Brazil ‘driving in the dark’ on COVID-19 as contradictory data deepens confusion

RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil drew further criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday after it published contradictory figures on fatalities and infections, deepening a scandal over the country’s COVID-19 data.

FILE PHOTO: Gravediggers wearing protective suits bury the coffin of 70-year-old Manuel Farias, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Recanto da Paz cemetery, in Breves, southwest of Marajo island in Para state, Brazil, June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Initial data released on Sunday from the health ministry on the number of cases and death toll in Brazil was later contradicted by numbers uploaded to the ministry’s online data portal.

On Monday, the ministry said in a statement the discrepancy was predominantly due to mistakes in the numbers from two states that were later corrected. It explained that the later, lower daily death toll of 525 was the correct one.

It said it had “been improving the means for releasing information on the national situation of the handling of COVID-19.”

The discrepancy followed recent decisions to remove from a national website a trove of data about the country’s outbreak, and to push back the daily release of new numbers late into the evening and after the country’s main television news program.

“By changing the numbers, the Ministry of Health covers the sun with a sieve,” Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower house, said on Twitter.

“The credibility of the statistics needs to be urgently recovered. A ministry that manipulates numbers creates a parallel world in order not to face the reality of the facts,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday stressed the importance of “consistent and transparent” communication from Brazil, which is now one of the main coronavirus epicenters. It has the second highest number of confirmed cases behind the United States, and a death toll that last week surpassed Italy’s.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has come under growing criticism for the way his government has handled the pandemic, which he has regularly played down as a “little flu.”

For Carlos Machado, head of research at the National School of Public Health, part of the respected public institute Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, the lack of dependable data is dangerous.

“Not having updated and reliable data during a pandemic of this proportion is like driving in the dark,” he said.

“While we do not have a vaccine, information is the best weapon we have at our disposal,” he added.

Confusion over the figures has led a group of Brazil’s largest media outlets to launch their own data tracking system, according to a report in newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

The National Council of Health Secretaries (Conass), which brings together the heads of Brazil’s state health departments and is separate from the health ministry, has also created its own platform.

According to the council, Brazil had recorded 680,456 cases of COVID-19 and 36,151 deaths from the disease by the end of Sunday afternoon.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Eduardo Simoes; additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, writing by Jamie McGeever and Stephen Eisenhammer; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien

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CDC reports 1,920,904 coronavirus cases in United States

FILE PHOTO: Eloina Marquez cleans the protective plexiglass dividers at a blackjack table during the reopening of Bellagio hotel-casino, closed since March 16, 2020 as part of steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday reported 1,920,904 cases of new coronavirus, an increase of 29,214 cases from its previous count, and said COVID-19 deaths in the United States had risen by 709 to 109,901.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. EDT on June 6. Its previous tally was released on Friday. (bit.ly/2UkMHx9)

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Paul Simao

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France reports 13 more coronavirus deaths, total at 29,155

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s coronavirus death toll, the fifth-highest in the world, rose by 13 on Sunday to 29,155, the government said.

The number of people in hospital intensive care units fell by six to 1,053, a smaller decrease than the previous day but extending a steady drop in critical cases since a peak of over 7,000 in early April, according to data posted on a government website.

The total number of people being treated in hospital for COVID-19 fell by 18 to 12,461.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by 343 to 153,997.

According to Reuters calculations, if probable cases of coronavirus in long-term care homes are added, France’s total number of cases stands at around 190,000, the ninth-highest tally in the world on that basis, now slightly below that in Peru.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Blandine Henault; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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Poland reports daily jump in coronavirus cases, mostly among miners

WARSAW (Reuters) – A rapid growth of coronavirus infections among miners at Poland’s state-run coal producer JSW boosted the increase in daily cases to the highest since May 12, data from the health ministry showed on Saturday.

There were 576 new cases in the country, the ministry data showed, of which 346 were linked to the JSW mine at Zofiowka.

The number of new cases at the mine could be similar on Sunday, a health ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the PAP news agency.

JSW, the European Union’s biggest coking coal producer, said in a statement that it has reported a total of 2,756 coronavirus cases, mostly at the Pniowek and Zofiowka mines. The country’s southern coal region currently has the highest number of infections.

Saturday’s daily increase brings the total number of people infected in the country to 25,986, with 1,153 deaths.

