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Listener supported WNYC Studios. Wait, you're OK? You're listening to Radiolab Radio from WNYC. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

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This is Radio. So last week we did a big episode about the 1918 flu, thinking about this invisible enemy. This week, we've got two stories about a couple of invisible allies.

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OK, well, and we're going to kick things off with producer Simon Adler.

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So we're going to start at a homeless shelter in Boston.

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Hi. This is called the Pine Street in a Jim Simon here from Radiolab. Oh, Simon, how are you? Thank you for calling. Oh, yeah. How are you? Does now still work for you? Yeah, no, no, it work.

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And a very busy doctor there, Dr Jim O'Connell, Internal Medicine Dockett and G.H. and the president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program.

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And he says back this past winter as this wave of covid-19 was making its way towards North America, he and everybody in this community of health care providers who work with the homeless were were freaked.

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You know, really good measures for controlling this is to physically distance and to quarantine. Wash your hands frequently and to shelter at home. And when you crawl into our perspective of being a homeless person or homeless provider, those things are rendered just absurd. And we're looking at 500 people sitting in what we were thinking of as a powder keg.

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And so to try to head this thing off, they did all sorts of preparations. They built tents in various places. They scrambled to find extra beds around the city.

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How many beds do we need? We were guessing entirely, yes.

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And every evening as the homeless folks would return to the shelter for the night, they'd get their temperatures taken and have a brief interview with a shelter worker next year.

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Have you experienced any of these symptoms, yada, yada, yada? Exactly.

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Jim and his team just did what they could and braced for that powder keg to ignite.

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Yes. However. By mid-March, with thousands of cases appearing all over the United States, we were not seeing anybody turn positive. No one seems to be getting sick, huh? Now, this was surprising, but Jim says we've seen this before.

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We've seen infectious diseases hit the homeless population last year. And so we sort of laughingly said none of our folks have traveled to China or Europe.

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So, you know, maybe this thing's just taking its time. But another dramatic and deadly turn into the end of March draws near the most reported coronavirus.

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Major cities across the U.S. are in trouble. Eighty thousand confirmed cases in the unsheltered, still nothing.

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We didn't have anybody positive. It's only baffling. And it wasn't just them. They call up the Los Angeles homeless shelters.

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Nobody there in San Francisco had not yet seen anyone at the end of March. Basically, nobody in Atlanta, even in Seattle, they hadn't seen any among the homeless population.

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So already there sort of like what the hell is going on? We thought we were going to be hit hardest. We aren't being hit. And they're just sort of left in this state of bewilderment until April 2nd when they get enough tests from the state to do universal testing.

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We screened and tested everybody. They put four hundred and eight people through the test. They shoved the thing up their nose. These are sort of the gold standard in tests at the time. They wait a few days and the results there were one hundred and forty seven positive tests that night.

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Out of the four hundred and eight, that's about 40 percent. OK, and of those no symptoms whatsoever, not a single person was symptomatic, really, it blew our mind.

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They did more tests at other shelters throughout the city, 30 to 40 percent to all asymptomatic, exact same results.

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That is really, really strange. Again, they look to other shelters across the country. Jim O'Connell calls up his friends doing work in other cities, and many of them are seeing this same phenomenon as well.

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Weird. Why me? Well, oddly, the answer might just be found by looking up.

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But first, backwards a century prior. It's September 1918, the Spanish flu is raging through Boston, killing a massive 40 percent of those who are hospitalized, and in particular, it's hitting sailors, merchant Marines, the hardest.

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In fact, there were so many of them coming off the boats that they had to erect these temporary tent hospitals, including one they named Camp Brooks.

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Cannon-Brookes. Yes. Yeah, yeah. This is Richard Hobday, researcher and author.

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And he says Brooks, the special I mean, what they did was they recognized what they were doing wasn't working. In effect, it was they were dying. So they decided. Right. Will change, change your direction and do something else.

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So instead of leaving the sailors in these dank tents, CANNON-BROOKES whenever they were able to do it, the patients were taken outside in their beds and put out sign, just roll out their beds, just push the beds out into the courtyard or something.

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Exactly. At the time, there was indication that putting people outdoors helped with tuberculosis. And so they thought, why not give it a shot here, too?

