Researchers around the world seek answers to questions about spread and danger of Covid-19

As New Zealand faces a third wave of Covid-19 infections, people continue to have questions about the disease and how it affects people. These questions are reflected in research being undertaken by international experts in several countries. These are some of the main questions being looked at around the world.

1. Why do people respond so differently to the virus?

According to research at Georgetown Centre for Global Health Science and Security individual responses are the key to how severely they will react to the virus. This could depend on the amount of virus people are exposed to and any pre-existing health problems they may have.

2. What’s a sufficient level of immunity?

Research at the University of Chicago suggest that knowing how well a partially immune population could transmit the virus at any time could dramatically improve forecasting and the potential for effective policy responses. Work is being done to determine what combination of factors,  whether antibodies alone or other physiological factors, help establish the right level of immunity to repel Covid-19 infection and create asymptomatic cases.

3. How common will reinfection be? (Or, how long will immunity last?)

Although Covid-19 reinfection has been rare so far, experts want to know whether it will become more common and how severe those infections will be.

This has led to discussions about whether protection against infection is comparatively short-lived, but protection against severe disease is longer lasting. Work at the University of Florida suggests that vaccine-induced protection lasts for a different period than infection-induced protection.

4. How will variants affect efforts to curb Covid-19?

Like the rest of the world, New Zealand has been subjected to infections by a number of Covid variants. Researchers around the world are looking at what effect variants have on the effectiveness of vaccines and treatment. This includes work at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Switzerland on whether virus changes will be severe or occur in smaller steps.

5. What is long Covid, and who is most at risk?

Some Covid-19 patients have reported debilitating and varied symptoms weeks and months after recovering. Researchers at Yale University are studying long-term symptoms to help design therapy.

6. How does Covid-19 interact with children?

Most children appear to avoid severe cases of Covid-19 and experts want to know whether the disease is spread more easily and how often among children with asymptomatic infections.

7. What proportion of transmission do asymptomatic people account for?

Because asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people may unknowingly infect others, some experts have shown interest in discovering how infectious these patients are.

8. Can we pinpoint who may become a superspreader?

Experts at the University of Texas want to know whether it is possible to identify which people are at risk of becoming superspreaders. Although they represent a minority of infections, they account for the majority of viral transmission. 

9. What can genetic sequencing tell us about the virus?

A number of international experts are investigating whether it is possible to use genetic sequencing to predict how the virus might change in the future. Dutch experts at the Erasmus Medical Centre  are researching the use if genomic markers for key properties that should cause concern.

10. What is the effect of non-medical interventions?

The use of a range of measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and school closures are being investigated at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. However, because the measures were often put in place at the same time it is hard to determine which were effective.

11. How does SARS-CoV-2 differ from its cousin, SARS-1?

Experts want to know how SARS-CoV-2 differs from its cousin, SARS-1. They are investigating why SARS-2 can replicate in people’s upper airways, making it more easily transmissible than SARS-1, which replicates in cells deeper in the lungs. This could help drug manufacturers learn how to prevent upper airway replication of the virus and determine the risks posed by other coronaviruses that may jump from an animal species

12. Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from?

Although experts largely agree that the source of the virus was almost certainly a bat, they still do not know how a bat virus managed to find its way into humans.

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