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TOPIC: health

Coronavirus

Why Making COVID Predictions Is Actually Getting Harder

We know more about COVID than ever before, but that doesn't make it easier to predict what will happen this year. It also remains to be seen if we'll put the lessons we learned into practice.

In 2020, we knew very little about the novel virus that was to become known as COVID-19. Now, as we enter 2023, a search of Google Scholar produces around five million results containing the term.

So how will the pandemic be felt in 2023? This question is in some ways impossible to answer, given a number of unknowns. In early 2020, the scientific community was focused on determining key parameters that could be used to make projections as to the severity and extent of the spread of the virus. Now, the complex interplay of COVID variants, vaccination and natural immunity makes that process far more difficult and less predictable.

But this doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people estimated to be infected has varied over time, but this figure has not fallen below 1.25% (or one in 80 people) in England for the entirety of 2022. COVID is very much still with us, and people are being infected time and time again.

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Crazy Traffic: An Impatient Patient's Self-Diagnosis

"And then they say that there's no crisis?"

“Dottoré, at 8 in the morning people go to work, to school, and it's normal that there's traffic.

But at 10 for example, why is everything blocked? Or at 5 pm, at 2 am? All the time!

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Why Are Zimbabwe’s Gold Miners Risking Deadly Mercury Exposure

Mercury exposure can be deadly. So why are gold miners in Zimbabwe using the dangerous chemical — and risking their lives and the health of their communities in the process?

The young men brace for the first shock of cold water as they enter the river, easing their way into another day of illegal gold mining.

David Mauta and Wisdom Nyakurima, both 18, stand knee-deep in the Odzi River near the eastern Zimbabwe mining city of Mutare and shovel gravel onto a woven mat. They hinge their hopes on finding flakes of shiny gold. But it’s another metal whose dangers they don’t recognize that may have a more lasting impact.

Every day, they touch and breathe mercury, a silverly chemical element that carries deadly implications. The toxic liquid metal is key to their gold-mining efforts, as is the government, which purchases their gold even as officials vow to eliminate mercury’s use. The young men are unregistered artisanal miners, freelance workers who don’t have a license to operate. They sift through rocks in the river and dump beads of mercury over the sediment, which clings to gold. Then they light a match, using the flame to separate the mercury from the gold, a process that shoots toxic vapors into the air.

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Why China's COVID Coverup Raises The Risk That New Variants Will Spread

No one knows the true number of coronavirus infections in China, but it could be up to 4 million a day. Experts fear that new variants could emerge undetected that may prove dangerous for the rest of the world. Time is ticking.

Ravindra Gupta, an internationally recognized coronavirus expert from Cambridge, UK, is worried by what he can't see.

“We are unfortunately blind to what is happening there right now.” The what and the there Gupta is referring to is the rapid spread of COVID-19 in China. In his lab, Gupta researches how viruses develop under certain conditions. In order to better understand how new coronavirus variants evolve, he incorporates new mutations into so-called pseudo-viruses, then analyzes what these changes mean from a medical perspective.

In this way, he was able to predict that the dangerous Delta variant that first appeared in India in 2021 would spread across the world so quickly.

And now? “The Chinese government is not only preventing us from knowing the transmission pattern and death rate of the outbreak there.," Gupta says. "We are also not receiving any representative data about the variants in circulation.”

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Future
Benoît Georges

Listening For Illness: Your Voice May Soon Help Detect Health Problems

Applying Artificial intelligence to vocal cues is increasingly being used to detect a range of illnesses from COVID-19 to asthma and even depression. But such technology also comes with serious ethical concerns.

PARIS — Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), your voice can already be used to dictate messages to your smartphone, give commands to your Bluetooth speakers, or chat with your car's dashboard. But soon, it may be able to evaluate the state of your health by detecting respiratory (asthma, COVID-19) or neurodegenerative illnesses. It could even pick up mental health struggles, such as depression or anxiety.

The concept is simple: every pathology that affects the lungs, the heart, the brain, the muscles, or the vocal cords can lead to voice modifications. By using digital tools to analyze a recording, it must be possible to detect vocal biomarkers, the same way vocal recognition algorithms learned to understand a spoken language based on millions of sound samples.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

On The Couch And On The Lam

Our Dottoré looks back on an entertaining session with a witty runaway convict.

- Do you have a job?

- No. I am incarcerated.

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Society
Burcin Ikiz

Climate Change Is Bad For Your Brain

Scientists need to learn more about climate change’s negative impact on the nervous system in order to mitigate it.

Climate change is the biggest global health threat facing us today. According to the Lancet Countdown's 2022 report that came out in October, the climate crisis is “undermining every dimension of global health monitored." Its effects include direct impacts, such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise, as well as indirect ones, like increased food insecurity, forced migrations, the spread of infectious diseases, and heat-related illnesses.

But one piece of information missing in most health reports, as well as in many climate change studies and international conferences, such as COP27, is how it affects — and will affect — our brains.

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Green
Apophia Agiresaasi

As Air Quality Worsens, Kampala Citizens Find It Difficult to Breathe

Kampala’s air quality is much worse than globally accepted standards, but several interventions are being instituted to avert its effects.

