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5 things to know about COVID-19 this week

COVID-19 may actually be a blood vessel disease, a study reveals that proteins in blood may predict the virus’ severity, and the Red Cross warns of a drop in blood supplies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new information is coming out constantly. Here are five important developments from the past week.

1. New evidence suggests COVID-19 may actually be a blood vessel disease, or a “vasculotropic virus.” An Elemental story summarizing an April article in The Lancet cites evidence that COVID-19 targets endothelial cells that line your blood vessels and help protect your heart, prevent clotting and keep blood flowing smoothly. This could also explain why COVID-19 patients with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are at higher risk of having an adverse outcome, because all of these conditions already impact endothelial cells.

“[The virus] enters the lung, it destroys the lung tissue, and people start coughing. The destruction of the lung tissue breaks open some blood vessels,” Mandeep Mehra, MD, medical director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart and Vascular Center, explained. “Then it starts to infect endothelial cell after endothelial cell, creates a local immune response, and inflames the endothelium.”

2. A study found that proteins in COVID-19 patients’ blood could predict the severity of illness. The biomarkers could lead to the development of a way to predict how ill a patient might get when infected, and could also provide new targets for the creation of potential treatments, according to Reuters’ coverage of the study, which was published in the journal Cell Systems.

Such tests would help doctors decide how to best manage the disease for each patient, as well as identify those most at risk of needing hospital treatment or intensive care, said Christoph Messner, an expert in molecular biology at the Crick Institute who co-led the research.

3. A massive analysis of bat coronaviruses is coming soon. Science Magazine reported the highlights of a preprint analysis that examined the partial genetic sequences of 781 coronaviruses found in bats in China.

Although the analysis was not able to pinpoint the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it singled out the genus Rhinolophus, also known as Chinese horseshoe bats, as crucial to coronavirus evolution.

4. The Red Cross warns of a ‘staggering’ drop in blood supplies, according to reporting in the New York Times. Though American hospitals have resumed elective surgeries and many Americans are venturing out of their homes, the rate of blood donations has yet to bounce back from lockdown levels.

The Red Cross usually has enough blood supplies to meet the nation’s needs for five days, but now has less than two days’ worth, said Chris Hrouda, the organization’s president of biomedical services. The upcoming hurricane season, projected to be even more devastating than usual, may also increase the need for blood supplies, and multiple intense storms may also make it harder to collect them.

5. A new analysis from the WHO confirms that respirator masks are far superior to surgical masks in protecting people from COVID-19. The results, published in The Lancet, echo what experts have recommended since the beginning of the pandemic, the New York Times reports. N95 masks were found to offer 96% protection, while the figure for surgical masks was 77%. The report is one of the first of its kind to share evidence specific to coronaviruses, rather than extrapolating from data on other respiratory viruses.

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