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Why Delta COVID variant is spreading rapidly | Health News


Beijing: People infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 produce far more virus than those infected with the original version of coronavirus making it very easy to spread, according to a study.

Researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China found that viral load — a measure of the density of viral particles in the body — is roughly 1,000 times higher in people infected with the Delta variant than those infected with the original coronavirus strain, Nature reported.

According to current estimates, the Delta variant could be more than twice as transmissible as the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. The variant, which was first identified in India in late 2020, has now become the predominant strain and has spread to at least 111 countries.

The team tracked 62 people who were quarantined after exposure to COVID-19 and tested their viral load every day throughout the course of infection to see how it changed over time. Researchers then compared participants’ infection patterns with those of 63 people who contracted the original SARS-CoV-2 strain in 2020.

The findings, posted preprint, showed that the virus was first detectable in people with the Delta variant four days after exposure. On the other hand, the original strain took an average six days to be present in people. This suggests that Delta replicates much faster, said epidemiologist Jing Lu at China’s CDC.

Individuals infected with Delta also had viral loads up to 1,260 times higher than those in people infected with the original strain.

The combination of a high number of viruses and a short incubation period makes sense as an explanation for Delta’s heightened transmissibility, Benjamin Cowling, epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong was quoted as saying to Nature.

Those infected with Delta carry a high number of viruses in the respiratory tract, which means that they can become superspreaders and infect more people. Moreover, a short incubation makes contact tracing more difficult, the researchers noted.

“Putting it all together, Delta’s really difficult to stop,” Cowling says.

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COVID-19 may bring a new wave of diabetes: Study | Health News


New York: While diabetes is known to be a risk factor for severe COVID outcomes, researchers are now observing a new long-term health concern in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 — an increase in new-onset hyperglycemia, or high levels of blood sugar lasting months after the infection.

Researchers from the Boston Children’s Hospital assessed the health of 551 people admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 in Italy from March through May 2020.

About half of the patients (46 percent), with no history of diabetes, were found to have new hyperglycemia. A follow-up showed that while most cases were resolved, about 35 percent of the newly hyperglycemic patients remained so at least six months after the infection, said lead author of the study, Paolo Fiorina, from the Division of Nephrology at the hospital.

Compared to patients with no signs of glucose abnormalities, the hyperglycemic patients also had worse clinical concerns: longer hospitalisation, worse clinical symptoms, a higher need of oxygen, a higher need of ventilation, and increased need of intensive care treatment.

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The study was published in the journal Nature Metabolism. The team also found that hyperglycemic patients had abnormal hormonal levels.

“We discovered they were severely hyperinsulinemic; they produced too much insulin,” Fiorina said.

They also had abnormal levels of pro-insulin, a precursor of insulin, and markers of impaired islet beta cell function. Islet beta cells make and secrete insulin.

“Basically, the hormonal profile suggests that the endocrine pancreatic function is abnormal in those patients with COVID-19 and it persists long after recovery,” Fiorina added.

Hyperglycemic patients also had severe abnormalities in the amount of inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6 and others.

While glucometabolic abnormalities declined over time in some patients — particularly after COVID-19 infection — other issues like higher post-prandial (after eating) glucose levels and abnormal pancreatic hormones remained in the post-COVID period.

“This study is one of the first to show that COVID-19 has a direct effect on the pancreas,” Fiorina said, adding, “It indicates that the pancreas is another target of the virus affecting not only the acute phase during hospitalisation but potentially also the long-term health of these patients.”

The study pointed to the importance of evaluating pancreatic function in patients hospitalised for COVID-19 — while in the hospital and over the long term.

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‘Good cholesterol’ may protect liver: Study | Health News


New York: Researchers have identified a type of ‘good cholesterol’ that protects the liver by blocking inflammatory signals produced by common gut bacteria.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is mostly known for mopping up cholesterol in the body and delivering it to the liver for disposal.

