JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Victoria: it’s democracy and medical science, and getting better fast

The good news: Lockdowns will end sooner than expected. Not soon enough for some desperate businesses, but sooner than Dan Andrew’s modelers thought.

As I predicted, Victoria is doing better than the models estimated. Many people focus on the “daily new cases” but the “unknown source cases” is a better, more forward looking tool.

In Newspoll today we find — also as I predicted from the outset of the pandemic  — that health is priority one for most voters. It’s an awkward fact of democracy. As drastic as the restrictions are in Victoria, more than half the voters are happy to give up some freedom temporarily in order to save lives, hardship and unknown health effects, and the burden on healthworkers.

Right-leaning small business owners and entrepreneurs are often not at all happy about giving up freedom. They’re much more comfortable taking risks, but most of the population are not. It’s a personality type thing. It’s not going to change. (What’s obscene though, is that those comfortable taking risks are bearing more of the costs while public servants like Dan Andrews are getting fat pay rises. )

Despite the strict restrictions, fully 71% of Victorians view the restrictions as “about [...]

Good news: masks, means more asymptomatic infections and less severe ones

It appears people who wear masks are much less likely to get severe infections

This will make some heads spin.

Child Wearing a a Mask. Author vperemen.com

Not only do masks reduce the odds of getting infected, but if people do get infected while wearing a mask — the severity of Covid is so much milder. With masks on, the odds of getting an asymptomatic infection improve. Masks don’t stop all viral particles but they stop the large droplet clusters, and thus reduce the viral load. If asymptomatic people get some protection (and we still don’t know for sure) it could solve so much.

Consider the two cruise ships where the asymptomatic rate varied from 18 to 81%:

One used masks and one didn’t:

In February, one of the first outbreaks of COVID-19 outside of China occurred on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan. Of the 634 people on board who tested positive, about 18 percent of infections were asymptomatic. In March, an Argentinian cruise ship found itself in a similar predicament, but of the 128 people on board who eventually tested positive, 81 percent were asymptomatic–   Ghandi et al.

Nations that use masks have [...]

Good news: Mystery cases falling fast in Victoria, staying low in Sydney

Finally, some unexpectedly good news on community spread in Victoria:

Untrackable new cases in Victoria are drying up.  The incidence of community spread cases with an unknown source are every epidemiologists nightmare. So their absence is a marker of how well the restrictions work– and whether the “fire” is under control. It’s cheery news.

Community spread is the number that matters most — more than daily infections. Known cases can be track-and-traced. Unknown cases mean whole clusters are spreading invisibly and restrictions need to be wider. Despite the depressing schedule planned in Victoria, if this reduction in unknown cases is sustained, then other options for pandemic management become possible.  The NSW-style-management with intense tracking and tracing may suddenly become an option within weeks.  (Though there may be a 50 case spike tomorrow just to prove me wrong.) Tracking and tracing works best at lower levels, and becomes overwhelming quickly as the number of clusters rise.

With strong restrictions, the exponential rise in infections can become an exponential fall. Where before each person might infect three new people, now three people staying home are only infecting one (or something like that). Two lines get extinguished instead of amplified, as the virus [...]

How to ignore 94% of Covid deaths?

Be wary of junk data and junk conclusions

Death data has become a political tool (stretched both up and down by vested interests). We’ve all heard of the motorcyclist who crashed into the Covid tally, and the payments for US docs. We know there’s junk data out there, but the suggestion we only count deaths “from” Covid, and not the deaths “with” Covid is unscientific in the extreme.

Stick with me. We all want WuFlu to be nothing, but scientists and skeptics need to pick their targets carefully. Don’t lose sight of the real scandal and the real solutions. It’s a travesty that people are dying while cheap vitamins and antivirals are being ignored. Let’s fight for Vitamin D, HCQ, Ivermectin, and all the other potentials like Interferon, Bromhexine, Melatonin, steroids, asthma drugs etc etc. But let’s not get distracted by a hopeful fantasy that the true US  “death tally” is only 6% of Covid deaths in the US.

There’s an idea out there that only 9,680 people have died of Covid in the US, not 161,392 people. It’s because of this CDC quote:

“For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with [...]

Even cough syrup might actually work against Coronavirus

I didn’t think cough syrups even worked against coughs, but one new paper suggests that bromhexine in common cough syrups reduces both Covid-19 rates of ICU and of mortality.

The era of antivirals has come, not that Big Pharma want you to know that cheap out-of-patent drugs might help. But for years we were told that medical science didn’t have an answer to viruses.

Bromhexine was patented in 1961 and is commonly found in OTC pharmacy cough syrups with names like Bisolvon, Robitussin, and Duro-Tuss (Wiki has a long list).

Theoretically Bromhexine sabotages one of our molecules — with the snappy name of TMPRSS2 (which is shorter than saying Transmembrane protease S2).  A protease is a fancy pair of molecular scissors, it chops or tweaks the viral spike and if that doesn’t happen, the virus can’t get into the cell (at least not through its favourite path).

