These are some of the stories I cited for you today on air that I wanted to share.
(*From the show today: the clinical study on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a treatment.)
First, why this mutated coronavirus is so contagious (bold my emphasis):
In addition to tests looking for fragments of the virus’s RNA, they also tried to grow viruses from sputum, blood, urine, and stool samples taken from the patients. The latter type of testing — trying to grow viruses — is critical in the quest to determine how people infect one another and how long an infected person poses a risk to others.
Importantly, the scientists could not grow viruses from throat swabs or sputum specimens after day 8 of illness from people who had mild infections.
“Based on the present findings, early discharge with ensuing home isolation could be chosen for patients who are beyond day 10 of symptoms with less than 100,000 viral RNA copies per ml of sputum,” the authors said, suggesting that at that point “there is little residual risk of infectivity, based on cell culture.”
Public health officials and hospitals have been trying to make sense of patients who seem to have recovered from Covid-19 but who still test positive for the virus based in throat swabs and sputum samples. In some cases, people test positive for weeks after recovery, the World Health Organization has noted.
Those tests are conducted using PCR — polymerase chain reaction — which looks for tiny sections of the RNA of the virus. That type of test can indicate whether a patient is still shedding viral debris, but cannot indicate whether the person is still infectious.
The researchers found very high levels of virus emitted from the throat of patients from the earliest point in their illness —when people are generally still going about their daily routines. Viral shedding dropped after day 5 in all but two of the patients, who had more serious illness. The two, who developed early signs of pneumonia, continued to shed high levels of virus from the throat until about day 10 or 11.
This pattern of virus shedding is a marked departure from what was seen with the SARS coronavirus, which ignited an outbreak in 2002-2003. With that disease, peak shedding of virus occurred later, when the virus had moved into the deep lungs.
Shedding from the upper airways early in infection makes for a virus that is much harder to contain. The scientists said at peak shedding, people with Covid-19 are emitting more than 1,000 times more virus than was emitted during peak shedding of SARS infection, a fact that likely explains the rapid spread of the virus.
Seattle infectious disease expert Dr. Helen Chu had, by January, collected a huge number of nasal swabs from local residents who were experiencing symptoms as part of a research project on flu. She proposed, to federal and state officials, testing those samples for coronavirus infections. As the Times reports, the CDC told Chu and her team that they could not test the samples unless their laboratory test was approved by the FDA. The FDA refused to approve Chu’s test on the grounds that her lab, according to the Times, “was not certified as a clinical laboratory under regulations established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a process that could take months.”
In the meantime, the CDC required that public health officials could only use the diagnostic test designed by the agency. That test released on February 5 turned out to be badly flawed. The CDC’s insistence on a top-down centralized testing regime greatly slowed down the process of disease detection as the infection rate was accelerating.
A frustrated Chu and her colleagues began testing on February 25 without government approval. They almost immediately detected a coronavirus infection in a local teenager with no recent travel history. Chu warned local public health officials of her lab’s finding and the teenager’s school was closed as a precaution. The teen’s diagnosis strongly suggested that the disease had been circulating throughout the western part of Washington for weeks. We now know that that is likely true.
Did the FDA and CDC functionaries commend Chu for being proactive? Not at all. Washington state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist recalled, “What they said on that phone call very clearly was cease and desist to Helen Chu. Stop testing.”
In response to a dire shortage of tests for detecting the fast-moving coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration is giving states new powers to authorize laboratories to develop their own diagnostic. And the FDA also approved new tests that will be distributed by LabCorp (LH) and Hologic (HOLX), two of the largest manufacturers.
The FDA also announced two other moves. Under certain circumstances, the agency will not object to any manufacturers that distribute newly developed tests before the FDA grants emergency clearance, and a similar stance will be taken toward labs that use these new tests. Finally, the agency is issuing new recommendations for companies that want to develop blood tests for measuring antibodies.
Big government gets in the way of saving lives.
Lastly, the EU’s adulatory celebration of its supposed fellowship has been laid bare in Italy’s time of need. The piece devolves into a suspicious bit of puffery for communist China, who caused this exponential amount of death in Italy (see here and here), but the point remains: the EU, for all its hollow praise, was nowhere to be found.