JSW has reduced coal output at Pniowek, while another state-run mining company, PGG, had to close a few mines temporarily in May due to the growing number of infections.

The coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the financial situation of Polish coal mines, which had been struggling with falling demand, low prices and rising stock piles before the outbreak.

The government has said it will announce a restructuring plan for the industry in the coming weeks.

The jump in the daily number of cases coincides with a presidential election campaign, with many candidates out campaigning on Saturday.

Poland set June 28 as a new date for the vote which did not take place as planned last month due to the pandemic.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Mike Harrison

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U.S. CDC reports 1,891,690 coronavirus cases

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Saturday reported 1,891,690 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 29,034 cases from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 1,128 to 109,192.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. EDT on June 5 versus its previous report released on Friday which reflected figures from Thursday. (bit.ly/2zcg3qg)

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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Blood pressure drugs linked to lower death risk; more sensitive test recommended for blood clot risk

(Reuters) – The following is a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Taking blood pressure medicines linked to lower COVID-19 mortality

Regularly taking drugs to control high blood pressure appears to lower the risk of becoming severely ill or dying if people with hypertension become infected with the new coronavirus, a new study found. Among nearly 2,900 people hospitalized in China with COVID-19, patients with high blood pressure had twice the risk of death and were more likely to need mechanical ventilation than those without hypertension, a known risk factor for severe COVID-19. But those taking drugs to control their blood pressure had a significantly lower risk of death from COVID-19 than those not treated for their hypertension, researchers reported on Thursday in the European Heart Journal. This was true even if patients were taking blood pressure drugs known as ACE inhibitors or ARBs. Several papers have suggested these drugs might increase COVID-19 susceptibility, but in this study, “the results were in the opposite direction, with a trend in favor of ACE inhibitors and ARBs,” said coauthor Fei Li of Xijing Hospital in Xi’an, China. The American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and Heart Failure Society of America have all recommended that patients continue taking hypertension drugs prescribed to them. (bit.ly/3cDTwjH; reut.rs/2MxVQy6;)

More precise test recommended to predict blood clots in severe COVID-19 patients

Standard tests performed in intensive care units (ICUs) to assess blood clotting risk in COVID-19 patients have been less than optimal, with catheters in veins and arteries frequently – and unpredictably – becoming clogged by blood clots. Heart surgeons in Texas, hearing of the problem, suggested use of a thromboelastography (TEG) test, which looks at how quickly a clot forms, as well as its strength and stability. TEG is used most often for open heart surgery and trauma patients. When the Texas doctors studied 21 ICU patients with COVID-19, almost two-thirds had developed clots that could be predicted by the TEG test, but not by standard tests, according to a report on Friday in JAMA Network Open. “The TEG test should be performed on all COVID-19 ICU patients immediately to find those who are at a higher risk of clotting,” study coauthor Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair of the DeBakey department of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a statement. By the time catheters are clotting, “the horse is out of the barn,” he said. For patients at higher risk of blood clots as indicated by the TEG test, the researchers recommend use of additional blood thinners. (bit.ly/2Buzf34)

Less invasive, self-performed swab tests may be as good as tests done by healthcare workers

When people with upper respiratory symptoms need to be tested for the coronavirus, having them swab the inside of their nose might be just as effective as having a healthcare worker collect nasopharyngeal samples, researchers suggested on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. At outpatient clinics in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, 530 patients collected samples from the tongue and from two places inside the nose. A nasopharyngeal sample was also obtained by a healthcare worker. As it turned out, nose samples collected by the patients were more than 90% accurate at identifying coronavirus infections. If these early results could be verified in larger studies with broader populations, the researchers said, self-swabbing of the nose would be more comfortable for patients and safer for the healthcare workers who would have less exposure to aerosolized virus droplets and would require less personal protective equipment. (bit.ly/2UbjPan)

Retracted studies shine harsh light on respected journals

Two of the world’s most highly respected medical journals – The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine – on Thursday withdrew papers written by the same team of authors about COVID-19 treatments, citing concerns about the data. The high-profile Lancet paper had reported treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death, based on an observational review of 96,000 patients worldwide. That finding led the World Health Organization and others to halt major trials. Other researchers quickly questioned whether data on so many patients could have been collected and analyzed in the short time since the pandemic began. When Surgisphere, the company that provided the data for both studies, refused to transfer its dataset for independent review, several of the authors said they can no longer vouch for its veracity. “Science will not move forward if others can’t check researchers’ work. The need for speed is no excuse,” said Dr. Ivan Oransky, vice president of Medscape and co-founder of the Retraction Watch blog. The recent events are “also a reminder that policy U-turns based on a single study are almost always a bad idea,” Oransky told Reuters. (reut.rs/2Y663qJ;)

