How did scientists tackle Covid so quickly? Because they pulled together – The Guardian

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

Paradigm shift: how the pandemic changed science

From observational studies to rapid development of vaccines, knowledge-sharing was a key feature of science in 2020

Fri 25 Dec 2020 05.00 EST

The raw numbers around Covid-19 are simply incredible when you consider that this was a disease almost no one had heard of in December 2019. At the time of writing, this year about 240,000 people in the UK have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19, and more than 70,000 people have had Covid-19 listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.

I began 2020 anxious about the reports emerging from Wuhan: they seemed to imply an asymptomatic transmission of a respiratory pathogen that was serious enough to put sufferers into intensive care units. I am a clinical academic with specialist training in respiratory and intensive care medicine; I also lead a research programme that focusses on the lung inflammation caused respiratory infections – to me, and others, what was being reported looked like serious trouble.

In response to the emergence of Sars-CoV-2, a World Health Organization clinical characterisation study was activated on 17 January 2020, in time for the first wave of patients with Covid-19 being admitted to hospitals in England and Wales. This observational study of patients was first established in 2013 to ensure the necessary infrastructure would be available to learn about rapidly spreading novel respiratory infections when needed. The first confirmed patient with Covid-19 in the UK was reported on 31 January 2020.

By early February, it was clear there was a serious problem, and the ICU where I work began preparing for what might come our way. We held our first multidisciplinary meeting to discuss how we would manage the emerging threat, with colleagues from public health, virology, microbiology and others all joining us on 12 February. At this point there had been 10 reported cases of Sars-CoV-2 in the UK.

Things progressed rapidly, and March was a frantic month for the UK response to the emerging pandemic. There was concern that the situation may become so bad the UK would run out of vital equipment such as mechanical ventilators, resulting in the government launching the Ventilator Challenge, to seek out, approve and manufacture the apparatus from a wide variety of sources. Much has been written about this process, but I am certain it was needed – I wouldn’t have agreed to help the endeavour were I not.

March also saw the launch of the Recovery trial. It is testament to the responsiveness of the UK research system in the face of the pandemic that by 17 March, the trial had been devised, received ethical and regulatory approval, and was ready to start recruiting patients. Since then, more than 20,000 people have participated to help us understand which therapies work for hospitalised patients with Covid-19 – a phenomenal achievement.

By April we were at the peak of wave one of the pandemic, and ICUs in many areas were under significant strain. On 12 April, there were 3,301 people with Covid-19 requiring mechanical ventilation in the UK. Thankfully, by August this number had reduced to fewer than 70. However, by the end of October, it had once again climbed above 1,000, where it has remained, and currently shows little sign of abating. It is clear that Covid-19 is far from done with us yet.

In the autumn, data emerged suggesting that what many thought would be near-impossible had actually been achieved – multiple effective vaccines against Sars-CoV-2 had been developed in under 12 months. December 2020 has seen the beginning of what will be a massive UK vaccination programme starting with 50 NHS hospitals.

Such a tumultuous and difficult period prompts you to reconsider the events and your role in them. Something in particular I have learned this year: prior to 2020, I had never written a newspaper article, appeared on TV, or even spoken to a journalist about my work. I am embarrassed to admit, I had failed to appreciate the importance of communicating science to a wider audience. The torrent of noise and misinformation during the pandemic changed my view, and persuaded me to begin trying to these explain issues more clearly. It is not always easy to grasp, but we need to plainly state why specialist healthcare staff (and not bed) availability matters, and why we need both therapies and vaccines for Covid-19 to be available to everyone, among many other issues.

This year has also reinforced my view that to build global, national and local healthcare resilience requires long-term commitment and planning. For the NHS, this means we need to ensure we have the appropriate specialist staff, equipment and other infrastructure to cope with the storms that we may face – with the coronavirus and beyond. No one can honestly say the UK has sailed through 2020 without having to make hard choices and compromises we would rather not have faced – the impact of the pandemic on the provision of healthcare for people with non-Covid conditions has been, and continues to be, significant. On many occasions this year, clinicians, patients, families, policymakers and politicians have all faced having to choose the least bad option under difficult circumstances. No one has been immune to the strain of this.

Most of the “wins” this year have come from preparedness and collaboration. One example of this is the amazing contribution of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to the UK’s pandemic response. It has allowed us to rapidly learn about Covid-19 by supporting recruitment to observational studies such as Isaric-4C (the WHO Covid-19 study described above), React (a Covid-19 home-testing study), and GenoMICC (a global initiative to understand critical ilness), and has offered many thousands of people the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of therapies and vaccines. This work has helped to change clinical practice across the world by delivering important research.

