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PAST COVID-19 INFECTION DOES NOT FULLY PROTECT PEOPLE AGAINST RE-INFECTION

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A past Covid-19 infection does not completely protect against re-infection in young people, according to a study of more than 3,000 healthy members of the US Marines Corps most of whom were aged 18-20 years, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

The authors say that despite previous infection and the presence of antibodies, vaccination is still necessary to boost immune responses, prevent reinfection, reduce transmission, and that young people should take up the vaccine wherever possible.

The study was led by researchers of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“Our findings indicate that re-infection by SARS-CoV-2 in healthy young adults is common,” says Stuart Sealfon, MD, the Sara B. and Seth M. Glickenhaus Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and senior author of the paper. “Despite a prior Covid-19 infection, young people can catch the virus again and may still transmit it to others. This is an important point to know and remember as vaccine rollouts continue. Young people should get the vaccine whenever possible since vaccination is necessary to boost immune responses, prevent reinfection, and reduce transmission.”

The study, conducted between May and November 2020, revealed that around 10 per cent (19 out of 189) of participants who were previously infected with SARS-CoV-s (seropositive) became reinfected, compared with new infections in 50 per cent (1.079 out of 2,247) of participants who had not been previously infected (seronegative).

While seronegative study participants had a five times greater risk of infection than seropositive participants, the study showed that seropositive people are still at risk of reinfection.

The study population consisted of 3,249 predominantly male, 18-20-year-old Marine recruits who, upon arrival at a Marine-supervised two-week quarantine prior to entering basic training, were assessed for baseline SARS-CoV-2 IgG seropositivity.

The presence of SARS-CoV-2 was assessed by PCR at initiation, middle and end of quarantine. After appropriate exclusions, including participants with a positive PCR during quarantine, the study team performed three bi-weekly PCR tests in both seronegative and seropositive groups once recruits left quarantine and entered basic training.

Recruits who tested positive for a new second Covid-19 infection during the study were isolated and the study team followed up with additional testing. Levels of neutralising antibodies were also taken from subsequently infected seropositive and selected seropositive participants who were not reinfected during the study period.

Of the 2,346 Marines followed long enough for this analysis of reinfection rate, 189 were seropositive and 2,247 were seronegative at the start of the study. Across both groups of recruits, there were 1,098 (45 per cent new infections during the study. Among the seropositive participants, 19 (10 per cent tested positive for a second infection during the study. Of the recruits who were seronegative, 1,079 (48 per cent) became infected during the study.

To understand why these reinfections occurred, the authors studied the reinfected and not infected participants’ antibody responses. They found that, among the seropositive group, participants who became reinfected had lower antibody levels against the SARS-CoV-2 virus than those who did not become reinfected. In addition, in the seropositive group, neutralising antibodies were less common (neutralising antibodies were detected in 45 (83 per cent) of 54 uninfected, and in six (32 per cent) of 19 reinfected participants during the six weeks of observation).

The authors note some limitations to their study, including that it likely underestimates the risk of reinfection in previously infected individuals because it does not account for people with very low antibody levels following their past infection.

They strongly suggest that even young people with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection be a target of vaccination since efforts must be made to prevent transmission and prevent infection amongst this group.

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STUDY FINDS APPRECIATING NATURE MAY HAVE POSITIVE IMPACT ON WELL-BEING

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New research led by Swansea University says appreciating nature can have a positive impact on our well-being.

The ability to connect and feel a sense of belonging are basic human needs but new research has examined how these are determined by more than just our personal relationships. Psychologist Professor Andrew Kemp, of the College of Human and Health Sciences, worked with PhD student Jess Mead and consultant clinical psychologist Dr Zoe Fisher, of the University’s Health and Wellbeing Academy, on the study which presents a transdisciplinary framework to help understand and improve wellbeing.

Professor Kemp said: “We define wellbeing as a positive psychological experience, promoted by connections to self, community and environment, supported by healthy vagal function, all of which are impacted by socio-contextual factors that lie beyond the control of the individual.”

The researchers say their latest findings, which have just been published in Frontiers in Psychology, are particularly topical as society looks to recover and learn from COVID-19.

He said: “Our framework has already contributed to a better understanding of how to protect wellbeing during the pandemic and has led to the development of an innovative wellbeing science intervention, targeting university students and people living with acquired brain injury.”

Professor Kemp added: “We feel our invited paper is timely as it not only aligns with a post-pandemic future that requires societal transformation, but it also picks up on global efforts to promote planetary wellbeing.”

“Globalisation, urbanisation and technological advancements have meant that humans have become increasingly disconnected from nature. This continues despite research showing that contact with nature improves wellbeing.”

