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COVID-19 immunity could be lost in months, UK study suggests

14/07/2020

People who have recovered from COVID-19 and gained immunity to the disease could lose it again within months, a new study from the UK suggests. According to the research by a team from King’s College London, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could reinfect people year after year, much like common colds. Having studied the immune responses of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the researchers found that COVID-19 antibody levels peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms.  [Related reading: Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest] Blood tests revealed that while 60% of COVID-19 patients displayed a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the disease, this figure fell to just 17% three months later. In some cases, antibody levels became undetectable. The findings of the study have implications when it comes to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as achieving greater herd immunity. The bottom line is that if antibody levels drop over time and people are able to be reinfected seasonally, a vaccine would not actually provide any long-term benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Katie Doores, lead author from King’s College London, said: “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around.”

WHO reviewing spread of COVID-19 in the air

09/07/2020

Following an open letter from more than 200 scientists to the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body is rethinking its stance on how COVID-19 spreads through the air. “We wanted them to acknowledge the evidence,” Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the paper, told the Reuters news agency. “This is definitely not an attack on the WHO. It's a scientific debate, but we felt we needed to go public because they were refusing to hear the evidence after many conversations with them,” he said. The WHO has acknowledged that emerging evidence shows how the coronavirus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air. It’s a reality that makes transmission of the virus in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated spaces much more likely. Outdoors, the aerosols evaporate and disperse much more quickly, reducing the risk of infection. Until now, WHO guidance does not address the fact that COVID-19 can be transmitted through minuscule droplets that hang in the air for potentially hours. All the evidence will now be thoroughly evaluated to determine its reliability, which could lead to new advice and guidelines from the WHO. As a result, compulsory face mask rules and even stricter social distancing measures could be implemented in places like bars, restaurants and public transport.    

China confirms new bubonic plague cases

07/07/2020

Authorities in China have stepped up precautions after a person in the country’s Inner Mongolian region was diagnosed with bubonic plague. According to state reports, the Bayannur patient is in quarantine and in a stable condition. A second suspected case involving a 15-year-old girl is currently being investigated. While it remains unclear how either patient contracted the disease, the young girl is said to have been in contact with a marmot (pictured), a species of giant squirrel. Once the world’s most feared disease, bubonic plague is easily treated nowadays using antibiotics. Nevertheless, the herdsman’s diagnosis will cause concern given the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic globally. Bubonic plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria that live in some animals (mainly rodents) and their fleas. As a result of the bubonic plague discovery, a level 3 alert, which bans the hunting and eating of animals that could carry the disease, has been implemented until the end of the year. It is worth noting that these new cases are nothing out of the ordinary. From 2010 to 2015, 3,248 cases of bubonic plague were reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. Speaking about the recent bubonic plague outbreak in China, Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, told BBS News: “It is good that this has been picked up and reported at an early stage because it can be isolated, treated and spread prevented. “Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium and so, unlike Covid-19, is readily treated with antibiotics. So although this might appear alarming, being another major infectious disease emerging from the East, it appears to be a single suspected case which can be readily treated.”

Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest

02/07/2020

More people have immunity to coronavirus than antibody tests suggest, new research shows. The study from Sweden found that for every person who tested positive for antibodies — which are usually a strong indicator of whether someone has previously had an infection — two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells. According to the research from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, even individuals who had mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 had T-cells, despite testing negative for antibodies. The research is important because it could mean that more people than first thought have immunity to COVID-19. However, it is not yet clear whether this just protects the individual, or if it also stops them from passing on the infection to others. Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough" and said it added to a growing body of evidence that "antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”. The results of the study are so new that they have not undergone peer review, nor been published in a scientific journal. Nevertheless, they can be seen as good news from a public health perspective as they indicate that public immunity to COVID-19 is likely a lot higher than first thought.

New COVID-19 spike in China triggers fresh lockdown

30/06/2020

A strict COVD-19 lockdown has been reinstated near Beijing in China after a small surge in cases. The restrictions in Anxin county in Hebei province affect around 400,000 people, with only those classed as ‘essential workers’ allowed to leave their homes. One member of each household is also allowed to go out once a day to shop for necessities. In the last two weeks, there have been 18 new COVID-19 cases in Anxin. While this may sound like only a small number, China is taking the threat of a potential second coronavirus wave seriously, hence the swift lockdown. Luckily, Anxin county, which is approximately 90 miles south of Beijing, is not as densely populated as many of China’s other large urban centers and local officials believe this small spike can be contained. Up until two weeks ago when Beijing experienced a spate of new COVID-19 cases, the Chinese capital had gone 57 days without a locally-transmitted case. Despite the pockets of new cases appearing, China has, in general, successfully “flattened the curve” in recent months. While places like the United States and South America witness thousands of new cases on a daily basis, China has added only 4,700 since the start of March.

