THE TWO Rs
YOU might have heard a lot in the past week about the ‘R’ number and a drug called remdesivir. So what’s all the fuss about?
The R number has been talked about a lot lately in relation to relaxing the lockdown. Also known simply as R or the “effective reproduction number”, it’s a way for scientists to monitor a disease’s ability to spread.
R is the average number of people who one infected person will pass the virus on to. It’s vital that R stays below one, because if it rises above that, the virus will spread faster and faster. The closer to zero it is, the slower the virus is spreading. As First News went to press, the Government’s scientific advisers say that R is between 0.6 and 0.9.
If R stays below one, the epidemic should eventually die down – though it takes time, and without social distancing and other measures, R can quickly rise again.
When the COVID-19 epidemic started, scientists think R was between 2-3. To give you an idea how that compares with other diseases, measles’ R number is thought to be 12-18. That’s why it’s so important that people are vaccinated against measles – it spreads really quickly and easily.
Another ‘r’ has been in the news a lot lately, and that’s the drug remdesivir (right). It was originally developed to treat Ebola, and works by stopping a virus from multiplying inside the body. In the US, the agency that controls the medicines doctors are allowed to use has issued an emergency approval so that it can be used to treat people with COVID-19. President Trump has been hyping it up, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Perhaps not. A study of 237 adults in Wuhan, China, found it “did not provide significant benefits” over a placebo (a substance given to a patient in a trial that has no physical effect on them). The study may also not be as accurate as was hoped. That’s because it was stopped early after scientists were unable to recruit enough patients due to the steep fall in COVID-19 cases in China.