Categories
Daily dose

Mozart, spaghetti, eclipses & zoonosis

You may be able to spot a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse this weekend link

On June 21st, at 3:45 UTC, there would be an annular solar eclipse in which the moon only partially covers the sun creating a flaming silhouette. This rare event happens once every one or two years when the moon comes in between the Earth and the sun in its farthest point in its orbit. It will be visible in northern India, southeastern Europe to northern Australia in varying degrees. Don’t forget to use the proper equipment in viewing the eclipse as looking directly at the sun could cause permanent eye damage. And no, sunglasses, x-ray films, polaroid filters, or color films won’t give you protection.

The tangled history of spaghetti bolognese link

The spaghetti that we know – pasta noodles with red sauce often referred to as spaghetti bolognese has nothing to do with the Italian town of Bologna. Its origins can be traced to when Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796 and the Italians’ embracing French cooking. American soldiers and Italian immigrants brought it to the United States at the end of World War II. The growth and global expansion of American fast-food chains then exported it to the rest of the world.

Mozart may reduce seizure frequency in people with epilepsy link

A study suggests that listening to Mozart reduces the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy. It doesn’t say exactly what in Mozart’s music gives this benefit. Maybe music from other classical masters like Beethoven, Bach or Vivaldi would give the same positive effect. From time to time, I put on Spring from Four Seasons just to lighten up the mood and get the creative juices flowing.

“Cat” by strogoscope is licensed under CC BY 2.0
People probably caught coronavirus from minks. That’s a wake-up call to study infections in animals, researchers say. link

The consensus among experts is that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 came from bats and then jumped to humans in what is called zoonosis. Now there’s a growing body of research that suggests the sources of other pathogens may be closer to home as our domesticated animals in farms and including our pets are potential reservoirs.

Even during the SARS outbreak in 2003, it has been proven that cats and raccoons played a role in the spread of the virus in Hong Kong. Back in April, minks in Dutch fur farms got sick from SARS-CoV-2 and later passed it on to humans. Aside from pet cats and dogs, lions and tigers in zoos have also caught COVID-19. So what can be done with the certainty that there would be another outbreak? Better and widened surveillance that includes animals both domestic and wild.

What we can learn from New Zealand’s successful fight against COVID-19 link

The exact opposite of what the Duterte administration did and is doing. New Zealand may have had the advantage of a smaller population and geographic isolation, however the following steps proved more decisive:

  • The early shutdown of its borders
  • Early ramping up of diagnostic testing
  • A meticulous contact tracing system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did well on risk communication, explaining clearly and frequently what was happening and why. This made people feel that they were part of a communal effort to care for each other. She promoted solidarity. – Gavin Yamey, director of the Duke Center for Policy Impact in Global Health

In contrast, the Duterte government did the opposite:

Relented on imposing travel restrictions even saying that it didn’t want to offend China

Communication was all over the place: from having different officials saying one thing in the morning only to have another official contradict it later in the day.

They even had the bright idea to classify cases as “fresh” and “old” in their official reporting which only made things confusing. It didn’t hide the fact that more people are getting COVID-19 despite imposing the longest lockdown in the world, billions spent, and the available capabilities of local health experts and scientists.

Worse, Duterte’s late-night appearances on TV were laced with his signature profanities and incoherent statements were clear only one thing: threatening to jail or kill critics and naysayers.

We’re in the third month of the outbreak in the Philippines and it seems that this terrible situation will drag on for longer.

Categories
Daily dose

Flying, children’s blood vessels, pepper sprays & the office

How Safe Is Flying in the Age of Coronavirus? link

Just like with SARS back in 2003, air travel has helped spread novel diseases the world over. Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is no different that’s why a lot of us are worried about the risks of getting sick in an airplane. Charlotte Ryan and Naomi Kresge have answers to key questions about the safety of air travel as some countries are now reopening for business and relaxing travel restrictions. If you think about it, the same questions apply to other modes of mass transportation such as buses and trains where a lot of people spend a lot of time in an enclosed environment.

“Running kids” by iwannt is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Why children avoid the worst coronavirus complications might lie in their arteries link

Children have less severe forms of COVID-19 compared to adults, especially those with diabetes and hypertension. The main difference, according to Frank Ruschitzka a cardiologist at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, may lie in the endothelium that lines the blood vessels which are in better condition in children compared to in adults. Healthier endothelium is able to withstand infection from SARS-CoV-2 which avoids the devastating blood clotting often seen in adult patients.

Paul Monagle, a pediatric hematologist at the Melbourne Children’s Campus has a similar theory. He thinks that when SARS-CoV-2 invades endothelial cells, it disrupts communication between such cells, platelets, and plasma components that results in excess clot formation which could result in death.

