Climate and the Universe

Climate and the Universe

John E. Kutzbach, a pioneer of palaeo-climate modelling, had a grand vision for how we might better understand past climate changes — and better predict the climatic future. In his view, climate research should seamlessly combine models and proxy data, which provide an indirect measure of the palaeo-climate when direct data are unavailable, using certain chemical species preserved in the environment that provide an estimate of past temperatures. A geologist could tease out a climate record from a stalagmite in China, for example, while a modeller simulated its growth, drip by drip, in a digital cave. Now scientists bring us a step closer to realizing Kutzbach’s vision by pairing proxy data with models to reconstruct the evolution of the global temperature over the past 24,000 years, extending back to a period called the Last Glacial Maximum. The results suggest that modern warming differs from the gradual rise of the past 10,000 years:

A new study strengthens the case that climate change has been the main cause of the growing amount of land in the western U.S. destroyed by large wildfires. And researchers say the trend is likely to worsen:

Global warming has caused extreme ice melting events in Greenland to become more frequent and more intense over the past 40 years according to new research, raising sea levels and flood risk worldwide:

Scientists have identified global hotspots for ‘flash droughts’, which develop with unusual swiftness and quickly parch the land. Flash droughts can take hold when a region experiences little rain and above-average evaporation. Crops fail, leaving livestock and people with little to eat. A team wanted to see which regions around the world are most susceptible to flash droughts. They analysed four global datasets, covering 1980 to 2015, that capture how water moves from the ground into the atmosphere through evaporation from the soil and other processes. Flash droughts most frequently occurred in the tropics and subtropics, including hotspots in Brazil, India and the Sahel region of Africa. These hotspots experienced flash droughts in more than 30% of the years studied. They include important agricultural areas, such as rice-producing regions in India and millet- and sorghum-producing regions in the Sahel. As global temperatures rise, variations in local weather patterns mean that flash droughts could become more frequent in some locations, such as Brazil, and less common in others, such as India:

Measuring physical samples of Solar System bodies in the laboratory provides more information than is possible from remote sensing alone. In December 2020, the Chang’e-5 mission landed on the Moon, collected samples, and then returned them to Earth. A group analyzed two fragments of volcanic lunar basalt collected by Chang’e-5. Radiometric dating using lead isotopes indicated that the rocks formed from magma that erupted about 2 billion years ago, later than other volcanic lunar samples. The abundance of extinct radioactive elements in the rock is too low for radioactive heating to have produced the magma. Another, thus far unknown, source must have been responsible for the late lunar volcanism:

Astronomers and geologists have made the first estimates of rock types that exist on planets orbiting nearby stars. After studying the chemical composition of 'polluted' white dwarfs, they have concluded that most rocky planets orbiting nearby stars are more diverse and exotic than previously thought, with types of rocks not found anywhere in our Solar System:

Galaxies like to group together. The Milky Way and its nearest neighbours, for example, are part of the Virgo Cluster, which has more than 1,000 member galaxies. Now, in a bit of astronomical time travel, researchers have had a peek at how the cluster’s core might have looked around 11 billion years ago. A team discovered two collections of young galaxies in a region of the sky called G237. Over time, these ‘protoclusters’ are expected to grow denser and more massive by pulling in more matter, eventually forming clusters similar to those we see today. The authors used data from sources including the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona and Japan’s Subaru Telescope to analyse light from 63 galaxies inside these protoclusters — light emitted when the Universe was 3 billion years old. The team found that the galaxies were pumping out stars at a high rate: equivalent to roughly 4,000 Suns a year. Future observations could help to pin down how such galaxies gobble up enough hydrogen gas to fuel their star production:

Despite our current reliance on fossil carbon for energy, the biogeochemical reactions that produce coal and natural gas aren’t entirely understood. A group tested the chemistry and isotope composition in samples ranging from wood to hard, mature coal. Methyoxyl groups in this organic material, a potential source of methane, declined with maturity, whereas the carbon-13 fraction increased gradually. The most plausible explanation for this observed pattern is biological demethylation under substrate-limited conditions. These results help us understand the processes that form coal and natural gas on geologic time scales:

