularly in obese people or those with comorbidities. Hence the importance of continuing research to increase the chances of developing the most effective vaccine possible. It is very likely that we will need more than one type of vaccine to overcome this pandemic.