It’s another Thursday here at Turbid Plaque headquarters, time for us to take all the news that broke this week, grind it up into even smaller bits, solubilize it, and pass it through our selective barrier to deliver only the best stories to you. Welcome to The Filtrate.
After battling a superspreader event early in the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts has taken this virus very seriously. As a result, we now have among the lowest incidences of infection in the country, and a positive test rate under 1%. It was startling, then, to see case counts spike in July and August. Now it turns out that much of the increase was due to one lab’s screw-up. The lab, at a company called Orig3n that until the pandemic had specialized in selling bullshit specialized genetic testing, seems to have generated huge numbers of false-positive SARS-CoV-2 test results as a result of lax quality control. Massachusetts has now stopped using Orig3n for testing, but several other states are still sending their samples to the problem-plagued facility.
While false positive tests are causing some people to think they have the virus when they don’t, it’s become clear that a lot more folks have had it without knowing it. A study published yesterday models the scale of this problem, and concludes that published case counts are almost an order of magnitude lower than the actual infection rate. That means the US count of 721,245 confirmed cases belies an actual total of almost 6.5 million infections. That’s yuge.
This is your pandemic on drugs
The hydroxychloroquine circus continues, even as reports on the scope of its stupidity trickle into the literature. One analysis used databases of prescriptions to identify trends in hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine prescription in the first half of the year, finding a dramatic spike in prescriptions for the two antimalarial drugs right when a prominent sideshow barker first endorsed them. The new prescriptions came overwhelmingly from specialists who’d never prescribed these drugs before, who were presumably doling it out as a treatment or prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19.
For those in the bleacher seats who didn’t hear it yet: there’s no evidence hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine has any benefit against COVID-19, and people have looked. A thorough summary in PLOS Medicine lays out all of the pharmacological problems with treating these drugs as a pandemic panacea, including the side effects.
What should people take if they develop COVID-19? Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are popular choices, but are they safe against this disease? Despite early speculation to the contrary, it looks like they are. As a reminder, though, this is a science blog, not a medical advice source. Talk to your doctor if you feel ill.
The archivist’s covenant
We’re big fans of open-access scientific journals here at the Turbid Plaque, but we also understand they have some problems. One major issue is archiving. With many open-access platforms relying exclusively on online publication, there’s no paper copy sitting on library shelves for future generations of scientists to read. So what happens to the publications when one of these journals shuts down or just cuts back on its server budget? They disappear. At least, that’s the conclusion of a new preprint published – perhaps ironically – on the open-access arXiv server. Jeffrey Brainard also has a good summary on the Science web site, in case the preprint vanishes.
In the study, the researchers identified 84 journals in the natural sciences, and almost 100 more in social sciences and humanities, that had evaporated since the turn of the century. Hundreds of other online-only journals have fallen inactive, suggesting that an even bigger wave of disappearing scholarship may be on the way.
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.