Science

Challenges to a media number's report on the effects of the new coronavirus on human health

A friend tweeted to me recommending a video released by the media about the effects of the new coronavirus on human health. The video said: New results published in the journal Nature (Naure) by a team of Oxford University researchers suggest that the new coronavirus ages the brain by 10 years. I watched it and was very skeptical about what the video reported, while browsing through some of the comments from internet users and found that there were few who were as skeptical as I was.

By reading the original article of the Oxford team's study in Nature, I found that this media video report is very inaccurate and the video clearly exaggerates and misrepresents the research published by the Oxford team in Nature.

Challenges to a media number's report on the effects of the new coronavirus on human health

The University of Oxford team's paper in Nature is titled "SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank" (original URL: https://doi.org/). 10.1038/s41586-022-04569-5).

The original abstract includes the following three main elements (Figure 2), translated roughly as follows (interested parties can refer to the original article via the URL)

First: "There is strong evidence for brain-related abnormalities in COVID-19,. However, it is unclear whether the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection can be detected in milder cases and whether this could reveal possible mechanisms contributing to brain pathology."

Second: "Significant longitudinal effects were found, including (1) greater reductions in gray matter thickness and tissue contrast in the frontal cortex of the eye sockets and the parahippocampal gyrus; (2) greater changes in markers of tissue damage in areas connected to primary olfactory cortex function; and (3) greater overall brain size reduction in SARS-CoV-2 cases. Between these two time points, participants infected with SARS-CoV-2 also exhibited greater cognitive decline on average. Importantly, these imaging and cognitive longitudinal effects were still observed after excluding the 15 patients who were hospitalized."

Third: " These major limbic brain imaging findings may be in vivo markers of degenerative spread of disease through the olfactory pathway, neuroinflammatory events, or loss of sensory input due to olfactory deficits. Whether such deleterious effects are partially reversible, or whether these effects persist over time, awaits further follow-up investigation."

Challenges to a media number's report on the effects of the new coronavirus on human health

Figure 2 Abstract of the original research paper and its Chinese translation

It is evident that the new coronavirus does affect patients, but never in the way mentioned in the above media video report, and the age of the patients in this study was 51-81 years old, which would be considered middle-aged and elderly. In addition, it is mentioned in the study that "it is not clear whether the effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection can be detected in milder cases", which shows that the patients in the study are mainly heavy patients.

Through reading, I found that the only reference to 10 years (10 years) in the original article was the following sentence (Figure 3): "It also showed that the duration of olfactory loss for those with acquired olfactory dysfunction, ranging from 0 to over 10 years, was related to a more pronounced loss of grey matter in the gyrus rectus and orbitofrontal cortex ". Translated, "The study also showed that the duration of olfactory loss for those with acquired olfactory dysfunction, ranging from 0 to over 10 years, was related to a more pronounced loss of grey matter in the gyrus rectus and orbitofrontal cortex."

Here 0 to 10 years is the discussion part, which means that the duration of olfactory loss in patients with acquired olfactory disorder can last from 0 to 10 years, not that the loss of smell caused by the new coronavirus lasts that long, much less the damage to the brain. Also, this discussion, not the findings of this NATURE paper, but the findings of other papers cited, is the paper in parentheses below (Postma, E. M., Smeets, P. A. M., Boek, W. M. & Boesveldt, S. Investigating morphological changes in the brain in relation to etiology and duration of olfactory dysfunction with voxel-based morphometry. Sci. Rep. 11, 12704 (2021). .

Challenges to a media number's report on the effects of the new coronavirus on human health

Figure 3 References to 10 years in the original research paper and its Chinese translation

Notably, the patients studied in the Oxford study were studied until May 2021, and an average of 141 days had passed since the patients were infected with the virus, indicating that the patients were infected with the virus almost in early 2021 or late 2020. It is almost 2 years until November 2022. The virus has mutated several times and is not as virulent as it was, I believe (Figure 4).

Challenges to a media number's report on the effects of the new coronavirus on human health

Figure 4 Time to infection of patients in the original research paper