The Week That Wasn't: Glasses, Church &
COVID-19, Male Sexual Desire

Ellie Kincaid

September 18, 2020

This week in medical news, researchers proposed that wearing eyeglasses may protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection, a survey indicated that people who visited a place of worship were more likely to report testing positive for COVID-19, and a press release proclaimed the "site of male sexual desire uncovered in brain." But you didn't see these headlines on Medscape. Here's why.

Wearing Glasses

People who wear eyeglasses daily may be less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, researchers propose in JAMA Ophthalmology . They report that of 276 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Suizhou, China, 5.8% reported wearing glasses for more than 8 hours per day and had myopia, while 31.5% of a population of similar age had myopia in a previous study. The fact that people who wore glasses and got COVID-19 were "relatively uncommon" in the hospitalized cohort "could be preliminary evidence that daily wearers of eyeglasses are less susceptible to COVID-19," they wrote.

The researchers propose that wearing glasses discourages people from touching their eyes with virus-laden hands, decreasing opportunities for infection. That's not implausible, but as Lisa Maragakis, MD, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, writes in an accompanying editorial, "we must be careful to avoid inferring a causal relationship from a single observational study." We decided to be so careful that we didn't cover the study.

Church & COVID-19

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University ran a survey among Maryland residents asking questions about their social distancing practices and whether they had ever had a positive COVID-19 test. A total of 55 out of 1030 survey participants reported that they had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 previously.

When researchers ran adjusted analyses, they found respondents with a positive test had reported using public transportation and visiting places of worship at least three times in the last 2 weeks at statistically significant higher rates than people who had never tested positive for the virus. They also found that a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection was significantly less common among people who said they always practiced social distancing. "These results support public health messaging that strict social distancing during most activities can reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission," the authors conclude, with additional considerations needed for places of worship and public transportation.

Much of the popular coverage of this study was not as careful as the study authors in their conclusions ­— one story stated that the researchers found "visiting places of worship can make you up to 16 times more likely to get COVID." Maragakis' comment about the eyeglasses study applies to this observational study too, and even more so because the researchers didn't establish whether participants tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 before or after visiting a place of worship.

Male Sexual Desire

The press release headline claiming "site of male sexual desire uncovered in brain" oversells the paper it describes, but the work is still fascinating in its own right: Researchers demonstrated, using experimental mouse models, that aromatase activity converting testosterone to estrogen in the brains of male mice was necessary for normal male sexual behavior. "These studies provide foundational evidence that sexual behavior may be modified through inhibition or enhancement of brain aromatase enzyme activity and/or utilization of selective estrogen receptor modulators," the authors conclude.

Although this research illuminates some interesting biology, it wasn't enough for us to break our general rule of avoiding covering mouse studies. Findings in scientific model organisms can pave the way for further research involving humans, but much more needs to be done before this information is useful to our clinician readers who treat human patients.

Ellie Kincaid is Medscape's associate managing editor. She has previously written about healthcare for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Nature Medicine. She can be reached at ekincaid@medscape.net or @ellie_kincaid on Twitter.

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