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SARS-CoV-2: Distance and masks work, first antibody drug in study

A distance of two meters between people is far more effective than just one meter to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections. This emerges from a new analysis in The Lancet. And in the United States, tests have started with the first antibody drug against SARS-CoV-2.

For the distance study, researchers with statistical analyzes evaluated 172 observational studies from 16 countries in order to arrive at assessments of the risk of infection. According to their models for the nine most important studies, the transmission risk at a distance of at least one meter was around 3 percent, below which it rose to around 13 percent. With each additional meter distance and up to a total of three meters distance, the risk of infection was reduced by about half.

The researchers also found that both face coverage and eye protection significantly reduce the risk of the virus spreading. According to the studies evaluated, masks reduce the risk from 17 percent to 3 percent, goggles from 16 percent to 6 percent. Other factors such as the duration of contact between people were not taken into account because they were not included in the basic data.

Governments worldwide are discussing how to protect their citizens’ health while easing corona restrictions. Against this background, the new Lancet study reviewed by peers makes it clear that the core of any sensible strategy must be trying to keep people physically as far apart as possible. The results are equally interesting for employers, restaurants, bars or the cinema, who are also considering how to open them again and thereby prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2.

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The distance recommendations differ from country to country. It is currently 2 meters in the UK, but there is pressure to lower it. In the USA, the CDC recommend 6 feet, that is around 1.8 meters. In Germany and Australia apply 1.5 meters, officially in France only 1 meter, which also corresponds to the WHO recommendation.

In the meantime, the first patients in the United States have received the first antibody drug that was specifically developed for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2. It is being tested in various doses on 32 people in US hospitals. If the drug, known as LY-CoV555, proves to be safe, it should be tested this summer on coronavirus patients outside of hospitals.

The drug was developed in just three months. To do this, the researchers used blood from an early US survivor of SARS-CoV-2 in February, which contained the antibodies to capture and neutralize the vitus. The successful immune response of a single person should become a drug that can help everyone. It is not a vaccine, so it does not make you immune permanently. However, it should protect for weeks or months after administration. If the current study goes well, it could bring one of the first therapies against SARS-CoV-2, ideally before the end of this year.

The drug was developed in a cooperation between the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and the biotech fimra AbCellera from Canada. Others are also working on antibody therapies. Both Regeneron and a partnership between GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology are likely to begin testing their own candidates soon.

Even such drugs will not be a magic bullet. The novel coronavirus is still not fully understood, which makes treatment more complicated. Antibody cocktails could make some sick people even sicker. And even if they work as hoped, they would initially only be available in limited quantities; so doctors would have to decide who is treated first. But the good news is that the current antibody study is only one of hundreds of clinical studies that are currently exploring different approaches to corona therapy. They range from newly used drugs for similar diseases to completely new vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.


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