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Datum objave: 30.08.2020

Doctors found an intriguing new way to treat coronavirus infections

India sets new world record with 78,761 virus cases in one day

Doctors found an intriguing new way to treat coronavirus infections

 Chris Smith

Doctors in Israel will try a novel coronavirus therapy on a limited number of patients.

Unlike other studies, the new COVID-19 protocol involves a procedure that’s used regularly in cancer therapy.

Anecdotal evidence showed that low-dose radiation therapy (LDRT) could improve the condition of patients with pneumonia symptoms, including COVID-19 patients.

Researchers are looking to determine a radiation-based treatment course for COVID-19 that could reduce complications and hasten recovery.

The world is now well into its eighth month of dealing with the novel coronavirus, and we still don’t have a cure. Scientists have made rapid advancements already when it comes to COVID-19 treatment protocols, discovering therapies that can lower the risk of complications and save lives. But there’s no “miracle cure” right now.

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Many other treatment ideas are currently in testing, and it will be a few months until we know whether they work — that’s on top of over 170 vaccine candidates that have been registered so far. What’s reassuring is that doctors haven’t stopped trying to figure out ways to help the body heal, and the latest example comes from a hospital in Israel, where a group of doctors thinks they can use an effective cancer treatment on COVID-19.

This time around, we’re not looking at a new drug. Instead, doctors at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer want to use low-dose radiation therapy (LDRT) on COVID-19 patients. The Jerusalem Post notes that the therapy would be the first of its kind in the country and only one of a handful of similar studies worldwide.

The Sheba doctors realized that some of their predecessors have been treating LDRT to treat pneumonia, as far back as a century ago. “When the COVID crisis began, there were some older radiotherapists in the world who remembered that 70 years ago some doctors were using low-dose radiation therapy to treat pneumonia,” Prof. Zvi Symon told the paper.

The researchers found 700 pneumonia patients who were given radiation therapy between 1905 and 1946, with marked clinical improvements in the hours and days after administration. These studies took place well before the era of randomized trials and peer-reviewed journals, so questions about the efficacy of the treatments still linger.

The results were “encouraging,” according to Symon. Then the oncologists found a recent study from Emory University in Atlanta that detailed a similar experiment on five coronavirus patients, which were compared to a control group. The patients who received LDRT had 40% less need for mechanical ventilation and intensive care than those who didn’t.

This was enough to convince the Sheba team to apply for approval. Some physicians opposed the idea, concerned that radiation would have side effects on the body. But the Health Ministry ultimately approved the treatment protocol, with 30 patients expected to undergo LDRT in the coming weeks.

Unlike cancer, the doses for COVID-19 will be much smaller. Between one-70th or one-100th of the amount given to cancer patients will be used during the treatment, targeting both lungs. “There is no acute toxicity or damage associated with this kind of dose of radiation, at least to the naked eye,” Symon said.

The hospital already treated a few patients under a compassionate-use provision, and the researchers found that patients got better. “Patients who received radiation improved and managed to go off oxygen and could breathe well in three to four days, whereas other patients who did not receive the radiation took an average 12 days after pneumonia,” the oncologist said.

The researchers aim to treat patients soon after the onset of symptoms and before the illness has started damaging multiple organs.

The biggest challenge seems to be the logistics of transporting patients from COVID-19 wards to the radiotherapy section of the hospital where cancer patients receive their radiation therapy. The researchers will have to prevent any contact between COVID-19 patients and cancer patients — cancer is a significant risk factor for coronavirus.

India sets new world record with 78,761 virus cases in one day

India on Sunday set a coronavirus record when it reported 78,761 new infections in 24 hours -- the world's highest single-day rise -- even as it continued to open up the economy.

Home to 1.3 billion people, India is already the world's third-most infected nation with more than 3.5 million cases, behind the US and Brazil.

It has also reported more than 63,000 deaths, according to the official health ministry toll.

The US set the previous record on July 17 with 77,638 daily infections, according to an AFP tally.

In his regular monthly radio address on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not comment on the milestone but called on Indians to observe health safety measures.

"It is important that every citizen is healthy and happy and we defeat coronavirus completely together," Modi said in Hindi.

"Corona(virus) can only be defeated when you remain safe, when you fulfil the resolve of keeping a safe distance of two yards and wearing masks."

Experts warn that while a ramp up in testing in recent months was encouraging, more needed to be done to capture the scale of the pandemic in the world's second-most populous nation.

The virus has badly hit megacities such as financial hub Mumbai and the capital New Delhi, but is now also surging in smaller cities and rural areas.

- Low testing rates -

"Testing per million in India at 30,000 remains the second lowest in top 10 (virus-infected) countries. Mexico is lowest at about 10,000," virologist Shahid Jameel, who heads the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, told AFP Sunday.

"We are still finding one positive in every 11 to 12 tests. This number should be one in 20 simply and means that testing is still sub-optimal and the outbreak is growing."

Doctor Hemant Shewade, a Bangalore-based community medicine expert, added that India also needed to focus on reducing deaths -- the fourth-highest in the world according to a tally by John Hopkins University.

The government collects fatality numbers from positive cases but not from suspected infections, raising concerns among scientists that the true picture of the epidemic is not being reflected in the official toll, he said.

"It is a small subset like the tip of the iceberg," Shewade, who has been analysing India's official toll data, told AFP of the government's decision to focus only on positive cases recorded within the official health system.

"We should develop mechanisms to capture suspected Covid-19 deaths... Even after doing this, a continuous triangulation of data with routine death surveillance should be done at district levels and state levels."

The daily case record came a day after the government further eased its coronavirus lockdown, in place since late March, to boost the struggling economy.

Millions have lost their jobs since the start of the lockdown, with the poor particularly hard hit.

The Home Affairs Ministry said gatherings of up to 100 people would be allowed with face masks and social distancing at cultural, entertainment, sports and political events from next month.

Metro train services would also resume "in a graded manner" in major cities.

Schools remain closed but students can meet teachers on a voluntary basis on school premises if needed, according to the new guidelines.

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