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And then at the end of the day, when the sun going back in and by the end of the first night, almost every patient, without exception, had a lower temperature at night than during the morning and felt decidedly more comfortable from the first day.

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The results were startling and pretty damn quickly they'd managed to cut the death rate by two thirds. Wow, really, just by just by pushing them out into the out into the air.

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Yeah, that just that's that's a stark difference that you trust those numbers there from the the surgeon general of the Massachusetts State Guard, the medical officer responsible for the sailor's care. Interesting. And he's saying we don't like we don't know why this is working, but it's working.

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And so bringing this back to the president, tying this all together as researchers were scratching their heads over this homeless shelter mystery and looking back to these sailors, they started to think, OK, maybe this has something to do with with sunlight.

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Sunlight. Yes. Thank you very much.

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You remember at that press conference back in April when President Trump made this daffy unfounded statements about UV lights?

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Supposedly we hit somebody with a tremendous whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light and injecting disinfectant injection inside for which he was berated to no end. Sounds interesting to me.

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Well, turns out others thought that the sun and sunlight were interesting things to look at as well.

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To be clear, by all indications, they were interested in sunlight, not for any of the reasons that President Trump was, but because sunlight and the sun is is how we get the majority of our of our vitamin D.

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Whoa. So the. Wow. So they're in there in the sun more. That's the thought in.

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Yes. Homeless individuals and the sailors, the idea goes, are less likely to be vitamin D deficient.

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I've heard people talk about sunlight and vitamin D, but I don't even really know what vitamin D is.

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So vitamin D actually isn't a vitamin in the traditional sense, because generally vitamins are things that exist outside of the body that we need to ingest to get. That's not actually the case with vitamin D.

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Our bodies can make the stuff in-house and the way we do so is is sort of cosmically astonishing. Basically, we've got this Proteau cholesterol molecule in our skin and that cholesterol is just sort of sitting there doing its thing. But when it gets hit with sunlight, so imagine the tip of your nose as you step out into the sun. In that moment, a little portion of that Proteau cholesterol molecule on your nose, what's known as a carbon bond, gets broken.

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Now, what exactly a carbon bond is, I couldn't tell you it's something molecular.

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But anyways, with that carbon bond broken, that cholesterol molecule becomes untethered from your nose and can now be absorbed into your bloodstream. Goes through the bloodstream. Up, up, up, up, up, down, down, down from your nose into the liver, where it picks up hydrogen and oxygen molecules, then back into the bloodstream. Up, up, up, up, up, up. Another stop, this time in the kidneys, some more molecular magic.

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And then finally, it pops out the other side as what we now know as vitamin D. And thinking about this, what sort of crazy is like? It's as close as we get to being plants or it's like the closest connection we have to plants. It's our own little form of photosynthesis that's happening every minute we're out in the sun.

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Yeah, and crazier still, turns out this little photosynthesise vitamin is correlating with covid in a series of strange.

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Hi, this is Frank. Hey, Frank. Simon here from Radiolab. How's it going?

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One of which was noticed by this guy, Dr. Frank Lao's, associate professor of plastic surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, as he was looking at covid patients in the ICU.

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The core question is, OK, what seems to be driving the more severe cases? And so something's popped out like, you know, nutrition, obesity, diabetes rates and so forth. But the one factor that really stood out as being explanatory is vitamin D insufficiency.

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Folks with mild symptoms had plenty of it. Well, folks in the hospital didn't have much.

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The ones who are really, really sick, I mean, some of them had undetectable levels of vitamin D and well, his paper is is pre published.

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It hasn't been peer reviewed yet because the science is moving very fast.

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This has been seen in other hospitals throughout the United States as well.

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So that's the sort of local correlation.

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And then if we zoom out globally, a team from Northwestern recently compared the severity of cases, the mortality rate between different countries.

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And what they found was that the best predictor of how poorly a country would fare, how high their mortality rate would be was its rate of vitamin D deficiency, basically the more vitamin D deficient a country was. The more bad outcomes they were expected to have and so why would this be? I mean, why how would vitamin D help us against coronavirus?

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So vitamin D helps regulate your immune system both by turning parts of it up and by turning other parts of it down. Now, when it comes to turning things up, your macrophages, the sort of warrior cells of your immune system that go out and kill the bad viruses, germs, et cetera, vitamin D scoops them up. It makes them better fighters.