Graphic – The lifeline pipeline, COVID-19 treatments, vaccines in development: here

Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Saumya Joseph and Michael Erman; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Wear masks in public says WHO, in update of COVID-19 advice

LONDON (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its guidance on Friday to recommend that governments ask everyone to wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk of transmission of COVID-19 to help reduce the spread of the pandemic disease.

In its new guidance, prompted by evidence from studies conducted in recent weeks, the WHO stressed that face masks were only one of a range of tools that can reduce the risk of viral transmission, and should not give a false sense of protection.

“Masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19,” the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a briefing.

The WHO’s technical lead expert on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said in a Reuters interview: “We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask. And we specify a fabric mask – that is, a non-medical mask.

“We have new research findings,” she added. “We have evidence now that if this is done properly it can provide a barrier … for potentially infectious droplets.”

While some countries and U.S. states have recommended or mandated the wearing of face coverings in public, the WHO had previously said there was not enough evidence for or against the use of masks for healthy people in the wider community. It had always recommended that medical masks be worn by people who are sick and by those caring for them.

Britain has said masks will be compulsory for passengers on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries in England from June 15.

The U.N. agency’s advice that all healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 patients, or with suspected cases of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, should wear medical masks remains the same, Van Kerkhove said.

But the advice has been broadened to recommend staff coming into contact with any patients or residents in clinics, hospitals, care homes and long-term residential facilities should also wear masks at all times, she said.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Alex Richardson

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Efforts To Curb Congenital Syphilis Falter In COVID’s Shadow

U.S. public health officials are closer to identifying a road map for curbing the rising rates of syphilis infections in newborn babies, but with so many resources diverted to stopping the spread of COVID-19, many fear the rate of deadly infections will only get worse.

Congenital syphilis — the term used when a mother passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy — is often a devastating legacy, potentially leaving babies blind or in excruciating pain or with bone deformities, blood abnormalities or organ damage. It’s one of the most preventable infectious diseases, experts say. Prevention, which means treating Mom so she doesn’t pass it on to her baby, requires just a few shots of penicillin.

Yet rates of infection and death from congenital syphilis have been on the rise for years. In 2018, 1,306 babies acquired syphilis from their mothers, a 40% increase over 2017 and the largest number since 1995. Nearly 100 were stillborn or died soon after birth. Federal researchers say 2019 data will show yet another jump.

A new report, released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to pinpoint the reasons so many women aren’t getting the care they need. It found that nationally 28% of women who gave birth to a baby with syphilis in 2018 had no prenatal care and weren’t tested in time for treatment. Nearly a third of the mothers were diagnosed but didn’t receive timely or thorough treatment.

How women slip through the cracks of the public health system varies by race and geography. Syphilis rates are highest in the South and West but have been rising across the nation, particularly in rural areas of the Midwest and West.

The burden of the disease falls disproportionately on African American women and families. Nearly 40% of moms who gave birth to babies with syphilis in 2018 were black, even though they made up about 15% of deliveries.

“That falls on public health as an institution,” said Matthew Prior, communications director for the National Coalition of STD Directors. “We need to think about why we do what we do, and we need to hear from the voices we are trying to serve.”

The CDC researchers identified four core reasons that mothers who gave birth to babies with syphilis weren’t treated: lack of prenatal care; prenatal care that did not include testing; improper treatment after a positive diagnosis; and getting infected during pregnancy.

In the South, a lack of prenatal care was the most common reason white women who gave birth to infected babies didn’t get treatment, while black women tended to have been diagnosed but not treated. In the West, 41% of women of all races who gave birth to infected babies had no prenatal care.

The CDC study provides clues for how to prevent infections, but taking advantage of that information will be a challenge for many local health departments. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the nation’s frayed public health system.

In many communities, the same people who work on preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis have been called on to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Departments are reporting mass interruptions in STD care and prevention services.

