ON THE RADAR: COVID-19 SAFEGUARDS
Pittsburgh International Airport is getting an unusual deep clean
Video courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority, in consultation with Carnegie Robotics, is using ultraviolet light to disinfect its terminals. Two robots, which bear a slight resemblance to a Rosie the Riveter, are cleaning the airport. The robots roll along, scrubbing the floor with soap and water before blasting the floor with a flash of ultraviolet light.
Hospitals and labs have used ultraviolet light for years to kill microbes but this is believed to be the first time it’s been used in an airport. UV light sanitizes surfaces by prohibiting cells from reproducing. Scientists developed the technology to fight infections like MRSA, C. Diff, and other resistant pathogens.
"Pittsburgh is the center for robotics and artificial intelligence. Any time we can tap into the talent of the region, it's a win for us," said Katherine Karolick, SVP, Information Technology for Pittsburgh International Airport.
Carnegie Robotics, based in Lawrenceville, PA, hopes to help the airport eventually sanitize other high-touch areas of the airport, including elevator buttons, escalator handrails, and moving sidewalks. Part of the pilot project includes testing after the robots have done their work to ensure the surfaces are truly clean of microorganisms.
Ag product repurposed to fight COVID-19
Speaking of cleaning, here’s an interesting pivot in the era of COVID-19: Neogen Corporation has gained temporary approval to supply its Neogen Viroxide Super disinfectant to fight COVID-19 in Canada. The product is normally used to fight infection in agriculture settings but is also ideal for cleaning surfaces like tables, desks, door handles, and the other surfaces we all touch daily. Users just spray the solution and allow it to dry.
Neogen is a worldwide corporation with an animal safety division in Lexington, KY. Canadians are interested in its Viroxide product, which kills bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores. Other products, including sanitizers, apparel, cleaners, and disinfectants that Neogen developed to stop the spread of disease in animals may prove useful in the fight against COVID-19.
Besides disinfectants, the Lexington division also manufactures and distributes diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, veterinary instruments, and wound-care products. Neogen is working with Health Canada to obtain a Drug Identification Number that will allow approval of Neogen Viroxide Super after the pandemic is over.
Researchers from three universities have identified three urgent issues to consider when it comes to the ability of the COVID-19 virus to infect, transmit, and impact certain animal specials crucial to food security and the economy.
Juergen Richt from Kansas State University worked with Tracey McNamara from Western University of Health and Sciences and Larry Glickman from Purdue University to author the paper, which appeared in Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Disease. The main issues it identified included the potential for domestic animals to transmit infection to humans; the impact of the virus on food security, economy, and trade; and the effect of the virus on national security.
The piece points out that the virus has been found in dogs, cats, lions, and other animals, and that additional studies are needed. That includes targeted studies on the transmissible nature of the virus between animal species and humans.
“The potential for zoonotic SARS-CoV-2 to infect companion animals has been a topic of much discussion,” said Stephen Higgs, the journal's editor and the director of the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State. “With over 3 million cases of COVID-19 and over a quarter of a million deaths worldwide so far since January, it is vital that we understand the risks posed by domestic animals as a possible source for human infection."
WashU Med tests antidepressant to combat organ failure
You’ve probably been hearing about “cytokine storms,” which occur when the body overreacts to an infection by releasing excessive amounts of cytokines (immune response proteins). Instead of just fighting the infection, the cytokines begin attacking the patient’s cells and tissues. Cytokine storms can lead to life-threatening organ failure—and they have become a serious concern for COVID-19 patients.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered that an antidepressant called fluvoxamine slowed the production of cytokines in mice that were infected with sepsis. Now, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is conducting a clinical trial to determine whether the drug can combat cytokine storms triggered by COVID-19.
Fluvoxamine will be tested on 152 COVID-19 patients who are quarantined at home. They’ll be using thermometers, blood pressure monitors, and oxygen sensors to report their vital signs to researchers daily.
Eric J. Lenze, MD, the trial’s principal investigator, said fluvoxamine has a proven track record. “This drug has been around for decades, so we know how to use it safely. If effective, it could be an ideal drug to repurpose for outpatients with COVID.”
Knoxville biotech firm pivots to antibody testing
A Knoxville biotech company is working with the FDA to begin developing a test for COVID-19 antibodies. The test could help researchers and government leaders determine how prevalent the virus is in their areas. EDP Biotech hopes to gear up to produce 1,000 antibody tests per day.
EDP’s main business is manufacturing early-detection tests for colon cancer. In response to the urgent worldwide need for COVID-19 tests, the company added antibody testing to its mission. Antibody tests look at how the immune system responds to an infection caused by a virus. Scientists hope antibodies will signal protection from further infection, although that is not proven with COVID-19. In the meantime, the tests can indicate the level of infection rates in communities and help leaders make policy decisions.
To test for the presence of antibodies, patients visit a doctor’s office to have their blood drawn. The results are available within two days and the test costs about $100.
A practical use for calculus
Remember in high school when you justified your failing grade in Calculus by saying you wouldn’t use it in the real world, anyway?
Well, guess what? Calculus is having a big moment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mathematical models — built on a foundation of calculus, statistics and probability theory — have been a driving force behind policies, at least in Ohio.
A team, jointly led by professors Jon Tien and Greg Rempala at Ohio State has been modeling the COVID-19 pandemic since March.
“The hospitals need to know, roughly, do we have enough beds, do we have enough ventilators, and if you don’t have some estimate of that you’re really playing with fire,” Tien said. “We’re still not going to say our estimates are what’s going to happen but at least you have some process by which you derive an estimate; otherwise, you’re completely guessing.”
And that’s where calculus comes in. Using the rate of change of the number of susceptible people in the population, the team developed a way to use statistics to find the probability of the rate of the virus’ spread.
This SIR (susceptible, infectious, recovered) mode attempts to analyze the ways people interact to spread illness, giving policymakers some insight into how their decisions might play out in the real world.
Interactive maps provide real-time info on COVID-19
The Delphi Research Group at CMU pulled together an army of volunteer faculty, staff, and students to develop COVIDcast, a web-based series of interactive maps capable of aggregating and displaying “real-time information on symptoms, doctor visits, medical tests and browser searches” in the US related to COVID-19.
The group partnered with experts at Google, Facebook, the medical test maker Quidel Corporation, and an unnamed national heath system to develop the powerful new website, which will provide policy makers with critical deep-dive data to monitor the real-time spread and activity of COVID-19 in the US all the way down to the county level.
The interactive maps will primarily be used to help forecast future disease activity, giving health care officials and hospitals up to four weeks of targeted advance warning of likely increases in cases requiring hospitalization.
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