COVID-19 shutdown prevented 60 million infections in U.S., study says

The study also estimated that international lockdown efforts prevented more than 500 million infections worldwide.

COVID-19
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  • On Monday, the journal Nature published two studies on the efficacy of shutdown measures.
  • Both concluded that shutdown efforts led to significant decreases in death and infection rates.
  • The studies highlight how important it is to consider exponential growth when thinking about the spread of viruses.

Shutting down the U.S. to limit the spread of COVID-19 has cost the nation millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. But what's less clear is what these measures have accomplished so far.

On Monday, a study published in Nature offered an answer: 60 million infections were likely prevented in the U.S. due to shutdown orders. The study also estimated that shutdowns in other countries prevented about 530 million infections worldwide.

"These findings may help inform whether or when these policies should be deployed, intensified, or lifted, and they can support decision-making in the other 180+ countries where COVID-19 has been reported," the researchers wrote.

woman having her temperature taken with infrared thermometer

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The study examined the efficacy of interventions in six countries: China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States. The researchers looked at epidemiological data in various areas, recording how quickly the virus was spreading without any preventative measures in place. In most areas, the number of infections was roughly doubling every two days.

Using this data on how fast COVID-19 was spreading in the spring, the researchers used economic models to estimate the effects of the six nations' shutdown orders. The results suggest that non-pharmaceutical interventions — like closing businesses and public spaces — significantly slowed the spread of the virus.

"Without these policies employed, we would have lived through a very different April and May," Solomon Hsiang, lead study author and director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, told the Washington Post.

Venezuela Under National Quarantine Due To Coronavirus

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A separate study also published Monday in Nature points to a similar conclusion. Conducted by a team at Imperial College London, the study examined 11 countries in Europe, estimating that shutdown orders saved 3.1 million lives and dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent.

"Our results show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions and lockdown in particular have had a large effect on reducing transmission," the researchers wrote. "Continued intervention should be considered to keep transmission of SARS-CoV-2 under control."

The power of exponential growth

Both studies highlight the importance of stopping a virus from spreading as early as possible. That's mainly because of exponential growth: When infections double every two days, it doesn't take long to reach pandemic levels. In other words, an outbreak left unmitigated becomes increasingly dangerous with every minute.

"...our analysis of existing policies indicates that seemingly small delays in policy deployment likely produced dramatically different health outcomes," the Berkeley researchers wrote.

Both studies also noted that the pandemic is ongoing, and suggested that these kinds of non-pharmaceutical measures are still helping to limit the total worldwide number of infections.

"The whole point of this study is to help us understand what we got for this tremendous sacrifice that the country has gone through," he told the Washington Post. "Ultimately, whether or not it was worth it is something society has to decide."

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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