But researchers from the Washington University in St Louis, the US, found that a type of ‘good cholesterol’ called HDL3, when produced in the intestine, protects the liver from inflammation and injury. If not blocked, these bacterial signals travel from the intestine to the liver, where they activate immune cells that trigger an inflammatory state, which leads to liver damage.

“Even though HDL has been considered ‘good cholesterol,’ drugs that increase overall HDL levels have fallen out of favour in recent years because of clinical trials that showed no benefit in cardiovascular disease,” said Gwendalyn J. Randolph, Professor of Immunology at the University’s School of Medicine.

“But our study suggests that raising levels of this specific type of HDL, and specifically raising it in the intestine, may hold promise for protecting against liver disease, which, like heart disease, also is a major chronic health problem,” Randolph added.

The study, published in the journal Science, showed that HDL3 from the intestine protects the liver from inflammation in mice and in human blood samples.

Any sort of intestinal damage can impact how a group of microbes called Gram-negative bacteria can affect the body. Such microbes produce an inflammatory molecule called lipopolysaccharide that can travel to the liver via the portal vein.

The portal vein is the major vessel that supplies blood to the liver, and it carries most nutrients to the liver after food is absorbed in the intestine.

Substances from gut microbes may travel along with nutrients from food to activate immune cells that trigger inflammation. In this way, elements of the gut microbiome may drive liver disease, including fatty liver disease and liver fibrosis, in which the liver develops scar tissue.

“We are hopeful that HDL3 can serve as a target in future therapies for liver disease. We are continuing our research to better understand the details of this unique process,” Randolph said.

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Exclusive: How to cope with the death of a loved one during COVID-19 pandemic | Health News


New Delhi: The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a mental health crisis across the globe. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a staggering more than 4 million people have lost their lives across the globe due to novel coronavirus, leaving behind bereaved families who are even unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones due to social distancing norms.

The shock of losing someone close to you, your family, friend, relative, exacerbated with the pain of not being able to participate in their last rites often puts individuals in a situation where their mental health is affected severely. 

Dr. Sanjeev P. Sahni, renowned Psychologist and author of ‘Let’s Talk About Depression: A Focus on Australia, India and USA’ shares his insights as to how the restrictions on mobility because of the pandemic have increased the trauma of grieving families and what strategies one can adopt while talking to them so that they can deal with it effectively.

1) Sharing Grief: The physical and social distancing norms in place have increased the extent of grief one feels after losing their loved one. Even when someone close to you dies we aren’t able to participate in their last rites and this increases the extent of our bereavement. Therefore, it is important to reach out to people who have lost a loved one – whether it be through a voice and video call and make them know you are there for them.

2) Identifying people: People might indeed hesitate in sharing their grief. In such a scenario certain factors can be looked upon to identify such people. If someone is taking a lot of leaves from work or office, try to talk to the person. It might be because he/she is suffering from a certain mental health issue that originated after losing someone close to them. Even if someone is coming to office, but is either silent or seems deviated from work it could also be because of some bereavement. Sometimes people might even say things like ‘ I don’t want to live anymore’ or ‘what is the purpose and meaning of living life.’ These statements tell us that this person might be in dire need of help.

3) Keep social media usage and news consumption at bay: It is essential to stay away from excessive use of social media for sometime as it might bring back memories that may increase the trauma. Also, it is seen that with a lot of news around COVID – people dying and the number of COVID cases increasing globally, such information intake is harmful to mental health.

Sometimes, friends and family members tag the grieving person in photos to empathize with their loss, but this brings back memories that may again trigger mental trauma. Therefore, it becomes necessary to stay away from the news and social media for sometime.

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4) What to Say, What Not to Say: We might feel a bit hesitant sometimes while talking to a grieving person but we should understand that it is necessary to talk as this might help the other person in dealing with the loss of a loved one. Talking is the only key. Start by asking simple things like ‘how are you?’ Try to talk to them about the person that they lost. This will help them in sharing things that they might be thinking about. Also, if the person starts talking, don’t interrupt them or change the subject. Let them talk for as long as they want.