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And, well, this is definitely important. It's actually vitamin D ability to slow things down.

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That's looking more and more vital as the body fights covid-19 overproduction of molecules called cytokines can trigger a cytokine storm.

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So the cytokine storms, which you may have heard about in the news, are essentially your immune system going haywire where the immune system attacks the body's own vital organs.

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Like one way it was explained to me is that it's like your immune system switching from being a sniper, precisely targeting individual foes into a machine gun or just brazenly firing all around, leading to way more damage than protection. And here's the thing. Vitamin D reduces the production of these cytokines.

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Oh, interesting. Possibly preventing that sniper from becoming a machine gunner in the first place and reducing your likelihood of having one of these cytokine storms, huh?

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Has this where are we in terms of confidence about that this is, in fact a thing, right? We're definitely in the early days here. And as I said, this is still all just correlation.

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But you are beginning to see some people say that we know enough to act, that we should start recommending vitamin D supplements, which is controversial in part because those recommendations are often involving race.

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The NHS is to launch an investigation into why people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be affected by covid-19.

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So leaving the states here for a minute in the UK, much like in the US, there are racial disparities in the number of covid deaths, specifically when it comes to doctors and medical workers.

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The first 10 doctors to die from the disease were from ethnic minorities. 65 per cent of all NHS workers who have died from covid-19 are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. Yes, yes.

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We started noticing this disparity way back in April. This is Dr Pirogues Singhal.

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He is a British endocrinologist and also the national secretary of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

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Now our main aim is to offer Indian origin doctors protection from racism discrimination, which happens.

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They've got about 8000 members.

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And he says back in April, he started hearing from them because at that time they were, I think, 13 or 14 deaths of health care workers.

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And all of them were, from what you call them, which is black, Asian minority ethnic population bammy or doctors of color, I think, as we would call them in the United States.

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Yes. Yes, that's right. And that got us very so the sort of series of proposed more prevalence of diabetes in BME population, socio economic deprivation, and then also this vitamin D idea.

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I mean, we know for a fact that if we are black, it's very difficult to absorb sunlight. And indeed, that's the bottom line. And the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in that population is enormous.

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And so knowledge of that fact, plus then these early correlational studies that were coming out that started us to understand that maybe the community has something to do with it, huh?

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So folks with just so I can pull that apart for saying of folks with darker skin, have less vitamin D, folks with darker skin have a harder time synthesizing vitamin D and folks with darker skin are far more likely to be vitamin D deficient.

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So in the US here, 82 percent of African-Americans are vitamin D deficient, which is which is about double that of the general population. And well, in the UK, those rates aren't identical. They're comparably similar.

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So the thought is that because vitamin D deficiency correlates well with covid mortality and because communities of color have greater levels of vitamin D deficiency, maybe those two are linked in some way.

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Yes, that is the thought. So we started highlighting this.

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They sent out a message encouraging all of their 8000 members and their families to take their vitamin D supplement.

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We started a public awareness campaign through TV and so forth.

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But then just a couple of weeks later, you know, I was part of a focus group discussing over time how disproportionate impact it has had to this focus group.

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Doctor Sinkhole was part of was made up primarily of doctors and politicians of color.

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And during a meeting, Dr. Singhal brought up this idea of vitamin D, even offered to pay for vitamin D supplements for communities of color in that region.

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And the answer from that being politician who was creating the group. Look, these are the exact words that vitamin D is a distraction.

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It's all about racism to which sinkholes like nobody's saying that that is not at play. Of course, access to care who gets defined as an essential worker or are massive factors here.

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And I'm not denying that there is a terrible tradition of blaming minorities biology for the shortcomings of society.

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It is what you call systemic racism. You know, there has been a credit, there is deprivation. We know that. And I belong to the Indian community. I am from Indian background. And I'm well aware of the systemic issues, no doubt about it.

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But nonetheless, that doesn't seem to be the only thing going on here, particularly when you consider this all started because we were talking about doctors dying.

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Doctors come from reasonably affluent backgrounds. They are not living in poverty.

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And interestingly, if you look at the data from the first week of May onwards, so several weeks after their members started taking vitamin D, there had been, according to my understanding, there has not been any health care worker deaths after that due to call it no. Vitamin C was only Fekter. Right.

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But you think that some of that could be due to vitamin D?

