Scientists remain hard at work in their efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic and help alleviate the stress on health care systems.
At Stanford University, researchers are hoping to integrate already-on-the-market artificial intelligence called the Deterioration Index that can help doctors predict which coronavirus patients may need escalated care, thus allowing health care workers to spend less time analyzing charts and make treatment decisions more quickly, Stat News reports.
The AI analyzes vital signs, lab test results, medications, and medical history, then rates on a scale of 0 to 100 how high the risk is that a patient’s condition deteriorates. The model is used in nearly 50 health systems already, but Stanford wants to make sure it works accurately for COVID-19 patients, as well, since it’s a new disease the system wasn’t intended to analyze.
In other news, two U.S. companies — BD and BioMedomics — launched a rapid antibody test that can detect if a person has present or past exposure to COVID-19 in as little as 15 minutes. Antibody tests could prove key for better understanding how widespread the pandemic is, and at what stage the world is at, because current coronavirus tests can’t determine if a person has already recovered. Most importantly, they could help determine whether some health care workers can treat patients without concern of contracting the virus themselves, as well as allow some people who may have already built up immunity to return to their normal lives.
Iceland is giving the world a unique look at how the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spreading. The Nordic island nation of 360,000 started testing for the virus in early February, and it chose to test both people suspected of having COVID-19 and, notably, people who haven’t shown any symptoms. DeCODE, a biotech company working on behalf of Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, is testing the general population; so far, it has screened about 9,000 people, or about half of the 17,900 Icelanders tested for the virus, CNN reports.
More than 99 percent of deCODE’s volunteer subjects tested negative, but of the roughly 1 percent who tested positive, half said they hadn’t shown any symptoms of the disease, company founder Dr. Kári Stefánsson told CNN. “What it means in my mind, is that because we are screening the general population, we are catching people early in the infection before they start showing symptoms.” The 50 percent of positive tests from asymptomatic people has been fairly consistent, though the sample is pretty small. DeCODE expects to gather a larger sample of at least 50,000 people, or roughly 13 percent Iceland’s population, before the virus peters out.
Other studies have also shown that COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, and the higher the share of symptomless spreaders, the harder COVID-19 will be to contain. “We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said last week, adding that it’s “absolutely clear” asymptomatic infection “surely can fuel a pandemic like this in a way that’s going to make it very difficult to control.” Having everyone wear face masks outside the home, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering advising, would be one way to keep asymptomatic transmission at bay. Peter Weber
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