Monkeypox Likely Spread By Sex at 2 Raves In Europe

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak.

A leading doctor who chairs a World Health Organization expert group described the unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event” that might be explained by risky sexual behavior at two recent mass events in Europe.

A leading adviser to the World Health Organization described the unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event” that might be explained by risky sexual behavior at two recent mass events in Europe.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. David Heymann, who formerly headed WHO’s emergencies department, said the leading theory to explain the spread of the disease was sexual transmission among gay and bisexual men at two raves held in Spain and Belgium. Monkeypox has not previously triggered widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” said Heymann. That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates and outbreaks have not spilled across borders.

To date, WHO has recorded more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries including Britain, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia. Madrid’s senior health official said on Monday that the Spanish capital has recorded 30 confirmed cases so far. Enrique Ruiz Escudero said authorities are investigating possible links between a recent Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands, which drew some 80,000 people, and cases at a Madrid sauna.

Heymann chaired an urgent meeting of WHO’s advisory group on infectious disease threats on Friday to assess the ongoing epidemic and said there was no evidence to suggest that monkeypox might have mutated into a more infectious form.

Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash, and lesions on the face or genitals. It can be spread through close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedsheets, but sexual transmission has not yet been documented. Most people recover from the disease within several weeks without requiring hospitalization.

Vaccines against smallpox, a related disease, are also effective in preventing monkeypox and some antiviral drugs are being developed. So far, public health agencies in Europe have confirmed cases in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden.

In a statement on Friday, the WHO said that the recent outbreaks “are atypical, as they are occurring in non-endemic countries”. It said it was “working with the affected countries and others to expand disease surveillance to find and support people who may be affected”.

It is not yet clear why this unusual outbreak is happening now. One possibility is that the virus has changed in some way, although currently there is little evidence to suggest this is a new variant. Another explanation is that the virus has found itself in the right place at the right time to thrive.

Monkeypox may also spread more easily than it did in the past, when the smallpox vaccine was widely used. WHO’s Europe regional director Hans Kluge warned that “as we enter the summer season… with mass gatherings, festivals and parties, I am concerned that transmission could accelerate”.

He added that all but one of the recent cases had no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox was endemic. The first case of the disease in the UK was reported on 7 May. The patient had recently travelled to Nigeria, where they are believed to have caught the virus before travelling to England, the UK Health Security Agency said.

There are now 20 confirmed cases in the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Friday. Authorities in the UK said they had bought stocks of the smallpox vaccine and started offering it to those with “higher levels of exposure” to monkeypox. Spanish health authorities have also reportedly purchased thousands of smallpox jabs to deal with the outbreak, according to Spanish newspaper El País.

Australia’s first case was detected in a man who fell ill after travelling to the UK, the Victorian Department of Health said. In North America, health authorities in the US state of Massachusetts confirmed that a man has been infected after recently travelling to Canada. He was in “good condition” and “poses no risk to the public”, officials said.

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Source: Expert: Monkeypox likely spread by sex at 2 raves in Europe

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What We Know About Long COVID So Far

While the World Health Organization says long COVID starts three months after the original bout of illness or positive test result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the timeline at just after one month.

Among the many confounding aspects of the coronavirus is the spectrum of possible symptoms, as well as their severity and duration. Some people develop mild illness and recover quickly, with no lasting effects. But studies estimate that 10% to 30% of people report persistent or new medical issues months after their initial coronavirus infections — a constellation of symptoms known as long COVID.

People who experience mild or moderate illness, as well as those without any underlying medical conditions, can nonetheless experience some debilitating long-term symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, an erratic heart rate, headaches, dizziness, depression and problems with memory and concentration.

Such lingering medical issues are so varied that one study by a patient-led research group evaluated 203 symptoms that may fluctuate or even appear out of the blue after people seem to have recovered.

As Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System and a clinical public health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “If you’ve seen one patient with long COVID, you’ve seen one patient with long COVID.”

How doctors currently diagnose long COVID

There is little consensus on the exact definition of long COVID, also known by the medical term PASC, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19. While the World Health Organization says long COVID starts three months after the original bout of illness or positive test result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the timeline at just after one month.

Some researchers and health care providers use other time frames, making efforts to study and quantify the condition more difficult, said Al-Aly, who has conducted many studies on long-term post-COVID issues.

When patients experiencing persistent symptoms go to their doctors, tests like electrocardiograms, chest X-rays, CT scans and blood work don’t always identify physiological problems, Al-Aly said. Researchers are working to pinpoint certain biological factors, called biomarkers, that correlate with persistent COVID symptoms. These could include signs of inflammation or certain molecules produced by the immune system that might be measured by blood tests, for example.

