An assistant professor of food science says that all the hand washing, surface cleaning, and food washing we’re doing may or may not keep Covid in check but has kept us from spreading salmonella, e.coli, and listeria.
It’s not what we’re trying to do, but it is good for us.
There’s no evidence that Covid is spread through food, although that’s not the same as saying that it isn’t spread that way.
But having (with her team) overdosed on US and Canadian internet videos telling us how to clean everything in sight, Yaohua “Betty” Feng reports that a bunch of them have it wrong. Of the videos telling people how to wash their hands, only 41% of the presenters used soap. The remainder, presumably, relied on good wishes and intense looks. Less than 33% mentioned hand sanitizer. And how many of us, since the start of the pandemic, can get through a day without mentioning hand sanitizer?
Like–I’m going to assume–you, I thought I knew how to wash my hands. I’ve been doing it for better than 70 years now, most of the time without supervision, but there’s no predicting what people will feel the need to learn in these difficult times. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong. Maybe, for instance, I’ve mistaken my hands for some other body parts.
Other videos were about washing produce, and 16% of the presenters used soap while 12% used other chemical cleansers. That sounds promising, but they’re both no-nos. If you don’t rinse them off completely, they can cause diarrhea.
Feng didn’t say this, but you might draw the conclusion that random internet videos aren’t the best places to look for reliable information. Or you might not.
British and (eek!) foreign Covid variants
The British Covid variant, which to make things more complicated is now called the Kent variant, after the part of England where it was first found–
Let’s start that over: The Kent Covid variant has mutated since it was first identified. That’s standard operating procedure in the viral world. Every new infection is a chance for the disease to pick up a mutation. Some of those won’t work well for it and will die out and others will make the disease better at hiding from the immune system. Those are the ones that will spread.
So the Kent variant has picked up a new mutation, and it’s similar to one of the mutations on the South African variant. The going theory is that it evolved the change on its own rather than picking it up like an STD after a one-night stand with the South African variant. Which basically means that two strains of the virus have found the same way to partially evade the human immune system.
There’s been a lot of focus on stopping, or at least getting control of, the imported Covid variants. In parts of the UK, house-to-house testing is looking for the South African variant.
But that may be a sideshow. Virologist Julian Tang wrote, “Unfortunately, the lack of control of these different variants in the UK may lead this population to become a melting pot for different emerging SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 variants–so we really need to reduce our contact rates to reduce the opportunities for viral spread/replication to reduce the speed with which these different virus variants can evolve.
“Closing borders/restricting travel may help a little with this, but there is now probably already a sufficient critical mass of virus-infected people within the endemic UK population to allow this natural selection/evolution to proceed . . . so we really need to stick to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions as much as possible.”
In other words, the more the people get infected, the more times the virus gets to mutate, and the more times it mutates the more chances it has of presenting us with a more difficult problem.
There’s something tempting about focusing on imported strains of the virus–Eek! South African! Argh, Brazilian!–but all Covid infections are dangerous. That’s what we need to focus on.
In England–possibly in all of Britain, but don’t trust me on that; I’m at least as confused as you are–the only way to book a Covid test is to claim at least one of three symptoms: cough, loss of smell or taste, and a high temperature. But a GP and senior lecturer in primary care, Alex Sohal, writes that the list should include a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat, hoarseness, muscle pain, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. She’s seen patients come in with them and go on to test positive for Covid.
“These patients have frequently not even considered that they may have Covid-19 and have not self-isolated in the crucial early days when they were most infectious.”
She advocates telling “the public, especially those who have to go out to work and their employers, that even those with mild symptoms . . . should not go out, prioritizing the first five days of self-isolation when they are most likely to be infectious.
“This will help to get—and keep—us out of this indefinite lockdown, as Covid-19 becomes increasingly endemic globally. Ignoring this will be at our peril.”
As it stands, if you have good reason to book a Covid test and don’t have the magic three symptoms, the best thing to do is lie. And almost none of us recognize the full list she gives as possible Covid symptoms.
The bad news
Some of the recent Covid mutations have outpaced the monoclonal antibodies we’d all been counting on as a treatment in case we did catch it.
Okay, if you have to ask, that says we haven’t all been counting on them, but let’s pretend we were so I can explain what’s happening.
Basically, monoclonal antibodies are human antibodies that have been cloned. In this case, they’re antibodies to Covid, and they’ve been used to treat serious Covid cases. The problem is that the humans who developed them did so in the presence of one form of Covid, not all of them. As the virus mutates, they can get left behind.
They also have another problem, which is that they’re expensive and not easy to make. Other than that, though, they’re great.
The good news
At the beginning of February, after a 25-day lockdown, the Isle of Man (population 84,000) lifted almost all its Covid restrictions. The exceptions are its border controls, which–well, I was going to say they take no prisoners, but in fact taking prisoners is exactly what they do. Someone who tried to get onto the island on a jet ski was jailed for four weeks.
They seem to have eliminated the virus. Before the lockdown, the island had 400 cases and it’s had 25 deaths.
The Isle of Man is in the water somewhere between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It’s a self-governing British crown dependency, and don’t ask what that means because it’s complicated and we’re running out of space here in the infinite internet.
Two bits of news about the AstraZeneca vaccine.
One, a single dose (which is what the UK is focused on at the moment, with the second one delayed for up to twelve weeks) is still 76% effective after three months. That’s not as good as the 82% protection it offers after the second dose, but it ain’t bad, and there’s finally some data backing up the government’s decision to focus on getting an initial dose to as many people as possible–at least for this vaccine.
Delaying the second dose may strengthen the protection, but that’s not definite.
Two, the vaccine may reduce the number of Covid transmissions by two-thirds. That’s not definite–it’s still preliminary–but it’s promising.
A late-stage trial reports that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is both safe and 92% effective. It can be stored in a normal refrigerator and comes in two doses, but the second dose is slightly different than the first one. They use different vectors–the neutralized viruses that they ride on. The idea is that this will give the immune system an extra boost and protect people for longer.
The little-bit-of-both news
Britain’s vaccinated over 10 million people with at least one dose of one vaccine or another, and the number of hospitalized Covid patients is coming down, but it’s still higher than it was during the first peak of the pandemic. England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said infection rates are also coming down“but they are still incredibly high.” That may mean, in the American tradition of Groundhog Day, that we get six more weeks of winter. Or lockdown.