Refrain yourselves from saying things like ‘you have to forget him/her’ or ‘don’t cry and be strong.’ Saying such things might put the grieving person in an increased state of mental trauma. Rather say words like ‘you are always in our prayers’ as such things provide some strength to the grief-stricken person.

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5) Counseling: Counseling and support groups help a lot in providing support to the bereaved person. Even forming listening circles where people get to talk about their loss, decreases the extent of grief. Grief counseling is another such step that has seen a sudden rise as it also comforts the person. Even social media can be used in an effective way. It can be used to connect to people over video calls, have a chat with a friend when you are feeling low. That is the best way of making the most of social media.

6) Self-Care: It is necessary that the bereaved person should engage in self-care. With the restrictions in place because of lockdown, it might be difficult to get back to routine. Try engaging in activities that may relax your mind, exercise a bit or involve yourself in some creative activity, even if you don’t have the urge to do it. 

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7) Coping With the Loss: Don’t hesitate from reminding yourself that you are a human being who is going through a difficult phase in life. Doing such an activity will help you in dealing with the trauma.

Sometimes people keep blaming themselves that they should have provided better care to the deceased person, or they could have taken more care. These are ways in which they keep blaming themselves and increase their trauma.

Keep reminding yourself that you did whatever you could. However, sometimes people, even after many attempts, are unable to get out of it. That is the time when you should seek professional help. Don’t hesitate in doing that. It will help you. 

The fight against mental health issues caused by COVID-19 is long but with better health institutions and palliative care tools in place, we will be able to support families to deal with the trauma of their loved ones a little better.

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A guide to steer clear of monsoon diseases | Health News


New Delhi: The monsoon season brings with it a pleasant respite from the hot and scorching summer. The greens become brighter and there is the intoxicating smell of wet earth.

Unfortunately, the monsoon also lowers our immunity and brings with it a bevvy of diseases and dangers to our health. One needs to prepare in advance to be able to avoid these. Preeti Goyal, Medical Director, vHealth by Aetna, shares a few conditions prevalent in this season and some tips to prevent them are:

* The drastic fluctuations in temperature and high humidity during this season makes one susceptible to many viruses causing a cold and flu. Taking a nutritious diet and immunity-boosting foods during this time, avoiding junk food and consuming plenty of water goes a long way in protecting against viral infections. Herbal teas and warm honey water also act to protect the upper respiratory tract. Adequate sleep and physical exercise are sure shot ways to boost immunity.

* Like humans, mosquitoes, mites, bacteria, viruses and fungi also love the monsoons. It is the breeding season for mosquitoes and mites which can transmit diseases like dengue, malaria and scrub typhus. Avoid any stagnation of water in and around your homes and encourage others to be mindful of it too. In case of a febrile illness, contact your physician immediately.

* Typhoid and Hepatitis A due to contaminated food/water also become more prevalent during this time. Use only filtered or boiled water and do not use water stored for more than 24 hours.

* Consume freshly cooked, light meals. Avoid raw vegetables especially the leafy ones and check all vegetables and fruit for mud, larvae, rot etc. before consuming. Thoroughly wash all farm produce.

* Fungal infections especially of the feet are another problem specific to this season. Clean and dry your feet thoroughly every day especially after they are soaked with rainwater/mud. Avoid wearing wet shoes for long.

* Wash your clothes regularly and dry them in the sun whenever possible and/or iron them before using. This kills the fungal spores and prevents fungal infections of the skin.

* For persons prone to allergies, the monsoon season may precipitate or exacerbate their symptoms. Avoid exposure to known allergens and keep prescribed anti-allergic medicines handy at all times.

Keeping these little tips in mind can make monsoons enjoyable and memorable.

