Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Newsletter 116, Summer 2021

It is important that the public have access to health information based on good quality evidence. In March 2020 the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine created the Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service to conduct evidence reviews on important questions about the science of the pandemic. In the summer of the pandemic, volunteers at HealthWatch worked with them to produce lay summaries of their reviews.

England and Wales mortality during the COVID-19 outbreak – a lay summary

In an outbreak, people focus on deaths resulting from the infection. But understanding the impact the infection is having on overall death rates can provide vital information about its effect in the population at large. This summary has been updated with figures published by the Office for National Statistics on the 30th June 2020.

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What is the evidence to support the 2-metre social distancing rule to reduce COVID-19 transmission? – a lay summary

The UK government’s rule that social distancing should be set at two metres, is set to be eased to "one metre plus" in England on 4th July. The 2 metre rule had been based on the assumption that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus responsible for the disease COVID-19 – is transmitted mainly via large droplets sneezed or coughed onto other people or surfaces. The reality, we now know, is more complex. What effect could the easing of the rule have on safety?

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Loss of smell and taste as symptoms of COVID-19: what does the evidence say? – a lay summary

Since late March, a loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) has increasingly been discussed as a symptom in people with COVID-19. At the time, the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine’s look at this question concluded the evidence available was limited and inconclusive, but worthy of further investigation. Since then some new reports have emerged. So, are we getting any nearer to a definitive answer?

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The FDA has authorised remdesivir for use in COVID-19 patients: but there’s no good evidence it reduces mortality – a lay summary

At the end of April, the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) announced in a press release that their clinical trial on the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir had shown that it “accelerates recovery from advanced COVID-19”. Two days later, the drug was authorized by the US FDA to be “distributed and used by licensed health care providers to treat adults and children hospitalized with severe COVID-19”. This may look like an important breakthrough in treatment. However, there are concerns over the trial, and with how the results have been used.

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Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates – a lay summary

Media and scientific reports on the coronavirus pandemic refer to estimates of Case Fatality Rate (CFR) and Infection Fatality Rate (IFR). What is the difference, why should the figures vary so much between countries, and how do they help us understand the risk of dying from COVID-19? 

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What is the evidence for anosmia (loss of sense of smell) as a clinical feature of COVID-19? – a lay summary

In recent media stories some COVID-19 patients have reported that they seemed to lose some or all of their sense of smell. This review looked into whether this could be an actual clinical feature linked to COVID-19.

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Hand Disinfectant and COVID-19 – a lay summary

We have known since the mid-19th Century that washing hands can save lives. That was when the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis showed that when he introduced regular handwashing in his obstetric ward, mortality from infection fell by 90% in two years. Could handwashing have the same effect on COVID-19?

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Reconciling COVID-19 death data in the UK – a lay summary

How many people have died from COVID-19 in the UK?  It’s complicated. Different official sources give different answers. Let’s look at why this happens for the updates on the numbers of COVID-19 deaths compiled and published for England and the UK. 

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What is the efficacy of standard face masks compared to respirator masks in preventing COVID-type respiratory illnesses in primary care staff? – a lay summary

Standard surgical face masks are loose-fitting, while respirator masks (known in the USA as N95 and in the UK as a Filtering Face Piece or FFP mask) are designed to fit closely to the user’s face and be more efficient at filtering out tiny airborne particles and droplets. There are concerns over the risk posed by shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care staff, so this review wanted to see whether having to use standard surgical masks could pose a hazard to those who cannot access respirator masks.

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Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine: Current evidence for their effectiveness in treating COVID-19 - a lay summary

Chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) are cheap and widely available drugs that have been used in the treatment of conditions including malaria and rheumatoid arthritis. There has been much media speculation over their potential as treatments for COVID-19. What is the evidence?

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Should we prescribe longer repeat prescriptions for patients with long-term conditions during a pandemic? – a lay summary

In England, most prescriptions issued are for 1-2 months duration. It has been suggested that during the current pandemic, issuing 3-monthly prescriptions for patients with stable chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or asthma could save time and money for health services, and reduce the need for risky person-to-person contact when people should stay at home. What does the evidence say?

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Accuracy of strip-like forehead thermometers – a lay summary

Plastic strip thermometers that are laid on the forehead are popular with parents as they are cheap and easy to use, especially with sleeping or uncooperative children. But can you rely on their readings?

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What is the evidence for social distancing during global pandemics? – a lay summary

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has mandated “social distancing” measures, such as restricting when people can leave their homes, and closing schools and public spaces, to reduce transmission of the virus. Are the measures likely to be enough? Or too much?

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What is the effectiveness and safety of antiviral or antibody treatments for coronavirus? – a lay summary

Are there yet any safe and effective drugs we can use to fight infection with COVID-19? This review looked at the available evidence around medicines that have so far been used against coronaviruses, with the hope of identifying safe and effective treatments for the current outbreak.

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How accurate is the wrist style blood pressure cuff folks tend to buy from the chemist/online? – a lay summary

There is some early evidence that high blood pressure may be linked to poorer outcomes in those hospitalized with the most severe effects of COVID-19 infection. Wrist blood pressure monitors are cheap, easy to use and readily available online and from pharmacies. But do they give you an accurate reading?

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