Long COVID is defined as symptoms that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis and last at least two months following an initial COVID-19 infection. It is usually after three months (12 weeks) of persistent symptoms when a patient is suspected of having long COVID.

Long COVID can affect anyone of any age, including children and adolescents. Even if you had mild or no symptoms when you were first infected, you can be impacted by long COVID.

For some, long COVID symptoms can be more severe than the acute COVID-19 infection itself. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms can persist from the initial illness or begin after recovery, and they may come and go or improve over time.

Long COVID can interfere with a person’s ability to perform normal, everyday activities, like work and household chores. With children, it can affect their ability to do their schoolwork. While it cannot be predicted how long a given patient may experience long COVID, some research has shown that patients can get better over time.

Long COVID Symptoms

Long COVID symptoms are different from acute COVID symptoms. Conditions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of (or changes in) taste and smell
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sleeping problems
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Poor appetite

How Does Long COVID Affect Children?

Some common symptoms seen in children include fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping and concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and cough. As with other medical conditions, young children may have trouble describing the problems they are experiencing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), information on long COVID in children and adolescents is limited, so it is possible other symptoms may be likely in younger age groups.

If your child is suffering from long COVID and is unable to complete their normal school assignments, it might be best to ask school administrators about accommodations such as extra time to complete tests and assignments, rest periods throughout the school day and modified class schedules, says the CDC.

What Causes Long COVID?

It is unknown why people experience long COVID. The cause is still an active area of research. Some experts believe the cause is potentially due to the body’s hyper-inflammatory immune response to a new germ.

By:

Source: What We Know About Long COVID So Far

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Ozone Layer, Lauded Climate Success Story, Threatened by Wildfires

Wildfire smoke may slow progress on one of the most widely hailed climate success stories: healing the ozone layer.

In the 1980s, researchers discovered that a class of household chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were eating a hole in the ozone layer, which protects Earth from cancer-causing radiation. A 10% decrease in ozone levels would result in an additional 300,000 skin-cancer cases worldwide, according to a World Health Organization estimate.

World governments banded together to phase CFCs out of household products, like refrigerators and hairspray, when they signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987. CFC emissions fell, and the ozone hole over the Antarctic began to close. Now the ozone layer is on track to fully recover by 2060, according to a scientific assessment from the United Nations and the World Meteorological Association.

But an unexpected new threat — wildfire smoke — might slow that recovery, a pair of recent studies suggest. Researchers discovered that Australia’s “Black Summer” wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020 created a cloud of smoke so large that it rose into the stratosphere, circled the southern hemisphere, and triggered a chain of chemical reactions that destroyed ozone.

“Smoke was not supposed to do this,” Peter Bernath, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Waterloo, who co-authored one of the studies and led the other, told Insider. “It was completely unexpected that smoke made these atmospheric changes. So this is new chemistry.”

The smoke was associated with a 1% decrease in ozone at southern midlatitudes in March 2020, according to calculations in one of the studies, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One percent may sound small, but it’s significant, considering the ozone layer is rebuilding itself by about 1-3% every decade.

The second study found that the smoke led to a rise in compounds, like hypochlorous acid, which react with ozone molecules to break them apart. Researchers aren’t sure how the smoke causes an increase in these reactive compounds, but they are confident that this is what caused the ozone levels to dip in March 2020. That paper was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Within about nine months, the smoke had cleared from the stratosphere, and ozone had recovered to pre-wildfire levels. But the researchers suspect that other major wildfire events, like the 2017 and 2020 blazes across the Pacific Northwest, could have a similar ozone-depleting effect.

Smoke probably won’t undo the ozone layer’s healing, Bernath said, but it could slow it down. In recent global climate and wildfire reports, the United Nations warned that fires will become more frequent and more severe as global temperatures rise. That could mean more enormous smoke clouds that reach into the stratosphere and destroy ozone.

“As severe wildfires increase in number, they will play an increasingly important role in the global ozone budget,” Bernath’s study concludes.

Australia had the first ‘super outbreak’ of fire-driven thunderstorms

When wildfires burn hot enough, under the right conditions, their smoke creates its own weather. It billows up into anvil-shaped thunderstorms called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, or “pyroCbs” for short.

Smoke cools and expands as it quickly rises miles high, allowing water vapor to condense on the ash particles and create a cloud sitting atop the smoke column. The fires below fuel hot updrafts that sustain the thunderstorm and funnel smoke into the upper atmosphere, like a chimney.