The research reveals the advantages to health and wellbeing derived from connecting to oneself, others and nature and emphasises a need for focused efforts to tackle major societal issues that affect our capacity for connection.”

He added: “The poorest are disproportionally impacted by major societal challenges including the increasing burden of chronic disease, societal loneliness and anthropogenic climate change.”

“Economic inequality has adverse impacts on the entire population, not just the poor, so improving economic inequality is fundamental to improving population wellbeing.”

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STRESSED STUDENTS CAN REDUCE ANXIETY, ENHANCE THINKING SKILLS BY PETTING THERAPY DOGS

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A new study has found that college students who are under pressure may bust their stress by spending time petting a therapy dog.

The study was published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. According to the new Washington State University research, programs exclusively focused on petting therapy dogs improved stressed-out students’ thinking and planning skills more effectively than programs that included traditional stress-management information.

The study demonstrated that stressed students still exhibited these cognitive skills improvements up to six weeks after completion of the four-week-long program.

“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development.

“Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren’t as effective for this population compared with programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs,” added Pendry.

The researchers measured executive functioning in the 309 students involved in the study. Executive function is a term for the skills one needs to plan, organize, motivate, concentrate, memorize, “all the big cognitive skills that are needed to succeed in college,” Pendry said.

Pendry conducted this study as a follow-up to previous work, which found that petting animals for just 10 minutes had physiological impacts, reducing students’ stress in the short term.

In the three-year study, students were randomly assigned to one of three academic stress-management programs featuring varying combinations of human-animal interaction and evidenced-based academic stress management. The dogs and volunteer handlers were provided through Palouse Paws, a local affiliate of Pet Partners, a national organization with over 10,000 therapy teams.

“The results were very strong,” Pendry said.

Pendry added, “We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.”

Many universities, including WSU, have provided academic stress management programs and workshops for many years. These are traditionally very similar to college classes, where students listen to an expert, watch slideshows and take notes. They’re often evidence-based courses that talk about ways to get more sleep, set goals, or manage stress or anxiety.

“These are really important topics, and these workshops are helping typical students succeed by teaching them how to manage stress,” Pendry said.

“Interestingly though, our findings suggest that these types of educational workshops are less effective for students that are struggling. It seems that students may experience these programs as another lecture, which is exactly what causes the students to feel stressed,” Pendry added.

Human-animal interaction programs help by letting struggling students relax as they talk and think about their stressors. Through petting animals, they are more likely to relax and cope with these stressors rather than become overwhelmed. This enhances students’ ability to think, set goals, get motivated, concentrate and remember what they are learning, Pendry said.

“If you’re stressed, you can’t think or take up information; learning about stress is stressful!” she said.

Animal sessions aren’t just about changing behavior; they help students engage in positive thoughts and actions.

“You can’t learn math just by being chill. But when you are looking at the ability to study, engage, concentrate and take a test, then having the animal aspect is very powerful. Being calm is helpful for learning especially for those who struggle with stress and learning,” Pendry concluded.

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Yoga, breathing exercises help children with ADHD to focus

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YOGA & MEDITATION FOR THE STRESSED MIND

During a recent study, psychologists at Ural Federal University reached the conclusion that yoga and breathing exercises have a positive effect on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After special classes, children improve their attention, decrease hyperactivity, they do not get tired longer, they can engage in complex activities longer.

The psychologists studied the effect of exercise on functions associated with voluntary regulation and control in 16 children with ADHD aged six to seven years. The results of the study were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. “For children with ADHD, as a rule, the part of the brain that is responsible for the regulation of brain activity – the reticular formation – is deficient,” said Sergey Kiselev, head of the Laboratory of Brain and Neurocognitive Development at UrFU, head of the study.

He added, “This leads to the fact that they often experience states of inadequate hyperactivity, increased distraction and exhaustion, and their functions of regulation and control suffer a second time. We used a special breathing exercise based on the development of diaphragmatic rhythmic deep breathing – belly breathing. Such breathing helps to better supply the brain with oxygen and helps the reticular formation to better cope with its role. When the reticular formation receives enough oxygen, it begins to better regulate the child’s state of activity”.

In addition to breathing exercises, psychologists used body-oriented techniques, in particular, exercises with polar states “tension-relaxation”. The training took place three times a week for two to three months (depending on the program).

“Exercise has an immediate effect that appears immediately, but there is also a delayed effect. We found that exercise has a positive effect on regulation and control functions in children with ADHD and one year after the end of the exercise. This happens because the child’s correct breathing is automated, it becomes a kind of assistant that allows a better supply of oxygen to the brain, which, in turn, has a beneficial effect on the behavior and psyche of a child with ADHD,” says Sergey Kiselev.