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Yes. Yes, we believe very much. Believe so, yes. And so he's like, come on, there's a possibility we can save live. Here, like we can't solve systemic racism overnight, we can solve vitamin D deficiency in a week.

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I mean, as medics of a first principle and first philosophy has to be do no harm. And what we have done is by not pursuing the path of vitamin D, we have caused harm. So back to your question of how confident we should be in all this. Well, we know that vitamin D is good for us. If you ask the top brass here in the United States, the CDC, how effective it is against the coronavirus.

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We do have to we have to wait a little bit to be able to get enough data to answer these types of questions.

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They'll tell you, as Dr. Emily Messias of the CDC told me, it's just still too early to say. And, well, there is undeniably something remarkable happening here in in these homeless shelters.

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Again, it's hard to draw a conclusion on what this means. We don't know if it means that people who are homeless have higher proportions of asymptomatic infection than anybody else.

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To determine that, we would need a comparison group like universal testing of a comparable population.

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You know, another group of people living in a kongregate setting of a similar age.

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But since we're still not really doing universal testing anywhere other than in prisons and nursing homes, we're really only testing people showing symptoms. No such comparison group exists. So it's possible that that most of us that are infected are carrying it around in an asymptomatic manner. And just to complicate this one final level further, Dr. Mercedes's points out that as far as vitamin D levels in homeless people go, people who are experiencing homelessness are pretty undercounted and under studied.

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So there's not a ton of information. But the information we do have about nutrients and about vitamin D shows that they're actually more likely to be deficient. Oh, really? Yeah.

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Yet another thing we don't have enough data on.

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Well, well, OK. So what where do you go from here or at this point, what's the advice that you give? Because clearly you have a more thorough, robust study coming down the pike here. But in the meantime, just everybody should be popping their vitamin D supplements and making sure they're not deficient.

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Yeah, I mean, I think once more, Dr. Frank Liow, I wouldn't even say the supplements necessarily.

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You know, if you get 10 or 15 minutes of sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., that's when peak UVB rays are in our presence in the sunlight, you get you can get your daily dose of vitamin D. So they also are outside right now.

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Are you outside getting your identity boost?

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I am, yeah. I can hear the crows I hear in the background.

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So right now, so right now we're like getting it, we're having like a chemical thing happen to us because of some sort of crazy today, that is totally crazy.

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Before I let you go hear, make or break the episode, as we were finishing this thing, our producer, Annie McCune and I went on a sort of remote bike ride together, her in Brooklyn and me here in Wisconsin, really just to take a moment and take in the majesty. That is the sun, the thought I've sort of been having. I think it's sort of a lovely thought even. Well, the natural world has decided that it wants to get us with this tiny little virus, this microscopic, for millions of miles away.

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There's a giant or huge and full then. Yeah, that is that is in a small way, trying to send us a bit of protection, is trying to help us. That's basically a car. Almost hit a cab. Ah yes. I'm focusing again. My mother my mother is biking by one reporter, Simon Adler. I am here and producer Annie McEwen came by and he said that.

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When we come back, we're going to get elemental, I guess you could say we're going to look at one more invisible ally that we're just now understanding thanks to this pandemic.

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Anyhow, that's coming up after the break. Science reporting on Radiolab is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a science foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

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Can you hear me now? I can hear you say, oh, lord, lordy, lordy, look who's 40, haven't talked to you in, like a year. I know, right?

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What's on our agenda? It's ah, it's funny. On your hands. Over your face right now. My hands or my face.

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Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad. This is Radiolab for this next story. But a tiny, invisible thing that might help us in the fight against covid. We have producer Molly Webster.

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OK, so this whole story is about an element.

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And I learned about it recently when I was reading an article from Smithsonian, and it was about this British scientist, this guy, Bill Kivel. Hi.

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Hello. Good morning to you.

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Are you good? So called Bill Kiefel. He's at Southampton University in the UK. And for him the story started, which is he is a microbiologist.

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You know, he studies small things and a ways back in his career, sort of at the beginning of the late 80s, he had an experience that basically has come to define his career.

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Yeah, I worked for the public health laboratory service that holds them down, sort of the equivalent of Fort Detrick, a military lab where they study things like Ebola and smallpox.

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And while I was there, we start to get outbreaks of Legionnaires disease.