Face masks extremely unlikely to cause CO2 poisoning

25/06/2020

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously recommended people wear cloth face coverings in public settings to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, some people have been concerned about whether face coverings, such as masks, cause carbon dioxide (CO2) poisoning. Experts have now come out saying that’s impossible. Speaking about the use of cloth face masks, Prof Keith Neal, an infectious disease expert, said wearing one will not cause hypercapnia (too much carbon dioxide in the blood). Echoing these comments, Darrell Spurlock Jr., PhD, RN, the director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University, said: “Rebreathing tiny amounts of CO2 from wearing either properly fitted N95 respirators or more loosely fitted cloth or surgical masks is of no concern for the vast, vast majority of people.” Carbon dioxide molecules are tiny and do not get trapped by the breathable material used to make cloth ace masks. When you breathe out, the carbon dioxide goes through and round the mask. Surgeons and other medical professionals regularly wear much more heavy duty face coverings all day without coming to harm. Face masks can play a potentially important role in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 because they can help limit it being transmitted by an infected individual. This is particularly true for people who are asymptomatic and do not actually know they have the virus. The only stipulation when it comes to the wearing of cloth face masks is that people with existing lung conditions should consult their physician before doing so. This is because masks do affect normal air entry and could make breathing difficult for people with severe lung diseases. [Related reading: COVID-19: Could a second wave already be here?]

COVID-19: Could a second wave already be here?

23/06/2020

With many countries now seemingly in control of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is turning to a potential ‘second wave’ of the virus. But what does this actually mean? The Spanish Flu pandemic that began in early March 1918 lasted for around two years. But it was the second wave of the virus during three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918 that proved to be the deadliest. It raises questions about whether there will be a second wave of COVID-19. Now the easiest way to picture a second wave is to think of waves on the sea. The total number of infections goes up and then down, until the next wave comes along and the process begins all over again. To say that one wave has ended, the total number of infections needs to fall substantially. If we were then to see a significant rise once more, it would be safe to say that we are experiencing a so-called second wave. Health officials in South Korea believe the country is now experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Despite being one of the success stories of the pandemic, officials are now bracing for potential restrictions for several more months. While global lockdowns have had a profound impact on economies and people’s lives, lifting them too much and too early could lead to a second wave of COVID-19. That’s why any easing will come in stages and contact tracing and wearing face masks could be the new norm for a while. Hopefully, with effective social distancing measures and frequent handwashing, a second COVID-19 wave can be averted. However, what actually happens remains to be seen. [Related reading: This cost effective, low-dose steroid could be a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19]

This cost effective, low-dose steroid could be a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19

18/06/2020

Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]

What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?

16/06/2020

As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world passes eight million, hopes still remain on a vaccine being developed. But what does it mean for a potential vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates? Well, the bottom line is that all viruses mutate, it is part of their life cycle, so there’s a very good chance that SARS-CoV-2 will too. The good news though is that mutations can actually lead to weaker viruses, although the reality is that there’s usually no noticeable difference in the disease’s transmission and fatality rates. This seems to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Mutations that are currently spreading around places like New York do not seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that came out of Wuhan, China, in late December. According to the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is developed will also likely be effective against mutated forms of the virus. It’s the reason why our very effective vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (which are RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2) still protects us, despite these viruses mutating over the years. So even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates further down the road, while we might see some breakthrough infections, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to a new pandemic. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]

WHO clarifies comments on asymptomatic coronavirus spread

11/06/2020

The World Health Organization’s Maria Van Kerkhove, MD and technical lead for the WHO’s pandemic response, caused a stir recently when she implied that transmission of the coronavirus from asymptomatic individuals appears to be “very rare.” Now, the WHO has sought to clarify her comments, saying they were based on a relatively small set of studies. Kerkhove’s comments caused confusion because they appeared to directly contradict advice from several public health organizations. While evidence suggests that individuals with symptoms are most infectious, others do not develop any symptoms at all, despite testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. What remains unknown is how many other people these asymptomatic individuals go on to infect. It’s one of the reasons why Europe-wide lockdowns have been so effective in halting the spread of the virus, saving millions of lives. Then there are people who infect others while they are pre-symptomatic, meaning before they have actually developed any symptoms but later do. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pre-symptomatic individuals account for around 40% of coronavirus transmission. Director of the WHO's health emergencies programme, Dr Michael Ryan, said he was "absolutely convinced" that asymptomatic transmission was occurring; "the question is how much". So the bottom line seems to be that we simply don’t know how big a role asymptomatic individuals play in the spread of the virus. More research is needed.

European coronavirus lockdowns saved millions of lives

09/06/2020

While the COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe have not been easy for most people, new research shows that they have been effective in saving countless lives. According to the study by a team at Imperial College, London, Europe-wide lockdowns to reduce the impact of SARS-CoV-2 have saved more than three million lives. The team said that if lockdown had not been implemented across the continent, the “death toll would have been huge”. However, the team also warned that Europe is still only at the beginning of the pandemic and that scores more people could be infected. Assessing the impact of lockdowns up to the beginning of May in 11 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. By that time, approximately 130,000 people had died from COVID-19 in those countries. Using disease modelling, the researchers predicted how many deaths there would have been if no lockdowns and restrictions had been enforced. They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May, the report in the journal Nature shows. In other words, lockdown measures prevented around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 630,000 in Italy and 690,000 in France. "Lockdown averted millions of deaths, those deaths would have been a tragedy," said Dr. Seth Flaxman, from Imperial College. [Related reading: Which demographic worries least about COVID-19?]

Which demographic worries least about COVID-19?