This technique was developed by the Russian neuropsychologist Anna Semenovich as part of a neuropsychological correction technique. UrFU psychologists tested how well this approach helps children with ADHD.

But the study is pilot, says Kiselev. It showed that these exercises have a positive effect. However, more work needs to be done, involving more children with ADHD. This will also take into account factors such as gender, age, the severity of the disease, concomitant problems in children (speech, regulatory, etc.).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a disorder associated with impaired development of the child’s nervous system. Most often it manifests itself at the age of seven or at the beginning of regular education. ADHD is characterized by inattention, excessive activity, and impulsive behavior.

Since 2013, the Laboratory of the Brain and Neurocognitive Development of UrFU has been conducting research on the maturation of the brain and mental processes in typically developing children, as well as in children with deviant development, in particular, those at risk of developing autism and ADHD, children with moderate traumatic brain injury severity. The laboratory is one of the leading Russian centers for the study of brain development and neurocognitive processes in children.

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RESEARCHERS FIND HOW NATURE BOOSTS HEALTH OF CITY PEOPLE

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Even your local city park may be improving your health, according to the findings of a recent study by researchers from Stanford University.The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lays out how access to nature increases people’s physical activity – and therefore overall health – in cities. Lack of physical activity in the U.S. results in USD 117 billion a year in related health care costs and leads to 3.2 million deaths globally every year. It may seem like an intuitive connection, but the new research closes an important gap in understanding how building nature into cities can support overall human wellbeing.“Over the past year of shelter-in-place restrictions, we’ve learned how valuable and fulfilling it can be to spend time outdoors in nature, especially for city-dwellers,” said study lead author Roy Remme, a postdoctoral researcher at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research. “We want to help city planners understand where green spaces might best support people’s health, so everyone can receive nature’s benefits.”In cities, nature provides cooling shade to neighborhood streets, a safe harbor for pollinators, and rainwater absorption to reduce flooding. It’s widely understood that physical activity improves human health, but how parks, lakes, trees and other urban green spaces boost physical activity and overall wellbeing is an unsolved piece of the puzzle.The team combined decades of public health research with information on nature’s benefits to people in cities. They considered how activities like dog walking, jogging, cycling and community gardening are supported by cities’ natural spaces. They also factored in things like distance to urban greenery, feelings of safety and accessibility to understand how those elements can alter the benefits of nature for different people. From tree-lined sidewalks to city parks and waterfronts, the team created a model framework to map out urban nature’s physical health benefits.The researchers’ framework explores how people might choose to walk an extra few blocks to enjoy a blooming garden or bike to work along a river path, reaping the health benefits of physical activity they may have missed if not motivated by natural spaces.In Amsterdam, city planners are currently implementing a new green infrastructure plan. Using the city as a hypothetical case study, the researchers applied their framework to understand how Amsterdam’s plans to build or improve new parks might affect physical activity for everyone in the city. They also looked at the effects on different sub-populations, like youth, elderly and low-income groups. This example illustrates how the city could invest in urban nature to have the greatest physical activity benefits for human health.The research will ultimately serve as the basis for a new health model in Natural Capital Project software – free, open-source tools that map the many benefits nature provides people. The software was recently used to inform an assessment of 775 European cities to understand the potential of nature-based solutions for addressing climate change. Eventually, the new health model software will be available to city planners, investors and anyone else interested in new arguments and tools for targeting investments in nature in cities.Nature’s contributions are multidimensional – they can support cognitive, emotional and spiritual well-being, as well as physical health. Previous work from the Natural Capital Project has shown many of these connections, but the new research adds an important link to physical health that had been missing from the equation.“Nature experience boosts memory, attention and creativity as well as happiness, social engagement and a sense of meaning in life,” said Gretchen Daily, senior author on the paper and faculty director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project. “It might not surprise us that nature stimulates physical activity, but the associated health benefits – from reducing cancer risks to promoting metabolic and other functioning – are really quite astonishing.”As our world becomes more urbanized and city-centric, the ability to easily access outdoor natural spaces becomes increasingly challenging, especially for overburdened communities. Identifying where urban nature is missing in vulnerable or overburdened communities – then working to fill those gaps – could provide people with valuable new opportunities to improve their health. The researchers hope the new study will equip urban planners with a more complete understanding of the benefits nature can provide their communities.“Our ultimate goal is to create more healthy, equitable and sustainable cities,” said Anne Guerry, co-author and Chief Strategy Officer at the Natural Capital Project. “This research is actionable – and gets us one big step closer.”

