Omicron infections contagious for at least 6 days; Takeda drug shows promise as COVID treatment

FILE PHOTO: Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
FILE PHOTO: Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) - The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review.

Omicron infections are contagious for at least 6 days

Patients infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 remain contagious for just as long as patients infected with earlier variants, according to a small study.

Researchers took blood samples from 56 newly-diagnosed patients, including 37 with Delta infections and 19 with Omicron infections. All were mildly ill, such as with flu-like symptoms, but none were hospitalized. Regardless of which variant or whether or not they had been vaccinated or boosted, study participants "shed live virus for, on average, about 6 days after symptoms (began), and... about one in four people shed live virus for over 8 days," said Dr. Amy Barczak of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who coauthored a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review.

"Although it is unknown exactly how much live virus is needed to spread the disease to others, we take these data to suggest that people with mild COVID-19 infection may be contagious on average for 6 days, and sometimes longer," Barczak said. "Decisions about isolation and masking should take such information into account, regardless of variant or prior vaccination status."

Takeda angioedema drug shows promise for COVID-19

A drug used to treat a blood vessel condition called angioedema has shown promise as a treatment for COVID-19 in lab experiments, researchers said.

Icatibant, sold as Firazyr by Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co, blocks a protein called bradykinin receptor b2 in the so-called kinin system. The protein is regulated by the ACE2 protein on cell surfaces, which the coronavirus uses as a gateway for infection. When the researchers analyzed nasal cells obtained from newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients, they found elevated levels of bradykinin receptor b2, which led them to wonder whether blocking that protein with icatibant could protect the airway-lining cells against the coronavirus. "To our surprise, icatibant effectively reduced viral load by more than 90% and protected cultured human airway cells from cell death upon SARS-CoV-2-infection," said Adam Chaker of Technical University of Munich, whose team reported their findings on Saturday in the Journal of Molecular Medicine Icatibant uses different biochemical pathways to protect the airways than steroids, the researchers found.

In their test tube experiments, repeated dosing of icatibant did not stop coronavirus infection completely, but reduced the severity of infection, they reported. Previous small observational studies have suggested that icatibant might provide some benefit to COVID-19 patients. Now, Chaker said, it is time for "double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials ... conducted in high-risk patients and see potential to use icatibant as add-on treatment at early stages of infection."

Heart defects boost risks for hospitalized COVID-19 patients

People born with heart defects who become sick enough from COVID-19 to be hospitalized are at higher risk for becoming critically ill or dying, researchers said.

The findings were drawn from a study that compared 421 patients with a heart defect who were hospitalized for COVID-19 with 235,638 similar hospitalized COVID-19 patients born with normal hearts. After researchers accounted for patients' other risk factors, those with congenital heart defects were 40% more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, 80% more likely to need mechanical ventilation, and two times more to die while hospitalized, compared to patients in the control group, according to the report published on Monday in the journal Circulation Hospitalized patients with a congenital heart defect and another health condition faced even higher risks for poor outcomes, the researchers found.

"People with heart defects should be encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters and to continue to practice additional preventive measures for COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing," study leader Karrie Downing of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Click for a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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