“COVID-19 is an obstacle to a lot of the interventions that we will try to roll out,” said Rebekah Horowitz, a senior program analyst with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

In mid-March, the National Coalition of STD Directors surveyed a panel of its members; 83% of responding STD programs said they had deferred services. Nearly two-thirds said they cannot keep up with their HIV and syphilis caseloads.

“A lot of our enhancement projects have been scaled back,” said Amanda Reich, congenital syphilis coordinator for Texas. “Our staff are doing the best that they can do.”

Shuttered clinics and delayed prenatal care — yet another consequence of COVID-related shutdowns — are likely to exacerbate rates of congenital syphilis and sexually transmitted diseases in general. Testing for syphilis is key since there’s often a lag between contracting the disease and developing symptoms, said Dr. Anne Kimball, a pediatrician in the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the CDC and lead author of the study. “You can have it and give it to your unborn child without knowing you have it,” she said.

Because syphilis is so easy to test for, treat and prevent, it’s often seen as the canary in the coal mine, signaling a warning about what’s happening with other infectious diseases. Cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia combined reached an all-time national high in 2018.

“It is a symptom of under-supporting public health and STD programs for decades,” Prior said. “It’s not surprising.”

Even before the global coronavirus pandemic, many health departments around the country were working with bare-bones staffing and aggressively tracking and treating syphilis only among pregnancy-age women. Men who have sex with men have the highest rate of the disease nationally.

Arkansas reorganized its disease investigation unit after a spike in cases in 2018, assigning one person to follow up with all pregnant women with syphilis, said Brandi Roberts, the state’s STD Prevention Program Manager. She said the reorganization has been successful, and even as resources have been redeployed to COVID-19, that employee’s assignment hasn’t changed. But like many states, Arkansas has seen a decrease in reported STD cases, which Roberts believes is likely a sign of reduced testing, not a drop in cases.

NACCHO and the CDC are helping to fund and evaluate programs at six health departments — ranging from New York City to rural Tulare County, California — that they hope will offer further clues for how to curb the spread of disease.

But their success will rely on resources, said Horowitz.

“This was true two years ago, it is true now, and it will be true in the future: These missed opportunities will continue as long as we are not investing in a robust way in our public health infrastructure,” she said.

This KHN story first published on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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Tyson the alpaca takes heavyweight role in search for coronavirus vaccine

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Scientists in Sweden are hoping an alpaca named Tyson can help deliver a knockout blow in the fight to develop a treatment or vaccine against the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly 400,000 people worldwide.

After immunizing Tyson, a 12 year-old alpaca in Germany, with virus proteins, the team at the Karolinska Institute have isolated tiny antibodies – known as nanobodies – from his blood that bind to the same part of the virus as human antibodies and could block the infection.

They hope this can form the basis of a treatment for COVID 19 or eventually a vaccine against it, though the work is at an early stage.

“We know that it is the antibodies that are directed to the same very, very precise part of the virus that are important and that is what we have engineered with this antibody from Tyson,” Gerald McInerney, head of the team at Karolinska said.

“In principle, all the evidence would suggest it will work very well in humans, but it is a very complex system.”

Llamas and other members of camel family – as well as sharks – are known to produce nanobodies, which are far smaller than the full-size antibodies produced by humans, and therefore potentially easier for scientists to work with.

A vaccine may still be some way off.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We will now move forward to going into in-vivo studies, maybe with mice or hamsters or other animals that can be used as a model for COVID 19 disease, but the next step after that we really can’t say,” McInerney said.

As for Tyson, he has done his job.

“Tyson is 12 years old, I believe, and he may be looking at retirement soon,” McInerney said. “So he’ll live out his life on his farm back in Germany.”

Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Writing by Simon Johnson; Editing by Peter Graff

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Study authors retract influential Lancet hydroxychloroquine article

FILE PHOTO: The drug hydroxychloroquine, pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump and others in recent months as a possible treatment to people infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is displayed at the Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/George Frey

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three of the authors of an influential article that found hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in COVID-19 patients retracted the study on Thursday, citing concerns about the quality of the data behind it.

The anti-malarial drug has been controversial in part due to support from U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as implications of the study published in British medical journal the Lancet last month.

The study’s authors said Surgisphere, the company that provided the data, would not transfer the full dataset for an independent review and that they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.”

Surgisphere was not immediately available for comment.

The Lancet in a statement said “there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study.”

Reporting by Michael Erman and Peter Henderson; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown

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