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Science + Tech

COVID-19 Could Impact Global Life Expectancy. And More Science Journal News

The latest roundup of pandemic findings gathered by Hakai Magazine.

Brian Owens 22 Sep 2020 | Hakai Magazine

Brian Owens is a freelance science writer and editor based in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His work has appeared in Hakai Magazine, Nature, New Scientist, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Lancet.

Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.

COVID-19 could decrease life expectancy

The COVID-19 pandemic could cause a short-term decline in life expectancy in many parts of the world, particularly those where life expectancy is already high. A global analysis found that life expectancy would start to decline in regions like Europe and North America if the virus reaches prevalence rates of just two per cent. At prevalence rates of 10 per cent, around one year of average life expectancy would be lost, while at 50 per cent prevalence, three to nine years of life expectancy could be lost.

PLOS ONE, Sept. 17, 2020

COVID-19 may become seasonal, but not yet

COVID-19 is likely to become seasonal in countries with temperate climates, and — like the cold and flu — will peak during winter. But this will likely only happen after herd immunity is reached either through vaccination or infection. Until then, the virus will continue to circulate year-round. In tropical countries, spread will likely follow the pattern of other respiratory illnesses and continue circulating year-round at lower levels.

Frontiers in Public Health, Sept. 15, 2020

Respirator masks don’t fit many women and Asian people

The respirator masks worn in hospitals require a snug fit to effectively filter airborne particles, but a study in Australia has found that, for women and Asian people, they often fit less well. The study found that initial fit pass rates were 95 per cent for men, but 85 per cent for women, and as low as 60 per cent for Asian women. The researchers say that many hospitals lack the time and resources to ensure that every worker’s mask fits correctly.

Anaesthesia, Sept. 15, 2020

Pandemic transit cuts affect vulnerable groups

Cuts to public transit services in many U.S. and Canadian cities have disproportionately affected areas where lower income and more vulnerable groups live, according to a study by researchers at McGill University. Of the 10 Canadian cities studied, five, including Toronto and Montreal, did not take equity into consideration when planning service changes, and the changes made to their public transit service hit poorer areas the hardest. In three cities, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, the changes were more sensitive to vulnerable groups, and most encumbered richer areas. Changes in Vancouver and Hamilton affected all areas equally.

Transport Findings, Sept. 16, 2020

Perceived risk increased quickly

In the first week of the pandemic, people in the U.S. underestimated their chances of catching SARS-CoV-2 and becoming seriously ill. But over the next few days those same people became more worried about their personal risk and began increasing protective behaviours such as hand washing and physical distancing. The survey, which followed almost 400 people for five days starting on March 11, shows that in many cases it doesn’t take long for people’s views and behaviour to change when needed.

Royal Society Open Science, Sept. 16, 2020

People with glasses may be less likely to be infected

A study of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in China found that the proportion of patients who wore glasses was lower than that of the local population — 5.8 per cent versus 31.5 per cent. The researchers suggest this may indicate that people who wear glasses are less likely to be infected with COVID-19, possibly because wearing glasses prevents them from touching their eyes as much as other people.

JAMA Ophthalmology, Sept. 16, 2020

Female medical researchers publish less during the pandemic

The gender gap in medical research increased significantly — from 23 per cent to 55 per cent — between January and April this year, according to an analysis of the authors of papers uploaded to the medRxiv medical research repository. An analysis of bioRxiv, a biological science repository, found that the gap remained steady in that field, at around 46 per cent. The results indicate that female medical researchers may face greater career disruptions due to the pandemic than their male colleagues.

JAMA Network Open, Sept. 17, 2020

Ultraviolet light can kill SARS-CoV-2

Researchers in Japan have found that a particular kind of ultraviolet light — ultraviolet, with a wavelength of 222 nanometres — can effectively kill SARS-CoV-2. Since 222 nm UVC cannot penetrate the outer layer of the human eye and skin, it is safer to use than other wavelengths, such as the more damaging 254 nm UVC often used to disinfect hospitals.

American Journal of Infection Control, Sept. 4, 2020


Tracking COVID-19 in sewage

Monitoring sewage can provide advance notice of COVID-19 infection in communities before positive tests are reported. A study in Connecticut compared levels of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in sewage with confirmed positive tests and hospital admissions, and found that viral RNA concentrations in sewage rose one to four days ahead of hospital admissions, and six to eight days ahead of test results. That discrepancy was largely due to reporting delays. If compared instead to the date when the test was actually administered, the advance notice from sewage was zero to two days. The technique could be particularly useful in areas with limited testing capacity or delays in reporting results.

Nature Biotechnology, Sept. 18, 2020

Most people will develop symptoms

A review of existing studies suggests that around 20 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 will never develop symptoms during their infection. Although all COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic at the beginning, most people will go on to develop symptoms. However, transmission of the virus before symptoms develop remains a significant factor in the pandemic.

PLOS Medicine, Sept. 22, 2020

Conspiracy theories a barrier to controlling COVID-19

Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are damaging the United States’ ability to control the pandemic. Between March and July, belief in false conspiracy theories — such as that the US Centers for Disease Control is exaggerating the threat to damage Donald Trump’s chances of re-election — increased. People who believe in conspiracy theories are less likely to adopt preventive measures such as wearing a mask, and say they are less likely to accept a vaccine when one becomes available. People who are heavy consumers of conservative media and social media are more likely to believe the theories.

Social Science and Medicine, Sept. 21, 2020  [Tyee]

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