04/06/2020

With all the media attention it’s received, and the very real threat it poses to our health, many people are, quite rightly, worried about COVID-19. Interestingly, though, some demographics are a lot less worried about COVID-19 than others, new research has found. According to the study by a small team from Georgia State University — the findings of which are published in The Journals of Gerontology — older men are less likely to worry and make fewer behavioral changes in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The research concludes that these older men — typically aged between 65 and 81 — need more education and intervention to ensure they perceive the risks of COVID-19 accurately. This is especially important when you consider that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures show that 8 out of 10 COVID deaths in the United States have been people aged 65 and over. Furthermore, men are at greater risk of requiring intensive care interventions and have a higher likelihood of worse outcomes, including death. Speaking about the findings of the study, author Dr. Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University, said not worrying too much is actually a good thing under normal circumstances. But right now, things are anything but normal, and worrying less could ultimately lead to fewer protective COVID-19 behavior changes — a reality that could have a knock-on effect on others. [Related reading: Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much)]

Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much)

02/06/2020

Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much) Warmer temperatures have long been associated with reduced transmission rates of some respiratory viruses. It’s one of the reasons why flu tends to have a much larger impact during winter months. Therefore, it stands to reason that the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could also be slowed or even halted as countries start to experience warmer temperatures. Now, research seems to have confirmed what many people have thought. For the study, researchers from the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts looked at the effect of temperature, precipitation, and UV index on COVID-19 case rates in the United States from January 22, 2020 through April 3, 2020. They found the rate of COVID-19 incidence does decrease as temperatures get warmer, up until 52 degrees F. After that, virus transmission does not decrease significantly. Furthermore, while the overall impact remains modest, a higher UV index also assists in slowing the growth rate of new cases. Precipitation was not found to have any impact on the spread of the virus. The findings will comes as welcome news as many states in America see warmer weather easing in. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen again in the fall and winter as temperatures drop. [Related reading: What is COVID-19 antibody testing (and why is it useful?)]

What is COVID-19 antibody testing (and why is it useful?)

28/05/2020

There have been numerous reports recently about how both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have now approved certain COVID-19 antibody tests. But what are these tests for and are they useful in the overall fight against the pandemic? An antibody test basically checks your blood for antibodies. These are made when your body fights an infection, like if you had COVID-19. The test isn’t actually looking for the infection itself, rather signs that your body has built a defense against it i.e. you had the infection and your body responded accordingly. One of the valuable outcomes of antibody tests is that they help us ascertain just how many people have potentially had the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This helps build a fuller picture of the virus’ spread, as well as calculate how many people there are out there who could still potentially get it. Such information could help in the development of strategies to safeguard communities and possibly allow for more freedom of movement. Antibody tests could also help identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and whose blood could be used to help those fighting the disease. [Related reading: Losing sleep over the COVID-19 outbreak? These 5 tips will help]

Losing sleep over the COVID-19 outbreak? These 5 tips will help

26/05/2020

The widespread panic and uncertainty being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means sleep isn’t coming easy for many people right now. But good quality sleep is the bedrock of our lives, consuming about a third of our total time on this planet and dramatically influencing the other two-thirds. That’s why it’s so important that we all get enough good quality sleep on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are five tangible tips to promote better sleep at this difficult time: 1. Get into a routine By getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, you can significantly boost your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. If you get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same times each day, you’ll feel more refreshed and energized than if you follow random patterns. 2. Exercise more In addition to the physical and mental health benefits, regular exercise also helps you sleep better. And while cardiovascular exercise, strength training and yoga are all great for helping you sleep – especially if you do them during the day and not just before bed. 3. Watch your diet For the best sleep, try and eat a balanced diet that contains vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins - like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. 4. Consume less alcohol While some people rely on alcohol to help them fall asleep, studies show that alcohol does not improve sleep. In fact, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative kind. 5. Limit gadget use at night Blue light from TVs, smartphones, tablets and other gadgets plays havoc with your circadian rhythm and, as a result, the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is suppressed. For the best night’s sleep, limit your use of gadgets and other visual devices to around one to two hours before bed.

Reduce your chances of catching the new coronavirus: Wash your hands at least 6 times a day

21/05/2020

In our Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public post we talked about the importance of frequent hand washing in significantly reducing the spread of the virus. Now, a new study by UK researchers shows that washing your hands between six and 10 times a day provides the greatest protection. For the study, the researchers looked at data from 2006-2009 relating to viruses similar to the one responsible for the current pandemic. They found that washing hands with soap and water was effective at killing such viruses. In fact, of the 1,663 study participants, those who washed their hands at least six times a day were significantly less likely to be infected by a virus. Interestingly, hand-washing more than 10 times a day resulted in no additional benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, its author, Dr Sarah Beale, from University College London, said: “Good hand hygiene should be practised at all times regardless of whether you show symptoms or not. “This will help protect yourself and prevent unwittingly spreading the virus to others around you.” The study is published in Wellcome Open Research and is awaiting peer review.

