18 Jun 2020

Latest COVID-19 science updates: antibody persistence, young people and air pollution

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, scientists are rushing to carry out and publish research which will help us understand how the virus works, and how the disease it causes can be treated.

Each week, Channel 4 News will provide a summary of key research papers, studies or developments from the world of COVID-19 science.

Preliminary study finds coronavirus antibodies two months after infection

Preliminary findings of an unreviewed study have found that coronavirus patients had protective antibodies two months after infection.

However the research also found that up to 8.5 percent of the 177 studied individuals developed no antibodies in response to infection, raising the possibility that they were still not immune after recovering.

Experts commenting on the findings said that more research would be needed to investigate whether parts of the immune system other than antibodies have a role in protecting from the virus.

The preprint study, not yet peer reviewed, was published by a group led by researchers at St George’s, University of London, on Monday.

Professor Danny Altmann from Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study, said: “While it’s reassuring that most have antibodies at 2 months, it would be remarkable for an immune response not to last this long – our real concern is to see what happens at 1 or 2 years, for which we need to wait and see.”

Young people half as likely to be infected by coronavirus as adults, study finds

A study of coronavirus patients from six countries has found that people under 20 are around half as likely to get infected as older people.

The study, published in Nature Medicine on Tuesday, also found that 21 percent of people aged between 10-19 show symptoms when infected, whereas 69 percent of over 70 year olds show symptoms.

It’s been established since early in the coronavirus pandemic that young people are less affected than adults, but it hasn’t been understood whether less are infected or less show symptoms. This research suggests it’s both.

Experts commenting on the findings said they highlight how policy decisions around coronavirus, such as school closures, should be treated differently from other infectious diseases like influenza.

Professor Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh, who was not an author on the study, said: “This evidence suggests interventions aimed at children, such as school closures, might have a relatively small impact on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”

The study authors said that their findings could mean poorer countries, which often have younger populations, could be less impacted by the virus than richer countries. Conversely, they said this effect could be countered by the increased prevalence of underlying health conditions in poorer countries.

Some air pollutants increased during coronavirus crisis in China, study finds

A study has found that while some health-damaging air pollutants fell dramatically during the coronavirus crisis in China, others increased despite the pandemic-induced lockdown.

This increase in an air-pollutant called particulate matter, which can cause respiratory problems and has been linked to coronavirus susceptibility, was produced by a mixture of weather and emissions from power plants and heavy industries which didn’t stop during lockdown.

The study authors said that their research highlighted that global air pollution problems cannot be tackled with reductions in transport alone, and that other areas of industry need their emissions properly regulated.

The research, published in Science on Wednesday, corroborated earlier research about dramatic reductions in nitrogen dioxide levels during lockdown, largely put down to dramatic decreases in traffic.

But the “unexpected” increase in particulate matter was due to high humidity “along with stagnant airflow and uninterrupted emissions from power and petrochemical facilities”, they said.

They added that individual behaviour change would not shift these types of pollution like some have suggested after seeing the impacts on wider pollution during the coronavirus crisis.

Last week’s update can be found here.