Top 10: December 16

Copy-editor: Rob Camp


Mutambudzi M, Niedwiedz C, Macdonald EB, et al. Occupation and risk of severe COVID-19: prospective cohort study of 120 075 UK Biobank participants. Occup Environ Med. 2020 Dec 9:oemed-2020-106731. PubMed: Full-text:

Essential workers such as healthcare workers (RR 7.43, 95% CI 5.52 to 10.00), social and education workers (RR 1.84, 95% CI 1.21 to 2.82) and other essential workers (RR 1.60, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.45) appear to have a higher risk of severe COVID-19. This is the result of a prospective cohort study of 120.075 persons, (employed or self-employed, alive and aged < 65 years in 2020), of whom 271 had severe COVID-19. We need to protect them!


Althoff KN, Laeyendecker O, Li R, et al. SARS-CoV-2 antibody status in decedents undergoing forensic postmortem examination in Maryland, May 24 to June 30, 2020. Open Forum Infect Dis 2020, published 15 December. Full-text:

Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies was 10% among the subset of decedents undergoing forensic post-mortem examination in June in Maryland. Decedents of motor vehicle crashes had similar seroprevalence compared to those with a natural death (including decedents with SARS-CoV-2 infection). Decedents of motor vehicle crashes may be a sentinel surveillance population.



Lu M, Uchil PD, Li W, et al. Real-Time Conformational Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 Spikes on Virus Particles. Cell Host Microbe. 2020 Dec 9;28(6):880-891.e8. PubMed: Full-text:

More on the mechanisms of S (SARS-CoV-2 spike) recognition and conformations for immunogen design. The authors apply single-molecule fluorescence (Förster) resonance energy transfer (smFRET) imaging to observe conformational dynamics of S on viral particles, showing transitions from a closed ground state to the open receptor-accessible conformation via an on-path intermediate.

See also the comment by Serrão VHB, Lee JE. FRETing over SARS-CoV-2: Conformational Dynamics of the Spike Glycoprotein. Cell Host Microbe 2020, published 9 December. Full-text:



McLellan  A, Godlee F. Covid 19: Christmas relaxation will overwhelm services. BMJ 2020, published 15 December. Full-text:

Since the UK’s first lockdown in March, the government has had one (perhaps only one) consistent message—protect the NHS. Now, with the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 again on the rise, and a third wave almost inevitable, the New Year is likely to see NHS trusts facing a stark choice: be overwhelmed or stop most elective and non-urgent work. Rather than lifting restrictions over Christmas as currently planned, the UK should follow the more cautious examples of Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. To protect the NHS, the UK government must abandon plans for household mixing.


Lewis D. Why many countries failed at COVID contact-tracing — but some got it right. Nature 2020, published 14 December. Full-text:

Nine months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, few countries are wielding contact-tracing effectively. Even rich nations have struggled with one of the most basic and important methods for controlling infectious diseases.



Bubar KM, Reinhold K, Kissler SM, et al. Model-informed COVID-19 vaccine prioritization strategies by age and serostatus. medRxiv 2020, posted 7 December. Full-text:

Over the coming months, the supply of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will be limited. Who should receive the first available vaccine doses? It depends. If your priority is preventing as many transmissions as possible, give the vaccine to adults aged 20-49. If you want to minimize mortality and years of life lost, vaccine the 60+ years old.


Severe COVID

Koehler P, Bassetti M, Chakrabarti A, et al. Defining and managing COVID-19-associated pulmonary aspergillosis: the 2020 ECMM/ISHAM consensus criteria for research and clinical guidance. Lancet Infect Dis 2020, published 14 December. Full-text: 2020. Full-text:

SARS-CoV-2 causes direct damage to the airway epithelium, enabling aspergillus invasion, and azole-resistant aspergillus have been reported. Philipp Koehler et al. present a consensus statement on defining and managing COVID-19-associated pulmonary aspergillosis, endorsed by medical mycology societies. Among the key messages: a) Three different grades are proposed (possible, probable, and proven COVID-19-associated invasive pulmonary aspergillosis [CAPA]) to enable researchers to homogeneously classify patients in registries and interventional clinical trials; b) voriconazole or isavuconazole are recommended as first-line treatment for possible, probable, and proven CAPA.


Collateral Effects

Jones N. How COVID-19 is changing the cold and flu season. Nature 2020, published 15 December. Full-text:

By mid-December, the Northern Hemisphere is usually well into the start of its annual cold and flu season — but so far this year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges in dozens of countries, the levels of many common seasonal infections remain extremely low. Measures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications.


Beyond Corona

Viruses, microscopy and fast radio bursts: 10 remarkable discoveries from 2020. Nature 2020, published 14 December. Full-text:

Highlights from News & Views published this year:

  1. Fight or flight turns hair white — Shayla A. Clark and Christopher D. Deppmann
  2. Matter–antimatter symmetry violated — Silvia Pascoli and Jessica Turner
  3. Jet stream stops shifting as ozone layer recovers — Alexey Yu. Karpechko
  4. Incest uncovered at elite prehistoric Irish burial site — Alison Sheridan
  5. Satellites could soon map every tree on Earth — Niall P. Hanan and Julius Y. Anchang
  6. Latent HIV gets a shock — Mathias Lichterfeld
  7. Engineering a picky eater — Jessica L. Zung and Carolyn S. McBride
  8. A fast radio burst in our own Galaxy — Amanda Weltman and Anthony Walters
  9. Cryo-electron microscopy reaches atomic resolution — Mark A. Herzik Jr
  10. Interferon deficiency can lead to severe COVID — Eric Meffre and Akiko Iwasaki


Video. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu. (This video has no sound.) Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona



If you read French, read Bordenet C. « Se retrouver dans la file du Secours populaire, ça donne envie de chialer » : les nouveaux visages de la précarité. Le Monde 2020, published 15 December. Full-text :

Ils sont intérimaires, intermittents du spectacle, jeunes diplômés… Privés de travail à cause de la crise, ils sont contraints de se tourner vers les banques alimentaires pour la première fois.


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