New heart problems discovered after COVID-19; viral mutation can make vaccines more effective

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a brief summary of some of the latest scientific studies on the new coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

New heart problems observed in patients recovered with COVID-19

More than three-quarters of the recently recovered COVID-19 patients had heart muscle problems during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, German doctors reported Monday in JAMA Cardiology. In some patients, the heart may be “in serious trouble as part of COVID-19 disease,” Dr. Valentina Puntmann of Frankfurt University Hospital told Reuters. Among 100 patients ages 45 to 53, “a sizable majority,” 78 had inflammation of the heart muscle and lining. Sixty-seven had recovered at home, while 33 had required hospitalization. Half of the previous patients had passed more than two months since their diagnosis at the time of the MRI. Thirty-six patients reported continuous respiratory distress and general exhaustion, and 71 had blood markers of heart muscle damage. Compared to similar people who had not had COVID-19, the hearts of the newly recovered patients pumped weaker and showed other risk factors for heart failure. Puntmann suspects that the abnormalities are signs of permanent problems. “While we do not yet have direct evidence of late consequences, such as the development of heart failure … it is quite possible that in a few years, this burden will be enormous based on what we have learned from other viral conditions that similarly (;

The mutation may have made the virus more vulnerable to vaccines.

The researchers believe that a genetic mutation that made the new coronavirus more infectious may also make it more vulnerable to vaccines. The mutation, designated D614G, increases the number of “spikes” on the virus surface and makes them more stable, allowing the virus to enter and infect cells more efficiently. However, the mutation will not pose problems for vaccines now in clinical trials, because the additional spikes retain the targets of the “neutralizing antibodies” that vaccines are designed to induce. Those targets, called receptor binding domains, or RBDs, are the places where the spike attaches to the cells it infects. With more spikes, there is more RBD for the antibodies to bind to neutralize the virus. “The increase in infectivity provided by D614G came at the cost of making the virus more vulnerable to neutralizing antibodies,” the researchers wrote in an article published in medRxiv the Friday before the peer review. (

DIY masks must be multi-layered

DIY face masks are much more effective at blocking virus-containing droplets if made from two to three layers of fabric, the researchers advised in the journal Thorax on Friday. Using high-speed video and special lighting, they found that when the masks are multi-layered, fewer drops are generated by talking, coughing, and sneezing, and the escaping drops don’t spread as far. There is a tradeoff between protection and breathability as the number of layers increases, but “three layers is quite comfortable,” study co-author Raina MacIntyre of UNSW Sydney, Australia, told Reuters. For their experiments, their team compared masks made of one or two layers of T-shirt fabric, which had a thread count of 170 / inch. They also tried a surgical mask. The freeze frames from the video showed that while the surgical mask was more effective, the two-layer fabric mask did a pretty good job of limiting the distance traveled by the drops. Even the one layer mask was useful. “The effectiveness of a mask depends on several factors besides filtration, which is what we tested,” added MacIntyre. “For example, the outer layer should be made of a waterproof fabric like polyester,” he said. “It is also better to use fabrics with a high number of threads and fine fabric.” (

Pandemic May Raise Children’s Risks for Eating Disorder

Pediatricians in Australia report a dramatic increase in severe cases of eating disorder anorexia nervosa during the pandemic and are concerned that the same may be happening among vulnerable youth worldwide. People with anorexia have a pathological fear of gaining weight, and as a result they can be severely malnourished and suffer life-threatening heart damage. At Perth Children’s Hospital, the number of children with anorexia nervosa requiring hospitalization for nutritional rehabilitation since the start of the pandemic has more than doubled compared to the previous three years, the researchers said in an article published Friday in Archives of Disease in Childhood. The blocks may have “disconnected patients from protective factors” such as school routine and peer relationships, they speculate. Furthermore, they warn, many patients have additional mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder, which may be made worse by the increased focus on hand hygiene and the fear of contracting COVID-19. “We all urgently need to better understand the reasons why youth with eating disorders have been hospitalized at very high rates during COVID-19, to know how to best help and ensure their physical health safety,” said study leader Dr Yasheer Venay Haripersad Reuters (

Open in an external browser to get a Reuters chart of vaccines and treatments under development.

(Report by Nancy Lapid and Linda Carroll; Edited by Bill Berkrot)