That’s what happened above Australia in the final months of 2019 and beginning of 2020. As fires consumed about 50 million acres of land, they created about 38 pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which persisted for days.

More than half of those clouds reached the stratosphere, according to research led by David Peterson, a meteorologist who studies pyrocumulonimbus clouds at the Naval Research Laboratory.

“That’s why we refer to it as the first pyroCb super outbreak,” Peterson, who is not affiliated with the new studies on ozone, told Insider.

It’s unclear how often fires will shoot ozone-destroying smoke into the stratosphere

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds that reach into the stratosphere could become more common as the climate warms, but for now, that’s hard to forecast.

“It’s not just the fire. You need a certain atmospheric condition that allows for the thunderstorm to develop,” Peterson said, adding, “Just because you have more wildfires doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more pyroCbs. It’s really, how often do you have this synergy of the weather and the fire at the same time?”

That’s an area of ongoing research — a “frontier topic,” in Peterson’s words. Nobody knows the future of wildfire-smoke storms and their ozone-destroying potential.

Bernath and his colleagues aren’t even sure how wildfire smoke leads to compounds that react with ozone. They think that the hydrated, acidic surface of the smoke particles triggers chemical reactions that wouldn’t otherwise take place in the stratosphere, creating new compounds.

“The smoke particles have a reactive surface, and that surface catalyzes this chemistry that destroys the ozone,” Bernath said, adding, “So we kind of know what the smoke is doing. And we have some clue what the surface of the smoke particles looks like. But we don’t actually know what particular reactions are taking place on the surface.”

Laboratory research that inserts smoke particles into a stratosphere-like environment, and documents ensuing chemical reactions, could fill in the blanks.

Bernath and his colleagues are also studying satellite data from the fires that engulfed the West Coast of the US and Canada in 2020. Those blazes created pyrocumulonimbus clouds, and Bernath suspects that smoke had its own effect on ozone levels.

“This field of research into pyroCbs and their effects is relatively new, especially compared to other types of wildfire impacts,” Peterson said, adding, “We learn a lot, but then we get a lot of new questions.”

By:

Source: Ozone Layer, Lauded Climate Success Story, Threatened by Wildfires

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The Lambda Coronavirus Variant Has Arrived In Australia Here’s What We Know So Far

We’ve seen the Alpha, Kappa and Delta variants cross our borders, but it turns out another strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has reached our shores.

The variant, named Lambda by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month, was detected in an overseas traveller who was in hotel quarantine in New South Wales in April, according to national genomics database AusTrakka.

Some reports suggest the new variant could be fast spreading and difficult to tackle with vaccines. So what sets this variant apart from others and should we be concerned?

Here’s what we know so far.

Where did it originate?

Previously known as C.37, Lambda was first detected in Peru in December 2020. Since then, it’s spread to 29 countries, seven of which are in South America.

In April and May this year, Lambda accounted for over 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Peru, with a high proportion of cases also in Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.

On 14 June, Lambda was listed as a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization due to its vast spread in South America.

Variants of interest are listed as such because they have the potential to be more infectious and severe, but haven’t yet had the devastating impact of those listed as variants of concern.

On 23 June, Public Health England classified it as a ‘variant under investigation’, after six cases were detected in the UK to date, which were all linked to overseas travel.

What makes it different from other variants?

There are now 11 official SARS-CoV-2 variants listed by the WHO.

All SARS-CoV-2 variants are distinguished from one another by mutations in their spike proteins — the components of the virus that allow it to invade human cells.

For instance, the Delta variant first detected in India has two key spike protein mutations — T478K and L452R  — that allow it to infect cells more easily and evade the body’s immune response.

According to research published last week but yet to be peer reviewed,  Lambda has seven unique spike protein mutations.

A Chilean team of scientists analysed blood samples from health workers in Santiago who had received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech in China.

They found  the Lambda variant has a mutation called L452Q, which is similar to the L452R mutation seen in the Delta and Epsilon variants.

As the L452R mutation is thought to make Delta and Epsilon more infectious and resilient against vaccination, the team concluded that Lambda’s L452Q mutation might also help it spread far and wide.

While it’s possible that Lambda is indeed more infectious than other variants, it’s too early to know for sure, said Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland.

“It’s very preliminary,” said Dr Short, who was not involved in the study.

“It’s a good starting point, but I certainly wouldn’t infer anything from that into the clinic.”

