Daily briefing: Coronavirus outbreaks in France and Spain show we’re nowhere near herd immunity


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Microscope viewing lens

Microscope images that have been altered or duplicated can appear in research papers.Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty

The world’s largest science publishers are teaming up to establish standards for catching suspicious images in manuscripts submitted for peer review. Altered or duplicated images can result from honest mistakes, efforts to improve readability — or fraud. Elsevier, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature and others aim to set standards for software that can compare a large number of images across many papers at once.

Nature | 5 min read

(Nature is editorially independent of its publisher, Springer Nature — as is this Briefing.)

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Two Pomeranian Spitzs

A Pomeranian in Hong Kong was one of the first dogs to test positive for the coronavirus.Credit: Xinhua News Agency/Shutterstock

Dogs caught coronavirus from their owners

The first two dogs reported to have coronavirus probably caught it from their owners. Researchers found that the genetic sequences of the virus were almost identical between the animals and members of the infected households in Hong Kong. The direct genomic link strongly supports the idea that the infection had been passed from the owners to the dogs. Neither dog got sick, and there’s no evidence that dogs can pass the virus to each other or back to humans.

(Nature | 4 min read)

Reference: Nature paper

Herd immunity is not happening

Despite more than 27,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in France, only 4.4% of people have actually been infected. The percentage is far below the required level — something more than 50% — to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity would slow — but not stop — the outbreak. Results announced by Spain’s health minister show a similar situation: more than 27,000 deaths and just 5% of the population tested had antibodies to the virus. “Population immunity appears insufficient to avoid a second wave” if lockdown measures are removed, say the authors of the French study.

(Reuters | 4 min read)

Reference: Science paper

How to suppress further COVID-19 outbreaks

The only plausible way to achieve herd immunity is through mass vaccination, argues a Nature Biomedical Engineering editorial. The alternative — letting the virus spread naturally at an infection fatality rate of something around 0.5–1% — implies that millions would die before transmission slows down. The journal outlines why widespread testing, technology-aided contact tracing, case isolation and the quarantining of contacts will continue to be essential to sustainedly suppress further outbreaks.

(Nature Biomedical Engineering | 7 min read)

In rare cases, coronavirus might ail children

Pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome— a serious condition in children that has been compared with an illness called Kawasaki disease — seems to be linked to the coronavirus. Physicians in Bergamo, at the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, report a 30-fold increased incidence of Kawasaki-like disease. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said this week that the syndrome has affected around 100 children in the state, 2 of whom have died. Pediatricians stress that the problem is extremely rare, and most children who have it get better.

(BBC | 4 min read)

Reference: The Lancet paper

Features & opinion

Robert May, a pioneering theoretical ecologist and outspoken government adviser, died last month at age 84. In a career that spanned continents and disciplines, May helped to revolutionize the study of biodiversity, population dynamics and infectious-disease epidemiology. As chief scientific adviser to the UK government, he emphasized principles particularly relevant in the current pandemic: transparency, seeking a wide range of views and fully acknowledging uncertainties. May was known for his plain way of speaking and his competitiveness: “It was once said that when he went home to play with his much-loved poodle Perri, he played to win,” write ecologists John Krebs and Michael Hassell.

Nature | 5 minute read

News & views

Astronomers have decoded the inner pulsations of a class of stars called δ Scuti by precisely tracking how their brightness evolves in time. Stellar pulsations can help researchers to understand the inner structure of a star, “like the standing sound waves responsible for the sounds of musical instruments such as violins and oboes”, write astronomers József Benkő and Margit Paparó. δ Scuti stars have so far been difficult to understand because their pulsations appear to be less regular than those of other types of star.

Space scientist and musician Chris Boshuizen used the real data on a δ Scuti called HD 31901 to create this delightful audio and visualization of its pulsations.

Nature News & Views | 6 min read

Source: Nature paper

Infographic of the week

Online competition between vaccine views: Links between vaccine-related Facebook clusters, posted on one day in 2019.

Groups opposing vaccines are small in size, but their online-communications strategy is worryingly effective and far-reaching. In contrast, pages that explain the benefits of and the scientific case for vaccination are largely disconnected from the “main battlefield” for public sentiment. Researchers analysed Facebook pages followed by 85 million individuals to map the connections. The messages could undermine efforts to establish herd immunity to the new coronavirus, say researchers. (Nature | 5 min read)

Quote of the day

A summer of planning for better online learning this autumn will be wasted if lecturers do not begin from the premise that students are anxious, says educational researcher Cathy Davidson. (HASTAC blog | 6 min read)

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