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In science's battle against COVID-19, it's fair to say that headlines can be confusing. Everything from masks to heat to the drug remdesivir has been presented, depending on the week, in a vastly different light. It's easy to lose track of what's the next big hope in fighting the coronavirus and its spread and what's not worth the hype.
So you may be wondering how medical science can be so contradictory. But the reality is, for the most part, research is proceeding mostly as it should, which is similar to the way a football makes it to the end zone: inch by hard-won inch, with plenty of backsliding.
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The difference with the novel coronavirus is that such early studies — ones that under more normal circumstances would be shared with only a tight circle of academics — now swiftly make news around the world. In essence, we're watching behind-the-scenes medical science unfold before our eyes.
Getting initial information out quickly has benefits for fighting a new disease that poses a widespread threat, but it also means people need to be especially discerning, says Anupam B. Jena, M.D., associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “What you're reading in the news is work that is preliminary. Investigators are releasing their results so others can benefit, which is appropriate.” The problem, he says, is that no one has had time to completely vet the findings.
To experts, none of the seemingly contradictory back-and-forth that unfolds is surprising. “Ideally, as soon as researchers find something, it would always be true. But that just does not happen,” Jena says. Instead, knowledge about every disease is continually updated with newer research until, eventually, a more complete picture emerges.