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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Hi, this is reporter Eric Boodman, filling in for the day for Shraddha.

WHO experts arrive in China for investigation into pandemic’s origins

WHO experts are arrived in Wuhan, China, today to untangle how the pandemic-causing coronavirus slipped from wildlife into people. The trip has been months in making, with repeated delays. Chinese authorities have long fought calls for such independent investigations while keeping tight control over the information released, which has frustrated international scientists. Today, there were more issues: Two researchers were unable to enter the country and had to remain in Singapore because their antibody tests were positive, even though, as the WHO tweeted early this morning, "all team members had multiple negative PCR and antibody tests for COVID-19 in their home countries prior to traveling." The WHO has emphasized that the research is about finding answers that could help in the future, not pointing fingers. 

Biden to give update on pandemic response

President-elect Biden is set to provide an update today on the incoming administration's Covid-19 response, in an address that will touch on his plans to accelerate the lackluster U.S. vaccine rollout. In an exclusive yesterday, STAT’s Lev Facher reported that Biden's advisers have held extensive discussions about the new coronavirus variants spreading throughout the world, which have forced a reevaluation of Biden's vaccine distribution plan, restrictions on international arrivals at U.S. airports, and calls to dramatically scale up the country's genomic sequencing effort to better detect new virus variants. Biden’s update follows a number of significant changes from the outgoing Trump administration — most notably, health secretary Alex Azar's reversal on whether to hold half of available vaccine doses in reserve to ensure recipients receive their second shot after the appropriate three- or four-week interval. 

More infectious coronavirus variants could exacerbate record deaths, cases

In other countries with better pandemic responses, epidemiologists fear that newly emerged, more infectious coronavirus variants might reignite spread; here in the U.S., where spread is already uncontrolled, these variants could make the situation even more tragic. That’s because a variant like B.1.1.7, while not more likely to cause severe disease or death, might increase the volume of either by infecting more people, which could further overwhelm hospitals. U.S. surveillance of such mutations is spotty, but the data so far show that B.1.1.7 is still only causing a fraction of cases — and that we need to race to keep it that way by vaccinating, masking, and social distancing until we can reach herd immunity. 

Inside STAT: How, and why, coronaviruses mutate

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(Alex Hogan/STAT)

As scientists monitor the spread of new coronavirus variants, such as B.1.1.7, first observed in the U.K., and E484K, first seen in South Africa, it’s easy for the words “mutant virus” to sound like science fiction. But as STAT’s Alex Hogan explains in a new video, such mutations are to be expected. A virus hijacks a cell’s machinery to make copies of itself, and sometimes this copying process includes mistakes. While some of those typos are insignificant, eventually some might appear that could make the virus more benign, or better able to infect people, or harder to combat with vaccines. Watch the video here

New trial data shows a combo of two drugs can help treat meth addiction

One of the biggest issues with methamphetamine use disorder has been the lack of medications with which to treat it. But in a new clinical trial, published yesterday in NEJM, 13.6% of participants who got a cocktail of two prescription drugs had repeated meth-free urine tests, while only 2.5% of those who got the placebo did. The two medications were injectable naltrexone, an opioid use disorder treatment often known by its brand name, Vivitrol, and an oral antidepressant called bupropion. While doctors who weren’t involved in the research would love to see more in-depth data, many were optimistic, given that they currently have little to offer the increasing numbers of patients using methamphetamines.

Insurance data suggest many more Lyme disease cases than official surveillance records

Since 1991, doctors have reported cases of Lyme disease to regional authorities, who’ve then passed those numbers onto the CDC. But as ticks and the animals they feed on have spread, so have the spiral-shaped bacteria they carry, and health departments have had trouble keeping up. CDC researchers just published an analysis of health insurance data from 2010 to 2018, to see if that might help track the disease, and found that the annual incidence of Lyme diagnoses was around six to eight times higher than it was in official surveillance records. While some of that difference might stem from misdiagnoses and statistical quirks, the epidemiologists attributed much of the difference to underreporting — and see insurance claims as an imperfect but useful way to monitor trends. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 224,258
Deaths yesterday: 3,848
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What to read around the web today

  • Instagram influencers are a vaccine priority in wary Indonesia. Reuters
  • New charges in Flint water crisis, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. NPR
  • Data fuel debate over whether J&J’s one-dose Covid vaccine will measure up. STAT
  • Lebanon begins all-day curfew as virus spins out of control. Associated Press
  • Random People Are Lining Up to Get Vaccinated in D.C. Grocery Stores, The Atlantic

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

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