Research Roundup: COVID-19 Lockdown’s Impact on Mental Health and More


Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Not Surprisingly, COVID-19 Lockdown Causing Increased Mental Health Issues

Investigators at the University of Sydney showed that adults in locations with more COVID-19 cases had higher levels of distress, as well as lower levels of physical and mental health and life satisfaction. The study included researchers at Tongji University and the University of Adelaide and surveyed 369 adults living in 64 cities in China that had been under one-month of lockdown in February 2020.

“As many parts of the world are only just beginning to go into lockdown, we examined the impact of the one-month long lockdown on people’s health, distress and life satisfaction,” said Stephen Zhang, who led the study from the University of Adelaide. “The study offers somewhat of a ‘crystal ball’ into the mental health of Australian residents once they have been in the lockdown for one month.”

Generally, people who were able to continue working during the lockdown had fewer issues. Unexpectedly, study participants who exercised more than 2.5 hours a day reported worse life satisfaction in more affected sites compare to those who exercised for half an hour or less per day.

“We were really surprised by the findings around exercising hours because it appears to be counter-intuitive,” said Zhang. “It’s possible adults who exercised less could better justify or rationalize their inactive lifestyles in more severely affected cities. More research is needed but these early findings suggest we need to pay more attention to more physically active individuals, who might be more frustrated by the restrictions.”

It's also possible that people who exercise that much routinely do so in gyms or in group situations that are part of their typical social activities, which changed dramatically during lockdown.

COVID-19 Likely More Widespread than Reported

A research study from the University of Gottingen suggests that only about 6% of COVID-19 cases, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, have been confirmed. They built the research on estimates of COVID-19 mortality and time until death from data recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases to compare to the quality of official case records. The research suggests the true number of actual cases may have already reached several tens of millions.

“These results mean that governments and policy-makers need to exercise extreme caution when interpreting case numbers for planning purposes,” said Sebastian Vollmer, professor of Development Economics at U of G. “Such extreme differences in the amount and quality of testing carried out in different countries mean that official case records are largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information.”

Antiviral Combination, Lopinavir-Ritonavir, Showed No Benefit in COVID-19 Trial

AbbVie’s Kaletra (lopinavir-ritonavir) was evaluated in a small clinical trial in 199 COVID-19 patients at Jin Yin-Tan Hospital in China. The patients either received the drug and standard of care (SoC) or SoC alone. Although there were some possible benefits, the overall conclusion of the trial, whose results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine, was, “In hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19, no benefit was observed with lopinavir-ritonavir treatment beyond standard care. Future trials in patients with severe illness may help to confirm or exclude the possibility of a treatment benefit.”

Higher Amyloid in the Brain Linked to Increased Risk of Early Alzheimer’s Disease

An accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain has long been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but a new study published in JAMA Neurology, supports it, noting higher levels of the protein in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It also suggested that amyloid burden in older adults with a normal clinical presentation is linked to a family history of disease, lower cognitive test scores, and declines in daily cognitive function.

Repairing Brains Damaged by Stroke

Researchers at Sweden’s Lund University successfully restored mobility and the sensation of touch in rats who had strokes by reprogramming human skin cells to become nerve cells. They then transplanted those transformed cells into the rats’ brains. Earlier studies had shown it was possible to transplant nerve cells derived from human stem cells or from reprogrammed cells into rat brains, but it wasn’t known if the transplanted cells form connections appropriately in the rat brain. With this study, using tracking techniques, electron microscopy and other methods, they showed they did.

Most Coronaviruses are Highly Seasonal

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there’s a lot of hope that the virus will be seasonal and, in the northern hemisphere at least, start to dwindle like many coronaviruses do. A new study by the University of Michigan School of Public Health noted that of the seven coronaviruses that infect people, four of which cause common respiratory infections, are “sharply seasonal” similar to influenza. The authors admit it’s not possible to know yet whether SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is seasonal as well. The research appeared in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“Even though the seasonal coronaviruses found in Michigan are related to SARS-CoV-2, we do not know whether that virus will behave like the seasonal coronaviruses,” said Arnold Monto, the Thomas Francis Collegiate Professor of Epidemiology at U of M. “Only time will tell if SARS-CoV-2 will become a continuing presence in the respiratory infection landscape, continue with limited circulation as with MERS, or like SARS, disappear from humans altogether.”

They note that coronaviruses have long been associated with human respiratory diseases, but typically were seen in mild respiratory illnesses. However, when animal coronaviruses jump to humans, they cause more severe disease, such as SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. COVID-19 is believed to have originated the same way, starting in bats, infecting some intermediary animal, then jumping to humans.

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