Author Archives: JFBrinkworth

Do 5G Network waves affect COVID19 infection?

No.

and no.

This argument part of an evolving body of disinformation on 5G networks. The current argument is that somehow the 5G Network, wireless technology supporting cell data/phones, is somehow interfering with COVID patient immunity. Previous arguments included that it is somehow contributing to cancer and autism. Sound familiar? It should – it’s an argument that has been made and disproven for a wide variety of other technologies. In the case of 5G and COVID19 – no clear mechanism is ever proposed and there is no data that supports any correlation between these conditions, or slow healing and 5G network.

This disinformation has been reliably tied to well funded disinformation troll-farms that develop and post such lies on social media. You can read more that here and here. The motive for the disinformation has been attributed to economic competition over wireless technologies between nations.

The disinformation is proving effective. There are reports of 5G towers being set on fire in the UK this month.

Please read the links above for more info.

Is SARS-CoV-2 airborne?

Warning: as with all things COVID-19, the evaluation of this topic is changing in real time. There is increasing evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can be aerosolized in day to day settings. The post below was written at the beginning of April and will be updated soon.

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No.

…or rather, there is no evidence right now that infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne.

That said, healthcare workers work in settings where it might hang in the air for a while. This is one reason why they desperately need appropriate masks and personal protective equipment.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is mainly transmitted via respiratory droplets, which can be inhaled or picked up from contaminated surfaces. Under certain circumstances droplets can become much smaller and become airborne for a few hours (a process called aerosolization). These aerosols can form via coughing and sneezing during respiratory infection (see these studies of flu and droplet/aerosol size here and here). They can also form in during lab and clinical activities such as centrifugation of samples, or intubating a patient.  Coronavirus parts (e.g. RNA) have been found in air expelled by patients simply speaking and breathing. Parts, however, are not virus and no study yet has demonstrated that infectious virus is among aerosolized particles in COVID-19 patients. Influenza virus and RNA, however, have been found patient in cough aerosols.

….so healthcare workers need appropriate masks and other protective equipment. The safest thing for the average person to do is to treat SARS-CoV-2 as if it could hang in the air for a while after and infected person sneezes or coughs or speaks – that is, socially distance to the greatest extent that you can.

This topic has been covered extensively by experts elsewhere, and the understanding of it is evolving. We refer you to expert the WHO, and PHAC (Canada) and encourage you to check these resources on a regular basis as expert opinions may change as more information becomes available.

~JFB and HH April 7, 2020

Should you disinfect yourself with a hairdryer?

Absolutely not.

Attempting to do so can cause serious burns.

A video of a Florida County Commissioner, Bryant Culpepper, claiming that sticking a running a hairdryer directly into one’s face and inhaling the hot air will kill prevent COVID19 has been circulating on social media. In the video Culpepper states that the virus matures in nasal cavities before migrating to the lungs and causing COVID-19, and proposed killing the virus by running a hairdryer in ones face. Multiple outlets immediately criticized Culpepper for the statement.  Culpepper has since apologized for spreading misinformation, citing his original source as a Fox News program.  Indeed, others have asserted the claim publicly.

Here we pull apart the argument for blowing a hairdryer in your face to prevent COVID19. The early take-away message is: Please do not stick a hair dryer in your face, up your nose or mouth to fight coronavirus. You can burn yourself very badly, and you won’t kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID19 in the process.

False Assumption 1 – Nasal disinfection can somehow eliminate a virus

This claim emerges and re-emerges again and again in various forms of misinformation, such that the WHO has made infographics to dispel ideas that rinsing or spraying noses with saline or harsher chemicals , drinking alcohol or taking a hot bath will halt a SARS-CoV-2/COVID19 infection. Here is why “disinfection” of your mucous membranes doesn’t work.

All viruses need a host cell to complete their lifecycle. When a coronavirus enters a nasal passage, for example, it escapes the mucous barrier to enter cells lining the respiratory tract (airway epithelial cells). Once inside those cells it initiates its own replication, making new virus, using the host cell components. Those virions (new virus) are shot out of the cell through a process called exocytosis, which leaves the cell intact to just keep on completing viral replication (nice little summary here. In later posts we’ll post more on the molecular interactions involved in this process). Those virions infect more airway epithelial cells and so on. The virus SARS-CoV (agent of SARS), for example, progresses down the respiratory tract to infect other cell types as well as epithelial cells in the alveoli, and bronchi in a matter of days.

The point is, once a coronavirus is in a cell (and it gets in pretty fast), it’s in. You can’t disinfect or rinse it “out”.

