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Science + Tech

The Pandemic Could Bring a Wave of Measles. And More Science News

The latest roundup of pandemic findings gathered by Hakai Magazine.

Brian Owens 17 Nov 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, The Lancet and others.

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.

Measles outbreaks could follow COVID-19

Major measles outbreaks are likely in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel restrictions and other measures to control COVID-19 have resulted in fewer measles infections this year, many children have missed vaccinations, making future outbreaks more likely. The economic effects of the pandemic have also resulted in a rise in malnutrition in children, which can worsen the severity of measles, leading to worse outcomes and more deaths, especially in poorer countries.

The Lancet, Nov. 12, 2020

Mutation makes virus more transmissible, and easier to fight

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has mutated in a way that allows it to spread more quickly around the world, but may also make it more vulnerable to vaccines. The new strain of the coronavirus, called D614G, emerged in Europe and has become the most common in the world. A mutation in its spike protein has given it the ability to replicate and spread about 10 times faster than the original strain. The change, however, makes the virus slightly more sensitive to neutralizing antibodies, and fortunately, does not cause a more severe case of COVID-19.

Science, Nov. 12, 2020

Which non-pharmaceutical interventions work best?

Without an effective vaccine, much of the response to COVID-19 has relied on non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical distancing and restrictions on gatherings. An assessment of interventions used around the world has found that the most effective ones are the cancellation of small gatherings, school closures, border restrictions, individual movement restrictions, national lockdowns and increasing the supply of PPE.

The researchers also found that less intrusive interventions, such as effective public health communication strategies and government financial support for individuals and businesses, may be just as effective in slowing transmission as more intrusive solutions, such as lockdowns.

Nature Human Behaviour, Nov. 16, 2020

Young people resumed risky behaviour sooner

Early on during the pandemic, people were equally likely to take precautions against COVID-19. Regardless of their age, people took the advice of health professionals: they washed their hands, wore masks and practiced physical distancing. But one month into the pandemic, younger people were more likely to engage in some risky behaviours, such as visiting friends. As time went on, however, older people resumed some risky activities as well; by two months, the behaviour of groups was roughly even.

PLOS One, Nov. 10, 2020

Hospitalized patients suffer long-term effects from COVID-19

Many people who survive a case of COVID-19 severe enough to land them in the hospital continue to suffer long-term effects for months after they have been discharged. Two months after leaving the hospital almost 40 per cent of patients still hadn’t gotten back to normal activities, and 12 per cent said they could no longer care for themselves. Of those who had jobs before their illness, 40 per cent couldn’t return to work. Nearly seven per cent of patients died within two months, and 15 per cent ended up back in the hospital.

Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov. 11, 2020

‘Flow’ mental state may protect against effects of quarantine

Long periods of quarantine are associated with poorer mental health and well-being, but the mental state of “flow” — where you are so absorbed in an enjoyable activity that you lose track of your external surroundings — may help. A survey in China found that the link between longer quarantine and poorer well-being was significantly weaker or disappeared entirely for people who experienced high levels of flow. The same effect was not seen for the mental state of mindfulness, in which you are also absorbed in the present moment but maintain awareness of your external surroundings.

PLOS One, Nov. 11, 2020

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School closures decrease life expectancy

Disruptions to schooling are associated with decreased educational achievement, which is associated with lower life expectancy. So, researchers estimate that school closures related to COVID-19 in the United States may result in a total of 5.5 million years of life lost for the 24.2 million children affected by the closures — a loss of about 0.22 years each. This loss in life expectancy, they estimate, is greater than what would have been seen had schools remained open throughout the first wave of the pandemic.

JAMA Network Open, Nov. 12, 2020

Heart attack outcomes worse during pandemic

The outcome for someone who suffered a heart attack outside of the hospital was worse during the early stages of the pandemic in the United States. Rates of successful resuscitation were lower, and mortality was higher — not only in areas with high rates of COVID-19, but also in areas with lower rates. The researchers suggest that the procedures put in place to protect emergency health-care workers from possible COVID-19 infection, such as limiting the number of responding personnel and pausing chest compressions during aerosolizing procedures like intubation, may have decreased the likelihood of successful resuscitation.

JAMA Cardiology, Nov. 14, 2020

More exposure in Kenya than thought

Good data on the COVID-19 pandemic is limited in much of Africa, but based on official case counts and deaths it appears to have hit the continent less hard than the rest of the world. A study of blood donors in Kenya in April to June this year, however, found that exposure to the virus is much higher than thought. By the end of July, the country had recorded just 20,636 cases and 341 deaths, but blood screening revealed that 4.3 per cent of the population has actually been infected with the virus — comparable to rates seen in other countries — which would indicate more than two million infections. The researchers suggest that Kenya’s lower case counts and death rates may be due to the country’s younger population, which results in a smaller vulnerable age group.

Science, Nov.11, 2020  [Tyee]

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