Astrophysicists hold that our universe is dominated by mysterious “dark” matter and energy that puzzle outsiders and which, in truth, are not yet well understood even though their existence is supported by many lines of evidence. Several new fundamental particles have been proposed as candidates for dark matter, but there are few claims of definitive signals. An exception is the claim by the DAMA collaboration of a statistically significant annual modulation in their event rate, consistent with weakly interacting massive particles, but this result had seemed inconsistent with other direct search experiments. A team analysed data from a different collaboration, COSINE-100, which appears to exclude the DAMA result. Dark matter thus remains elusive:

Discoveries of 4,000-year-old naturally mummified individuals in the remote deserts of the Tarim Basin in the south of present-day Xinjiang, northwest China, have prompted decades of speculation about the individuals’ ancestry. Researchers now resolve the question of the genetic origins of the mummies, and suggest that they were descended from an ancient, genetically isolated population. The authors’ conclusions have implications for future studies of Inner Asian prehistory that must address the complex relationship between cultural exchange and genetic ancestry:

During his travels through the Mongol empire in the 1250s, a Flemish friar described the capital, Karakorum, as an enclosed city with four gates. Now, researchers have fully mapped the city — and called the friar’s picture into question. Karakorum was founded in the thirteenth century by Ögödei, the son of renowned Mongol leader Genghis Khan. Small portions of the city have been mapped, but archaeologists have paid it relatively little attention. Hoping to change that, a team towed sensors across the area over two months, allowing the researchers to chart the site’s surface topography and to measure the magnetic ‘fingerprint’ of buried structures. The team also examined the site on foot, and combined their data with modern satellite images. The work reveals that the capital, rather than being enclosed, extended well beyond the city walls to occupy a larger area than was previously documented. The traces of multiple types of buildings suggest that the city was divided into different neighbourhoods, with large expanses of undeveloped space where portable tents were probably set up:

Biology, evolution and medicine:

Various diets, such as those that periodically restrict calorie intake and thereby drive metabolic changes associated with fasting (periodic fasting-mimicking diets), or ones that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat (ketogenic diets), are emerging as nutritional interventions that can delay cancer growth and perhaps boost the effect of anticancer drugs. Whereas long-term calorie restriction is not feasible for people on most cancer therapies because it leads to weight loss and lean body mass, ketogenic diets and periodic fasting-mimicking diets are beginning to be tested in a series of clinical trials, and are particularly promising when used in combination with standard therapies. Now researchers fill in some of the missing details about how diet affects cancer growth. Their analysis in mice reveals that a low-calorie diet, but not a ketogenic diet, slows the growth of pancreatic cancer. This effect is mediated by lipid changes:

Genes explain up to 72% of the difference in our exercise performance: a meta-analysis of studies looking at the relationship between genetics and exercise effects found 13 genes that are directly responsible for the differences in fitness improvements—up to 10% on average— between people who did the same types of exercise for the same amount of time. Even after taking into account sex, age, diet and other factors which can affect how we adapt to exercise, they found that genes explained 10% of the difference in scores in power gains, 44% of the difference in aerobic fitness improvement and 72% of the difference in the effects from strength training:

High intensity interval training (HIIT) which involves short bursts (sometimes mere seconds) of flat-out effort repeated several times—may be the answer. HIIT delivers a big increase in VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake), which is strongly associated with longer lifespan, suggesting HIIT will help you live longer than a gentle daily walk. Strenuous exercise makes muscles generate lots of the chemical lactate, which ends up in the brain and promotes new cells and blood vessels, lowering dementia risk. An old study showed that people who did 12 total minutes of intense exercise over two weeks grew just as fit or fitter and showed even more molecular alterations inside their muscles as those who did 12 hours of moderate exercise altogether:

A new study took blood and tissue samples from men who did 20 minutes of intense cycling in 4 minute intervals just before an upper body workout, and repeated the test on another day without cycling. After weights alone, the men’s muscles teemed with proteins and genetic markers that help initiate muscle growth. The same substances were there when cycling was included, but so were other proteins and gene activity associated with endurance:

A university study separated students into an “on treatment” group that performed 5 minutes of exercise (squats, push-ups, etc) and two control groups, an active one (5 minutes of colouring in) and a passive one (5 minutes doing nothing). Students in the exercise group later reported significantly reduced alcohol craving, as well as better mood and lower anxiety:

Historically, rhinos were once abundant throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Today, five species of rhinoceros survive as small populations in Asia and Africa and are all threatened with extinction. Although well studied, there is debate in the literature about evolutionary relationships between modern and extinct rhinos, with three hypotheses being proposed. Now researchers analyse contemporary and ancient rhinoceros DNA to piece together the puzzle of the rhino’s evolutionary history:

Researchers discovered precisely how spiders build webs by using night vision and artificial intelligence to track and record every movement of all eight legs as spiders worked in the dark. Their creation of a web-building playbook or algorithm brings new understanding of how creatures with brains a fraction of the size of a human's are able to create structures of such elegance, complexity and geometric precision:

A single gene can determine whether an ant is a worker or royalty, by triggering a cascade of brain changes that alter the insect’s behaviour. Jerdon’s jumping ants (Harpegnathos saltator) live in a social structure in which only the queen can reproduce. But when the queen dies, worker ants compete to turn into ‘gamergates’, a queen-like form that can also reproduce. Scientists cultured neurons from workers and gamergates. They found that when workers’ neurons were treated with one type of hormone, they developed genetic activity similar to that in gamergates’ neurons; gamergates’ neurons treated with a different hormone showed genetic activity resembling that in workers’ neurons. Both hormones accomplished this by activating the gene for a protein called Kr-h1. When the researchers reduced the amount of Kr-h1 in the brains of live ants, treated workers’ ovaries became active, like those of gamergates. Treated gamergates began hunting crickets — normally a workers’ task. The researchers say that Kr-h1 might control other animals’ social behaviour:

Episodic memory is initially encoded in the hippocampus and later transferred to other brain regions for long-term storage. Synaptic plasticity underlies learning and plays a critical role in memory consolidation. However, it remains largely unknown where and when synaptic plasticity occurs and how it shapes the neuronal representation. A team developed a new tool for controlling early structural long-term potentiation (sLTP). By selectively manipulating sLTP, the authors showed that the local circuitry in hippocampal area CA1 is required for memory formation shortly after the encoding event. The local circuitry is also important for offline memory consolidation within 24 hours. The anterior cingulate cortex, another brain region directly connected with area CA1, is crucial for memory consolidation during sleep on the second night:

Researchers show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation:

As the latest Call of Duty video game is released, and with Battlefield 2042 and a remastered Grand Theft Auto trilogy to follow later this month, new research finds no evidence that violence increases after a new video game is released:

The ability to detect and react to the smell of a potential threat is a precondition of our and other mammals' survival. Using a novel technique, researchers have been able to study what happens in the brain when the central nervous system judges a smell to represent danger. The study indicates that negative smells associated with unpleasantness or unease are processed earlier than positive smells and trigger a physical avoidance response:

Sometimes, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done on time. But women are less likely than men to ask for deadline extensions, a new study suggests. A group analysed data gathered from online workers in surveys or during simulations of workplace interactions. The researchers found that women were less likely than men to ask for more time to complete tasks that had flexible deadlines. The data indicate that emotions such as shame and guilt, and fear of burdening others, could explain why women feel less comfortable requesting more time. The researchers also analysed how students made requests for deadline extensions on assignments. In courses without a formal process for requesting extensions, female students were 32% less likely to ask for additional time than their male classmates. These gender differences disappear in courses with formal policies on project extensions. The findings suggest that formal processes for requesting extra time can eliminate gender differences in extension requests:

Many diseases are at least partially due to genetic causes that are not always understood or targetable with specific treatments. To provide insight into the biology of various human diseases as well as potential leads for therapeutic development, researchers undertook detailed, genome-wide proteogenomic mapping. The authors analyzed thousands of connections between potential disease-associated mutations, specific proteins, and medical conditions, thereby providing a detailed map for use by future researchers. They also supplied some examples in which they applied their approach to medical contexts as varied as connective tissue disorders, gallstones, and COVID-19 infections, sometimes even identifying single genes that play roles in multiple clinical scenarios:

When the NHS started to use whole genome sequencing, doctors were able to determine diagnoses for more people with rare diseases — including some for whom other genetic tests had failed to turn up an answer, researchers reported. Results from the 100,000 Genomes Project show whole genome sequencing led to diagnoses for 25% of the thousands of participants in the study thought to have a rare genetic condition — 14% of whom would not have been diagnosed by different methods. “This supports the notion that genomic approaches are probably the best approach to tackle rare disease”:  

Previous research on the effectiveness of sweetened beverage taxes for decreasing sugar intake has been mixed, but a new study found potentially promising results in Seattle, where a tax of less than 2 cents per fluid ounce was introduced in 2018. Researchers compared the city’s changes in sales of sugary drinks and sweets with Portland, Ore., a similar city with no tax. Using scanner data from each of the city’s food store sales, researchers found that even after accounting for purchasing shifts to untaxed beverages, sweets, or plain sugar, there were net decreases in sugar sold from the taxed drinks. Two years after the Seattle tax went into effect, the city saw a net 19% reduction in grams of sugar sold from the beverages:

Borrowing from the anthropologists’ toolbox, researchers have linked lines on kids’ baby teeth to mothers’ psychosocial stress during and after pregnancy. Taking advantage of a study that has followed mothers and children since the 1990s, the researchers looked for microscopic markers of enamel growth — called neonatal lines — on teeth after they fell out, matching them to questionnaires mothers answered before and after giving birth. Among 70 children, those whose mothers experienced depression or anxiety had wider neonatal lines; those whose mothers had good social support had narrower neonatal lines. That link held up despite other risk factors, the study reports, leading the researchers to hope baby teeth lost by age 7 could predict which children are at higher risk for their own psychosocial problems later because of their early exposure to adversity:

Coating a person’s cancer cells with silica might one day yield personalized cancer treatments, according to a study in mice. Therapies called cancer vaccines harness the immune system to attack tumours. Each tumour expresses a unique constellation of proteins, which can sometimes allow the immune system to distinguish the tumour’s cells from non-cancerous cells. Because these proteins vary from person to person, a cancer vaccine would ideally be tailored to an individual’s particular tumour. In hopes of developing a way to create a personalized cancer vaccine, a group impregnated the surfaces of ovarian cancer cells with silica, which killed the cells, and coated them with immune-stimulating molecules. The team gave the resulting vaccine to mice, which were then injected with live, genetically identical ovarian cancer cells to seed tumours. The vaccine blocked tumour growth and reduced the size of established tumours. The method might one day be able to transform cells collected from a person’s tumour into an individualized treatment that targets that same cancer:

COVID papers:

Researchers asked is the belief in having had COVID-19 infection and actually having had the infection as verified by SARS-CoV-2 serology testing associated with persistent physical symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic? In this cross-sectional analysis of 26,823 adults from the population-based French CONSTANCES cohort during the COVID-19 pandemic, self-reported COVID-19 infection was associated with most persistent physical symptoms, whereas laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection was associated only with anosmia. Those associations were independent from self-rated health or depressive symptoms. Findings suggest that persistent physical symptoms after COVID-19 infection should not be automatically ascribed to SARS-CoV-2; a complete medical evaluation may be needed to prevent erroneously attributing symptoms to the virus:

In their recent updates on the role of schools in transmission and COVID-19 in children, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and CDC have reported that, when adequate mitigation measures are in place, transmission in schools is usually similar to or lower than community transmission. Therefore, although school closures may contribute to reducing transmission, by themselves, they would be inadequate in preventing community transmission and, consequently, the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the risks, especially in countries where adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The focus now must be on assessing and implementing evidence-based mitigations to reduce the risk of infection in schools not only to protect students and staff but also to minimize disruption to education and access to additional services:

A study of UK healthcare workers shows that a single dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine is likely to provide greater protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection in individuals with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, than in SARS-CoV-2-naive individuals, including against variants of concern. Future studies should determine the additional benefit of a second dose on the magnitude and durability of immune responses in individuals vaccinated following infection, alongside evaluation of the impact of extending the interval between vaccine doses:

Using money as a motivation for the public to get vaccinated is controversial and has had mixed results in studies, few of which have been randomized trials. To test the effect of money as an incentive to obtain a vaccine, a team set up a study in Sweden in 2021, when various age groups were first made eligible to receive the vaccine. The effect of a small cash reward, around $24, was compared with the effect of several behavioural nudges. The outcome of this preregistered, randomized clinical trial was that money had the power to increase participation by about 4 percentage points. Nudging and reminding didn’t seem to be deleterious and even had a small positive effect. Of course, the question of whether it is ethical to pay people to be vaccinated needs to be addressed:

In North Carolina, the health department executed a summer pilot program that provided people with a guaranteed $25 cash card when they got vaccinated, and another $25 to the person who drove them to the site. Vaccination rates at clinics with the cash cards decreased at about half the speed of clinics in nearby counties that offered no reward, and 40% of vaccine recipients surveyed said that the money was an important reason that they got vaccinated, according to another paper. Almost half of survey respondents noted that having somebody to drive them was also an important reason for coming. The patient reward was increased to $100 at the end of the summer, after the study was completed:

Researchers asked what are veterans’ attitudes and intentions associated with COVID-19 vaccination? In this survey study of 1178 US veterans in March 2021, 71% of veterans reported being vaccinated against COVID-19. Fears about side effects and worry about the newness of vaccines were the primary reasons given for not getting vaccinated, reflecting vaccine scepticism and deliberation. These findings suggest that targeting veterans’ concerns around the adverse effects and safety of COVID-19 vaccines through conversations with trusted Veterans Health Administration health care practitioners is key to increasing vaccine acceptance:

COVID-19 incidence and standardised mortality rates remained consistently higher among the prison population than the overall US population in the first year of the pandemic. While COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates peaked in late 2020 and early 2021 and have since declined, the cumulative toll of COVID-19 has been several times greater among the prison population than the overall US population:

Researchers asked what is the effect of 12 mg vs 6 mg of dexamethasone on the number of days alive without life support at 28 days in patients with COVID-19 and severe hypoxemia? In this randomized trial that included 1000 patients with COVID-19 and severe hypoxemia, treatment with 12 mg/d of dexamethasone resulted in 22.0 days alive without life support at 28 days compared with 20.5 days in those receiving 6 mg/d of dexamethasone. This difference was not statistically significant. Compared with 6 mg of dexamethasone, 12 mg of dexamethasone did not statistically significantly reduce the number of days alive without life support at 28 days:

Among 4868 health care workers receiving 2 BNT162b2 doses, a significant waning of the humoral response (IgG, neutralizing antibodies) within 6 months of the second dose was observed, especially among adults aged 65 years and older. After a fourth SARS-CoV-2 wave in Israel, the Israeli Ministry of Health authorized, at the end of July 2021, a third BNT162b2 vaccine dose for individuals aged 60 years and older, which was subsequently expanded to younger age groups. With this in mind, researchers assessed antispike (anti-S) IgG antibody titers before and after a third BNT162b2 dose in individuals aged 60 years and older because this population is at high risk of developing severe SARS-CoV-2 disease and was the first to receive authorisation for a third dose. This study found that a third BNT162b2 dose in adults aged 60 years and older was associated with significantly increased IgG titers after 10 to 19 days, with no major adverse events. A third dose of the SARS-CoV-2 mRNA-1273 vaccine (Moderna) induced seropositivity in 49% of kidney transplant recipients who did not respond after 2 vaccine doses, although this observation cannot be generalized to older adults. In a study from Israel among 1,137,804 adults aged 60 years and older who had received 2 BNT162b2 doses 5 or more months earlier, a third dose was associated with lower rates of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and severe illness. This study adds serologic data to the clinical data on response to a third dose in adults aged 60 years or older:

Researchers asked does prior COVID-19 vaccination reduce hospitalisations for COVID-19, and among patients hospitalized for COVID-19, does prior vaccination reduce disease severity? In a case-control study that included 4513 hospitalized adults in 18 US states, hospitalisation for a COVID-19 diagnosis compared with an alternative diagnosis was associated with an adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 0.15 for full vaccination with an authorized or approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Among adults hospitalized for COVID-19, progression to death or invasive mechanical ventilation was associated with an aOR of 0.33 for full vaccination; both ORs were statistically significant. Vaccination with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was significantly less likely among patients with COVID-19 hospitalisation and with disease progression, consistent with risk reduction among vaccine breakthrough infections:

Anosmia, the loss of smell, is a common and often the sole symptom of COVID-19. The onset of the sequence of pathobiological events leading to olfactory dysfunction remains obscure. Here, we have developed a postmortem bedside surgical procedure to harvest endoscopically samples of respiratory and olfactory mucosae and whole olfactory bulbs. Their cohort of 85 cases included COVID-19 patients who died a few days after infection with SARS-CoV-2, enabling us to catch the virus while it was still replicating. We found that sustentacular cells are the major target cell type in the olfactory mucosa. They failed to find evidence for infection of olfactory sensory neurons, and the parenchyma of the olfactory bulb is spared as well. Thus, SARS-CoV-2 does not appear to be a neurotropic virus. They postulate that transient insufficient support from sustentacular cells triggers transient olfactory dysfunction in COVID-19. Olfactory sensory neurons would become affected without getting infected:

The world isn’t getting closer to eliminating measles, a new global report from the WHO and CDC says, despite some progress following a global resurgence starting in 2017. It looks like there were fewer cases in 2020, but that’s probably because the number of specimens tested for measles was the lowest in over a decade, no doubt depressed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Also likely due to the pandemic, 3 million more children missed their first dose of measles vaccine last year than in 2019, the largest annual jump in more than 20 years. “Increased population susceptibility and suboptimal measles surveillance portend an immediate elevated risk for measles transmission and outbreaks, threatening the already fragile progress toward regional elimination goals,” the report’s authors write:

In an economic evaluation, mean monthly national retail sales of alcohol, with notable stockpiling, exhibited a monthly increase of 5.5% vs the counterfactual estimate during the intra-pandemic period. For cannabis, although stockpiling was similar, the general intra-pandemic increase in mean monthly sales vs the counterfactual estimate was substantially higher, approaching 25%. Interestingly, these results converge with a national study of self-reported pandemic-associated changes that found a similar dissociation between alcohol and cannabis: 

Sequelae post-COVID-19 affect up to 15% of patients with cancer and adversely affect survival and oncological outcomes after recovery. Adjustments to systemic anti-cancer therapy can be safely pursued in treatment-eligible patients:

Most patients with cancer develop, while receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or both for a solid tumour, an adequate antibody response to vaccination with the mRNA-1273 COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is also safe in these patients. The minority of patients with an inadequate response after two vaccinations might benefit from a third vaccination:

During a phase 1 study, a total of 48 children 5 to 11 years of age received 10 μg, 20 μg, or 30 μg of the BNT162b2 vaccine (16 children at each dose level). On the basis of reactogenicity and immunogenicity, a dose level of 10 μg was selected for further study. In the phase 2–3 trial, a total of 2268 children were randomly assigned to receive the BNT162b2 vaccine (1517 children) or placebo (751 children). At data cutoff, the median follow-up was 2.3 months. In the 5-to-11-year-olds, as in other age groups, the BNT162b2 vaccine had a favourable safety profile. No vaccine-related serious adverse events were noted. One month after the second dose, the geometric mean ratio of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) neutralizing titers in 5-to-11-year-olds to those in 16-to-25-year-olds was 1.04 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.93 to 1.18), a ratio meeting the prespecified immunogenicity success criterion (lower bound of two-sided 95% CI, >0.67; geometric mean ratio point estimate, ≥0.8). Covid-19 with onset 7 days or more after the second dose was reported in three recipients of the BNT162b2 vaccine and in 16 placebo recipients (vaccine efficacy, 90.7%; 95% CI, 67.7 to 98.3). A Covid-19 vaccination regimen consisting of two 10-μg doses of BNT162b2 administered 21 days apart was found to be safe, immunogenic, and efficacious in children 5 to 11 years of age:

The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on communities of colour has been well documented and attributed to multiple factors such as increased occupational exposure and disparities in access to care. Now, investigators used CDC death certificate data and Census Bureau population estimates to assess excess death rates by race and ethnicity due to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 causes during the first 10 months of the pandemic. Between March and December of 2020, 477,200 more deaths occurred than predicted based on 2019 data. Of these, 351,400 (74%) were directly attributed to COVID-19. Age-standardized COVID-19 excess deaths per 100,000 persons were at least twofold higher among Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) persons compared with white or Asian persons. Among 124,000 excess deaths classified as being due to non-COVID-19 causes (the remaining deaths were not classified), death rates were three- to fourfold higher among Black and AI/AN and nearly twofold higher among Latino persons than among white or Asian persons. Among Black males 75 or older, non-COVID-19 excess deaths were ninefold higher. Leading causes of non-COVID-19 excess deaths included heart disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, and Alzheimer disease (but not cancer). While this study was not designed to determine the causes of racial and ethnic disparities in non-COVID-19 excess deaths, the authors speculate that fear of seeking healthcare or misattribution of COVID-19 deaths to other causes (particularly early in the pandemic) may be responsible. It seems likely that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the negative effects of other underlying factors in the U.S. healthcare system that unduly burden certain groups:

Next, functional humoral immunity (ie. neutralising antibody responses) at 14 days following a second dose of BNT162b2 was not impaired by methotrexate or targeted biologics. A proportion of patients on immunosuppression did not have detectable T-cell responses following the second dose. The longevity of vaccine-elicited antibody responses is unknown in this population:

A group report finding a canine coronavirus that is infecting people in Haiti to be 99.4% identical to a virus found in Malaysia. The virus was previously reported by scientists at Duke University in May 2021 when they published a study about finding the virus in children at a Malaysian hospital. The researchers from Duke found the virus, which likely originated in dogs based on its genetic sequence, was present in the upper respiratory tract of 3% of over 300 patients they tested in 2017 and 2018. Dr. Lednicky and his colleagues detected the virus in urine samples collected from healthcare workers that had returned from volunteering at a clinic in Haiti in 2017. At the time the samples were collected, officials believed the healthcare workers could be suffering from Zika, which was circulating in the country. Fast forward to this year, when Lednicky and his team identified the virus that was in the 2017 urine samples as the same virus that had been circulating among children in Malaysia at the same time. Scientists were puzzled: how did a seemingly isolated incident of a virus that jumped from dogs to humans happen again halfway around the world at the same time? "There's a temporal sequence here. These two viruses — which are very, very similar — have been detected in a similar time frame but in widely separated regions of the world. One can hypothesise that the virus is circulating at low levels in people in many parts of the world but has so far gone undetected. If that’s true, it would make this canine coronavirus the eighth coronavirus known to spread among humans:

A study found that participants who were not fully vaccinated had the greatest risk of infection when they reported an exposure to someone with COVID-19 that occurred indoors or that lasted for more than three hours. Participants exposed to someone with COVID-19 had lower odds of infection if masks were worn at the encounter than if they weren’t. This protection is especially important for people who were not yet vaccinated,” says Lewnard. But encounters where masks were worn were linked with additional protection for vaccinated participants, too. The analysis also suggests that masks provide the greatest benefit during high-risk exposures — those lasting for more than three hours, occurring indoors or involving a person from another household. Masking did not show a clear benefit when the participant made direct physical contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or when that person was a member of the participant's household:


Prof. Justin Stebbing

Vaccination campaigns in most countries have reached phased progress

Vaccination campaigns in most countries have reached phased progress

Record cases in France, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands and Israel; Italy will mandate vaccines in >50 year olds in public sector…

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Omicron leads to milder disease compared to the Delta variant

Omicron leads to milder disease compared to the Delta variant

Macron said “I am not about pissing off the French people. But as for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And we will continue…

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Evidence of Omicron taking over and even breaking through lockdowns has led to cases rising ‘everywhere’

Evidence of Omicron taking over and even breaking through lockdowns has led to cases rising ‘everywhere’

The UK released vaccine efficacy data against Omicron hospitalisations this week, showing an estimated efficacy of 88% 2 weeks after a booster dose,…

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