The nice thing about an antiviral acting against our  molecules, rather than against the virus itself, is that it’s harder for the virus to mutate to get around it. That means it’s less likely the virus can develop resistance. The downside of targeting our own molecules is that it might fritz things up. [...]

Reinfection and T cell immunity — does the common cold give us protection against Coronavirus?

The first case of a definitive reinfection was reported today

Before we look at whether a cold gives us protection let’s point out we don’t know how well a SARS 2 infection gives us protection.

A 33 year old man in Hong Kong was tested positive nearly five months after his first infection, and with a slightly different variant of the virus, so it’s very likely this was a second infection rather than a resurgence of the first.  It hints that Covid may be a bit like the common cold, and our immunity may be partial and temporary which is not good news for the herd immunity idea and the vaccine plan, but it’s only one case. On the plus side,  he had a three day fever, cough and sickness in March, but is asymptomatic this time, suggesting that maybe there is enough residual immunity to help him beat the second infection.

There have been other reports of people getting reinfected but none of the previous cases had genetic testing of both infections to show they were different.  But 13% of 4,000 doctors who were surveyed in May (even at that early stage) believed that at least one of their [...]

How about a nasal spray of Nanobodies, smaller faster and cheaper than antibodies?

 The “Aeronabs” are on the way?

Right now there are more biomedical research teams focused on one problem than at any point in history, and they are armed. This is Biotech’s Big Moment, and here’s just another potential game changer. The time line here is short, and the ability to scale it is large. The seige of 2020 will end one way or another, and we will gain a whole set of tools to use on other viruses too.

If the virus has a key to get into our cells, this is like making millions of decoy locks that stick to the keys and thus disable them.

What if we could coat our lungs with tiny particles that work like PPE against coronavirus? The aim here is that one nasal spray a day might stop the virus getting entry into our cells. At the moment, one team have this working in the lab already. They’ve created a kind of cut down mini antibody, and at this stage it sticks like glue to the viral spikes. It still needs to be tested in humans, and might yet fall in a hole. But it’s another example of the potential contained in [...]

Antibodies against the Covid spike, not the shell, predict survival

Three important findings from three different studies:

1. That people who survive Covid have more antibodies against Covid virus spikes than the nucleocapsid shell.

2. Monoclonal antibodies against the spike are already being developed and are progressing apace.

3. But many antibody tests are looking for the wrong antibodies.

A new study found a different pattern of antibody responses in people who recovered from Covid compared to those who died. Survivors had a antibodies predominantly against the viral spike (S), whereas early in the infection those who would not recover had more antibodies against the outer shell, known as the nucleocapsid (N). This has implications — in vaccines, testing, treatment and possibly figuring out why some people don’t even get sick at all.

Atyeo et al is a small study. But one tantalizing line suggests the pattern of antibody responses was even better at predicting who would die than the age of the patient, which was until now the best clue we had. It appears that some patients had a strong immune response but they were making more of the wrong kind of antibodies, and perhaps these would not able to neutralize, or stop [...]

Australians wiped out the flu and avoided 50,000 other cases of sickness and disease

Lessons from Coronavirus

Lockdowns and border closures mean many diseases have been prevented

It’s peak season for flu here in Australia and there’s almost no sign of it.  As Chris Gillham wrote here back in May, we know lockdowns stop viruses, because flu cases are 85% down.  Now he shows that this extends to other diseases too, and Chris has used data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System to calculate that just shy of 200,000 fewer Australians contracted any of the notifiable diseases in the first seven months of 2020 compared to the first seven months of 2019.

Is some of that disease burden just the price of holiday-makers bringing back diseases from overseas each year?

No one wants to stop the planes returning to the skies, but it begs the question — do we have to accept the onslaught of winter germs every year?

The answer may lie with other things we’ve discovered in the Covid pandemic too — that sick people should stay home from work and school, and that we have a lot of anti-viral tools we can use. Perhaps it’s time that travellers considered taking preemptive anti-virals, which might improve their holidays and also reduce the disease [...]

Around the world seismic measurements were quieter during lockdown

Something that marks how strange times are, was that in March and April, a group of seismologists found seismic activity fell by 50% at 185 stations around the world (at least in certain high frequency bands from 4 – 14 Hz). For example the three graphs below show seismic activity in Brussels, Barbados and New Zealand. A slight downturn happens at Christmas but the lockdown period fell far below that.

For the first time seismologists could identify small quake signals they had missed before.

Co-author Dr Stephen Hicks, from Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, said: “This quiet period is likely the longest and largest dampening of human-caused seismic noise since we started monitoring the Earth in detail using vast monitoring networks of seismometers.

Who knows what they might figure out now they have a handle on human background “noise”.

(B) Lockdown effects in hiFSAN compared with audible environmental noise and independent mobility data in Brussels, Belgium. (C) Lockdown effect in Barbados compared to noise levels in the last decade (in gray) and correlation with local flight data at the Grantley Adams International Airport (TBPB) (24). (D) Lockdown noise reduction recorded on borehole seismometers in [...]

Countries that use Hydroxychloroquine may have 80% lower Covid death rates

The  scandal from the Swamp: Too rich to get a cheap drug?

