The Filtrate for 2020.9.3

By adjusting the pore sizes, the Filtrate is now letting some non-pandemic news items seep through. Of course we’ll be continuing our coverage of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, which means we may need to use strong language to describe the disastrous ongoing US response to this virus. You’ve been warned.

Pandemic roundup

Hospital staff, also known as “frontline healthcare personnel” because apparently we can’t describe any crisis without using military metaphors, have been exposed to lots of SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the pandemic. As a large multi-institution collaboration reports in MMWR, the virus has capitalized on this source of hosts. Antibody tests on over 3,000 healthcare workers found 6% had evidence of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Of that group, 29% had experienced no symptoms in the preceding months, and 69% hadn’t been diagnosed with COVID-19. In other words, the CDC’s recent recommendation that asymptomatic people skip testing was exactly as much political bullshit as public health experts had called it.

Meanwhile, summer camp is wrapping up, and at least some camps managed to get through the season without becoming superspreader incubators. Their secret sauce? Testing, tracing, and isolation. I wonder if their operators are TWiV listeners.

Universities are sort of like summer camps for young adults, but as a recent PLoS Biology Perspective explains, they’ll need to make some major changes if they want to handle pandemic-era reopening properly. The authors use more delicate language, but the short version is that universities’ COVID-19 responses in the Spring were utter clusterfucks, largely because of deep structural flaws in the way their administrations operate. I wouldn’t place any large bets on that getting fixed soon.

Polio whack-a-molio

Speaking of clusterfucks, the long-running CDC/WHO effort to eradicate polio staggered into another ditch this year. One of the major problems is that the project continues to rely on the oral polio vaccine (OPV), a live attenuated vaccine that can cause outbreaks of the very disease it’s meant to prevent. In areas with low vaccination rates, the CDC tries to do “surge” campaigns to suppress these outbreaks. Unfortunately, those efforts have paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the worm burns out

On a more cheerful note, parasitic worm eggs can remain largely intact for centuries in the decomposing intestines of dead people. Well, it’s good news if you’re doing archaeological epidemiology, anyway, as this group found. By analyzing dirt excavated from the pelvises of almost 600 exhumed skeletons buried between 680 and 1700 C.E., they found that helminth infections in Europe during that period were about as common as they are today in sub-Saharan Africa. By the early 20th century, though, Europeans were largely free of these parasites. That means they controlled the worms without modern medicines, just by improving sanitation. Michael Price has a good news story in Science summarizing the findings as well. The results imply that we could eliminate, or at least minimize, helminth infections globally if we could just get our shit together.

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.