COVID19, Lag Ba-Omer edition: active cases graphs around (mostly) Europe; more sophisticated model predicts much smaller herd immunity thresholds; Swedish healthcare problems; N-acetylcysteine

Today is the minor Jewish holiday of Lag ba-Omer (33rd day of the omer count), which marks the end of a plague raging in the Holy Land (in the 2nd Century CE) that swept away the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.

(1) Speaking of modern plagues ending, where do we stand in various countries vis-a-vis active cases? Let me show you some graphs (screenshotted from worldometers) below. (Definition, for the avoidance of doubt: active cases = total – cured – deceased.)

below half of peak
one-quarter of peak
1/8 of peak
also about 1/8 of peak
Italy seems to be getting out of the woods now
with fits and starts, but overall trending down
Turning to Scandinavia: Denmark at about half of peak
Recoveries/cured data lack for Norway, but new cases are guttering out. In good shape.
Finland seems to report recoveries on certain days of the week, hence a sawtooth pattern
Sweden is quite another matter (see below)
France has had near-constant active cases for almost a month
Belgium seems to have reached a plateau
Down Under, Australia is doing great, as is New Zealand. But will be watching their numbers as the weather turns cooler there, for evidence of seasonality

The UK is not out of the woods yet. The US is just too big to look upon as a single country — and I cannot easily find recovery data at the individual states’ level. Suffice to say NYC and suburban counties in NJ and CT are skewing the results to such an extent that they mask recoveries in other states.

One remark about the European and Israel graphs with lots of recoveries, however. While these countries all went on lockdown, essentially all of them have “opened up” to greater (Austria) or lesser (Germany) extent — and the “second wave” that people kept talking about has yet to materialize.

(2) Today an interesting preprint crossed my virtual desk. The authors, from Brown U, Georgia Tech, and the Technical U. of Denmark, look (mostly with paper and pencil math) at models for the spread of an epidemic absent any social distancing, and why these models almost invariably highball estimates of final spread.
TL;DR: they show that if the remaining population’s susceptibility to an infection is not assumed to be “all or nothing” but to span a range, then the first-order behavior of the simple model changes to second-order, and you end up with way lower final states. As a sanity test, they ran the 2009 H1N1 flu (where no social distancing measures were taken) and with their 2nd order model got final numbers of infected way closer to actual serological data than the traditional 1st order model (see figure below).

Related (h/t: masgramondou): which points to

Both papers indicate, among other things, that the infection rate required to reach herd immunity is much lower than the simple first-order model indicates — and the figures would be lower still with some limited social distancing in effect. (Even Sweden imposed some.)

(3) Concerning Sweden, Die Welt (in German) looks at what it calls the Swedish Sonderweg (“special road [taken or followed]”). Notably, it does not attribute the much higher mortality (compared to fellow Scandinavian countries) just to its not entering a lockdown (some voluntary social distancing measures are in place) — but to the “limping” Swedish healthcare system (marodes Gesundheitssystem).
They are at pains to point out that this is not a matter of money — Sweden has the 2nd highest pro capita spending in the EU, after Germany — but of inefficiency, administrative bloat, and wastage. Once upon a time, Sweden had 49.5 ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants, which today would be the highest in the world, above even the USA. Today? Just 5.8.
Even before the COVID19 crisis, 12% of elective surgery patients has to wait 4 months or more, compared to 2% in France and none at all in Germany. One-fifth of Swedes have to wait more than 2 months for a specialist appointment, compared to only 3% in Germany.
Much like Israel’s public system, rapid access for life-threatening emergencies in Sweden is maintained at the expense of ever greater delays for everything else. [But much unlike Israel, Sweden entered the present crisis without the benefit of a young population and a warm, sunny winter and spring climate…] Doctors in the public system are salaried employees of the state, with all that entails in terms of (lack of) incentives…

(4) Finally, as a “lagniappe” 🙂 a video by Roger Seheult MD about the over-the-counter mucolytic N-acetylcysteine, and how it could be surprisingly useful for COVID19 patients as an antioxidant and even anticoagulant. I will comment on this more tomorrow — gotta run now! Let me add, however, that this one is definitely in the “even if it doesn’t help, it won’t harm” category, as N-acetylcysteine has no meaningful toxicity.

A couple of papers cited by Dr. Seheult:

Attenuation of influenza-like symptomatology and improvement of cell-mediated immunity with long-term N-acetylcysteine treatment; S De Flora, C Grassi, L Carati; European Respiratory Journal 1997 10: 1535-1541; DOI:

N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) inhibits virus replication and expression of pro-inflammatory molecules in A549 cells infected with highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza A virus

Potent Thrombolytic Effect of N-Acetylcysteine on Arterial Thrombi

See also

13 thoughts on “COVID19, Lag Ba-Omer edition: active cases graphs around (mostly) Europe; more sophisticated model predicts much smaller herd immunity thresholds; Swedish healthcare problems; N-acetylcysteine

  1. Is the chart from IHME fort state by state not useful for you?

    They appear to be doing the infections-dead-recovered thing, although I know some states don’t report the recovered.

    Of course, they don’t exactly offer a lot of information…..

  2. The article from Die Welt is behind a hard paywall. Can you point me to a version that doesn’t require giving them my credit card? Thanks!

    • Over here it’s sold OTC as effervescent tablets, as a mucolytic (“sputum loosener”, “crud loosener”). Typically 1 tablet dissolved in water, 3x a day, is the usual dose in chest colds. (I just checked: each tablet contains 200mg of the active ingredient.) Here are some different brand names around the world: ar
      Stuff is dirt cheap here. It’s basically just the amino acid cysteine with a protective group on it.

      “The University of Michigan Health System notes the following daily doses were used in clinical trials evaluating NAC for various conditions: Bronchitis, 400 mg to 600 mg; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 200 mg three times a day; angina, 600 mg three times a day; gastritis, 1,000 mg; HIV/AIDS, 800 mg.”

  3. […] Stockholm has antibodies — still some distance to herd immunity in the usual first-order model. [In the second-order “differential susceptibility” model, apparently 30% is already &#821….] Mortality per 100,000 is much higher than the other Scandinavian countries (see graph below): to […]

  4. […] far from herd immunity, but not as far as people may think: consider the revised version of the higher-order herd immunity paper,now retitled “Heterogeneity in susceptibility […]

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