Can existing live vaccines prevent COVID-19? link | link

A group of experts has made the argument that the polio vaccine should be tested against COVID-19 because it strengthens the immune system against a wide range of diseases aside from polio. It’s fairly recent and existing polio vaccine are not included in current trials by WHO and other health experts in their race to find a safe and effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

“Crash UC Davis” by tpfliss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
How to handle a pepper spray attack – link

The ingredients that go into pepper sprays are not regulated by the US government. Manufacturers have their own blend and the ingredients are not printed on labels. This means there’s little that scientists know about its composition so they can’t really say how harmful it can be. I’ve had a whiff of tear gas before way back when my sister and I were still kids when we found a small canister in my aunt’s purse. It was a nightmare and they say pepper sprays are far worse. Yikes!

“Office” by Super Rabbit One is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Death of the Office – link

Before Google and other tech start-ups started the fad of open office spaces with slides, bean bags, and free snacks, the ancient Romans as it turns out were on a league of their own. As they dedicated more time to leisure ‘work’ was wherever and whenever they were not having fun. It’s an interesting overview of the origins and evolution of the office. Something we all miss somehow as we work from home due to the pandemic.

Categories
Science

Remdesivir: cure for COVID-19? More studies needed

The race is on to find a cure for COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on countries, shuttering economies, straining public health systems and taking many lives. As of this writing there are 2, 160, 207 confirmed cases with 146, 088 deaths worldwide.

The World Health Organization has taken the lead in a global “Solidarity trial” of at least four candidate drugs that could potentially cure the disease: Remdesivir; Lopinavir/Ritonavir; Lopinavir/Ritonavir with Interferon beta-1a; and Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine.

First to grab headlines was Hydroxychloroquine which US President Trump has mentioned on many of his earlier briefings to the press.

Remdesivir
Chemical structure of Remdesivir.

Now, attention has shifted to remdesivir which has shown promising results based on a few studies in the US. The drug is made by Gilead Sciences and was initially tested against Ebola but had little success. Multiple studies in animals showed the drug could both prevent and treat coronaviruses related to COVID-19, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

The US NIH came out with a report that remdesivir prevented COVID-19 from progressing in rhesus macaque monkeys based on mild- to-moderate cases of the human disease.

Although the “solidarity trial” is unprecedented and groundbreaking as it has never been done before, experts are saying that more rigorous studies are needed as the urgency to find a cure may compromise the global effort.

Dr. Rahul Ganatra, director of Continuing Medical Education at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has scrutinized a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine on the use of remdesivir for patients with severe COVID-19. His initial appraisal is that the study was based on a population of small size – only 61 patients, there were missing data like the definition of what is “standard care”, and perhaps most importantly, it lacked a control group. To his mind, these threaten the promise of remdesivir being a cure for COVID-19. His conclusion: more well-designed trials like ones with control-groups are needed.

It is hoped that indeed researchers would bear in mind that a cure for COVID-19 would only be found through good science and that the goal is not only to be the first in finding it, rather finding a cure that really works.

Categories
Daily dose

How vulnerable am I to the COVID-19?

The SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread throughout the world and there’s now talk of the COVID-19 reaching pandemic levels. It’s not going to be the end of the world or the start of a zombie breakout but one cannot avoid getting anxious. I myself have been worrying ever since reading about it back in December last year. Primarily because I have not been of the greatest of health; underweight, prone to allergic rhinitis which would easily develop into upper respiratory infection. That alone is enough to make life very hard for at least a couple of weeks until it gets resolved. To top it all off, I work in an office building where there’s a lot of foreign nationals on a daily basis.

So the worry is real. Thankfully most of the answers to the question in the title of this post, can be found on an article by Dr Edsel Maurice Salvaña, M.D., DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA on Esquire Magazine:

Early data is showing that about 80% of people who get sick with COVID-19 will develop only mild symptoms, while 20% can develop more severe disease. The ones at highest risk for a bad outcome are the elderly and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. A greater percentage of men compared with women with COVID-19 have died in China, and this may have been partly because more males smoke in China. Protecting your loved ones means avoiding unnecessary travel and practicing social distancing. Elderly people should avoid crowds and crowded places. Make sure everyone’s vaccinations for influenza and bacterial pneumonia are up to date since these can prove fatal if they occur at the same time as a COVID-19 infection. Now is also the best time to stop smoking.

Dr Edsel Maurice Salvaña, M.D. A Coronavirus Pandemic Isn’t the End of the World

I may not be young anymore but certainly not too old to be considered an ‘elderly’ just yet. Heart disease and diabetes free. However, I do have a history of lung disease and that’s where the worry really comes from. On the other hand some level of comfort comes from the fact that I don’t smoke cigarettes and having been on a drinking hiatus since last October, my exposure to second-hand smoke has been practically eliminated.

The real trick now is to keep my self in better health. Wash my hands more often and minimize travel. I even started to use my elbows in pushing the elevator buttons and consciously avoid touching door handles and the overhead bar at jeepneys.

In addition, I regularly keep myself updated with news & information about the COVID-19 from credible sources. Hopefully it would be enough to be spared from this disease along with my family. Hoping even more that a local outbreak would not happen even though the recent moves of the government in response to SARS-CoV-2 spread does not inspire confidence and even adds to our worries, there’s only so much that we can do.