What’s the latest with COVID-19?

According to an editorial in Nature (dated 10 Jan 2022), it is time for us to come to terms with the fact that COVID-19 is here to stay.

Rather than laying plans to return to the ‘normal’ life we knew before the pandemic, 2022 is the year the world must come to terms with the fact that SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay.
Rather than laying plans to return to the ‘normal’ life we knew before the pandemic, 2022 is the year the world must come to terms with the fact that SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay.

Given the amount of pandemic fatigue there is at the moment, many people have already come to terms with it. However, as Nature states, this doesn’t mean that we should stop taking precautions to reduce transmission. With Omicron emerging as a serious threat to moving on from the virus, experts are stressing the need to continue wearing masks and social distancing.

“Omicron is a real threat. Omicron is much more transmissible, and it’s capable of infecting people who have been vaccinated or previously infected. If you’re going to get together with relatives and loved ones, test before you come together. And wear masks in public. And try to social distance in other circumstances.”

It’s also worth noting that the virus will continue to mutate and we will see more variants, but thanks to the ongoing research, scientists will be better equipped to handle them.

“I slightly suspect that there will be future variants, but I think with all that we’ve learned now, we actually should be able to deal with them with much greater certainty.” Professor Peter Openshaw Professor of Experimental Medicine

So, it might be presumptuous to say that this (vaccines, wearing masks, jumping three feet into the air if someone coughs nearby) is our new normal, but it’s our normal right now.


References

  1. COVID is here to stay: countries must decide how to adapt | https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00057-y
  2. Omicron – latest research and expert views as PCR test rules change

The impact of food poverty on society | part 2

In the previous part, I spoke about food insecurity and how it impacts the lives of many around the world. In this part, we’ll be learning what food insecurity is, and what measures are being taken to combat it and the last impact it has on society.

Food security is made up of four different components. This includes:

  1. Availability
  2. Stability
  3. Utilisation
  4. Access

What happens when there is a lack of food security?

The lack of food security comes with expensive drawbacks, and it may be cheaper to avoid food insecurity than to reverse it. Currently, most governments have been unable to come up with workable solutions. This leaves a hole that is filled by third sector organisations, some of which are not very secure themselves.

Food banks have become more common and they are plugging gaps in society. However, they are not a sustainable alternative to the real issue at hand – people are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in a world that keeps on evolving and growing, leaving those who can’t afford necessities behind.

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What has been done to improve food security?

So far, there have been some attempts by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Europe to improve food security as part of their public health policies. However, the majority of these countries do not measure food security, begging the question of how they can combat an issue without knowing how severe the situation is.

While Canada and the US monitor food security across households, the UK’s growing issue was highlighted by the increase in food banks. This growing reliance on food banks directly shows how difficult it is for some families to put meals on the table.

While food banks are useful, the mental and social impact of not being able to afford food cannot be ignored. Whether it’s young adults whose low wages cannot cover their living costs, or the young parents struggling to feed their children, there is a stigma attached to needing help. People may compare themselves to their wealthier counterparts and wonder why they are the ones struggling. This, in turn, might prevent them from asking for help.

What are the disadvantages of food insecurity?

The main disadvantage of food poverty and insecurity is (perhaps unsurprisingly) poor health. The human body requires a certain amount of nutrients and vitamins, much of which is consumed within the diet. On top of that, food insecurity can lead to trauma, stress, shame and hopelessness which will lead to poor mental health.

In children, food poverty can cause increased iron deficiency anaemia, serious infection, chronic illness and mental health issues. There has also been a link between overweight and/or obese children and adult women. Children who do not have enough food to eat tend to do poorly in school. Adults who are food insecure often have a low household income.

It is thought that the incidence of diabetes is fifty percent higher in adults who live in food-insecure households. Food insecurity is also more strongly linked to diabetes than hypertension (high blood pressure). This is because diabetes is more sensitive to our diets.

When there is a lack of food it is followed by peripheral insulin resistance, allowing the preservation of muscle tissue. If this continues and the insulin resistance becomes worse, it will cause diabetes. This is made worse by the consumption of inexpensive carbohydrates like sweets (candy) and chocolate in place of fruit and vegetables. This increases the body’s glycemic load (define) and the risk of developing diabetes.

This is a cause for concern because up to 7% of the UK population have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Diabetes is not the only adverse effect of food insecurity. Food insecurity is a very stressful state both emotionally and physically. When we’re stressed out, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol. High cortisol levels are linked to higher adiposity (excessive buildup of fat) which is a strong risk factor for poor health.

brgfx/Shutterstock.com

The risks and consequences of food poverty have been well documented. In 2020, UNICEF helped fund food parcels for hungry children affected by the coronavirus pandemic in Southwark, South London. This was a first in all of UNICEF’s history (launching an emergency response in the UK) and indicates just how bad the problem is becoming.

