Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, agencies globally have been racing to learn more about the disease, and learn more about the new virus, in an effort to halt the worldwide transmission in its tracks. By conducting research into the virus, there are hopes that we may learn much more about how it is transmitted, understand how the immunity response in infected individuals works, and what steps are needed to rapidly develop an effective treatment and vaccine.
However, there is a vast amount of information issuing from all sectors collaborating together to lead the research and find strong solutions to the pandemic. This can make it challenging to gain clear messages as to where we are in managing the virus, and what steps individual health bodies are making in the quest to understand more about how we can combat onward transmission, maximise treatment efficacy, and create long-term management to prevent further waves.
The following summarises some of the key research pieces which are informing the global understanding of the novel Coronavirus.
Treatment may be targeted according to viral levels
Healthcare professionals working at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland have been undertaking research into how the volume of viral RNA in the noses and throats of infected individuals may inform the ideal treatment plan for that person. By taking thousands of swabs of infected patients, and analysing them, the Hospital team have been assessing the ‘viral load’ – how much of the virus is present within each swab.
Samples from over 4,000 patients infected with the disease evidenced that there were two separate stages. In the early stage of being infected, the patients had high viral loads, and then this gradually decreased as the disease progressed – at which point, patients had high degrees of inflammation. Treatment with anti-inflammatory medication could, therefore, improve outcomes for individuals in that latter stage.
Antibodies reduce to low levels after a few weeks post-infection
In the quest to develop an effective vaccine, researchers have been analysing how key antibodies which neutralise the effects of the Covid-19 disease persist after infection. According to the most recent analysis, levels fall to very low levels within months of being infected. These antibodies are responsible for blocking pathogens from infecting more cells, but their effectiveness drops dramatically in the few weeks following the recovery of the infected patient.
Researchers at King’s College in London have been monitoring the concentration of these neutralising antibodies, reporting that when the virus infection peaks, people with more severe symptoms had much higher levels of the antibodies, than those who only displayed mild symptoms. This raises critical questions regarding the development of a viable vaccine, which may not be effective in promoting the generation of additional neutralising antibodies.
There have been positive trial results for a vaccine solution
A small study into the development of a vaccine has shown some positive results, in 45 participants. The vaccine has been shown to generate a sound immune response, without significant negative side effects. Developed by researchers in Moderna, Massachusetts and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the vaccine contains RNA instructions that are responsible for prompting human cells to generate an immune response.
In the UK, we are seeing the prevalence of Covid-19 steadily decrease, despite the gradual easing of lockdown measures. This trend appears to be the pattern for the majority of other countries with the exception of the US. It is positive that steps are being taken to drive development of longer-term safeguards against the virus. In the meantime, it’s important to continue to follow government advice including regular hand washing and sanitization of surfaces, in conjunction with sanitizing products such as SureSan sanitizers and surface wipes.