KAMPALA, UGANDA — There’s something in Kampala’s air. Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku’s body could tell even before she went to see a doctor. The retired teacher and her children used to get frequent asthma attacks, especially after they had been up and about in the city where there were many vehicles. It was worse when they lived in Naluvule, a densely populated Kampala suburb where traffic is dense.

“We were in and out of hospital most of the time. [The] attacks would occur like twice a week,” Nabweru says.

Her doctors blamed the air in Kampala, which is nine times more polluted than the World Health Organization’s recommended limit, according to a 2022 WHO report. By comparison, Bangladesh, the country with the world’s worst air pollution, is 13 times the recommended limit.

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Coronavirus
Edda Grabar

Why Long COVID Is Still Such A Mystery To Researchers

Both long and post-COVID are still misunderstood by the general public and the scientific community. This can cause even more suffering for those affected, who already fear their symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic.

Christoph Kleinschnitz chooses his words very carefully. He knows that he can’t afford to put a foot wrong, otherwise he’s going to cause all sorts of trouble. So his first sentence is unequivocal: “Long COVID and post-COVID both exist. There is no doubt about that.”

Kleinschnitz has good reason to be cautious. The director of neurology at Essen University Hospital recently appeared as an expert in a controversial documentary by doctor and TV presenter Eckart von Hirschhausen, where he pointed out that for some patients who are apparently suffering from long COVID, their symptoms may be intensified – or even fully explained – by psychological causes. Since that appearance, sufferers have branded him a long COVID and post-COVID denier.

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Kleinschnitz. The only thing he questions is the apparent frequency of long COVID and post-COVID cases – and a colleague’s claim to have cured herself with a highly controversial treatment: flushing antibodies, which she believed were causing her symptoms, out of her blood. Depending on the number of treatments required, this can cost up to €10,000.

Kleinschnitz’s appearance in Hirschhausen’s film only lasted two minutes. But it was enough to spark attacks against not only him but also his family.

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Society
Jehangir Ali

Deadly Virus Shakes Indian Village's Faith In Traditional Healers

An outbreak of Hepatitis-A led to the deaths of two children in an isolated village in Kashmir. Some point fingers at the lack of surveillance by trained doctors and poor sanitation, and others, to the faith villagers place in traditional healers.

TURKA TACHLOO Eight-year-old Afaan Altaf first lost his appetite. Then the child’s face and eyes started to pale. Within two days, he began to vomit.

The Altafs live in Turka Tachloo, a village of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district and were worried about Afaan. In early December, Afaan’s father Mohammad Altaf, a farmer, decided to visit the Maternity and Child Care hospital in the nearby town of Anantnag.

Official records show that Afaan had tested positive for Hepatitis-A on December 3 following an outbreak of the viral infection in Turka Tachloo. The village, located 54 kilometres from Srinagar, the largest city of Jammu and Kashmir, comprises about 240 households, most of which are poor and depend on agriculture.

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Society
Beate Strobel

Now They're Diagnosing Burnout's Never-Quit Cousin: Burn-On

Feeling overworked but not yet burned out? Often the problem is “burn-on,” an under-researched phenomenon whose sufferers desperately struggle to keep up and meet their own expectations — with dangerous consequences for their health.

At first glance, Mr L seems to be a successful man with a well-rounded life: middle management, happily married, father of two. If you ask him how he is, he responds with a smile and a “Fine thanks”. But everything is not fine. When he was admitted to the psychosomatic clinic Kloster Diessen, Mr L described his emotional life as hollow and empty.

Although outwardly he is still putting on a good face, he has been privately struggling for some time. Everything that used to bring him joy and fun has become simply another chore. He can hardly remember what it feels like to enjoy his life.

For psychotherapist Professor Bert te Wildt, who heads the psychosomatic clinic in Ammersee in Bavaria, Germany, the symptoms of Patient L. make him a prime example of a new and so far under-researched syndrome, that he calls “burn-on”. Working with psychologist Timo Schiele, he has published his findings about the phenomenon in a book, Burn-On.

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Coronavirus
Emma Albright

Masks And Me: Take This Pandemic Story At Face Value

Even if COVID cases are rising again, the author isn't ready to mask up again. But she's also not quite ready to say goodbye forever...

-Essay-

PARIS — Waiting in line at the pharmacy the other day, I heard a customer ask for a COVID-19 test. The pharmacist let out a long sarcastic sigh: “We’re still doing those?”

Of course they are, as cases are again rising ahead of winter here in France and many other places around the world. But the true sign of the depth of our collective COVID fatigue were the masks at the pharmacy. That is, there were none, not even the pharmacist was wearing one, even if a sign hangs in front saying they’re required.

The regular announcements that have begun airing again on French radio about the importance of masks in containing the virus sound beside the point. Indeed, wearing masks is no longer a requirement anywhere in France, merely a suggestion.

Still, masks have by no means gone away, either in society, or my mind. That becomes clearest when I’m riding the metro in Paris. As I count the ratio of masked to non-masked, and hear the daily announcements on the benefits of wearing one, a dilemma starts to creep in…

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