If more is not done to prevent or reduce food poverty, many people will need help and find that they simply cannot get any.

Further reading/references

Marcus Rashford on Child poverty in the UK

Food Poverty action plans

What is food poverty?

COVID-19: What impacts are unemployment and the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme having on food insecurity in the UK?

Food Insecurity and Hunger in Rich Countries—It Is Time for Action against Inequality

Three million go hungry in UK because of lockdown (archived version here).

Average household income, UK: financial year 2020

What do we know about the latest coronavirus variant, ‘Omicron’?

There is a new variant of COVID-19, the virus that has caused a global pandemic that began in early 2020 and shows no signs of letting up.

Here’s what we know about it:

  • Official name – SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529. Classified on 26/11/22 by WHO and named Omicron
  • First reported to WHO on 24/11/21
  • First discovered in specimen taken on 9th November 2021
  • Has a wide range of mutations, thought to make it more infectious and not targeted by current vaccines available
  • Seems to be localised to South Africa but is now in other countries (including the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Italy) due to people traveling from South Africa.
  • It carries an increased risk of reinfection
  • Has been designated a VOC – variant of concern

According to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – who speaking after consulting with scientists – Omicron can be spread rapidly between two people, even those who are double vaccinated.

How has the world reacted?

Several countries have banned travel from South Africa and up to eight other surrounding countries. In the UK, travellers are now required to take a PCR test upon returning or entering the country regardless of vaccination status. Face masks have also become compulsory in shops and public transport.

What do we do now?

  • Continue to maintain safe hygiene practices
  • Keep any small spaces well ventilated
  • Maintain social distance of at least 2m
  • Avoid heavily crowded areas or wear a face mask where necessary

For more information:

The impact of food poverty on society | part 1

“Food poverty is contributing to social unrest. Add school closures, redundancies, and furloughs into the equation and we have an issue that could negatively impact generations to come. It all starts with stability around access to food.”

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United/England Football Player

Last year, Marcus Rashford, a young professional footballer threw himself headfirst into a campaign to ensure children in the UK were not left hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially met by resistance from the government, he was able to bring about something that has been lacking for years – action.

However, it’s worth noting that the best way to eradicate food poverty is to understand what it is and how it comes about. Many people in economically well off countries struggle to understand how people can’t afford to feed themselves or their children.

Continue reading “The impact of food poverty on society | part 1”

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Breast cancer affects 55,000 women every year in the UK and 7.8m worldwide over the past five years, with 2.3m women being diagnosed in 2020 alone. Men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. They make up 0.5-1% of breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world, and while it’s more common in women over 50, anyone above puberty age can get it.

Breast cancer awareness is about knowing the sign and symptoms so that it can be caught early. It’s believed that the earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.

The signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • A lump on breast
  • Thickening of skin or tissue of the breast
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • Swelling in either armpit
  • A change in shape or size of the breast
  • An inverted nipple (where it’s turned in)
  • A rash on the nipple (similar to eczema)
  • Discharge or bleeding
  • Pain in either breast that is consistent and does not go away

If you spot any of these signs or symptoms, please take action and get a checkup!

purplexedscience

Further reading/references:

Macmillan Cancer Support

Cancer Research UK

World Health Organization – Breast Cancer

Malnutrition affects all countries on Earth

Since last year, I have taken a deeper interest in malnutrition and food poverty both here in the UK and across the world. One thing I noticed was that the image of malnutrition is often linked to regions in Africa and Asia. While the issues there are not unimportant, people are going hungry in all parts of the world.

There are probably people suffering from malnutrition right now who do not realise it. Food poverty is a growing issue both in developing and developed parts of the world. Anywhere there is an imbalance of wealth, there will be some people who are worse off than others.

Another aspect of malnutrition is those who are overweight or obese due to poor diets. This can eventually lead to a range of diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

According to World Hunger’s ‘Hunger Notes‘:

  • Overall, 5.6 million children under age five died in 2016, nearly 15,000 daily
  • Approximately 3.1 million children die from undernutrition each year 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world
  • Globally, about 151 million under-five-year-olds were estimated to be stunted in 2013. (UNICEF, WHO and The World Bank, 2018
  • Globally, 99 million under-five-year-olds were underweight in 2013, most of whom lived in Asia and Africa (Krasevec et al., 2014).

Some common terms (from the World Health Organization)

Malnutrition: deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients

Undernutrition: insufficient intake of energy and nutrients to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.

