How Sunlight Affects COVID-19

A natural effect that might make the virus slow its spread during summer.

A natural effect that might make the virus slow its spread during summer.

COVID-19 could be destroyed on surfaces within minutes by ultraviolet (UV) rays, a study by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggests.

The experiment shows that UV radiation present in sunlight can rapidly damage the virus.

However, the research has not yet been published as it needs to be reviewed by independent experts.

Outdoor daytime environments might lower transmission risk in summer as the pathogen is less stable at higher temperatures and humidity above 40 percent.

COVID-19 is new to scientists so it is not clear if the seasons would have a large impact on the virus.

Mr William Bryan, head of science and technology at the DHS, said:

“Our most striking observation to date is the powerful effect that solar light appears to have on killing the virus, both surfaces and in the air.

We’ve seen a similar effect with both temperature and humidity as well, where increasing the temperature and humidity or both is generally less favorable to the virus.”

The radiation produced by UV light has a sterilising effect on the virus which in turn destroys the genetic material in the virus and its reproduction.

But the question is what UV light wavelength and intensity were used in this experiment to understand if it has mimicked the natural sunlight conditions that occur during summer.

Dr Benjamin Neuman, chair of biological sciences at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, said:

“It would be good to know how the test was done, and how the results were measured.

Not that it would be done badly, just that there are several different ways to count viruses, depending on what aspect you are interested in studying.”

They found that on non-porous surfaces like stainless steel and door handles, when the humidity was 20 percent and the temperature between 21 and 24 degrees Celsius (70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit), the half-life for COVID-19 was 18 hours.

The half-life is the time required for the virus to reduce by half.

With increased relative humidity to 80 percent, the half-life reduced to six hours.

When sunlight was added to these humid conditions, the virus’s half-life dropped to only two minutes.

Mr Bryan said:

“Summer-like conditions will create an environment (where) transmission can be decreased.”

However, the virus would not be eliminated completely even though its spread will be reduced in these types of conditions, therefore social distancing guidelines should not be ignored.

Moreover, sitting in the sun cannot prevent any pathogen from replicating in the body when a person is already infected.

Mr Bryan said:

“It would be irresponsible for us to say that we feel that the summer is just going to totally kill the virus and then if it’s a free-for-all and that people ignore those guides.”

Previously, it has been shown that cold and dry environments are more suitable for the virus to spread than hot and humid conditions.

This might be one of the key reasons that the spread rate in southern hemispheric countries like Australia, is much lower than many other countries in the northern hemisphere.

One factor is that respiratory droplets stay in the air longer when the weather is cold.

In contrast, viruses in general deteriorate faster on a hot surface since the layer of fat that shields them will dry out quickly.

Despite the possibility that COVID-19 cases will slow down in summer, the US health authorities expect that the infection rate could rise again through fall and winter similar to the flu and other seasonal viruses.

The unpublished study conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Biggest Barrier To Beating COVID-19 Is Psychological

Why social distancing is so difficult when humans face danger.

Why social distancing is so difficult when humans face danger.

People tend to draw closer together when faced with danger.

This is what makes social distancing so difficult, new research explains.

The psychological problem could pose one of the biggest barriers to overcoming COVID-19.

Minimising social contact in public spaces is the only defence we currently have against the virus.

However, human nature is fundamentally social.

Professor Ophelia Deroy, study co-author, said:

“Hazardous conditions make us more — not less — social.

Coping with this contradiction is the biggest challenge we now face.”

Reviewing evidence from psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, the study’s authors find that threatening situations make people more cooperative and socially supportive.

Dr Guillaume Dezecache, the study’s first author, explained:

“When people are afraid, they seek safety in numbers.

But in the present situation, this impulse increases the risk of infection for all of us.

This is the basic evolutionary conundrum that we describe.

After all, social contacts are not an ‘extra’, which we are at liberty to refuse.

They are part of what we call normal.”

One answer to this problem that many people have been exploiting is social media.

While before the pandemic social media was often seen as unsocial, now it can provide an effective alternative to physical contact.

Profesor Chris Frith, study co-author, said:

“Our innate inclinations are cooperative rather than egoistic.

But access to the Internet makes it possible for us to cope with the need for social distancing.”

Social media may only be partially effective, though, Professor Deroy said:

“How well, and for how long, our need for social contact can be satisfied by social media remains to be seen.”

Free access to the internet, then, is vital for public health, said Professor Deroy:

“This is an important message, given that the most vulnerable sections of society are often those who, owing to poverty, age and illness, have few social contacts.”

The study was published in the journal Current Biology (Dezecache et al., 2020).

A Potential COVID-19 Vaccine Developed By Scientists

The potential vaccine against coronavirus works in a similar way to flu shots.

The potential vaccine against coronavirus works in a similar way to flu shots.

A skin patch vaccine tested in mice has been found to neutralise the coronavirus, raising hopes for a potential vaccine in humans, experts say.

The fingertip-sized patch can combat the virus through a process that involves producing enough antibodies.

Dr Andrea Gambotto, study co- author, said:

“We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014.

These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus.

We knew exactly where to fight this new virus.

That’s why it’s important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from.”

The researchers from the University of Pittsburgh call their vaccine candidate PittCoVacc short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine.

The potential vaccine works in a similar way as current flu jabs, using a viral protein made in the lab to fight infection.

It comes in a fingertip-sized patch formed of tiny needles in order to improve the potency of the drug.

The needles deliver the spike protein into the skin as the immune response in this area of the body is very strong.

The needles are actually pieces of protein and sugar which are dissolved by the skin.

Professor Louis Falo, study co-author, said:

“We developed this to build on the original scratch method used to deliver the smallpox vaccine to the skin, but as a high-tech version that is more efficient and reproducible patient to patient.

And it’s actually pretty painless — it feels kind of like Velcro.”

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves this new drug for human clinical trial then the researchers will start a phase 1 clinical trial to ensure its effectiveness and safety for people.

Professor Falo said:

“Testing in patients would typically require at least a year and probably longer.

This particular situation is different from anything we’ve ever seen, so we don’t know how long the clinical development process will take.

Recently announced revisions to the normal processes suggest we may be able to advance this faster.”

The study was published in the journal EBioMedicine (Kim et al., 2020).