False Assumption 2 – you can heat up your nasal passages to a temperature that can kill the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) without injuring yourself

Heat applied at 56ºC (or 132ºF) for 15 minutes kills the SARS coronavirus. Commercially available cosmetic hair dryers usually can maintain a heat output of about 60ºC (140ºF). Your own cells sustain significant damage at 40ºC-47ºC (104ºF-116.6ºF) and often undergo cell death in response temperatures above 50ºC (122ºF). Nevermind that drying out mucosal membranes can cause respiratory distress.

The short of it is 1) applying heat to your nasal passages doesn’t stop the virus from doing anything 2) you cannot apply a hairdryer blowing heat to your face without hurting yourself. Do not do it.

JGS and JFB March 31, 2020

 

Are cloth masks protective against SARS-CoV-2?

Yes.

…but the full answer is a bit complicated.

There is a global shortage of protective personal equipment  (e.g. protective face masks, gowns, gloves) for clinicians handling patients. The recommended mask for handling COVID19 patients is a specialized mask known as an N95 respirator. Government failures to coordinate and stockpile these masks in event of a respiratory pandemic (the U.S., for example, stashed enough for 1% of the current need) have contributed to a significant shortage in supply. As production of N95 masks by manufacturers worldwide is at capacity, fashion companies and crafters are now trying to stem the protective gear shortage by making cloth masks.

Here is where it gets complicated. There is public and apparently corporate confusion about what these cloth masks are meant to achieve.The N95 mask is a tightly fitted nose and mouth mask made of multiple layers of electrostatically charged blown polymer fibers that catch 95% of all particles as small as 0.3 microns (um) (check out a history of the mask here). The SARS coronavirus is 0.125 nanometers or 0.000125 um in size. SARS-CoV-2 is typically carried in respiratory droplets (which are generally >5 um in size) and in lab settings, aerosols (<5 um). N95s catch these droplets over 0.3 um in size easily. The filtering ability of homemade cloth masks is very unclear, but it is extremely unlikely to reach 0.3 um. An examination of manufactured cloth masks found that particles smaller than 2.5 um were able to pass through the fabric. One study  found cloth masks failed to filter 97% of all particles 0.3-10 uM in size – meaning the cloth mask could not protect the wearer or people around them from virus alone transmitted by cough. The same study found cloth masks to be associated with higher risk of flu-like respiratory illness.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising. Surgical masks – of the earloop kind handed out in convenient care waiting rooms for patients with coughs – offer greater protection than cloth masks. The FDA has only approved surgical masks as protection for large water droplets and splashes. They too cannot filter out very small particles transmitted by cough.

However, via a cough, sneeze, “moist speaking“, or close breathing, virus in the respiratory tract is likely to be carried into the air in droplets or aerosols, not bare viral particles. There is increasing evidence that risk of this kind of transmission plummets with increased cloth or surgical masks use by the public. When everyone who can wears them and wears them without gaps and sags, cloth masks create multiple boundaries for droplets and aerosols to jump to enter a new respiratory tract.  This is true of the many grades of surgical masks as well.

The point of these fabric masks is not to replace N95 respirators or even surgical masks. The CDC has declared them a last resort respiratory protection for healthcare providers of COVID19 patients – that is, for last resort – marginally better than absolutely nothing – use. In this context, frequent exposure to high loads of virus is the risk for the wearer. This is a different level of risk than going to a grocery store. During the first days of blown polymer fabric shortages this past Spring, cloth masks were the only option for healthcare workers that would have otherwise worn surgical masks might have been used. As such mass manufacturers engaged in cloth mask production marketed  their masks as ntended for use in clinical settings when neither N95s or surgical masks are required.

Last resort is where practitioners many practitioners found themselves – and so some hospitals are collected, modified and stockpiled such handmade masks.

Bottom line –  If you are driven to sew masks for healthcare workers, check with the targeted facility first to see if they accept them and if they have a preferred pattern.

HH and JFB – March 26, 2020, long overdue update Sept, 2020.

Can great apes catch SARS-CoV-2?

Very Possible

Two infectious disease ecologists who specialize in disease transmission in great apes published a correspondence in the journal Nature, imploring governments and researchers to halt ecotourism and field work at sites where these species live. The article cites the 2016 discovery of a mild human coronavirus that caused respiratory symptoms circulating in a chimpanzee population . The article is co-signed by 18 other researchers who specialize in various aspects of ape management and health.

COVID19 has not been reported in a non-human great ape yet. However, humans are very closely related to other great apes (e.g. chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans), sharing between 96 and 98.6% of our genomes with these species. Numerous pathogens have trafficked and continue to be transmitted between humans and other apes. Moreover, the coronaviruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) reliably infect rhesus and cynomolgus macaques, two primate species that share ~93% of their genomes with humans. These lesser related primates manifest SARS and MERS in a similar manner to humans. Combined, this data suggests SARS-CoV-2 is a risk to great ape populations.

JFB – March 25, 2020

Does COVID19 cause loss of smell & taste?