Stunted: when someone has a low height for their age

Wasting: when someone has a low weight for their age

Micronutrient deficiencies: the insufficient amount of important vitamins and nutrients

Overweight and obesity:

  • the abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.
  • overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25; and
  • obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

I believe everyone has a right to have access to nutritious, healthy food and that no one should go hungry. With the research and technological advances of today, health services, scientists and the general public should be able to come together to combat the issue.


References:

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/malnutrition

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

World Child Hunger Facts

Taking a break from media

We need to take a break from the media including social media. That doesn’t mean I turn off the television and then I get on CNN online. That means I truly take a break. And children need to be taking breaks as well. … What we know about children is if they’re spending most or all of their time related to tragedies, that can increase their stress reactions.

Robin Gurwitch PhD

Lately, I’ve found myself picking up my phone, flicking through the same notifications and discarding it only to pick it up two seconds later. It’s difficult not to feel like this pandemic has been a missed opportunity to relearn how to enjoy ourselves without our screens, or how to learn or simply exist without them.

There is a lot of focus on maintaining communication with our loved ones via social media, but what about letter writing? How many people take the time to put pen to paper instead of the three seconds it requires to send a text message? How many of us send emails that aren’t work-related? Everything has been streamlined into micro-messaging and I’d argue that a lot of people don’t feel connected at all.

Still, taking a break from media isn’t just about not keeping in touch, it’s about mental clarity. We’ve been bombarded with so much information over the past year and a half that there’s no time to process it. There is no time to reflect. With our laptops, phones and televisions screens on, we are in a constant flux capacitor of information and we need a break.

“There’s a lot of stuff we can do that doesn’t involve a screen. We can get off our phones by subscribing to print magazines, or working on a physical puzzle. I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about a boom in escapist fiction – books that aren’t about a pandemic, really good stories you can get lost in.” – Tanya Goodin

I used to love reading books as a child and young adult, but with the popularity of social media and smartphones, I started reading on my phone. During the first lockdown in the UK, I created a huge spreadsheet of books I wanted to read – and proceeded to read four or five before I gave up. For the third (!) lockdown, I bought a physical book called The French Girl (and two ebooks). Reading the physical book was a revelation. At first, I struggled to get through a chapter. My fingers would itch for my phone, desperate to scroll through notifications! With time, I was able to sit through multiple chapters and switch off from the world for a little while.

As for the ebooks… I started one and got distracted by something else on my phone. The huge spreadsheet remains untouched.

Go figure!


Source: How to take a digital detox during the Covid-19 pandemic

On This Day [Aug. 26th]

AUGUST 26TH

  • 1938: a tape recorder was used for the first time to send a radio broadcast

pile of cassette tapes

  • 1743: Antoine Laurent Lavoisier was born. He is considered to be ‘the father of modern chemistry’ and is responsible for naming oxygen and determining what role it plays in combustion and respiration.
  • 1874: Lee de Forest was born. He invented the Audion vacuum tube which made it live broadcasting possible.

COVID-19 vaccine protection is fading as the number of cases increase

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Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

Researchers in the UK have found that the protection offered by the Pfizer/Biotech and AstraZeneca vaccines begins to fall after six months. The researchers have linked this to the need for booster shots for those who already had two doses of the vaccine.

While major countries like the US, UK and also the EU are planning to administer booster shots, there has been some criticism and scepticism. Some researchers believed there was no evidence that booster shots were necessary. Some also believe it would be morally wrong to start giving people a third dose many people are unable to access the vaccines at all.

To read more check out this article on Reuters – ‘COVID vaccine protection wanes within six months – UK researchers

Do you need to wear a face mask outside?

Face masks have become part of our new normal over the past year both indoors and outdoors. While they’re highly recommended inside heavily populated areas like supermarkets/grocery stores and public transport, there’s not much guidance when it comes to outside.

According to Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, the risk of catching COVID-19 outside is quite low.

“The risk of outside transmission is very low because viral particles disperse effectively in the outside air. A study in Wuhan, China, which involved careful contact tracing, discovered that just one of 7,324 infection events investigated was linked to outdoor transmission. In a recent analysis of over 232,000 infections in Ireland, only one case of COVID-19 in every thousand was traced to outdoor transmission. And a scoping review from the University of Canterbury concluded that outdoor transmission was rare, citing the opportunity costs of not encouraging the public to congregate outdoors. Overall, transmission is around 5000 times less likely to happen outside than inside.” (Posted April 27, 2021)

Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH
Infectious Diseases doctor and Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

… so, does that mean that we ditch our face masks and get some fresh air? With the vaccination programmes across the world coming along more efficiently and effectively we’re edging closer and closer to that point.

However, until it’s fully safe to do otherwise, we should all continue to maintain social distancing when around people who aren’t in our households, support bubbles or friendship groups.


The quote is taken from Sciline’s ‘Quotes From Experts‘.