CDC, NPR, Mattie Safai discussed on Short Wave

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The case that a mass can protect the person wearing it is laid out by scientists in a new paper coming out soon in the Journal of General, Internal Medicine Catherine Wu wrote about that paper which ties together three different concepts about viruses and how they work. The first is the idea of viral dose. That's kind of the amount of virus that is hitting your face parts and the amount of virus that you're exposed to. The second concept is viral load, basically the amount of virus that has. has set up shop in your body after you get infected, exactly. The third idea which is not new to scientists who studied viruses by the way is that cutting back on the viral dose might mean that even if you get the corona virus, your immune system will react in such a way that you won't get as sick. This idea that you can <hes> encounter a tiny little bit virus and your immune system's going to have just a way easier time wrangling those kind of few invaders. and. So it's less likely that your body's going to struggle to control the infection and less likely that you're gonNA get really really sick again, not a new concept for scientists. But what is new is the corona virus itself. Remember how we all called it novel for those first few months, scientists had never seen this corona virus before. So saying masks might protect the wearer doesn't mean that scientists are just changing their mind. As Catherine and I talked about, it means that each day they're learning more and more about the virus, but things like viral dose in viral load a really hard to study. Yeah. Absolutely, and this this research is fascinating. I think the trick here is we have so much data that seems like it could support this idea. But a lot of it is totally observational people are looking at how much virus do you have when your symptoms start <hes>? When is the easiest time to test someone, but the kind of gold standard experiment that people have done in the past with humans with you know, maybe kind of shady ethics and are now trying to do with a bunch of animal models is. Is. You actually have to give a living creature different doses of virus and see what actually happens to that animal or human, which is really hard to do. Yeah. And like you know we, we know a little bit about the flu because there are actual studies in which they gave people, certain amounts of these doses. But for Corona virus because we don't understand the complications we are you know in, it's because it's such a deadly disease. We really can't do that and and people are really not comfortable doing that. So we do have some studies in animals and one of the pieces that you talked about in your piece was the study out of China, where researchers studied this idea using hamsters. Yeah I thought, this was actually a really cool study <hes>. These researchers basically put hamsters in adjacent cages, <hes>. Some of them had the corona virus, so they were infected. In, one cage and then they were separated from their neighbors <hes>, and some of the cages had these little partitions between the mink made out of surgical masks. So the researchers did not put masks on the hamsters. hamsters don't usually take kindly to that sort of thing, but it seems like they did kind of the next best thing and it turned out that the hamsters that were separated from their. Their neighbours by these surgical mask partitions were a lot less likely to get infected with the coronavirus in the first place and the hamsters that still ended up getting infected with the virus. They have less signs of illness than their neighbors that weren't separated by these masks, and there's like a little bit of nuance here Catherine. Right, which is that if the masks had just prevented some animals from getting. Getting, sick at all. You would say like this makes sense to us. Maybe there weren't enough particles to get the little hamster sick. But in fact, they did get sick. They just got less sick, which is kind of a piece of evidence for this idea of the dose makes the poison right I think that makes a lot of sense I. Mean. It's it is a little bit tough because I? I don't think it's as clear cut as to say like Oh, if I get ten viral particles on my face, I'm not GONNA get sick. But if I get fifteen I'm going to get a little bit sick and then if I get twenty I'm going to get super sick no one knows those numbers yet and those are absurdly numbers so feel free to ask yeah. Those are measles numbers Catholic. Keep going. Yeah. But like those are not clear cut and honestly what numbers hold true for me are probably not GonNa hold true for you. It's super complicated I think what researchers are trying to get at here are super broad trends at a population level. Yeah. Yeah. Because whether or not one. person has more severe symptoms to the other could be based on a lot of different things because the immune system is endlessly complicated as we talked about the last time you were on the show. Absolutely, and so there's also these observational studies, right. So these are not scientific experiments that are being done, but these are people trying to kind of look at these huge data sets we have and see, okay, here are a couple of different variables what could they be and so there are some that are around this idea of infectious does I mean you described? Described the situation in seafood plant in Oregon. What happened there? Catherine? Yeah. So <hes> during these really really big scale out breath that were happening at like meat processing plants and other food processing plants. A lot of employers wised up pretty quickly to this idea that these like very crowded insular environments are pretty high risk for spread and so they started giving out. Masks to all their employees so that they could work with some degree of protection there did end up being an outbreak at the seafood plant in Oregon, but more than ninety percent of the people who tested positive for the virus didn't end up having symptoms, which is pretty extraordinary. Considering that the CDC is still trying to really nail down this number, but they've put out some recent tentative. That maybe about forty percent of the infections that we know about our domestic as a huge difference between forty percent and ninety plus percent. Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. In the other thing, you know the other piece of data that again is very core live and we're not. We're still working to understand this is that you pointed out that more mask wearing in the US has coincided with. Fewer deaths and at the of the pandemic, although that's a very complicated thing to prove, right? Yeah. That is I i. think that's something people have been talking about a little bit over the past few months. There's a lot of factors that could go into this. You know we're much better at treating this virus, and there's some evidence to show that the average age of the person has gone down and we know older people are more susceptible to really severe covid nineteen. But. So many more people are also wearing masks now, and it's certainly possible that people are getting smaller doses of this virus on average, and maybe that's contributing to fewer symptoms and less severe disease, and thus peer depths, and we should probably say Catherine that the type of covering you're wearing matters, right. The type of mask that you're wearing does matter in how much protection you have. Absolutely. That's a really good point. A lot of researchers have said, you know you want to choose something. That's got a couple of layers to it. You want to have it. Fairly tight over your mouth and your nose is okay. That's a little loose fitting. We don't WanNA, make it really uncomfortable for you, but you want it to sort of seal off your mouth and your nose which means covering. All of those holes in front of your face. And when you actually put it on and take it off, try not to touch the front of it because that's where all the stuff that you're trying to keep out of your nose and mouth has probably accumulated and said, grab those ear straps or whatever is keeping it on your face. Yeah. Absolutely, and you, Catherine I do think there's a bigger threat here. <HES> I. Want to ask you because you're a scientist turned journalist just like me and it's you know about how science is done and interpreted in a pandemic. Sciences. So much of not knowing what's going on and learning little pieces at a time and going back and forth on an issue before you arrive at a conclusion is actually very very common. I. Mean it is my <hes> I. Mean I don't know Catherine. That's how it was aggressip school for me <hes>, and so this idea that like because you know people don't know what they're talking about with masks or you know like the CDC's changing up their guidance like it under, you know it's frustrating, but it's also how it works. You know what I mean. Yeah. Absolutely I? Think the most humbling thing I had to go through in the process of becoming scientists was just getting more comfortable with being wrong all the time and then talking about. Run all the time because I think if if I. Didn't feel empowered enough to talk about my mistakes with other scientists who could. Broaden perspectives. I wouldn't have ended up learning anything, but you know to kind of flip it on its head I. Think it's just been incredibly humbling an incredible to watch how the scientific community has come together. Science is often so plotting and tough, and sometimes it paper will be published and then eight years later, data will come out that'll show. The stories a little bit different here. A lot of that timeline has been collapsed into just a couple months for this pandemic and people are coming together from around the world to learn

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