The Daily Dose: Damage control after Philippine government claims bananas prevent coronavirus infections

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There’s been a good amount of concern regarding the possibility of re-infection among recovered COVID-19 patients. At the individual level, it means yet another life-or-death battle against a deadly virus. At the group level, the implications are worse. Current suppression and mitigation strategies work on the assumption that patients mount a significant antibody response upon subsequent exposures to SARS-CoV-2. A recent study provides some welcome news. As per The Scientist, “Three rhesus macaques did not develop a second infection after recovering from a first exposure to the coronavirus and being reexposed to SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that primates are capable of developing at least some short-term immunity to the pathogen. The research, posted as a preprint to bioRxiv March 14, has yet to undergo peer review. To the authors, the results indicate that reports of some COVID-19 survivors being “re-infected” a second time can be explained by issues with testing rather than a failure to develop immunity.”

What happens when a country’s presidential spokesperson claims eating bananas will prevent coronavirus infections? Damage control and spin. That’s what is happening in the Philippines after Salvador Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s official spokesperson, made those dubious claims during a daily press conference with the presidential seal behind him. ABS-CBN News reports that “There is no concrete proof that eating bananas is a deterrent against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a high-ranking health official said Wednesday, debunking claims made by President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman that the tropical fruit could prevent coronavirus transmission.” It would be really helpful if everyone with opinions they need to share simply recuse themselves from coronavirus conversations in the future, especially those without a science background.

While China’s draconian measures came under heavy criticism as the country dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak, public health experts are now investigating what can be learned from it. “As the new coronavirus marches around the globe, countries with escalating outbreaks are eager to learn whether China’s extreme lockdowns were responsible for bringing the crisis there under control. Other nations are now following China’s lead and limiting movement within their borders, while dozens of countries have restricted international visitors.” Without a vaccine in sight, more and more countries appear to be emulating China’s tactics.

Images of Americans going about their business and gather in massive crowds have been rife on social media. Psychologists believe they have an idea why people refuse to listen to COVID-19 warnings. As per the Associated Press, “The central mythology across much of the country’s history, from the Puritans to the frontier to 9/11, has been about getting up and going out to do what needs to be done — not staying home, being quiet and practicing what can look a whole lot like inaction. ‘We’re beginning to see that the traditional ways that Americans may handle adversity may be coming up a bit short,’ says Daryl Van Tongeren, who teaches psychology at Hope College in Michigan and has studied how people find meaning in suffering.” Again, when it comes to matters of science and public health, the opinionated populace feel they know best. That’s what happens when the notion of expertise in a field becomes reduced to being an elitist.

While we’re on the subject of facts, a very handy article in The Smithsonian dispels myths about the 1918 influenza pandemic. According to the article, “The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it.” With so many misinformed people comparing the COVID-19 outbreak with the flu, it’s the first step in having a normal discussion.

An efficient way to replace a hydrogen atom attached to a carbon atom has long been the Holy Grail of drug development. The seemingly simple replacement has long befuddled brilliant minds. Now, researchers may have achieved so-called magic methylation in one glorious step. Science magazine reported reactions from organic chemists. “‘This paper is just stunning,’ says Tim Cernak, an organic chemist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who was not involved in the research. The new catalyst manages the reaction in one easy step—a huge improvement on previous multistep methods that were expensive and time-consuming. ‘This is the wish [of] every drug hunter,’ Cernak says. “It really is a dream reaction.’”

And finally, the analysis of ancient grains of wheat held at the University College London museum has provided valuable insight into the history of the domesticated grain. As per The Scientist, “The museum wheat, which carbon dating showed was from between 1130 and 1000 BC, was genetically much more similar to modern domesticated varieties than to modern wild ones, suggesting that the plant lineage the samples came from had already been domesticated. Specifically, the sequences most resembled those of modern domesticated strains grown in Turkey, Oman, and India. There was also evidence for genetic exchange between the museum wheat strain and the wild emmer wheat that grew in the Levant, a large region in the Eastern Mediterranean that was a center of agricultural development in the Neolithic period, and where emmer was first cultivated.”


IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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