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‘DRIVERS WITH SHIFT WORK SLEEP DISORDER 3 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO BE IN CRASH’

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As people working late-night may face a couple of health issues due to the disturbance in body clock, they may suffer from shift work sleep disorder. According to researchers, people who develop this condition are also three times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Individuals working in late shifts such as 11 pm -7 am, or the ‘graveyard’ shift, are more likely than people with traditional daytime work schedules to develop a chronic medical condition — shift work sleep disorder — that disrupts their sleep. According to researchers at the University of Missouri, people who develop this condition are also three times more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident. “This discovery has many major implications, including the need to identify engineering countermeasures to help prevent these crashes from happening,” said Praveen Edara, department chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Edara added, “Such measures can include the availability of highway rest areas, roadside and in-vehicle messaging to improve a driver’s attention, and how to encourage drivers who may have a late-night work shift to take other modes of transportation, including public transit or ride-share services.”

Edara, one of the authors of the study, said the analysis was based on data collected from a real-world driving study for the second Strategic Highway Research Program established by the U.S. Congress.

As the demand for 24/7 business operations has increased in recent years to meet customer needs during all hours of the day and across multiple time zones, the traditional workday — once defined as 9 am -5 pm — has shifted for many people to include evening and night shifts, causing sleeping difficulties and leading to shifting work sleep disorder.

Edara said he was surprised to see shift work sleep disorder increase the risk of a traffic crash by nearly 300 per cent, as compared to both sleep apnea and insomnia, which both increased the risk of a crash by approximately 30 per cent.

Edara said previous studies have shown sleep disorders increase the risk for a traffic crash, but the majority of these studies were conducted in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory driving simulator. He believes this real-world data now validates those efforts.

“In the past, researchers have studied sleep disorders primarily in a controlled environment, using test-tracks and driving simulators,” Edara said.

Edara added, “Our study goes a step further by using actually observed crash and near-crash data from approximately 2,000 events occurring in six U.S. states. We’ve known for a while now that sleep disorders increase crash risk, but here we are able to quantify that risk using real-world crash data while accounting for confounding variables such as roadway and traffic characteristics.”

Edara said some of the limitations of their study include not having data for fatal crashes, and no formal measurement to define drowsiness.

PUTTING A SPOTLIGHT ON A NATIONAL PROBLEM

In the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, is the federal agency that investigates major traffic accidents. Each year, they issue an annual “most wanted list” of safety improvements, and their 2019-2020 list includes “screening and treating obstructive sleep apnea” among the top 10 topic areas.

Edara said he hopes that by showing how big of a risk there is for traffic crashes caused by excessive daytime sleepiness, the researchers can help draw additional attention toward finding ways to keep people safe behind the wheel, including taking the driver out of the equation with ride-sharing options and automated vehicles. He said the ideal next step in this research would be to partner with medical professionals who have expertise in this area to better understand why this is happening.

“We want to partner with public health and medical professionals whose expertise is in sleep-related research to better understand why this is happening,” Edara said.

“That will also allow us to explore what kind of countermeasures we can develop and test to improve the overall safety of these drivers and the other motorists around them,” Edara concluded.

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SCREENING FOR OVARIAN CANCER DID NOT REDUCE DEATHS DURING STUDY

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A large-scale randomised trial of annual screening for ovarian cancer, led by UCL researchers, did not succeed in reducing deaths from the disease, despite one of the screening methods tested detecting cancers earlier.

Results from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) have been published in a report in the medical journal The Lancet. In the UK, 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer each year. It is not usually diagnosed until it is at a late stage and hard to treat. UKCTOCS was designed to test the hypothesis that a reliable screening method that picks up ovarian cancer earlier can save lives when treatments are more likely to be effective.

The latest analysis looked at data from more than 200,000 women aged 50-74 at recruitment who were followed up for an average of 16 years. The women were randomly allocated to one of three groups: no screening, annual screening using an ultrasound scan, and annual multimodal screening involving a blood test followed by an ultrasound scan as a second-line test.

The researchers found that, while the approach using multimodal testing succeeded in picking up cancers at an early stage, neither screening method led to a reduction in deaths.

Earlier detection in UKCTOCS did not translate into saving lives. Researchers said this highlighted the importance of requiring evidence that any potential screening test for ovarian cancer actually reduced deaths and detected cancers earlier.

Professor Usha Menon (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL), the lead investigator of UKTOCS, said: “UKCTOCS is the first trial to show that screening can definitely detect ovarian cancer earlier. However, this very large, rigorous trial shows clearly that screening using either of the approaches we tested did not save lives. We therefore cannot recommend ovarian cancer screening for the general population using these methods.