3 bogus coronavirus health claims exposed

19/05/2020

As we continue to tackle the virus outbreak and take steps to reduce its momentum, widespread sharing of health advice has become commonplace. But if there is one thing the current coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, it is that there is so much misinformation out there. Let’s look at a few examples and see why they aren’t just false, but also potentially dangerous: Bogus health claim 1: Drinking alcohol kills coronavirus While alcohol-based hand gels and sprays can remove the new coronavirus from hands, drinking alcohol (any kind) will have no positive impact, and could actually cause serious damage to your health. Whenever you hear any advice about alcohol and coronavirus, it is referring to the kind that helps clean your hands. Bogus health claim 2: There are licensed drugs for treating COVID-19 Just because President Trump has spoken on several occasions about hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, it doesn’t make it a licensed or even recommended treatment.  In fact, there is still no proof that hydroxychloroquine helps prevent or cure COVID-19, and misusing it could cause serious side effects. Bogus health claim 3: You can check if you have COVID-19 by holding your breath The only way to determine if you have COVID-19 is to undergo a laboratory test. Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds or more without coughing or feeling discomfort will not prove anything. You can read about more coronavirus myths on the World Health Organization website.

Did you know there are 7 known coronaviruses that can infect humans?

14/05/2020

You can’t switch on the news right now without hearing the word ‘coronavirus’. But coronaviruses are actually nothing new and most people will be infected with one at some point in their life. But don’t worry, most coronaviruses cause only moderate symptoms. In fact, of the seven known coronaviruses that affect humans, four are endemic (found regularly) and rarely cause severe disease on their own. These four are called 229E, OC43, NL63, and HKU1. Coronaviruses 229E and OC43 usually result in the common cold most of us experience from time to time, particularly during the winter. However, there are also three known coronaviruses that cause more severe symptoms: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and the one we are dealing with now, SARS-CoV-2. What SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus have in common is that they are more dangerous for people with underlying medical conditions. And while SARS and MERS have significantly higher case fatality rates than COVID-19, the latter is more infectious. Finally, it is worth noting that there have been no new SARS cases for over a decade. However, MERS remains a public health concern, with a handful of cases cropping up every year. Two of the biggest challenges with the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are that many people are asymptomatic and our lust for international travel and the ease with which we can do it have allowed the virus to spread rapidly around the globe. [Related reading: Why COVID-19 hits some people harder than others]

Why COVID-19 hits some people harder than others

12/05/2020

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now topping 4 million globally, the urgency to develop a vaccine has never been greater. Now something that’s been witnessed throughout this pandemic is the way COVID-19 seems to hit some people harder than others. Whether a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized and requires more serious medical interventions, like ventilation, often depends on several risk factors. Age In the United States, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in patients aged 65 and older. The reason for this is thought to be because elderly individuals have more chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Diabetes A recent meta-analysis of 13 separate studies found that people with diabetes were nearly 3.7 times more likely to have a critical case of COVID-19 or to die from the disease than patients without any underlying health conditions. Heart disease and hypertension The American Heart Association says people with cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and hypertension, generally tend to suffer worse COVID-19 complications than those with no pre-existing conditions. Smoking A study from China found that 12.3% of current smokers were admitted to an ICU, were placed on a ventilator or died. This compares to 4.7% of non-smokers. Obesity Being obese has been linked to an increased severity of COVID-19 in younger patients. Furthermore, a separate study from China – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found that obese individuals were more than twice as likely to develop severe pneumonia as compared with patients who were normal weight.  

Blood thinners associated with improved outcomes for COVID-19 patients - study

07/05/2020

With more evidence emerging that COVID-19 can cause dangerous blood clots in some patients, new research shows that blood thinners could help improve survival rates. According to the study by a team from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which looked at nearly 2,800 COVID-19 patients admitted to five hospitals across the Mount Sinai Health System, blood thinners were seen to have a positive impact on patient outcomes. The blood thinners were found to be especially helpful for patients who were put on ventilators to help them breathe. The study found that 63% of patients on ventilators who were not given blood thinners died, compared to 23% of patients on ventilators who were given blood thinners. Furthermore, of the patients who died, those who were given anticoagulants did so after spending an average of 21 days in the hospital. In contrasts, those who didn't receive anticoagulants died after an average of just 14 days in the hospital. Finally, the study also revealed that patients who were given blood thinners were not significantly more likely to develop bleeding problems -- one of the risks of taking such drugs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study senior author Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief at the Mount Sinai Hospital, said: “Using anticoagulants should be considered when patients get admitted to the ER and have tested positive for COVID-19, to possibly improve outcomes.” [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]

World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine

05/05/2020

As the number of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) cases globally passes 3.5 million, world leaders have pledged more than $8bn (€7.3bn) to help with the development of a coronavirus vaccine and fund research into diagnosing and treating the disease. The donations came from more than 30 countries, as well as numerous UN and philanthropic bodies and research institutes. Pop singer Madonna was one of the donors, pledging $1.1m (€1m), while Norway matched the European Commission’s contribution of $1bn (€920m) and France, Saudi Arabia and Germany all pledged $500m (€458m). Japan promised to give more than $800m (€733). Russia and the United States, which has suspended funding to the World Health Organization, were notably absent from the online summit hosted by the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, China, where SARS-CoV-2 originated in December, was represented by its ambassador to the EU. The EU said that $4.4bn of the money raised will go towards developing a vaccine, $2bn on the search for a treatment and $1.6bn for producing tests. In an open letter published in newspapers over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pledged funds would “kickstart an unprecedented global co-operation between scientists and regulators, industry and governments, international organizations, foundations and healthcare professionals”. “If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole world, this will be a unique global public good of the 21st Century,” they added. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]