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How our immune system may help prevent miscarriage | Health News


New York: The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother’s immune system from attacking the placenta and foetus.

The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies foetal growth was severely restricted.

“When you’re pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades — not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a foetus,” said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.

“Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of ‘secondary education’ — sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus — teaching T cells not to attack the foetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy,” she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.

The immune system has to be educated not to attack one’s own tissues and organs to prevent autoimmune disease. But pregnancy presents a unique challenge, since the foetus expresses proteins found in the placenta as well as proteins whose genetics are distinct from the mother.

“It was a conceptual leap to link Aire-expressing cells, which are critical for preventing autoimmune disease, to pregnancy,” said Tippi Mackenzie, Professor of surgery at UCSF’s Center for Maternal Foetal Precision Medicine.

In the thymus, Aire-expressing cells begin interacting with other immune cells very early in life to teach them what not to attack. The thymus begins to shrink and is nearly gone by adulthood, by which time most immune cells have been educated. But as the thymus shrinks, the population of eTACs in lymph nodes and the spleen expands, the researchers explained.

The study suggests a healthy pregnancy may depend on having these cells around, they added.

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UK to launch studies to find long COVID causes, treatments | Health News


London: UK researchers have received a 20 million pound fund to investigate ‘long COVID’, its causes, and potential treatments, the media reported.

The funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will help researchers launch 15 new studies of the condition that will investigate everything from brain fog to ongoing breathlessness, using a new technique to detect hidden lung damage, the BBC reported on Sunday.

Patients with post-COVID conditions are variously referred to as having long-haul COVID, long COVID or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). At present, there are no tests to diagnose long COVID and the condition is still not yet fully understood.

The condition can cover a range of conditions, across all ages, such as fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, brain fog and breathlessness, which are not seen to the same extent with other viruses.

One study led by the University College London will test whether everyday medicines such as aspirin and anti-histamines can help people recover. It will recruit more than 4,500 people with long COVID who will be tracked over three months of treatment, the report said.

Another study will investigate the common long-lasting problem of brain fog, which many people say affects their daily activities and their ability to work. Using detailed brain scans of those affected, researchers hope to learn more about this cognitive impairment and how it can be treated.

Further, researchers at the University of Oxford will focus on the causes of ongoing breathlessness, while an University of Glasgow team will assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long COVID in people who are overweight or obese, the report added.

At Cardiff University, researchers will look at whether an overactive or impaired immune response could be driving long COVID.

The new research was “absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments” and would be life-changing for those battling long-term symptoms of the virus”, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was quoted as saying. He said it would build on the 80 long COVID assessment centres open in the UK, the report said.

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China’s first human infection case with Monkey B Virus dies | Health News


Beijing: A Beijing-based vet, who was confirmed as China’s first human infection case with Monkey B Virus (BV), has died from the virus, but his close contacts are safe from it, for now, Global Times reported.

The 53-year-old male vet, who worked for an institution researching on non-human primates, showed early-onset symptoms of nausea and vomiting, a month after he dissected two dead monkeys in early March.

The vet sought treatment in several hospitals and eventually died on May 27, China CDC Weekly English Platform of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed.

It said that there were no fatal or even clinically evident BV infections in China before, thus the vet’s case marks the first human infection case with BV identified in China.

Researchers have collected the cerebrospinal fluid of the veterinarian in April and identified him as positive for BV, yet samples of his close contacts suggested negative results for the virus.

The virus, initially isolated in 1932, is an alphaherpesvirus enzootic in macaques of the genus Macaca. It can be transmitted via direct contact and exchange of bodily secretions; and has a fatality rate of 70-80 per cent.

The journal suggested that BV in monkeys might pose a potential threat to occupational workers.

The report said it is necessary to eliminate BV during the development of specific pathogen-free rhesus colonies and to strengthen surveillance in laboratory macaques and occupational workers in China.