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Every so often a new killer disease appears that the immune system can't handle. That's how it is when some 2000 war veterans come to Philadelphia for the 58th annual convention of the American Legion.

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Legionnaires disease was discovered like at the end of the 70s.

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In the past few days, a virus like mystery illness has killed 15 persons and hospitalized at least 42 others. Their symptoms much like a heavy cold.

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So you have coughing, fever, pneumonia, and then you can die. In all, 178 persons are stricken, 29 die.

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Eventually, scientists figure out it's like an airborne bacteria, legionella bacteria.

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And it was traced to the cooling towers. The bacteria was growing in stagnant waters in the air conditioning systems. But Bill says even though they knew this, even by the late 80s, they hadn't figured out how to stop it. And so they were still having outbreaks.

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It it's a big hospital in the Midlands and then the BBC, of all places. Really? Yeah, in London.

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So essentially, people are trying to think like, how can we keep Legionnaires from growing and how can we keep this Legionnaires bacteria from growing in these cooling towers?

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That was the problem.

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Bill was working on some stuff that's like it was like tangentially related to water and bacteria in water.

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And so in the middle of this research and discussion. We were approached by the copper industry. Somebody identified as the copper industry, which reached out to build big copper, a big ring.

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I literally sent him an email the other day that I was like, could you be more specific about the copper industry? Who is big copper?

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So the copper industry called Bill because at the time they were looking for new markets for copper and they said, hey, you know, we industry industry.

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No, they said, hey, Bill, what if the tower or parts of the tower were made out of copper wire saying, so how is it the copper?

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I guess what is motivating big copper to call Weevil to say, hey, listen, there's this legionnaires' situation, OK?

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We think the copper my guess is, OK, evil.

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I keep calling him evil. I know. I wasn't so sure.

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I'm sorry. You OK? OK, sorry.

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Um, I think that it's because there is a long history of copper killing, bad things.

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The ancient Greeks and the ancient Roman civilizations, they found the drinking water out of copper containing vessels inhibited bacterial growth far more so than, I don't know, say something like like a wooden cup.

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For example, this is chemist Joanna Buckley. And she pointed out it wasn't just the ancient Greeks. You know, the Egyptians used copper plumbing in ancient China. They kept their water in copper.

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They weren't sure why, but it stayed fresher for longer.

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So copper was discovered 11000 years ago. Whoa. I know. Which is very long time ago.

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Weren't we just barely starting farms at that point? Yeah. This is like pre Iron Age.

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For a long time. Copper was the only metal that was known. So it was used for just about anything, whether using a metal was required, things like armor, weaponry, primitive machinery.

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I had never even thought about this, but the Bronze Age only happened because bronze is copper and tin. So the Bronze Age is in a sense, a copper age that we then left. Really?

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Yes.

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And Bill says that for a long time, copper, particularly its alloy bruss with the major materials used in buildings, for example, ships, what have you.

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You know, big copper was king for hundreds of years.

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And then about forty, fifty years ago, there were all of these new materials that came out of the wars that replaced traditional copper, stainless steel, aluminium, plastics.

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And people thought, oh, these look nice and they're easy to clean. So let's get rid of the copper, the alloys, because we've got to keep cleaning those because they Tomasz and copper is expensive.

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So it's like suddenly coming out of the wars. You have the invention of a bunch of cheap materials and then people are like, well, why don't we use these cheap materials in all of our stuff? Wow.

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So big copper. When they called Keywell, they were like Kiefel, bring back the Bronze Age.

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Feels like that is the copper feels like they're like drawing at straws here. They're like, we heard about something in Stafford and Stafford. Get on it. Can we get copper in there? That's kind of how I play this out in my head.

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But anyways, Big Copper called Bill and they said, you know, can copper help with this legionnaires' problem? And so Bill does the experiments and it's like the Legionella bacteria just disappears. Really?

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Yes.

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And after this very successful collaboration, Big Copper just kept calling Bill a couple of years after Legionella is big copper calls and says there's been this big water borne outbreak in Walkerton.

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In Canada, Bill takes a little bit of the coal plants it on some copper and the copper kills it.

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A few years later, they came back to me and said, look, we really want you to focus on MRSA, the resistant staph infections that pop up in hospitals.

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People sometimes call them superbugs. These superbugs on top of the surface. Exactly. Mimics what is zapping a story, just like what's happening here. Destroyed, annihilated know.