As we head towards 2021, I once again find myself anxious about what the new year might hold. However, I am convinced that preparedness, flexibility and a commitment to collaboration are what is needed to weather the storms that we may face in the coming months and years.

Dr Charlotte Summers is a lecturer in intensive care medicine at the University of Cambridge











Dark, white meat: Which part of the Christmas turkey is actually healthier? – Inverse

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

Turkey, the traditional festive bird features as number three on the “foods consumed at Christmas” list, after roast potatoes and carrots. Yet not all parts of a turkey are created equal in terms of taste and nutritional goodness. The reason for these differences is found in how turkeys typically move around their environment.

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) can fly reasonably short distances, are competent swimmers, and have good acceleration and ground speed – a true triathlete! This is in contrast to the turkeys that are farmed for consumption. They are often unable to fly, so their muscle composition and appearance are somewhat different from their wild relative.

What makes a muscle dark?

The muscle protein of any consumed meat is broken down by the digestive system into its principal building blocks: amino acids. The proteins typically consist of three different protein types. The first is myofibrillar proteins, which enable the muscle to contract. Sarcoplasmic proteins include things such as enzymes (which are essential for oxygen metabolism) and myoglobin, which contains the haeme pigment that gives meat its color. Lastly are collagen proteins, which hold everything together.

As the protein components suggest, myoglobin plays a key role in whether meat is considered dark or white. The myoglobin content is also an indicator of what kind of work the muscle did.

Dark meat has high levels of myoglobin. It helps bind oxygen in the muscle for use by the mitochondria of the cells, which is essential for making sure the body’s cells function properly. The more the muscle is used, the more myoglobin it needs and the greater blood supply it relies on, thus giving it a darker color.

So, for example, turkeys (and chickens) constantly roam around on the ground, meaning their leg muscles are performing an exercise for long periods of time. This is why leg muscles are also known as “slow-twitch fibers”, because they’re able to perform for prolonged periods of time without fatigue.

While these muscles have different names in the turkey, they have similar functions as those in human legs (although their knees bend the other way).

The breast and wings, on the other hand, are considered “white” meat. These muscles are rarely used in turkeys (particularly farm-reared turkeys). This means that the breast and wings don’t need to be able to store or use large amounts of oxygen over a prolonged period. These muscles are also known as “fast-twitch” fibers, as they are designed for quick bursts of energy but tire quickly. The breast is the same muscle as the pectoralis major muscle in humans.

Which bit is best?

Turkey is leaner, so it has less fat than chicken. Turkey breast has about 160 calories per 84g serving, of which 60 calories come from fat and contains 24g of protein. The remaining calories come from protein and other sources such as blood and collagen in the meat. The wing has 190 calories per 84g serving, of which 90 calories come from fat with 23g of protein. The leg on the other hand has 170 calories per 84g serving, with 70 calories coming from fat, and contains 23g of protein.

So as a percentage of calories from protein, the breast is the best. Calories from protein are preferable as they require more energy to breakdown compared to fats or carbohydrates. This process also takes longer and therefore keeps the body feeling fuller for longer.

Dark meat typically has more fat in it, which can be used as an energy store for those long-duration activities, such as going for a run. Fat is also the reason the dark meat usually has more flavor. So, if it’s a taste you’re after, the leg is best – though the dark meat contains more calories (and fat) than white meat. With this in mind, the underside of the turkey, which acts as the base during cooking, similarly has some of the most flavorful meat. This is because all the fat and juices soak into this dark meat.

Dark meat contains a greater percentage of a person’s recommended daily amount of iron in it. Iron is a vital element in the body. About 70% of it is in your blood and muscles, and it’s important for carrying oxygen around your body. Too little iron can result in anemia, which can reduce the amount of oxygen that can be carried by hemoglobin causing shortness of breath, tiredness, and a lack of energy. So while dark meat might be fattier and higher in calories, it may also have some other benefits over white meat.

This article was originally published on The Conversation by Adam Taylor at Lancaster University. Read the original article here.

Using a Humidifier Might Reduce Your Chances of Contracting COVID-19 – ScienceAlert

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

  • The coronavirus survives longer and spreads better when the humidity and temperature are low.
  • Experts say using humidifiers in homes during the winter could reduce coronavirus transmission risk.
  • Keeping humidity between 40% and 60% indoors is ideal.
  • Higher humidity also helps our immune systems fight off other invading viruses.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Respiratory viruses love the winter. These pathogens thrive in the cold and travel easier from host to host in dry air.

“When cold outdoor air with little moisture is heated indoors, the air’s relative humidity drops to about 20%,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University, said in a statement. “This dry air provides a clear pathway for airborne viruses.”