Being obese linked to increased COVID-19 severity in younger patients

30/04/2020

Young people with COVID-19 who are obese are at greater risk of being hospitalised and experiencing more severe symptoms, new research has found. According to the study of 3,615 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, while being overweight didn’t appear to have any negative impact on individuals aged 60+, it did in younger patients. Compared to those with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), which is less than 30, patients with BMIs of 30-34 were twice as likely to need hospitalisation and twice as likely to need acute care. Meanwhile, while younger COVID-19 patients with BMIs of 35 or higher were also found to be twice as likely to require hospitalisation, they were three times more likely to end up in the intensive care unit. One of the study co-authors, Jennifer Lighter, MD, a hospital epidemiologist in New York City, said the findings are significant, especially in the US where 42% of the population has a BMI over 30 and is considered obese. “Our hospital was one of the first to find the association between obesity and coronavirus, but I think it will soon become very common,” Lighter said. It is important for frontline health workers to understand how being obese potentially changes a patient’s clinical outlook and consider such patients as high-risk.  

Some less common COVID-19 symptoms you can miss

28/04/2020

We’ve written previously about a lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for. But as experts learn more about COVID-19, new symptoms of the infection are coming to light. In addition to fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, plus a sudden loss of smell or taste (as per our above-referenced post), some people with COVID-19 have also presented with less typical symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, delirium, chickenpox-like lesions, and more. Indeed, according to a study by Stanford Medicine, which analyzed the medical records of 116 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, almost a third displayed digestion related symptoms, including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Meanwhile, a study in Italy that looked at 88 patients who has tested positive for COVID-19 found that approximately 20% displayed skin symptoms, including a red rash, widespread hives, or chickenpox-like lesions. While people with atypical COVID-19 symptoms may also develop more classic symptoms too, not all will. And then there are the individuals who contract the virus and don’t have any symptoms at all i.e. are asymptomatic. This is why it is useful to spread awareness about some of the less common COVID-19 symptoms, so that people can potentially spot if they or someone they know develops the disease.

Protecting your mental health during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

23/04/2020

While there is a lot of focus on how infectious disease outbreaks, like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, can impact our physical health, their effect on our psychological wellbeing is often overlooked. But the current coronavirus outbreak is scary. Add this to the fact that many of us are spending more time than ever before stuck in our homes and it’s easy to understand how our mental health could be affected by what’s going on. With that in mind, we have compiled this short list of things you can do to protect your mental health during this testing time. 1. Stay informed (but avoid speculation) It’s important to stay informed about the COVID-19 outbreak and access information from high quality, reputable sources. Rumour and speculation only serve to fuel anxiety, which is why you should avoid less than trustworthy news. Also, don’t feel as though you have to constantly watch, read or listen to updates. Limit you consumption to once or twice a day to reduce overwhelm. 2. Stay connected It can be easy to feel isolated right now, especially if you are used to going out and interacting socially with other people. Overcome this feeling by staying as connected as possible with your friends and family. We’ve never had so many methods of communication available to us, so take advantage of technology and keep social conversations going. 3. Stay busy When we’re not keeping ourselves occupied, there’s a tendency for our minds to run wild – especially while there is an ongoing global pandemic. This can lead to negative thoughts, including lots of ‘what if’ scenarios. Use the extra time you’ve got right now to complete all those tasks around your house you’ve been meaning to do for ages. It’ll keep your mind occupied and give you a sense of achievement. [Related reading: 5 simple ways to stay physically active while you’re stuck at home]

5 simple ways to stay physically active while you’re stuck at home

21/04/2020

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak means many of us are spending a lot more time at home than we usually do. If you’re someone who enjoys regular trips to the gym, or jogs around your local park, you might be feeling decidedly antsy right now. But while social distancing measures and self-isolation means fewer opportunities to stay fit and active outdoors, there are ways you can maintain your physical and mental health while at home. Fortunately, there are a number of activities you can do at home that will satisfy the global recommendations for adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Here are 5 ways to stay physically active in your own home: 1. Online yoga Yoga is great for both physical health and general wellness. It can also help relieve lower back and neck pain. The best part of all is you can practice it very easily and affordably at home. Just put some comfy clothes on and find a yoga channel you like on YouTube. 2. Simple resistance exercises If you haven’t got proper weights at home, no problem. Just be a little creative instead. Use a can of soup in each hand in place of dumbbells and do repetitions while sat comfortably on a chair. Find heavier objects if you want more resistance. 3. Basic calisthenics Calisthenics are exercises that require nothing more than your own body weight. So things like sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups are all classed as calisthenics. If you want some additional encouragement, pull up a YouTube video and workout while watching it. 4. Home cardio Cardiovascular exercises work by increasing your heart rate for a short period of time. Examples of cardio exercises include running on the spot, jumping jacks, lunge jumps, and skipping in place. 5. Household chores Believe it or not, your household chores are a great way to get some exercise. Vacuuming and mopping floors is a great way to burn some calories, while removing laundry from the washing machine and hanging it out to dry gives your muscles a workout.

