A medic collects swab from the mouth of a woman resident for COVID-19 test in a containment zone at Kurla, Mumbai, Tuesday, April 14, 2020. | PTI
A medic collects swab from the mouth of a woman resident for COVID-19 test in a containment zone at Kurla, Mumbai | PTI
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New Delhi: In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 171,240 lives and infected over 2.4 million people globally, scientists are working around the clock to understand the Covid-19 virus and how it infects human cells in order to develop a cure for the illness.

Here are some of the top research and developments on the Covid-19 front.

Study shows lopinavir-ritonavir combo & Arbidol ineffective 

A study on the safety and efficacy of either HIV drug combination lopinavir-ritonavir or influenza drug Arbidol as treatments for Covid-19 has found that neither improves the clinical outcome of patients hospitalised with mild-to-moderate cases of the disease.

Lopinavir-ritonavir combination and Arbidol had been selected as candidates for treating Covid-19 in a guidance issued on 19 February by the National Health Commission of China, based on in-vitro cell tests and previous clinical data from SARS and MERS, the researchers, from Guangzhou Eighth People’s Hospital in China, said.

However, the study has shown that neither of the antivirals benefit clinical outcomes of patients.

The study assessed 86 patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19, with 34 randomly assigned to receive lopinavir-ritonavir, 35 to Arbidol, and 17 with no antiviral medication as a control. All three groups showed similar outcomes at 7 and 14 days, with no differences between groups in the rates of fever reduction, cough alleviation, or improvement of chest CT scan.

The study also found that the drugs can cause side effects.

Patients in both drug groups experienced adverse events such as diarrhea, nausea, and loss of appetite during the follow-up period, while no apparent adverse event occurred in the control group.

Also read: India’s Covid-19 R0 down to 1.36 now, 25,000 cases by April-end at this rate: IMS scientist

Plastic canopy can protect healthcare workers from Covid-19

Scientists have designed a simple cost-effective plastic canopy system that can help protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus infection while delivering non-invasive ventilation or oxygen support to patients.

Non-invasive ventilation is often used to treat people with respiratory failure, a symptom of severe coronavirus disease, as it helps them breathe by pushing pressured air into the lungs via a mask covering the mouth and/or nose.

While this can alleviate the need for mechanical ventilators used in critical care, there are concerns about the increased risk of infection for healthcare workers who treat patients with non-invasive respiratory support.

In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, researchers have described a “constant flow canopy system” that is designed to reduce exposure to the virus for healthcare workers.

The plastic canopy forms an air chamber that covers the upper part of the patient’s body. The canopy is connected to a system containing a filter for cleaning air, and an electrical fan that pulls away this filtered air.

The canopy system can be used on at least four patients at a time. The plastic used for the canopy design does not allow fluid or particles to pass through it, the researchers claimed.

Also read: Journalist Gulshan Ewing, former editor of Eve’s Weekly, dies of Covid-19 in UK at 92

New biosensor can test for SARS-CoV-2 in a minute

Scientists from South Korea have developed a biosensor that detects SARS-CoV-2 from nasal and throat swabs in less than a minute.

Currently, Covid-19 tests use a technique called real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which amplifies SARS-CoV-2 RNA from patient swabs so that tiny amounts of the virus can be detected.

However, it takes several hours to prepare the samples for these tests.

To eliminate the sample preparation steps, the team based their test on a field-effect transistor — a sheet of graphene with high conductivity.

They attached antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the graphene. When SARS-CoV-2 is added to the sensor, it binds to the antibody and causes a change in the electrical current.

The team tested the technique on nasopharyngeal swabs collected from patients with Covid-19 or healthy controls. While the test was about 2-4 times less sensitive than RT-PCR, different materials can be explored to improve the tests, the researchers said.

Poor air quality linked to more Covid-19 deaths

Regions that have higher levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air saw more number of deaths from Covid-19, a study has found.

The researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany, provides data to back the assumption that poor air quality made populations more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The team combined satellite data on air pollution and air currents with confirmed deaths related to Covid-19. They found that regions with permanently high levels of pollution — Northern Italy, the area around Madrid, and Hubei Provence in China — have significantly more deaths than other regions.

The team explained that these three regions are surrounded by mountains, which reduces the air flow in these regions — and cause air pollutants to accumulate.

Persistent air pollution in these affected regions could have led to overall poorer health in the people living there, making them particularly susceptible to the virus.

The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Also read: How Singapore flipped from virus hero to cautionary tale


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