Relative humidity (RH) is a measure of how saturated the air is with water vapor. So in a room with 40% relative humidity, the air holds 40% of the total amount of moisture it could hold in total. The drier the air, the lower the relative humidity, and the easier it is for viruses — including the coronavirus — to spread. 

That’s why Linsey Marr, an aerosol researcher from Virginia Tech University who studies coronavirus transmission, recommends using a humidifier in your home.

“You could invest in a humidifier and set it to keep the humidity above 40% but below 60% in the wintertime,” she told Business Insider. “The virus doesn’t survive as well under these conditions, and your immune response works better than when the air is dry.”

Humidity and temperature affect how the coronavirus spreads

fall winter surge US

A man drops his daughter off at the Lincoln-Hancock Community School in Quincy, Massachusetts, September 17, 2020.

Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Research shows that the coronavirus spreads more easily when temperatures and humidity are low. A July analysis by aerosol research scientist Ajit Ahlawat and his colleagues found that the chances of airborne transmission of the coronavirus in dry places are higher than in humid areas.

That’s because coronavirus particles in drier, less humid air absorb less moisture and therefore remain aloft longer. That makes them more likely to be inhaled and infect someone new. Plus, coronavirus particles become more stable as temperatures and humidity levels decrease, helping them remain stable enough to infect a new host when they arrive.

What’s more, like the flu, the coronavirus is ensconced in a fatty layer called a lipid envelope that helps it survive the journey from one person to the next. This sheath dries out more quickly in higher temperatures. Wetter air can also work against the protective layer by wreaking havoc on the structure of the lipid envelope, inactivating the virus.

FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS

An illustration of the coronavirus, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“To control the coronavirus airborne transmission indoors, especially in poorly ventilated indoor places like certain hospitals, schools,and public buildings, we recommend the use of humidifiers,” Ahlawat told Business Insider. Like Marr, he recommends an indoor RH between 40% and 60%.

Higher temperatures can also hinder the virus’ spread via surfaces, though that type of transmission is rare. A study published in June revealed that warmer weather conditions can truncate how long the coronavirus survives on surfaces.

40% to 60% relative humidity benefits our immune systems, too

This fall, Iwasaki helped launch a petition calling on the World Health Organization to set guidelines for indoor humidity levels. It calls 40%-60% RH “a sweet spot,” since indoor air in that range “allows our nose and throat to maintain robust immune responses” against many viruses.

Pneumonia woman sneezing old

Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Our immune systems’ built-in protections — such as the mucus in our noses — work better when the air is wetter. That’s because mucus coats flexible hair-like appendages called cilia that jut out from cells in our airways (picture them like swaying seaweed underwater). Cilia are tasked with catching viral particles that try to float into our lungs.

According to a recent study by Iwasaki and her colleagues, low humidity dries out that mucus; as the lubricating mucus dries, those protective cilia fall flat, hampering their ability to snag viruses.

But experts warn against too much humidity 

indoor dining reopen nyc covid

Customers dine indoors at Westville Hudson in New York City on September 30, 2020.

Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

It’s critical not to overdo the humidity, however.

“Be very careful to avoid getting above 65%, because that can promote mold growth,” Marr said. The resulting mold can trigger asthma, and many people are allergic to mold spores.

Ahlawat also said a humidity level over 60% “would be too much uncomfortable for the indoor residents.” 

Numbers aside, some experts are against using humidifiers at all as a means of reducing viral transmission.

“This is an unproven approach and has potential for very bad side effects,” Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, told Elemental in November. “I don’t recommend it.”

Family gathering coronavirus

Family members wearing masks gather for a meal.

2K Studio/Getty

Marr also cautioned that using a humidifier should not be seen as a panacea for stopping the virus’ spread.

“The most important things to do are to wear a mask, maintain distance, ensure good ventilation and/or filtration of the air, and wash your hands,” she said. 

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Coronavirus digest: UK vaccinates 600,000 people – DW (English)

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

More than 600,000 people in the United Kingdom have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine since the rollout began earlier this month.

The UK was the first country in the world to approve and begin inoculating people with the vaccine. Care home residents, adults over 80, and health and social care staff were first to receive the shot at more than 500 sites across the country.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that he expects to receive millions of doses before the end of the year.

The second dose must be given three weeks after the first.

Rest of Europe

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany‘s federal agency for disease control and prevention, reported 25,533 new cases on Friday, along with 412 deaths from the virus.


South Africa‘s health minister has refuted his British counterpart’s claim that a new variant in the country is more contagious or more dangerous than a similar one currently rampant in the UK.

