Neel Patel answers COVID-19 questions at MIT Technology review. He writes:
What is a cytokine storm? And why is it killing some covid-19 patients?
Some covid-19 deaths don’t seem to be caused by the virus itself, but rather the immune system’s overreaction to the infection.
When the immune system becomes alerted to an infection, one of the ways it combats the invading pathogens is through cytokines—small proteins that help coordinate the body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is the body’s natural response against harm, where an army of white blood cells is dispatched to surround the area under attack. That’s what causes the tissue to swell up.
But inflammation is a generalized response. When cytokines are released at excessive levels, they can activate too many white blood cells that threaten healthy cells and tissue in other parts of the body. The onset of this hyper-inflammation can be rapid and devastating. Even after the immune system has cleared out the disease, the body can continue to release cytokines, causing further damage to organs.
Cytokine storms have been observed in other respiratory illnesses, like influenza. And more importantly, they’ve been observed in other coronavirus infections as well, like SARS and MERS. So it’s not much of a surprise to see covid-19 patients afflicted by cytokine storms as well. There are no published numbers in any studies that say how many covid-19 hospitalizations result in a cytokine storm, but one estimate reported in the New York Times suggests it might be as high as 15 percent.
How can I participate in new treatment and vaccine trials?
Many institutions around the world send out their own calls for participants for their own trials, so there are many different resources.
If you live in the US, a useful place to look is the website for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which supports some studies. Those trials, which include vaccine trials, antiviral drug trials, collection of blood serum samples from recovered covid-19 patients, and testing trials, can be found at this page, which is regularly updated.
You can also look through a much broader list of US clinical trials regarding cover-19 at ClinicalTrials.gov.
Other institutions around the country are looking for participants for a wide array of trials. If you live close to medical school or a hospital with a research arm, chances are good they are a site for a trial of some kind. Get in touch and see if there’s something you’re able to participate in.
Lastly, if you live outside the US, the WHO keeps a registry of international clinical trials in covid-19 research.
How does the virus spread? Can it be in food?
Coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets in the air. The virus can also be found on contaminated surfaces, and end up infecting someone after they touch the surface and then touch their face. (Whether coronavirus meets the definition of “airborne” is a matter of debate among scientists.)
The reason we’re distancing ourselves at 6 feet (2 meters) or more is because, generally speaking, this is the range that will keep you protected if an infected individual is coughing or sneezes—and therefore spreading droplets with coronavirus through the air. Ideally you’d want to stay farther away, but 6 feet is a minimum.
According to the FDA, there is currently no evidence that coronavirus transmission occurs through food. Keep up with the same steps you normally take to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Read more here.