Richard Harris | KNKX

Richard Harris

If you think all the coronavirus news is bad, consider the uplifting story of Don Ramsayer.

The 59-year-old man from Cumming, Ga., is living evidence that doctors in intensive care units quickly figured out how to help more patients survive.

In early August, Ramsayer was helping his son pack up the car for his freshman year at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Ramsayer had been having night sweats and wasn't feeling that well, but he tried to play it down.

If the coronavirus vaccines currently being tested don't pan out, don't expect new drugs to fill the gap any time soon.

Many drugs are in the works, and those that succeed could play a role in reducing symptoms and sometimes saving lives. But, given the way drugs are developed, it's unlikely that any single medicine will be anywhere as potent against the coronavirus as a successful vaccine.

Three new studies strongly support using inexpensive and widely available drugs to treat people who are seriously ill with COVID-19. The drugs are steroids, and the research published Wednesday confirms they are proving to be the most effective treatment found to date.

Updated Thursday at 4:55 p.m. ET

The Trump administration has stirred confusion and concern by rewriting its guidelines for coronavirus testing. Public health experts fear the revised guidelines will lead to less testing – something the president has repeatedly asked for — but the administration denies that.

Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

The Food and Drug Administration's chief has undercut the agency's assertion that it is basing its decisions on science, not politics.

At a White House event Sunday with President Trump, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn used a deeply misleading statistic to claim that a treatment the agency had just authorized for treating the coronavirus would save 35 lives out of every 100 people who get the treatment.

If you're bitten or scratched by an animal with rabies, your doctor can give you a shot to prevent the virus from taking hold in you and causing an infection. The same concept is now being put to the test for the coronavirus.

So many people are counting on a vaccine to help end the coronavirus pandemic that any hint of bad news gets a lot of attention. That's proving to be the case for a series of studies examining how long antibodies persist in people who have been infected with the coronavirus.

Anybody who has waited for hours in line for a coronavirus test, or who has had to wait a week or more for results, knows there has to be a better way. In fact, the next generation of tests will focus on speed.

But what should the Food and Drug Administration do with a rapid test that is comparatively cheap but much less accurate than the tests currently on the market? A test like that is ready to go up for FDA approval, and some scientists argue it could be valuable despite its shortcomings.

Scientists say they've identified an enzyme that could help explain how exercise can slow or even reverse some signs of aging in the brain. "Exercise in a bottle" isn't around the corner, but it's not out of the question either.

The idea builds on an observation a few years ago that certain parts of the brain can actually grow, even in older people.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a special challenge for scientists: Figuring out how to make sense of a flood of scientific papers from labs and scientists unfamiliar to them.

More than 6,000 coronavirus-related preprints from researchers around the world have been posted since the pandemic began, without the usual peer review as a quality check. Some are poor quality, while others, including papers from China from early in the course of the epidemic, contain vital information.

The beauty of science is the facts are supposed to speak for themselves.

Federal health officials are hoping to stretch the supplies used to test for the coronavirus by combining samples from a number of people and running a single test. Chinese health officials used that strategy to rapidly test large populations in Wuhan and Beijing.

The technique, called pooled testing, won't resolve the testing bottlenecks in the United States. But it could help.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many scientists who usually have nothing to do with viruses or infectious disease are turning their attention to COVID-19. For example, one wildlife biologist is raising questions about the accuracy of tests that detect the coronavirus.

Last month the White House issued guidelines suggesting a way to reduce the number of false positive results in antibody tests: Run two tests. But that strategy has not yet been validated for coronavirus testing. And the details matter.

Most people infected with the novel coronavirus develop antibodies in response.

But scientists don't know whether people who have been exposed to the coronavirus will be immune for life, as is usually the case for the measles, or if the disease will return again and again, like the common cold.

The Food and Drug Administration is stiffening its rules to counteract what some have called a Wild West of antibody testing for the coronavirus.

These tests are designed to identify people who have been previously exposed to the virus. The FDA said more than 250 developers have been bringing products to the market in the past few weeks.