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And as Bill explained it to me, in a sense, literally zapped it.

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Yeah. So copper has a free electron that runs around the outside of the atom, you know.

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So the way that Adam works is there's the nucleus and then it has the rings of electrons that surround that core. I often think of it, it's like. Neptune, is it Neptune that has rings or Jupiter that has rings, well, Saturn has rings, OK, Saturn. So I often think of it as like Saturn where there's your little core ball and then there's this this rings around it and those rings are all electrons. And so.

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Yeah, yeah. And so copper has kind of what you could call an extra electron. Yeah.

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And this electron could really move and if it sees something nice it transfers so that other oh it'll leave the copper and it'll pop on over to the other thing.

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Yeah.

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And so when it gets near a bacteria the electrons will travel away and bond in a very loose kind of hang out way with some of the more of some of the atoms that make up the cell membrane of the bacteria. So like if there's carbon in the cell membrane of the bacteria, if there's oxygen in the cell membrane of the bacteria, that the copper will let one of its electrons kind of cozy up to it. And then that loose bond changes the like the properties of that cell wall.

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So you lose this nice, smooth membrane integrity and everything starts to break down.

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And what would like what would that look like exactly?

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So imagine a balloon. So when you push it, you know, it moves and it moves out again. It's very flexible. But imagine part of that balloon suddenly went very stiff. And if you were to push on that, then it just breaks.

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Oh, and so it's just as brittle and it just yet the right word. That's the word we're looking for. It's brittle.

[00:33:16]

So it essentially calcifies a little bit of the balloon exterior that then pops it.

[00:33:21]

Yes. And it starts to become porous. So we've got some beautiful pictures of bacteria with holes in them and they're leaking the contents outside. You can say that vomited. Now, what happens next? Which is really neat. Oh, there's more. OK. Oh, yeah, there's a lot more. So when the copper gets inside the cell, it reacts with enzymes, just destroys them. And then finally, which is the best thing of all, I think the copper destroys the DNA and the bacteria, the nucleic acid.

[00:33:58]

People also think it might actually wedge itself into the DNA of the bacteria and prevent replication. So it actually just embeds itself into the DNA. So his whole thing is like we should be using copper everywhere. People. Yes, let's just make the whole hospital out of copper.

[00:34:16]

Thank you for holding. So there is a hospital that I found in South Carolina, Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, South Carolina.

[00:34:24]

That's outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Yeah, in part managed by this guy.

[00:34:29]

I'm Mike Reilly.

[00:34:29]

I'm a hospital operations administrator, and they just built a new 10 storey patient tower. And we read an article five years ago now, maybe six years ago. All I remember is it said copper holds some answers to reducing infections.

[00:34:46]

Basically, one of the things in the article was these Dodie's studies that looked at copper not in the lab, but in hospitals. Like what would happen if you put down copper surfaces or, you know, copper door handles or something. And one of the studies indicated that it reduced hospital acquired infections by 58 percent. So Mike was like, all right, let's just do this.

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You would never notice it, but the door paddles that you push to enter the door for copper.

[00:35:16]

They put in like copper plating on the doors.

[00:35:19]

So where you would push the doors open and then if you have to go to the bathroom, that same door hardware, that's all copper. And then if you're a family member or a nurse and you want to wash your hands in the patient room, those faucet levers are copper. And there's something else in the bathroom that's copper. It's the toilet flush handle.

[00:35:37]

There's the handle on the IV pole, which is what the patients do touch when they walk themselves down the hall.

[00:35:43]

All told, they made six different surfaces. Copper. Yeah. Mike says copper never sleeps.

[00:35:49]

It's always fighting an infection. He believes that it will save lives. I have two questions for you. Yes. Question one, given the fact that carbon like carbon, no copper likes to just sort of throw around its electrons very loosely, does it hurt people at all?

[00:36:08]

That's a really quite great question. That was my big question, too. It depends how much you have of it.

[00:36:14]

So, so, so copper is actually an element that the body uses at very, very low levels for so many.

[00:36:21]

Of its metabolic processes, where it gets toxic because there is a way in which copper gets toxic is if you ingest it in water, for example, in a pill that you swallow, for example, if you ingest too much copper, you can hurt your liver and your kidneys and your intestine.