Why COVID-19 poses a greater risk to men than women

16/04/2020

Several studies have revealed that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting men and the potential reasons include everything from biology to bad habits. According to the World Health Organization, men have accounted for 69% of COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. Meanwhile, reports suggest that in New York City men have been dying from COVID-19 at almost twice the rate of women. It is thought that both genetics and lifestyle choices play a part when it comes to COVID-19 outcomes in men. First and foremost, because of their extra X chromosome, women have stronger immune systems and respond better to infections than men. Then there is the fact that more elderly men suffer from heart disease than elderly women and that high blood pressure and liver disease are more prevalent in men too. All of these conditions are factors that are associated with more negative COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, men are statistically more likely to smoke than women. In fact, according to Our World in Data figures, more than one-third (35%) of men in the world smoke, compared to just over 6% of women. With smoking one of the biggest risk factors for chronic lung disease, men are at a much greater disadvantage should they get COVID-19. [Related reading: Can you catch the new coronavirus twice?]

Can you catch the new coronavirus twice?

14/04/2020

When you are infected with a virus, your immune system produces very specific antibodies to try and fight it off. It’s these antibodies that then provide us with immunity from future outbreaks of the same virus. If the virus comes back, the necessary antibodies are swiftly called to action and defeat it before it can make you feel unwell. However, reports emerged in February of a lady in Japan who was apparently given the all-clear having developed COVID-19, but who then tested positive for the virus a second time. But the biggest question this scenario raises is in regards to the reliability of the tests. The bottom line is we simply don’t yet know whether people can become infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, a second time. Small animal experiments suggest reinfection is unlikely, but right now, we don’t have a definitive answer. Perhaps the most obvious place to focus is on related viruses, such as SARS. A 2017 study of SARS patients found that 89% of people who recovered had detectable antibodies two years after the infection had cleared. However, at the six-year mark, this went down to just two out of 23 patients, suggesting people have immunity, but perhaps not indefinitely. Our best hope will be if a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can be developed which will provide rapid immunity. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]

How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?

09/04/2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing chaos in many countries around the world, much focus has turned to developing a vaccine to prevent the horrible respiratory disease. But how far off is a coronavirus vaccine and what’s taking so long? At present, estimates on how long it will take to develop a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine range from one year to 18 months, with some experts warning it would take even longer. The reality is that in vaccine years that is extremely fast and the likelihood is that a coronavirus vaccine will take longer. Right now, no less than 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus. At least four have candidates that they are currently testing in animals. One, produced by Boston-based biotech firm Moderna, will begin human trials very soon. One of the reasons why some companies had a head start creating a vaccine is because coronaviruses have caused two other recent epidemics: the 2002-2004 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In both cases, work began on vaccines, but these were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained. Some of those vaccines are now being repurposed to help in the fight against Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective in humans has been approved, another challenge will be producing it in the vast quantities needed. In the meantime, thoroughly wash your hands regularly and follow COVID-19 advice.

5 Coronavirus myths debunked

07/04/2020

It’s impossible to turn on the news at the moment and not be greeted with updates about the coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The problem, however, with so much news coverage is that it can be difficult to discern which pieces of information are true and which are simply myths. To help provide some clarity, we have compiled this list of coronavirus myths: Myth 1. Children cannot catch the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) While the majority of coronavirus cases have been in adults, people of any age can become infected with SARS-CoV-2. What is true is that adults with several pre-existing health conditions are more likely to become severely ill. Myth 2. COVID-19 is just like the flu While COVID-19 causes many symptoms that could be described as ‘flu-like’ and both illnesses can lead to pneumonia, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious than ordinary flu. While the actual mortality rate of COVID-19 remains unclear, it is expected to be many times higher than that of seasonal flu. Myth 3. Antibiotics kill coronavirus COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, so they are all but useless against the new coronavirus. Myth 4. Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus The only thing that thermal scanners can detect is an elevated body temperature  (a fever). While this is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, it cannot be used to diagnose the disease alone. Myth 5. Face masks protect against coronavirus Wearing a face mask is not guaranteed to protect you from SARS-CoV-2 – especially if the face mask is ill-fitting. Where face masks can make a real difference is when they are worn by people with the virus, as they can help prevent others from becoming infected. [Related reading: A lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for]

A lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for

02/04/2020

While fever, tiredness and a dry cough are the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, evidence is beginning to show that a sudden loss of smell or taste could also be a sign. The latest researchers to report that a loss of smell and taste could be associated with COVID-19 are a team from King’s College London. They looked at responses from more than 400,000 people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who entered how they were feeling into an app. Of the people who had tested positive for COVID-19 (579 individuals), three-fifths (59%) reported a loss of smell or taste. While a loss of smell or taste have not yet been added to the official list of COVID-19 symptoms published by the NHS or Public Health England, it is important to note that the current situation is rapidly evolving and this could change at any time. The King’s College researchers say that a loss of smell or taste should not be used on their own, but could be useful when considered alongside other important symptoms such as a dry cough and fever. Speaking about their findings, lead researcher Professor Tim Spector said: “When combined with other symptoms, people with loss of smell and taste appear to be three times more likely to have contracted Covid-19 according to our data, and should therefore self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of the disease.” [Related reading: Why social distancing is crucial for reducing the spread of COVID-19]