Dozens of blood tests are rapidly coming on the market to identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus by checking for antibodies against it.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn't set standards for these kinds of tests, but even those that meet the government's informal standard may produce many false answers and provide false assurances. The imperfect results could be a big disappointment to people who are looking toward these tests to help them return to something resembling a normal life.

In the face of mixed messages and confusion about who can or should be tested for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted updated guidance for doctors on Sunday about when to test a patient.

The short answer is, if your doctor thinks a test is appropriate, he or she can request the test. But a request doesn't guarantee that you'll get one.

Confused? You're not alone.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As the coronavirus spreads more widely around the globe, scientists are starting to use a powerful new tool: a blood test that identifies people who have previously been exposed to the virus. This kind of test is still under development in the United States, but it has been rolled out for use in Singapore and China.

Despite worrisome new outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, the coronavirus disease called COVID-19 is not currently a pandemic, the World Health Organization said today.

In fact, there are some encouraging trends, especially in Hubei province, where most of the cases have been reported.

The epidemic there appears to have plateaued in late January and is continuing on a good trajectory. Dr. Bruce Aylward led a WHO trip to China with a scientific delegation that just concluded. On Sunday, he told reporters in Beijing that trend is real.

Even though the coronavirus disease that has sickened tens of thousands of people in China is new to science, doctors have a pretty good idea about how to treat it. COVID-19, as it is now named, attacks the lungs. Doctors see similar symptoms from other diseases all the time, especially from serious cases of the flu.

Updated at 5:01 p.m. ET

Last week, we asked our audience to share questions they might have about Wuhan coronavirus, the new respiratory virus that was identified in China.

While there is a lot we don't know about the virus — how the disease first emerged, for example — there are things that we do know.

China has reported a large surge of cases of the novel coronavirus — upping its count from under 3,000 to over 4,500 as of Tuesday morning. More than 100 deaths have been reported. It is spreading rapidly in many provinces, and sporadic cases have now been reported in 18 other locations outside of China, including Australia, France and Canada.

Hope for an effective and inexpensive treatment for the deadly condition sepsis has dimmed following results of a major new study.

Researchers had hoped that a simple treatment involving infusions of vitamin C, vitamin B1 and steroids would work against a disease that kills an estimated 270,000 people each year in the United States and 11 million globally. Sepsis, or blood poisoning, occurs when the body overreacts to infection. It leads to leaky blood vessels, which can cause multiple organ failure.

A medical condition that often escapes public notice may be involved in 20% of deaths worldwide, according to a new study.

The disease is sepsis — sometimes called blood poisoning. It arises when the body overreacts to an infection. Blood vessels throughout the body become leaky, triggering multiple-organ failure.

Cancer death rates in the United States took their sharpest drop on record between 2016 and 2017, according to an analysis by the American Cancer Society.

Cancer death rates in the U.S. have been falling gradually for about three decades, typically about 1.5% a year. But during the latest study period, the cancer mortality rate dropped 2.2%, "the biggest single-year drop ever," says Rebecca Siegel, scientific director for surveillance research at the cancer society.

Alexa Kasdan had a cold and a sore throat.

The 40-year-old public policy consultant from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn't want her upcoming vacation trip ruined by strep throat. So after it had lingered for more than a week, she decided to get it checked out.

Kasdan visited her primary care physician, Roya Fathollahi, at Manhattan Specialty Care, just off Park Avenue South and not far from tony Gramercy Park.

A health-surveillance system put in place after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 has been used to pinpoint the cause of the vaping-related lung injuries that have killed 54 Americans and sent more than 2,500 people to the hospital.

Using this system, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the lung injuries rose sharply in June of this year.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's doctor says he is a "healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency."

Scientists know that if they transfuse blood from a young mouse to an old one, then they can stave off or even reverse some signs of aging. But they don't know what in the blood is responsible for this remarkable effect.

Researchers now report that they've identified hundreds of proteins in human blood that wax and wane in surprising ways as we age. The findings could provide important clues about which substances in the blood can slow aging.

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