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Research Roundup: Vaping and COVID-19, immune systems of severe coronavirus patients, guidelines for reopening schools

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Aug 9 – Aug 15.

Teenage vaping linked to increased risk of catching COVID-19

Teenagers and young adults who vape may have a higher risk of developing COVID-19, a study published on Aug. 11 in “Journal of Adolescent Health” found.

“This study tells us pretty clearly that youth who are using vapes or are dual-using [e-cigarettes and cigarettes] are at elevated risk, and it’s not just a small increase in risk; It’s a big one,” adolescent medicine postdoctoral researcher Shivani Mathur Gaiha told Stanford Medicine News.

The online survey was conducted in May with over 4,300 participants aged 13 to 24 in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories. The findings suggested teens who vaped were five to seven times more likely to catch the coronavirus than people who did not vape.

“Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs,” pediatrics professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher told Stanford Medicine News.

Immune system deviations among severe coronavirus patients

In some coronavirus patients, certain innate immune cells which typically destroy bacteria and viruses are slow to respond to the coronavirus, a study published on Aug. 11 in “Science” found.

“These findings reveal how the immune system goes awry during coronavirus infections, leading to severe disease, and point to potential therapeutic targets,” pathology and microbiology and immunology professor Bali Pulendran told Stanford Medicine News.

The findings suggest that there are immune system deviations present that affect whether patients develop severe or mild cases of COVID-19. In severe coronavirus patients, researchers found elevated levels of pro-inflammatory bacterial debris circulating in the blood.

“One of the great mysteries of COVID-19 infections has been that some people develop severe disease, while others seem to recover quickly,” Pulendran told Stanford Medicine News. “Now we have some insights into why that happens.”

Proposed guidelines for reopening schools 

Stanford researchers propose strict guidelines for reopening schools to protect youth and teachers from coronavirus infections, a study published on Aug. 11 in “JAMA Pediatrics” reports.

“Prolonged school closures can exacerbate socioeconomic disparities, causing negative education and health outcomes, and amplifying existing educational inequalities,” pediatrics associate professor Jason Wang told Stanford Medicine News. 

“School closure may also aggravate food insecurity, domestic violence and mental health disorders,” he added. “Many children from low-income households obtain food through the National School Lunch Program, and estimates suggest that 1 in 4 children may face hunger this year due to COVID-19.”

The research recommends that school districts work with local hospitals to take a three-pronged approach to testing students for the coronavirus. The recommendations include testing all students with symptoms, randomly selecting students and teachers to test and identify asymptomatic individuals and offering more frequent testing to students from high-risk households in zip codes with socioeconomic challenges.

“Schools will need to ensure equitable implementation of online education among students, especially those with limited knowledge of or access to technological resources and consider subsidizing educational technologies for these students,” Wang and second-year medical student Henry Bair wrote in the research article.

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