“At present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 (variant) is more transmissible than the United Kingdom variant, as suggested by the British Health Secretary,” Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement.

“There is also no evidence that (it) causes more severe disease or increased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world.”

Middle East

Israel has reported a three-month high caseload as it prepares to enter its third lockdown since the onset of the pandemic.

The Israeli Health Ministry announced on Friday that 3,958 new infections had been reported over a 24-hour period.

As a result of the ever-increasing numbers, a third partial lockdown is to be imposed from Sunday afternoon. This will be in place for at least two weeks.




Three Latin American countries began their immunization programs against COVID on Thursday. Frontline medical staff in Mexico and Chile were among the first to get the injection, while Costa Rica began its own program.

Mexican nurse Maria Irene Ramirez said, “it’s the best gift I could receive in 2020,” while she received the shot.

A nursing assistant in Chile was the first to receive the vaccine in the country in the presence of President Sebastian Pinera.

Elizabeth Castillo, a 91-year-old nursing home resident, was the first vaccine recipient in Costa Rica.

“I am very grateful to God, because I have asked so much of him. My life is very important to me, so take advantage of every moment,” said Castillo.

Argentina received 300,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday. It is the first Latin American country to approve the use of the Russian vaccine.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has vowed to take the first shot to prove it was safe, after the vaccine was criticized that it was registered before the start of large-scale clinical trials.

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a mandate that requires all airline passengers arriving from the UK starting Monday to test negative for COVID.


South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday there were 1,241 new cases reported the day before. That is the highest 24-hour count that the country has seen so far in the pandemic.

Hong Kong extended its required quarantine for international arrivals from 14 days to 21 days, effective Friday. This does not include people arriving from mainland China.

The city also banned all people who were in South Africa in the past 21 days from arriving, due to the new variant found in the country. Hong Kong had already stopped flights arriving from the UK from Monday.

kbd, jsi/aw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

Study reveals COVID-19 severity is affected by proportion of antibodies targeting crucial viral protein – Yahoo India News

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

India Newzstreet Media

Karanvir Bohra slams those saying he was trying for a boy

Television actor Karanvir Bohra, who recently welcomed his third daughter, has slammed baseless rumours about him and his family. In a new Instagram post, Karanvir has said that unlike what some people are saying, he and his wife, Teejay Sidhu, weren’t trying for a boy after their twin daughters.

People who develop Coronavirus antibodies much less positive again for up to six months or more: Study – Firstpost

Last Updated on December 25, 2020 by

Two new studies give encouraging evidence that having COVID-19 may offer some protection against future infections. Researchers found that people who made antibodies to the coronavirus were much less likely to test positive again for up to six months and maybe longer. The results bode well for vaccines, which provoke the immune system to make antibodies — substances that attach to a virus and help it be eliminated.

Researchers found that people with antibodies from natural infections were “at much lower risk … on the order of the same kind of protection you’d get from an effective vaccine,” of getting the virus again, said Dr Ned Sharpless, director of the US National Cancer Institute.

“It’s very, very rare” to get reinfected, he said.

The institute’s study had nothing to do with cancer — many federal researchers have shifted to coronavirus work because of the pandemic.

Both studies used two types of tests. One is a blood test for antibodies, which can linger for many months after infection. The other type of test uses nasal or other samples to detect the virus itself or bits of it, suggesting current or recent infection.

One study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 12,500 health workers at Oxford University Hospitals in the United Kingdom. Among the 1,265 who had coronavirus antibodies at the outset, only two had positive results on tests to detect active infection in the following six months and neither developed symptoms.

That contrasts with the 11,364 workers who initially did not have antibodies; 223 of them tested positive for infection in the roughly six months that followed.

The National Cancer Institute study involved more than 3 million people who had antibody tests from two private labs in the United States. Only 0.3 percent of those who initially had antibodies later tested positive for the coronavirus, compared with 3 percent of those who lacked such antibodies.

“It’s very gratifying” to see that the Oxford researchers saw the same risk reduction — 10 times less likely to have a second infection if antibodies were present, Sharpless said.

His institute’s report was posted on a website scientists use to share research and is under review at a major medical journal.

The findings are “not a surprise … but it’s really reassuring because it tells people that immunity to the virus is common,” said Joshua Wolf, an infectious disease specialist at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis who had no role in either study.

Antibodies themselves may not be giving the protection, they might just be a sign that other parts of the immune system, such as T cells, are able to fight off any new exposures to the virus, he said.

“We don’t know how long-lasting this immunity is,” Wolf added. Cases of people getting COVID-19 more than once have been confirmed, so “people still need to protect themselves and others by preventing reinfection.”