“We are disappointed as this is not the outcome we and everyone involved in the trial had hoped and worked for over so many years. To save lives, we will require a better screening test that detects ovarian cancer earlier and in more women than the multimodal screening strategy we used.”

Women aged between 50 and 74 were enrolled in the trial between 2001 and 2005. Screening lasted until 2011 and was either an annual blood test, monitoring changes in the level of the protein CA125, or a yearly vaginal ultrasound scan. About 100,000 women were assigned to the no screening group, and more than 50,000 women to each of the screening groups.

Blood test screening picked up 39 per cent more cancers at an early stage (Stage I/II) while detecting 10 per cent fewer late-stage cancers (Stage III/IV) compared to the no screening group. There was no difference in the stage of cancers detected in the ultrasound group compared to the no screening group.

The initial analysis of deaths in the trial occurred in 2015, but there was not enough data at that time to conclude whether or not screening reduced deaths. By looking at five more years of follow-up data from the women involved, researchers are now able to conclude that the screening did not save lives.

Professor Mahesh Parmar, Director of the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL and a senior author on the paper, said: “There have been significant improvements in the treatment of advanced disease in the last 10 years since screening in our trial ended. Our trial showed that screening was not effective in women who do not have any symptoms of ovarian cancer; in women who do have symptoms early diagnosis, combined with this better treatment, can still make a difference to the quality of life and, potentially, improve outcomes. On top of this, getting a diagnosis quickly, whatever the stage of cancer, is profoundly important to women and their families.”

Professor Ian Jacobs, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), a co-investigator who has led the ovarian cancer screening research programme since 1985 and who was the lead investigator of UKCTOCS from 2001-2014, said: “My thanks to the thousands of women, healthcare professionals and researchers who made this trial possible. The multimodal screening strategy did succeed in the detection of ovarian cancer at an earlier stage, but sadly that did not save lives. This is deeply disappointing and frustrating given the hope of all involved that we would save the lives of thousands of women who are affected by ovarian cancer each year.”

Professor Jacobs noted: “Population screening for ovarian cancer can only be supported if a test is shown to reduce deaths in a future randomised controlled trial. I remain hopeful that a new effective screening test will be found eventually, but it will take many years to conduct a large trial of the test. Realistically, this means we have to reluctantly accept that population screening for ovarian cancer is more than a decade away.”

A huge wealth of samples and data from the trial has been donated by the participants for future research. This resource referred to as the UKCTOCS Longitudinal Women’s Cohort (UKLWC), is now being used by researchers worldwide, helping to improve understanding of ovarian cancer as well as other cancers and other diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Researchers say that the study has also generated insights into how best to design, conduct and analyse a large-scale randomised clinical trial particularly in individuals who have no signs of disease. These insights will be helpful to future trials in all areas of health. It has also contributed to advances in risk assessment, prevention and diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

The UKCTOCS trial was funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme and the charities Cancer Research UK and The Eve Appeal.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, said: “Trials don’t always find the result we had hoped for, but we need long-term studies like this to know whether new tests save lives. Cancer Research UK will continue to fund vital research into aggressive forms of ovarian cancer so we can reduce the impact of this disease.

“Screening is for people without symptoms, so it’s still important that if you notice unusual or persistent changes to talk to your doctor. Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be quite vague and similar to symptoms caused by less serious conditions, which can make spotting the disease tricky. Whether it’s needing to go to the toilet more often, pain, bloating, or something else, raise it with your GP – in most cases, it won’t be cancer but it’s best to get it checked out.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, Medical Director, NIHR Clinical Research Network, said: “These important findings from a large-scale trial, involving 200,000 participants, show that annual screening did not succeed in reducing deaths from ovarian cancer.

“However, it’s important to note that negative results can be as important as positive. The study has provided important new evidence and insights into how to conduct and analyse future large-scale randomised clinical trials into ovarian cancer, in the hope that this will prevent and diagnose this disease more effectively in the future.

“We thank every single person who took part.”

Athena Lamnisos, CEO, The Eve Appeal, said: “The threshold for introducing a national cancer screening programme is a mortality benefit. Of course, this is key – saving lives. It’s disappointing that this research programme did not show a reduction in mortality from ovarian cancer and so can’t be recommended as a national screening programme. However, the impact it had on earlier diagnosis is impressive and important.

“Ovarian cancer is so often diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 and shifting diagnosis one stage earlier makes a huge difference to both treatment options and quality of life. Earlier diagnosis will often reduce the amount and intensity of treatment, which makes all the difference to women and their families living with cancer. It may have also given them more precious time with their loved ones.”

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