[00:36:41]

The the thought is, though, is that if it's just on your skin, you have so, so, so, so many skin cells and your skin cells replenish and turn over so quickly and there's so many of them that it can't hurt you.

[00:36:55]

OK, that's that's question number one. Go ahead. Question. Question. And question two is.

[00:37:01]

What about covid? Yeah. OK, go. OK, so there was a study where they took covid two and they put it on copper and they put it on cardboard and stainless steel and one other surface. And they saw that by within four hours, covid two was totally gone from the copper surface and it took up to 72 hours for it to leave the other surfaces. Wow.

[00:37:27]

That that's OK. So that's pretty cool. That was done at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC and a few other places here in the States. Yeah, that sounds I like those numbers, frankly.

[00:37:42]

Everybody does, this is why you're seeing copper ions infused copper stuff everywhere, introducing copper where you can get copper masking copper gloves and copper pyjamas.

[00:37:54]

Look how sexy these are, copper into any copper blankets and copper sheets with the copper that's in your nose, this nasal wand that can stick up your nose, it will zap and kill the microbes like copper blowing up right now. Wow, Jim, I think that's where I would draw the line. You know, the trick here is and there's a couple of tricks, it's like copper mask. Is it super helpful to have a mask with these threads woven through it?

[00:38:28]

The virus would have to sit on there for a long time. Like maybe if you're going to wear the mask all day and then, like, stick your fingers up your nose or something, maybe then it's practical.

[00:38:37]

The other thing is copper is not cheap. So the price of a ton of copper today on July 17th is six thousand three hundred eighty five dollars per ton.

[00:38:49]

OK, for a ton of copper.

[00:38:51]

For ton of copper. So then if you're not using copper, you might be using something like steel. OK, so I'm doing price of a ton of steel. non-Price. Still see us to the price of steel. OK, so this is stainless steel, let's just say stainless steel, because I don't know anything else, there's like shredded steel. Is. 18 cents a pound. It's 360 dollars for ton of steel. Well, that's quite a it's quite a big difference.

[00:39:28]

Well, let me tell you this, so Mike's actually going to go do another 300 rooms in copper.

[00:39:32]

Oh, yes. The rest of the original facility and the price tag.

[00:39:36]

Six hundred thousand dollars is what it's going to cost me to do. Three hundred rooms and a few additional bathrooms and kitchens and things like that to retrofit.

[00:39:48]

Yeah, and that's a lot for most hospitals, they're not going to spend six hundred thousand dollars on copper when they really need to replace the city, where they really need to replace the x ray unit in the Eddys, a new city, Kostia, four hundred sixty thousand. A new MRI cost you a million. They're not going to spend six hundred thousand dollars on three hundred rooms. Most hospitals are struggling to survive a third lose a third break even and a third are fortunate to make a small bottom line to reinvest.

[00:40:16]

But Mike says if he can afford it, he's going to do it. So, yeah, I am not above grinding up some copper and walking around, I love that idea. I'm going to get some copper dust and I'm going to dust my children every morning.

[00:40:33]

It's so it's like there's so many things here where you're like, how do I do this story without sounding like I'm also funded by the copper industry?

[00:40:43]

Is the we are going. We are. This is exactly according to their plan. Yeah.

[00:40:47]

Yeah. They're like we didn't need to call you Molly because we heard you were on the case all on your own, you know, big copper.

[00:40:58]

Give us a call.

[00:40:59]

I know. That was producer Molly Webster. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster and produced by Andy Cohen and Pat Walters, special thanks to Mike Schmidt and Joe Schwartz.

[00:41:17]

I'd like to say a special thanks to Dr. Vadim Bachman and Adrian Gombert.

[00:41:22]

I'm Jad Abumrad. Thanks for listening. We'll catch you next time. Hi, this is Niscayah from Port Townsend in Washington State. Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich and produced by Sean Mealer. Dylan Keith is our director of Sound Design. Susie Lichtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Rebecca Bressler, Rachel Kucik, David Gebel, Bessel Habchi, Tracy Hunt, not guilty, Tobin Lo, Andy McCuen, Latticed Nasser Sakari and Pat Walters and Molly Webster with help from Cima only I w Harry Fortuna, Sarah Sandbox, Todd Davis and Russell Greg.

[00:42:06]

Our Fact Checker is essential here.