Poor countries all over the world are using Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and it appears to be very useful.

The new HCQTrial suggests that despite the billion dollar budgets and expert staff, people in wealthier countries are dying from Coronavirus at far higher rates than people are in lands where HCQ is being used. And the effect of HCQ apparently holds even after researchers correct for patients being older, heavier, with higher blood pressure, living in high density apartment towers, or with getting tested more.

If word ever gets out that the Politico-Academic-Corporate-Swamp buried useful drugs because they were unprofitable and out of patent, there will be hell to pay.

The HCQTrial was done anonymously by @CovidAnalysis – who say they are PhD researchers, scientists.

You can find our research in journals like Science and Nature. For examples of why we can’t be more specific search for “raoult death threats” or “simone gold fired”. We have little interest in adding to our publication lists, being in the news, or being on TV (we have done all of these things before but feel there are more important things in [...]

Major report by MPs in UK found Open Border was a ‘serious mistake’

Do 10,000 extra infections matter?

JoNova — cheaper and faster than a Parliamentary Report — said two months ago that it was baffling that the UK locked everyone down, but kept flying in the virus. Now British MP’s are saying the same.

UPDATE: Given Boris Johnson suddenly changed policy on flights from Spain last week, immediately adding a mandatory quarantine, what’s the bet someone told him this report was coming?

No 10′s ‘inexplicable’ decision to lift quarantine at height of pandemic: MPs’ damning report condemns ‘serious mistake’ that allowed 10,000 infected people into the UK

David Barett, DailyMail

Delaying quarantine measures at the border was a ‘serious mistake’ that allowed 10,000 infected people into the UK accelerated the virus spread, a major report by MPs says.

The cross-party inquiry is highly critical of the Government’s ‘inexplicable’ decision to lift its initial quarantine measures in mid-March, ten days before lockdown.

Experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine calculated that up to 10,000 infected people, largely from Spain, France and Italy, imported the virus into the UK.

Viruses can only survive in people temporarily, so to beat a rogue chemical code, [...]

Freedom and hard borders are 96% popular — a third of West Australians want to secede

A telling incident in Western democracies about borders

The electoral power of strong borders is vastly underestimated.

Western Australia has hard borders at the moment, and no coronavirus — other than a few cases getting caught in the mandatory quarantine. That’s 2.5 million people who are almost living a normal life.  This is not to boast (we wish you could be here), but to point out how politically popular closed borders are in the current pandemic. The Premier is wildly popular, polling close to 90%. To all the people who said “states can’t close borders” the message is that it’s bonkers not to close borders. When the Commonwealth government joined the bizarre High Court push to force them open, the pushback was ferocious. A poll today showed that West Australians are fed up. The West Australian collected 245,000 signatories to a petition supporting the border closure.

Not only do 96% say the borders should stay shut, but when asked, a whopping 34% of Western Australians said the state should secede. How fast did it come to that?

Never, have I seen such vitriol towards the Commonwealth from WA. …the Commonwealth’s decision to effectively join hands with Palmer [...]

Three quarters of mild to moderate Covid illnesses show heart damage

No wonder the Chinese lockdown a million people with every outbreak. Two thirds of these cases were not hospitalized.

These studies are small and need confirmation, but the medical specialists are asking if it is possible that Covid infections create new cases of heart failure which may trigger problems long after infection?

A startling number of COVID-19 patients suffer lasting heart damage

Fermin Koop, ZME Science

A study from the University Hospital Frankfurt looked at the cardiovascular MRIs of 100 people who had recovered from the coronavirus and compared them with heart images of people who hadn’t been infected.

Most of the patients hadn’t been hospitalized and recovered at home, with symptoms ranging from none to moderate. Two months after recovering from COVID-19, the patients were more likely to have troubling cardiac signs than people in the control group. Up to 78% of them had structural changes to the heart, while 76% had evidence of a biomarker signaling cardiac injury typically found after a heart attack, and 60% had signs of inflammation.

The Puntmann study was based in Germany, and the average age of cases was 49. Troponin is a marker used in standard [...]

Older children may spread Coronavirus even faster than adults do

New research shows that families with teenage children were three times more likely to get Covid  (odds of spread , 18%) than families with children under ten (5%). It appears that it’s more dangerous to live with teens than to live with adults (12%). It may be that teens are more likely to be asymptomatic which means people don’t realize they need to isolate from them.

The question of opening primary schools is potentially very different to high schools. Quite possibly puberty affects immune systems in ways that make teens effectively young adults.

Older Kids May Transmit COVID-19 as Much as Adults Do, New Evidence Shows

ScienceAlert

The results also showed up something unexpected, however. When index patients were categorised by age (0–9, 10–19, 20–29, 30–39, 40–49, 50–59, 60–69, 70–79, and >80 years), households with older children (index patients of 10–19 years) had the highest rate of infection spread to household contacts, with 18.6 percent of household contacts later showing the infection.

By contrast, young children (index patients 0–9 years of age) seemed to confer the least amount of spread of the virus, with just 5.3 percent of household contacts contracting the infection, which [...]