Roundup: CDC Update on COVID-19 Variants; New Study on Blood Vessel Damage; and More

CDC: New Variants of COVID-19 Do Not Reduce Effectiveness of Vaccines

There have been many media reports following the development of so-called variants of COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated information on the new COVID-19 variants, although the agency stipulates that “scientists are working to learn more about these variants, and more studies are needed to understand” them.

Viruses are constantly changing through mutation, and new variants are expected to occur over time, the CDC explains. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. But some new variants “emerge and persist.” Although non of the COVID-19 variants are believed to cause more serious illness, scientists are still studying them.

At this time, there is “no evidence” that the variants reduce or alter the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, public health officials say. “Most experts believe this is unlikely to occur because of the nature of the immune response to the virus,” the CDC states.

“Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic,” the CDC states. “Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating globally.”

The variant with the largest known number of mutations appeared in the United Kingdom (UK), which seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants.

“Currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the CDC stresses. “This variant was first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England. It has since been detected in numerous countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.”

In South Africa, another variant has emerged “independently of the variant detected in the UK,” the CDC said. This variant, originally detected in early October, shares some mutations with the variant detected in the UK.

U.S. Study Finds Blood Vessel Damage in Brains of COVID-19 Patients, But No ‘Direct’ Infection

New research by U.S. government scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that COVID-19 may not directly affect the brain in most cases, but the virus can spark serious inflammation that can result in “thinning and leaky brain blood vessels.”

That damage to blood vessels was found by researchers in tissue samples from patients who died shortly after contracting COVID-19, the NIH said in a news release.

The researchers “saw no signs of COVID-19 in the tissue samples, suggesting the damage was not caused by a direct viral attack on the brain,” according to he NIH study published as a correspondence in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We found that the brains of patients who contract infection from SARS-CoV-2 may be susceptible to microvascular blood vessel damage. Our results suggest that this may be caused by the body’s inflammatory response to the virus,” said Avindra Nath, M.D., clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the senior author of the study. “We hope these results will help doctors understand the full spectrum of problems patients may suffer so that we can come up with better treatments.”

Previous studies have found that COVID-19 can cause inflammation and blood vessel damage. In one of the studies, the researchers found evidence of small amounts of the coronavirus in some patients’ brains. However, the NIH said scientists are still trying to understand how the disease affects the brain.

Kids Under 18 Get COVID-19 at Social Gatherings More Often Than at School, Researchers Fine

As of December 14, 2020, children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age have accounted for 10 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States. However, kids are more at risk of contracting coronavirus at a social gatherings, than in a classroom or childcare facility, according to a study released by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and conducted in partnership with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers questioned children and adolescents who had tested positive for the virus in emergency departments and outpatient healthcare facilities during September, October and November. Compared with children who tested negative, those who tested positive were more likely to have attended social gatherings and were in close contact with visitors to their household. Moreover, parents or guardians of children who were tested positive were less likely to report wearing masks at these gatherings.

“Household contacts versus a contact at school appeared to be more important in a child’s risk for being infected,” said Charlotte Hobbs, M.D., professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UMMC and lead author on the study’s findings.

During the 14 days before their COVID-19 test, 27 percent of all parents whose children attended social gatherings reported mask use by all persons present, and 46 percent reported adherence to social distancing. Meanwhile, 16 percent and 39 percent, respectively, reported mask use and social distancing when having visitors in the home.

“Mitigation strategies to prevent infection with the coronavirus, among persons of all ages, are important for pandemic control,” the CDC states.

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