Archive for April, 2020

Seasonality of COVID-19, Other Coronaviruses, and Influenza

Will the incidence of COVID-19 decrease in the summer?

There is reason to hope that it will, since in temperate climates influenza and the four coronaviruses that are among the causes of the “common cold” do follow a seasonal pattern, with many fewer cases in the summer. If COVID-19 is affected by season, this would obviously be of importance for policies regarding “lockdown” and provision of health care resources. Furthermore, understanding the reasons for seasonal variation might point towards ways of controlling the spread of COVID-19 (caused by a coronavirus sometimes referred to as SARS-CoV-2, though I’ll usually ignore this pedantic distinction).

I’ll look here at the evidence for seasonality in influenza and the common cold coronaviruses, and to what extent one might expect COVID-19 to also be seasonal. I’ll consider three classes of possible reasons for seasonality — seasonal changes in virus survival and transmissibility, in human resistance to infection, and in social behaviour. I’ll then consider whether we might be able to enhance such seasonal effects, further reducing the spread of COVID-19 in summer, and also extend these effects to winter. (more…)

2020-04-30 at 5:40 pm 2 comments

The Puzzling Linearity of COVID-19

We all understand how the total number of cases of COVID-19 and the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 are expected to grow exponentially during the early phase of the pandemic — every infected individual is in contact with others, who are unlikely to themselves be infected, and on average infects more than one of them, leading to the number of cases growing by a fixed percentage every day. We also know that this can’t go on forever — at some point, many of the people in contact with an infected individual have already been infected, so they aren’t a source of new infections. Or alternatively, people start to take measures to avoid infection.

So we expect that on a logarithmic plot of the cumulative number of cases or deaths over time, the curve will initially be a straight line, but later start to level off, approaching a horizontal line when there are no more new cases or deaths (assuming the disease is ultimately eliminated). And that’s what we mostly see in the data, except that we haven’t achieved a horizontal line yet.

On a linear plot of cases or deaths over time, we expect an exponentially rising curve, which also levels off eventually, ultimately becoming a horizontal line when there are no more cases or deaths. But that’s not what we see in much of the data.

Instead, for many countries, the linear plots of total cases or total deaths go up exponentially at first, and then approach a straight line that is not horizontal. What’s going on? (more…)

2020-04-23 at 3:08 pm 10 comments

Body Mass and Risk from COVID-19 and Influenza

Understanding the factors affecting whether someone infected with COVID-19 will become seriously ill is important for treatment of patients, for forecasting and planning, and — with factors that can be changed — for personal decisions aimed at reducing risk. Despite our current focus, influenza also remains a serious disease, so understanding its risk factors is also important.

Here, I’ll look at some of the evidence on how body mass — formalized as Body Mass Index (BMI, weight in kilograms divided by squared height in metres) — influences prognosis for respiratory diseases. Information specific to COVID-19 is still scant, but there is more data on influenza and on other respiratory infections (which includes coronaviruses other than COVID-19). Information on how BMI relates to general mortality should also be helpful.

Below, I’ll look at two relevant papers, plus a preliminary report on COVID-19. To preview my conclusions, it seems that being underweight and being seriously obese are both risk factors for serious respiratory illness. Furthermore, it seems that “underweight” should include the lower part of the “normal weight” category as defined by the WHO. Official advice in this respect seems dangerously misleading. (more…)

2020-04-06 at 10:11 pm 7 comments


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