Possibly.

On March 22, 2020 ENTUK, the professional association for Ear Nose and Throat surgeons in the United Kingdom, published a letter to Public Health England (the agency mandated with protecting the health of people in the United Kingdom) citing loss of smell as a noted symptom of mild SARS-CoV-2 infection. The purpose of the letter was to encourage doctors to wear full personal protective equipment when attending to patients, and to recommend that patients with a loss of smell quarantine for 7 days.

The SARS-CoV-2 evidence in the letter includes several statements about the high incidence of loss of smell in patients, though the data itself is not specifically cited. However, loss of smell and taste despite not having a stuffed up nose is a common symptom after upper respiratory infection. Over 40% of all cases of loss of smell are thought to be due to such postviral olfactory dysfunction. A number of viruses are implicated in causing neurosensory damage that can leave these senses diminished for months, including coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are known to infect the central nervous system and cause neuronal death. Moreover, the olfactory bulb (the brain structure inside the roof of the nose that receives odour information) has been shown to be a coronavirus route to the brain. Combined, this information suggests loss of smell may be a symptom of COVID19 and a very broad mechanism by which it might occur.

HH and JFB March 24, 2020

Information disorder and COVID19

            Think you are reading “fake news” about COVID19? You are not alone. Like many other urgent topics the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID19, are the subject of disordered information, such as  disinformation (organized and deliberate attempts to mislead people) and misinformation (misleading information distributed without negative intent). Such disordered information is dangerous in the context of health and disease. Early this month, for example, multiple people suffered chloroquine poisoning after receiving misinformation that the malaria drug and sometimes cleaning product may be effective against SARS-CoV-2.  

         Moreover, the spread of deliberately deceiving information tends to be well organized, plays on partisan views and readers’ vulnerabilities and takes advantage of social media algorithms. Readers can, therefore,  be at a disadvantage when a subject is new. How do you know when the information you are reading about COVID19 is truthful, or disordered?  

Thankfully, there are many people who study disordered information (e.g. fake news) and have published guidelines on how to vet the information you are receiving. Here we provide a list of resources to help you figure out if what you are reading/hearing is true.

The News Literacy Project: disordered info. flow chart & COVID misinfo. page

Key to identifying mis/disinformation is developing good information frisking habits. The News Literacy Project is a nonpartisan education nonprofit that provides tools to help you figure if you can trust media and social media posts. They recommend  taking 7 steps to sniff out disordered information before sharing it AND they have put it in this very easy to follow flow chart!!!! They even have a COVID19 myth busting page (how not to share bad information on COVID19, beer drinkers are not avoiding Corona beer etc.) along with other resources.

CBC Article: “The Real Fake News” by Andrea Bellmare

There are are more types of harmful disordered information than misinformation and disinformation. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)  summarized research on disordered information in the summer of 2019. Here they list disordered information types and how to spot them.

Snopes: Coronavirus/COVID19 collection of rumours & myths

Key to cutting disordered information fray from the data you need is fact checking information you receive. The fact checking site Snopes has an extensive collection of coronavirus/COVID19 rumours and myths . You can search or look up rumours/myths by category (e.g. industry and business, treatments). Go there to cross-check information, discover its origins and get clarification on a range of topics.

Buzzfeed: Jane Lytvynenko and coronavirus disinformation investigation team

Another fantastic fact-checking resource is Jane Lytvynenko of Buzzfeed news. Ms. Lytvynenko is leading a coronavirus disinformation investigation effort. Buzzfeed is publishing articles daily dispelling rumours, myths and disinformation. You can find her/their articles here.

APNews Fact Check

The Associated Press has a fact checking page for news items that might be hyped or misinterpreted. Many of the facts checked are statements coming from various political administrations. A variety of topics associated with COVID19 are dissected on this page (e.g. auto industry is not close to making ventilators, Chloroquine has not been tested for and is not approved for COVID treatment )

UNESCO: report on misinformation, and training modules for identifying it

UNESCO published a report on “fake news” and misinformation in 2017 that provides short training modules to help journalists and the public identify and remove disordered information from their articles/social media. The report identifies seven types of information pollution from misinterpreted satire, to lies and manipulated context. It also explains “fake news” generation (e.g. foreign governments, misinformed people) and provides tips on how to frisk media for this disordered information.

Hoaxy and Botometer: visualizing the spread of information and finding bots on  Twitter

Think bots might have originated or be boosting a piece of information online? You can search a twitter post and visualize the network (and bots ) that is sharing it via Hoaxy. Hoaxy was developed by researchers at the Indiana University Network Science Institute and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research. The same team made Botometer, a program that assesses the likelihood that a Twitter account you are following/reading/is following you is a bot. 

We will list more resources as time goes on. Read smart, stay safe. 

JFB – March 24, 2020