Drowning in Coronavirus Research, Part 58

By August 9, 2020 Commentary

Here is another piece of poorly thought out research.  The authors are apparently upset that people are comparing flu to coronavirus so they set out to show that coronavirus is way worse.  (JAMA Article)   They correctly point out the flu deaths are estimated by the CDC, whereas coronavirus deaths have been actual death counts.  So they figured we should compare actual counts of flu deaths, instead of the estimates, and compare that to CV deaths.  That is a gross simplification of the situation.  Flu is estimated because clinicians rarely actually test for its presence; it wouldn’t matter how they treated the patient, so why spend the money.  Based on symptoms they assume a respiratory infection.  If we were testing for flu like we have tested for CV, we would find a huge number of cases every year, and we treated deaths where flu is involved like we treat deaths “with” coronavirus or “suspected” coronavirus, we would have a much larger number of deaths from flu.  And the researcher trotted out the CV deaths are undercounted thesis, which is ludicrous, because it has become apparent that CV’s role in deaths has been exaggerated.  One example is that over 3000 deaths caused by an accident of some type have been included in the coronavirus death count because they tested positive, even though the disease obviously had nothing to do with these deaths.  Finally, I don’t know why people can’t see the obvious fact that makes flu far more deadly than coronavirus.  We have flu vaccines and large numbers of people get vaccinated every year for it.  If there wasn’t a vaccine, as there isn’t for CV, the toll of flu would be far worse than that of coronavirus.  We would have the equivalent of the 1918 epidemic on a regular basis.  So I don’t care to hear about coronavirus being worse than the flu, it isn’t.

Yet another study on cross-reactive T cells.  (Science Article)   The researchers used blood samples from 2015 to 2018, before the current strain was identified.  They attempted to provoke T cell responses by presenting certain regions, both spike and non-spike, (epitopes) of the current strain proteins.  The primary response was from helper T cells, with some contribution by killer T cells.  About 66 regions from the spike protein and 76 from the rest of the CV genome were recognized.  On average a donor had T cells recognizing 11 different regions.  Some of the most frequent and most vigorous response was to spike protein regions.  There was also significant similarity in the makeup of the current strain identified regions and the same regions in the seasonal coronaviruses.  The authors concluded that there are memory T cells in many, if not most people, that are cross-reactive to the current strain of coronavirus and that may account for resistance to infection and mild courses of disease.

Researchers are examining the effect that the lockdowns, etc. have had on the use of health care services.  This is important not only because of the impact on patients’ health, but because enormous damage can be done to the health care system if providers have inadequate revenue to stay in business or run their practices effectively.  This study looked at emergency room visits and hospitalizations resulting from ER visits in five states for the period from January 1, 2020 to April 30.   (JAMA Article)   By the middle of March ER visits began to decrease dramatically, ranging from 41% to 63% declines across the states.  Hospital admissions from the ER initially declined but then rose dramatically as CV cases increased.  While many ER visits may be unnecessary, as the authors suggest, these rates of decrease almost certainly involve many instances of people avoiding needed care due to fear related to the epidemic.

This article warns, as I have suggested, that epidemiologists are concerned that some of the steps we are taking to limit the epidemic will weaken immune systems and leave us more vulnerable to other infectious diseases.  (Tel. Article)

How to count coronavirus deaths is as controversial in England as it is here.  These researchers developed a different method of attributing deaths to coronavirus.  (SSRN Paper)   As others have, they found that many deaths are wrongly attributed to the disease.  They built formulas around calculating excess deaths, and concluded that only around 50% of deaths truly should be counted as coronavirus deaths.  They found that the risk was largely concentrated in the very elderly, those over 75.  In addition, the researchers concluded that the lockdowns were the cause of many excess deaths and may have actually increased overall mortality.

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