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Brain implant turns paralysed man’s thoughts into words | Health News


New York: US researchers have successfully developed a ‘speech neuroprosthesis’ that has enabled a man with severe paralysis to communicate in sentences, translating signals from his brain to the vocal tract directly into words that appear as text on a screen.

The technology, developed by researchers from University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), was able to decode words from brain activity at a rate of up to 18 words per minute with up to 93 percent accuracy.

The man, in his late 30s, suffered a devastating brainstem stroke more than 15 years ago that severely damaged the connection between his brain and his vocal tract and limbs. Since his injury, he has had extremely limited head, neck, and limb movements, and communicates by using a pointer attached to a baseball cap to poke letters on a screen.

UCSF researchers surgically implanted a high-density electrode array over the patient’s speech motor cortex and recorded 22 hours of neural activity in this brain region over 48 sessions and several months.

The electrodes recorded his thoughts as brain signals, which were then translated into specific intended words using artificial intelligence.

The team thus created a 50-word vocabulary — which includes words such as “water,” “family,” and “good” — which they could recognise from brain activity using advanced computer algorithms.

“To our knowledge, this is the first successful demonstration of direct decoding of full words from the brain activity of someone who is paralysed and cannot speak,” said Edward Chang, Professor and neurosurgeon at the UCSF.

“It shows strong promise to restore communication by tapping into the brain’s natural speech machinery,” Chang added. The study is detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Further, to test their approach, the team first presented the patient with short sentences constructed from the 50 vocabulary words and asked him to try saying them several times. As he made his attempts, the words were decoded from his brain activity, one by one, on a screen.

Then the team switched to prompting him with questions such as “How are you today?” and “Would you like some water?” As before, the patient’s attempted speech appeared on the screen. “I am very good,” and “No, I am not thirsty.”

“We were thrilled to see the accurate decoding of a variety of meaningful sentences. We’ve shown that it is actually possible to facilitate communication in this way and that it has potential for use in conversational settings,” said lead author David Moses, a postdoctoral engineer in Chang’s lab.

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COVID-related heart inflammation in kids may resolve rapidly | Health News


New York: Heart problems in children, who were hospitalised with the Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) — an inflammatory condition triggered by COVID — lasted just a few months and resolved rapidly, suggests a study.

MIS-C is a rare condition that causes widespread inflammation throughout the body. Many children with MIS-C were asymptomatic or had mild COVID symptoms at first but weeks later developed a variety of nonrespiratory symptoms including abdominal pain, skin rashes, heart abnormalities, and, in some cases, extremely low blood pressure.

However, these were mostly gone within a few months, revealed the study by researchers at Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian.

“We’ve learned that COVID causes a spectrum of illness in children. Some are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and a small number of kids who develop MIS-C become critically ill, requiring admission to the ICU,” said Kanwal M. Farooqi, Assistant Professor of pediatrics at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“It is a relief that this study shows that most of the severe heart and immunologic manifestations we saw in kids with MIS-C resolved rapidly,” Farooqi added.

The small study, published in the journal Pediatrics, analysed about 45 MIS-C patients. Nearly 80 percent of the children had some type of cardiac dysfunction, and almost half had moderate to severe cardiac abnormalities, including decreased ability of the heart to pump properly, coronary artery dilation, and leaking heart valves.

Two-thirds of the children also experienced a temporary decrease in the number of white blood cells during their hospital stay. The majority had an increase in inflammatory markers, and more than half also had elevated cardiac-specific markers indicating heart injury.

Most of the patients responded rapidly to steroids and other treatments and were discharged by about five days. The immunologic abnormalities and markers for heart injury returned to normal within a few weeks and by four months, most of the heart abnormalities had resolved, including all of the coronary artery abnormalities, Farooqi said.

“Nevertheless, given the absence of long-term data, we are recommending that children who had more than mild dysfunction on cardiac ultrasound should get a cardiac MRI at six months and see a pediatrician before being cleared for competitive sports,” he noted.

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