The Filtrate for 2020.8.13

Celebrating the relaunch of The Turbid Plaque on a platform we hope will make the blogging process smoother, here’s another issue of The Filtrate. This week’s roundup is all about SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, because of course it is.

The meat of the matter

Back in March and April, about 378 years ago in pandemic time, there were several big COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking facilities. This week’s issue of the ever-readable MMWR includes the official analyses of two of those outbreaks, one in South Dakota and one in Nebraska.

In the South Dakota outbreak, a total of 929 employees of a single facility, plus 210 of their contacts, were diagnosed with COVID-19; two of the employees died. That represents an attack rate of about 25% of the workers in the plant. Over 96% of those infected were symptomatic.

The Nebraska outbreak was smaller, with 375 cases, an overall attack rate of 31%, and an asymptomatic infection rate of 32%.

In both outbreaks, working less than 6 feet away from others was a strong predictor of infection. It’s interesting that the rate of asymptomatic infections was so different, but that may be due to reporting challenges.

Russian through clinical trials

One of the biggest, or at least most-hyped stories in the news this week was Russia’s claim to have developed a working SARS-CoV-2 vaccine already. Jon Cohen has a typically excellent report in Science about the claim, revealing that there’s considerably less to it than the propagandists wanted us to believe.

The short version is that Russian health authorities, no doubt under immense political pressure, have issued what amounts to an emergency authorization for a vaccine that’s only been tested in 76 people. Even that certification stipulates that the vaccine can’t be put into wide use until 2021 at the earliest. So no, Russia doesn’t have a vaccine already.

Shots against the dark

What we really need a vaccine against, of course, is misinformation. A new PNAS news feature by Gayathri Vaidyanathan summarizes some promising research on that, believe it or not. Several recent studies have identified specific interventions that can make people resistant to common types of misinformation and disinformation found online.

The interventions amount to what we used to call “teaching critical thinking,” but social scientists have adapted the strategies to the current media hellscape environment.

Can antibody help these patients?

Until we have a working SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, doctors will keep struggling to treat patients with serious COVID-19. One of the leading strategies for that has been a very old one: convalescent serum. This consists of taking serum (blood minus the cells) from people who’ve recovered from the virus, and injecting it into sick patients. Antibodies in the convalescent patients’ serum can neutralize the virus, helping the sick patients recover.

At least, that’s the theory. While convalescent serum has been used to treat everything from the 1918 flu to ebolavirus disease, it’s often hard to analyze its effectiveness. A new PLOS Pathogens Pearl (mini-review) provides a good history of this strategy and its potential against the current pandemic.

That’s all for this week. If you have a story you think will fit through our filter, please let us know directly or post a comment below.