Are vaccines still effective against the Lambda variant?

The study also found signs that Lambda’s unique spike mutations could help it slip past the body’s immune response.

The results of the study suggested that the CoronaVac vaccine produces fewer neutralising antibodies — proteins that defend cells against infections — in response to the Lambda variant.

But according to Paul Griffin, who specialises in infectious diseases and vaccines at the University of Queensland, it’s important to remember that these antibodies are just one aspect of immunity.

“We know that [neutralizing antibodies] only tell a part of the story,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

“If that further immunity remains intact, then even with a reduction in neutralizing antibodies, sometimes that protection can still be enough.”

It’s also worth remembering that different vaccines work in different ways to respond to the virus and its variants.

“You can’t really extrapolate from one vaccine,” Dr Short said.

CoronaVac uses inactive versions of SARS-CoV-2 to kick the immune system into gear.

On the other hand, Pfizer contains a single strand of the genetic code that builds the virus’s spike proteins, while AstraZeneca contains a double-strand.

Dr Griffin said that more traditional inactivated vaccines like CoronaVac have proven to be less effective overall than others.

“As a broad category, the inactivated ones have been a little bit underwhelming, particularly compared to others that have such high rates of efficacy,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

While not much is known about how effective the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are against Lambda, their response to the Delta variant can offer clues.

A recent study from the UK found that two doses of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca are over 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation due to the Delta variant.

Should Australia be worried?

While there has only been one case of Lambda recorded in hotel quarantine in Australia so far, it’s worth keeping an eye on the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants around the world, Dr Short said.

“There’s a reason why it’s a variant that we’re watching and looking into more, but it’s certainly not at a point of panic or anything like that.”

Dr Griffin added that Lambda would need to out-compete Delta to become a major concern. “That’s certainly not what we’re seeing,” he said.  But as more people get infected, the more chance the virus has to evolve into new variants, Dr Short said.

The best way to tackle this is to focus on getting more people vaccinated, not just in Australia, but globally. “What this should emphasise to everyone is that we need global effort in the vaccination campaign,” Dr Short said.

 By: ABC Health & Wellbeing Gemma Conroy

Source: The Lambda coronavirus variant has arrived in Australia. Here’s what we know so far – ABC News

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Long Working Hours Killing 745,000 People a Year, Study Finds

 

The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours.The report found that people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

The WHO also said the trend may worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

The study, conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), also showed almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.

Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked.Five weeks ago, a post on LinkedIn from 45-year-old Jonathan Frostick gained widespread publicity as he described how he’d had a wake-up call over long working hours.

The regulatory program manager working for HSBC had just sat down on a Sunday afternoon to prepare for the working week ahead when he felt a tightness in his chest, a throbbing in his throat, jawline and arm, and difficulty breathing.

“I got to the bedroom so I could lie down, and got the attention of my wife who phoned 999,” he said.While recovering from his heart-attack, Mr Frostick decided to restructure his approach to work. “I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore,” he said.

His post struck a chord with hundreds of readers, who shared their experiences of overwork and the impact on their health.Mr Frostick doesn’t blame his employer for the long hours he was putting in, but one respondent said: “Companies continue to push people to their limits without concern for your personal well-being.”

HSBC said everyone at the bank wished Mr Frostick a full and speedy recovery.”We also recognise the importance of personal health and wellbeing and a good work-life balance. Over the last year we have redoubled our efforts on health and wellbeing.

“The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and wellbeing a top priority.”

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While the WHO study did not cover the period of the pandemic, WHO officials said the recent jump in remote working and the economic slowdown may have increased the risks associated with long working hours.

“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

The report said working long hours was estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease, making it the largest occupational disease burden.

The researchers said that there were two ways longer working hours led to poor health outcomes: firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.

Andrew Falls, 32, a service engineer based in Leeds, says the long hours at his previous employer took a toll on his mental and physical health.”Fifty to 55 hour weeks were the norm. I was also away from home for weeks on end.”

“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” he says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.”After five years he left the job to retrain as a software engineer. The number of people working long hours was increasing before the pandemic struck, according to the WHO, and was around 9% of the total global population.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime, the ONS said.

The WHO suggests that employers should now take this into account when assessing the occupational health risks of their workers. Capping hours would be beneficial for employers as that had been shown to increase productivity, Mr Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”

Source: Long working hours killing 745,000 people a year, study finds – BBC News

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References

“Spain introduces new working hours law requiring employees to clock in and out”. Idealista. Retrieved 30 April 2020.

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