A Few Research Summaries

By May 1, 2020 Commentary

Here are summaries of some more interesting research.

The first and most important thing I want you to do is look at the Worldometers site and look at the main coronavirus page.  (Worldometers)  I mentioned in a post in the past week that the % of critical cases was continually edging downward.  It is now 2%.  When I first began looking at their data it was over 5%.  This is a reflection of two things.  One is that there is much more testing, which is picking up many more mild cases.  The second, and I think more important factor, which reflects a point I have made before, is that the virus didn’t sample the population randomly; it got the most susceptible people first.  So serious cases and deaths looked bad early on,  but you just couldn’t and shouldn’t extrapolate to the full population at that point.  Classic, classic statistics error.  This is why the rush to judgment that the world was ending and we had to lock everything down was so dreadful–where was the leadership to exercise some calm restraint.

Now the other thing to do is go to Sweden in the main chart and click on it.  Sweden, of course, is being pilloried in the alarmist press for endangering its entire population.  Look at that chart of daily cases.  Looks pretty plateaued to me.  Sweden will be swimming in tourists this summer.  Population immunity, no worries, lovely place to visit.  Stockholm is wonderful, the countryside is beautiful.  I will definitely be visiting.  Be nice to sit in a bar and have a drink.   The rest of the world, including the US, will be going “oh, sh*t, why didn’t we do that instead of destroying our economy and social life.”

The first study looks at whether the lockdowns in European countries actually changed the course of the epidemic.  (Medrxiv Paper)  The author compared the trajectory of the epidemic in Italy, Spain, France and the UK before and after the lockdowns.  Other studies have suggested that the lockdowns had a substantial impact and some have suggested that they didn’t.  Some of the disagreements are due to fairly technical statistical technique preferences.   Using this author’s approach, the epidemic had the same basic shape before and after the more extreme lockdowns took place.  This was also true in comparison with countries using less extreme lockdowns.  If the results are correct, it is intriguing to speculate on why this might be true, and it may tie back to the rapid undetected spread of the epidemic in most countries.

The next study was a survey of antibody prevalence in Iran.  (Medrxiv Paper)  Many studies are being done to help people understand how widespread the infections have been.  The authors created a random sample of households through phone invitation.  They tested 551 people.  21% had antibodies, again suggesting that far more people have been infected than positive infection testing would suggest.  The antibody test used had few false positives, but had a relatively high false negative rate, suggesting that the prevalence might be even higher.  About 55% of people with positive antibody tests were asymptomatic, they reported never having had a coronavirus symptom.

And here is another study of antibodies, this one from Japan.  (Medrxiv Paper)   The authors used 1000 blood samples collected from patients during the first week in April at outpatient clinics in Kobe.  The samples were randomly selected from all patient visits with the exception of ER and fever department visits.  There were 33 positive samples, which equated to about 41,000 people in city with past coronavirus infection, at the lower confidence level and with age and sex adjustment for the population.  This estimate is 400 times more than confirmed cases in the city by infection testing.  There are of course limitations to the study and although it is much higher than some other estimates of undetected infections, it is directionally similar to many other studies, and it may reflect very limited infection testing done in Japan.  All models should now reflect very, very high percentages of asymptomatic and mild cases.

And how about we leave (or Aleve) on a high note or two.  Another paper finds that a common pain reliever, naproxen (the branded version is Aleve) may have anti-coronavirus activity.  (Medrxiv Paper)   The paper, from a research team in France, using an in vitro (outside the body) airway cell model finds that naproxen inhibits viral replication.  Naproxen was previously known to inhibit influenza virus replication.  The authors are following up with a clinical trial.  Naproxen is generic and cheap so you can be sure the drug industry will do everything it can to limit its use, so they can make billions on other far more expensive treatments.  Hoarding will start soon.  Smoke (see earlier smoker study) and take Aleve and everything will be hunky-dory.  Just don’t drink the bleach.

And here is another paper about promising treatments.  (Medrxiv Paper)  The drugs, which have long complex names, are already approved for use in treating diseases, one as a photo-sensitizer for treating abnormal blood vessels contributing to macular degeneration and the other also as a photo-sensitizer but for cancer diagnosis and treatment.  The researchers found that both drugs both inhibited infection and suppressed viral replication in already infected patients.  This study was also conducted in cell models.



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