How to Clean Your Groceries During the Current COVID-19 Outbreak

31/03/2020

The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19 has meant that many people are staying at home as much as possible, only venturing out to exercise, seek medical assistance and buy essential grocery items. But while you can reduce your risk of infection while you are out of your house by regularly washing your hands, observing social distancing and remembering to clean your cellphone, something many people forget to clean is the groceries they return home with. Now there’s a good chance that the products you have bought have been handled by other people before you put them in your basket or trolley. They may have even been sneezed or coughed on. And when you consider that the new coronavirus is stable for anything from several hours to a few days in aerosols and on certain surfaces, there is a risk every time you bring groceries home. So what can you do to minimize the risk that your groceries pose? Here are a few pointers: Touch only the items you intend to buy Wipe down the basket or trolley you’re going to use with disinfectant wipes Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you’re done shopping Wipe cans and food boxes before storing them Throw away any disposable packaging Thoroughly wash any tables or countertops that came into contact with your groceries Wash your hands again [Related reading: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public]

Why social distancing is crucial for reducing the spread of COVID-19

26/03/2020

With SARS-CoV-2 spreading rapidly across the globe and causing more and more cases of COVID-19, governments everywhere are urging their citizens to observe social distancing. But why is this simple measure so effective in halting the spread of the virus? One of the biggest problems with the new coronavirus is that some people are completely asymptomatic i.e. they exhibit no obvious symptoms, or have very mild symptoms only. However, these individuals can still pass the virus on to other people, further fuelling its spread. That’s why social distancing – even for people who aren’t exhibiting symptoms – is so important. Just look at the image that accompanies this post (Credit: Dr Robin Thompson/ University of Oxford). By staying at least 2 metres away from other people, a carrier of the virus can reduce the number of people affected in total by 33%. So instead of over 1,000 new cases after six weeks, the number is just 127. With social distancing, the transmission of the virus is significantly reduced, which in turn reduces the burden on already overstretched healthcare services. The bottom line is that by keeping our distance from each other, we can break the chain of the virus. In simple terms, avoid any mass gatherings, such as weddings, concerts or even a busy train/bus. You should also try and maintain at least 2 metres distance from the people around you when out in public. Finally, reduce your social activities as much as possible. It’s not going to be forever, but your cooperation now could make a monumental difference in the long run.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public

24/03/2020

The current coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy and has totally consumed all media outlets. But with so much information being shared about this deadly virus, it can be difficult to discern what precautions you and your loved ones should be taking at this difficult time. The advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) right now is simple: Wash your hands frequently - For at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. In the absence of soap and warm water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Maintain social distancing – Stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away from other people, especially anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth – If contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus into your body via your eyes, nose and mouth. Practice respiratory hygiene – Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue whenever you sneeze, and dispose of the tissue immediately afterwards. If you develop any symptoms associated with COVID-19, seek medical care ASAP – If you develop a fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. Stay informed and up to date – Keep abreast of the latest coronavirus developments to ensure you are always up to date with the latest information and precautions to take. Finally, please follow any quarantine or lock down guidelines issued by your government. Breaking the virus’ chain will be one of the biggest keys to defeating it.  Stay safe, everyone...

How and how often should you be cleaning your cellphone during the current COVID-19 outbreak?

19/03/2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has triggered many people to start doing something they should have already been doing on a regular basis: washing their hands. But while keeping your hands clean and observing social distancing rules are two of the best ways to protect yourself from this horrible virus, there is another fundamental part of your daily life that could be leaving you vulnerable and that’s your cellphone. Cellphones – particularly their touchscreens – can be a haven for bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most worrying of all, though, is the fact that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – is detectable for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Now, obviously you can’t wash your cellphone under the tap with soap, so what’s the answer? First and foremost, before you attempt to clean your cellphone, consult the manufacturer’s website. It should contain directions on how to safely clean your phone.  Apple, for example, has cleaning recommendations and guidelines on its website [here]. How often should you clean your phone? If you’re diligent about washing your hands regularly, you can probably get away with cleaning your cellphone once or twice a day. But if it’s frequently placed down on potentially dirty surfaces, you should probably be doing so more often. However, according to Dr. David Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology, you should clean your cellphone immediately if you have been near someone who was coughing and sneezing.

Cancer mortality rates continuing to fall in U.S.

17/03/2020

With news headlines currently dominated by the Covid-19 outbreak, it could be easy to overlook other health stories worthy of note. That’s why we are pleased to share that cancer rates in the United States are continuing to fall, according to a new report. As outlined in the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, cancer rates in the U.S. continued falling from 2001 to 2017 – dropping, on average, by 1.5% a year. Furthermore, new cancer diagnoses have decreased at an average annual rate of 0.6% over the same period. Interestingly, the annual decline in mortality was slightly more pronounced among men (1.8%) than women (1.4%); nevertheless, decreases were seen across all major racial/ethnic groups and among adults, teens and children alike. Among men, mortality rates fell for 11 of the 19 most common cancers. They remained stable for four cancers, including prostate. And increased for another four: mouth, pharynx, soft tissue and pancreas. Among women, mortality rates fell for 14 of the 20 most common cancers, including the top three: lung, breast and colon. However, an increase in mortality rates was seen in cancers of the uterus, liver, brain, soft tissue and pancreas. Mouth and pharynx cancer rates remained stable. Despite mortality rates decreasing by 4.8% a year in men and 3.7% in women, lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer death in the United States. Commenting on the findings of the report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control director, Dr. Robert Redfield, said: “The United States continues to make significant progress in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.”

