The following is a brief roundup of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Men’s blood contains more of enzyme that helps coronavirus infect cells
A study from 11 European countries may help explain reports that the new coronavirus seems to attack men more often and more severely than women. Researchers have found that men have higher blood levels of the enzyme that helps the virus infect cells. The higher levels of “angiotensin-converting enzyme 2,” or ACE2, in men’s blood might mean their organs have more of the ACE2 “receptors” the virus uses to get into cells, researchers suggest in a paper published on Monday in European Heart Journal. Their study involved more than 2,000 elderly men and women with heart failure but no coronavirus infection, many of whom were taking common blood pressure drugs that block the effect of this enzyme, known as ACE2 inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). The researchers emphasize that study participants receiving these medications did not have higher levels of ACE2, which adds to earlier evidence that the drugs do not increase people’s risk for coronavirus infection.
Adding interferon may boost effectiveness of coronavirus treatment
Adding interferon-beta to a cocktail of the antiviral drugs lopinavir, ritonavir and ribavirin helped alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration of viral shedding (contagion) and hospital stays of mildly or moderately ill Covid-19 patients, according to results of a small randomized trial conducted at six hospitals in Hong Kong. The time it took for at least half the patients to have negative coronavirus tests was seven days with add-on interferon, compared to 12 days without it, researchers reported on Sunday in The Lancet. Overall, 86 patients received the interferon-containing combination and 41 got the antivirals without interferon. When the study started, half the patients had already been symptomatic for more than five days. The combination that included interferon “also alleviated symptoms completely within four days – a significantly shorter time than the control,” researchers said, adding that a larger trial to confirm these results is needed.
UK coronavirus study reassures pregnant women; Swedish study says don’t downplay risks
Pregnant women in Britain are no more likely than other women to become severely ill with Covid-19, but most expectant mothers who do develop serious illness tend to be in the later stages of pregnancy, according to a preliminary study. The study, which was posted online on Monday on the MedRxiv website but has not yet been peer-reviewed, found fewer than 0.5% of all pregnant women were hospitalized with the disease, and only around 10% of those women needed intensive care. Most pregnant women who were admitted to hospital were more than six months pregnant, the study also found.
A separate study from Sweden, however, found pregnant women there do appear to face higher risks. Swedish national registry data, published on Sunday in the medical journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, showed that compared to nonpregnant women infected with the coronavirus, similarly aged pregnant women with the virus were more than five times as likely to need intensive care and four times more likely to need invasive mechanical ventilation. The authors of an editorial accompanying the study advise that, “on the basis of available data…the risk of Covid-19 in pregnancy should not be down-played to avoid falsely reassuring healthcare professionals and the public. Women should be advised to take necessary precautions to avoid infection during pregnancy.”