The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Bat Study, Handwashing Apps, No Immunity?

Victoria Giardina

Disclosures

June 26, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

This week in COVID-19 news, researchers announced a study of how coronaviruses infect bats, tech companies introduced products to promote careful handwashing, and scientists described the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in four different populations in Wuhan. But you didn't see these headlines on Medscape Medical News. Here's why.

Bat Study

A professor at Stony Brook University was recently awarded a grant to study why bats can carry coronaviruses but seem not to be affected by them. The team will investigate differences between the nasal epithelium, particularly mucus-secreting goblet cells, of bats and humans. "Because of the acute respiratory symptoms and the curious loss of the sense of smell in some human patients with COVID-19, there is a hint that cells in the nasal passage are afflicted first," the study's lead investigator explained in a university press release.

The researchers' efforts are interesting as basic science, and the study may eventually yield new information that could be useful for translational medical research, but it's just beginning. There's no new finding to share and no obvious direct relevance to clinical medicine.

New Tech for Handwashing

Handwashing seems like a low-tech intervention to prevent the spread of disease, but companies are piloting high-tech products to enforce best practices. The next version of the Apple Watch operating system will be able to detect when a user is washing their hands, set a timer, and encourage them to wash for at least 20 seconds, as public health organizations recommend, Apple announced this week. For those without a smartwatch, Japan's Fujitsu Ltd has developed what it says is an artificial intelligence-powered camera that can track people's movements when washing their hands and detect when they aren't using soap or following other guidelines, Reuters reported.

Although these new technologies may at some point prove useful during a pandemic, there's no evidence yet proving the software helps people wash their hands better in the real world or slows the spread of COVID-19. Neither technology is on the market yet, either, so we didn't think it would benefit our readers to know about them.

Wuhan Antibody Study

In a large study, researchers tested four groups of people in Wuhan for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 to learn about long-term immunity to the virus. Their results showed that 4% of the nearly 4000 healthcare providers they tested had developed IgG antibodies, compared with nearly 90% of a cohort of 1470 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 4.6% of a cohort of nearly 20,000 general workers, and 1% of a cohort of other patients screened for hospital admission for other conditions. Besides the COVID-19 patients, no members of the other cohorts were known to have a COVID-19 diagnosis. "After SARS-CoV-2 infection, people are unlikely to produce long-lasting protective antibodies against this virus," the study's authors concluded in the paper describing the results they posted to a preprint server.

The question of whether people have immunity after surviving COVID-19 is a difficult one, and any one study can only give a partial answer. Medscape has previously covered research that suggests COVID-19 antibodies can disappear 2 to 3 months after infection, and that the antibodies infected people do have may not neutralize the virus effectively. This preprint hasn't been peer-reviewed like the other studies we covered, and it isn't clear that the researchers' data supports their strong conclusion that long-lasting immunity is "unlikely," so we didn't think it would be helpful to highlight it for our readers.

Victoria Giardina is Medscape's editorial intern. She has previously written for The Dr. Oz Show and is currently a national lifestyle writer for Her Campus. She can be reached at mvgiardina@webmd.net or on Twitter @VickyRGiardina.

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