Third-hand smoke can be as dangerous as second-hand smoke

12/03/2020

We often hear about the health risks of second-hand smoke, or passive smoking, but now a new study reveals that third-hand smoke can be dangerous too. Third-hand smoke is the term used to describe tobacco contaminants that stick to walls, carpet, bedding and other surfaces, leading to a room smelling like an ashtray. However, research by Yale University has revealed that third-hand smoke actually clings to a smoker’s body and clothes as well, allowing it to be released into environments where smoking has never occurred. While this might not sound like too big a deal, the worrying revelation from the study is that non-smokers in such environments can be impacted. In fact, the study says chemical exposure in a movie theatre could be the equivalent of being exposed to between one and 10 cigarettes of second-hand smoke by the end of the movie. Speaking about the findings of the research, Drew Gentner, study authord and an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, said: “People are substantial carriers of third-hand smoke contaminants to other environments. So, the idea that someone is protected from the potential health effects of cigarette smoke because they're not directly exposed to second-hand smoke is not the case.”

Lose weight, lower prostate cancer risk - study

10/03/2020

If there wasn’t already enough motivation for overweight men to shed some pounds, new research suggests losing weight could help lower the risk of advanced prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men globally, with approximately 1.3 million new cases in 2018 alone. Fortunately, if discovered early enough, prostate cancer has a relatively low mortality rate, with 96% of patients surviving for 15 years or more following an early stage diagnosis. However, as with any cancer, prevention is better than cure, and survival rates for advanced prostate cancer are very poor. That’s why a new, large-scale analysis of 15 studies involving nearly 831,000 men is significant. It found that having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of above 25 during middle to late adulthood was associated with the highest risk for advanced prostate cancer. Furthermore, the researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found that having a larger waist size was also associated with an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer and death. “These study results show that risk for advanced prostate cancer can be decreased by maintaining a 'healthy' weight, which is in line with guidelines by the American Cancer Society and World Cancer Research Fund,” said study author Jeanine Genkinger, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health The study was published March 4 in the Annals of Oncology.

Irregular sleep patterns linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease

05/03/2020

It’s a well-known fact that sleep is of utmost importance to health. Specifically, it’s been shown that a lack of high-quality sleep negatively impacts our resilience, productivity and performance. Furthermore, long-term chronic sleep deprivation is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Now, new research suggests that irregular sleeping patterns may contribute to the risk of cardiovascular problems. The study was carried out by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, who analysed data from 1,992 patients in their 60s and 70s with no cardiovascular problems at baseline. They found that those who had the most irregular sleep patterns (defined as 2 hours or more difference in sleep duration each night) had a twofold plus increased risk of cardiovascular disease than patients with one hour or less difference in sleep duration. Importantly, even after adjusting for other risk factors, patients with irregular sleep patterns remained at significant risk of cardiovascular events. Publishing their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers said: “Our study indicates that healthy sleep isn’t just about quantity but also about variability and that this can have an important effect on heart health.” Do you get enough sleep each night? Is your sleeping pattern pretty irregular? If not, you could be increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Remember, getting enough high-quality sleep is extremely important and beneficial to your health.

Weight gain speeds up lung function decline in older adults

03/03/2020

Gaining weight in later years has a detrimental impact on lung health, a new study suggests. People’s lungs naturally deteriorate as they age and lose functionality as the years go by. But now new research has linked moderate or significant weight gain to an even sharper decline in lung health. According to the study of 3,700 individuals in Europe and Australia, who were recruited between the ages of 20 and 44, and were studied for 20 years, people who gained weight throughout the course of the study – regardless of whether they were a healthy weight or overweight/obese to begin with – had accelerated lung function decline. Furthermore, overweight/obese individuals who lost weight during the study saw their lung functionality decline slow. Publishing their findings in the journal Thorax, the researchers said large amounts of fat in the abdomen and chest can limit the space lungs have when people inhale. It was also suggested that fat produces inflammatory chemicals that can reduce the diameter of airways and damage lungs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study leader Judith Garcia Aymerich, head of the non-communicable diseases and environment program at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), said: “Although previous research has shown that weight gain is linked to lung function decline, ours is the first study to analyze such a varied population sample over a longer period of time.”  

How AI is helping boost IVF success rates

27/02/2020

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being used in a huge number of ways. One of its latest applications is in the field of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), where it is helping select embryos that have the greatest chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The AI algorithm that is at the heart of the process is called Ivy, and it analyzes fertilized embryos during their incubation period to see which ones have the greatest likelihood of successful development. Developed by Harrison.ai, a Sydney-based, clinician-led healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) company, Ivy has already been used to help several thousand women undergoing IVF treatment in Australia. Ivy’s decisions are faster and better due to the fact it uses machine learning from thousands of successful and unsuccessful embryos. Ivy is also a self-improving system, using a comprehensive three-dimensional growth model of each embryo to better its accuracy and understanding. When IVF first came onto the scene in 1977, success rates were less than 50%. With the development of Ivy, that has risen to a remarkable 93%., highlighting just how important the technology could be for the IVF industry going forward. If IVF treatment is something you have considered, we are here to help. Find out more about how we can facilitate IVF treatment for French-speaking patients in Spain by contacting us today.

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