Food, Global Health 3 min

Q&A with Muriel Vayssier-Taussat, CARE member: what comes after the lockdown

The Council for Analysis, Research, and Expertise (CARE), established by the French government on 24 March 2020, comprises a group of 12 researchers and medical doctors with different specialties. CARE is tasked with quickly providing guidance to the French government on matters related to coronavirus treatment and testing. Muriel Vayssier-Taussat, the head of INRAE’s scientific division for animal health and director of the Carnot Institute Livestock Industry for the Future, describes her first experience on the council.

Published on 02 April 2020

illustration Q&A with Muriel Vayssier-Taussat, CARE member: what comes after the lockdown
© INRAE, B. Nicolas

How does CARE operate?

Muriel Vayssier-Taussat: We have 12 members with complementary skills from various French research institutes. We receive requests for guidance from the government and work to quickly gather information to issue an opinion. We divide up the topics according to our expertise and generally communicate via email and telephone. We also hold a weekly meeting with all committee members. Our four areas of focus are: diagnostic testing, treatments, vaccines and using AI to help overcome the epidemic.

What was the first issue you tackled?

M. V-T.: We were asked about the various tests that are available or in the process of being brought to market. Serological tests detect the antibodies in blood that the body produces to fight off the virus. They could be used to identify people who have been infected and have immunity. Knowing the level of immunity in the general population would allow us to estimate the risks of the epidemic rebounding when we come out of lockdown. We estimate that around 50% to 70% of the population needs to have immunity to stop the spread of the virus. These tests, like PCR (1) tests, could initially be used to identify those who are most exposed, such as healthcare workers or staff and residents in care homes.

There are currently around a dozen of these antibody tests on the market now, but we do not always know how accurate they are.  Some have a low level of sensitivity, which means they do not always detect positive cases. Their massive use could lead to underestimating the immunity of the population, which is why we quickly need to evaluate these tests.

What about screening for the virus itself?

M. V-T.: When it comes to lifting the lockdown, it will be important to continue screening infected individuals, especially healthy carriers, who will be encouraged to self-isolate. Current screening tests, which use PCR to detect the virus, are highly sensitive and work well. The availability of reagents is a limiting factor right now, but the government has announced the purchase of several platforms allowing reagents to be produced on an ad hoc basis and PCR testing to be conducted, which will enable daily testing to be expanded.

What about treatments?

M. V-T.: Several different treatments are being studied. We’re closely following the Discovery trial, which started on 22 March in several European countries on more than 3,000 patients who tested positive and have been hospitalised, including 800 in France. Doctors should have results by mid- to late April. Another study includes hydroxychloroquine, the effects of which are still controversial, as a preventive treatment.

What can artificial intelligence contribute?

M. V-T.: AI could, for example, be used to detect shortness of breath in the voices of patients who call the emergency services, as this is one of the signs of severe illness.

Each of the CARE members is continuously monitoring innovative paths in their fields of speciality that are being developed in laboratories. Another innovative example is the development of self-testing, similar to pregnancy tests, that people can do at home. Several laboratories are making rapid progress on this.

(1) Polymerase chain reaction tests are based on recognising and amplifying small segments of the virus genome. They detect the presence of the virus.

All INRAE news on COVID-19

Pascale Molliertranslated by Teri Jones-Villeneuve


Muriel Vayssier-TaussatHead of INRAE's animal health division and director of the Carnot Institute Livestock Industry for the Future


Learn more

Food, Global Health

Dealing with emerging diseases: rethinking how we monitor global health

PRESS RELEASE - Is disease X already here? Does the arrival of COVID-19 mean we need to rethink our health monitoring systems? As part of the MOOD project, which began in January 2020, European and North American researchers are doing just that by looking at how we might detect early signs of new epidemics. As an expert in such emerging diseases, most of which come from animals, CIRAD is coordinating this project that brings together 25 research institutes and public health agencies.

19 March 2020

Food, Global Health

COVID-19: Tackling the Epidemic in 20 Research Projects

PRESS RELEASE - At a time when the Sars-CoV-2 epidemic is continuing to spread, France’s Alliance for Life Sciences and Health (Aviesan) is mobilizing to accelerate research into the virus and COVID-19 disease through REACTing – a consortium coordinated by Inserm. With the support of the Ministry of Solidarity and Health and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, the Scientific Advisory Board of REACTing has selected 20 scientific initiatives covering diverse fields, from mathematical modelling to disease prevention and treatment.

12 March 2020