Criteria to predict cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients identified

Like a cold front that moves in, setting the stage for severe weather, coronavirus infection triggers showers of infection-fighting immune molecules—showers that sometimes escalate into a chaotic immune response known as a cytokine storm. About 20 to 30 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 develop severe immune manifestations, in some instances leading to cytokine storm, with life-threatening organ damage and high risk of death.

Predicting which COVID-19 patients will develop cytokine storm is challenging, owing to the many variables that influence immune function. But now, in breakthrough work, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have developed and validated predictive criteria for early identification of COVID-19 patients who are developing hyperimmune responses, raising the possibility for early therapeutic intervention.

“If we can anticipate cytokine storm, we can apply treatment sooner and possibly decrease mortality,” explained Roberto Caricchio, MD, Chief of the Section of Rheumatology, Director of the Temple Lupus Program, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology at LKSOM, and lead author on the new report.

The report, published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, is the first to identify criteria that can be readily used in clinical practice to potentially head off the worst of the hyperimmune attack against COVID-19.

The breakthrough is the result of an extensive collaboration between researchers and clinicians across multiple departments in the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Temple University Hospital, constituting the Temple University COVID-19 Research Group.

According to Dr. Caricchio, large numbers of COVID-19 patients have been treated at Temple since the pandemic emerged in the United States. “We have a significant amount of data in terms of variables to predict cytokine storm,” he said.

Since early March, every patient admitted to Temple University Hospital (TUH) has had data on more than 60 different laboratory variables collected daily until the time of recovery or time of death. Among variables measured every day are factors like white blood cell count, metabolic enzyme activity, and markers of inflammation and respiratory function. Importantly these markers are commonly used in hospitals across the globe and therefore are readily available.

The research group carried out statistical analyses on laboratory data for 513 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at TUH in March and April, 64 of whom developed cytokine storm. A genetic algorithm was used to identify cut-off values for each individual laboratory variable to define the predictive requirements for cytokine storm. Genetic algorithms mimic the processes of natural selection and evolution in analyzing the data, and in this case, over multiple iterations, the algorithm turned up variables indicating which patients are most likely to develop cytokine storm.

Overall, the analyses yielded six predictive criteria comprising three clusters of laboratory results relating to inflammation, cell death and tissue damage, and electrolyte imbalance. In particular, patients in cytokine storm exhibited a proinflammatory status and elevated levels of enzymes indicating significant systemic tissue damage. Moreover, patients who met the criteria had extended hospital stays and were at increased risk of death from COVID-19, with almost half of patients who experienced cytokine storm meeting all criteria within the first day of hospitalization.

The researchers validated the criteria in a subsequent cohort of 258 patients admitted to TUH for COVID-19 infection. “The algorithm correctly predicted cytokine storm in almost 70 percent of patients,” Dr. Caricchio said.

“The ability to reproduce our results in a second cohort of patients means that our group of variables are effective criteria for cytokine storm diagnosis in COVID-19 patients,” he added. The final step now is to have the criteria validated by other centers where COVID-19 patients are admitted for care.

Dr. Caricchio noted that the criteria could be applied to COVID-19 patients at any hospital or level of hospitalization anywhere in the world. “This makes the criteria very valuable for guiding decisions about how to treat COVID-19 patients worldwide,” he said. Applied more broadly, the criteria could greatly facilitate early diagnosis and intervention, helping save many lives.

Source: Read Full Article

‘Multi-omics’ adds new cell to immune family tree

WEHI researchers have used powerful ‘single cell multi-omics’ technologies to discover a previously unknown ancestor of T and B lymphocytes, which are critical components of our immune system.

Using an approach akin to breaking a sports team’s performance down to the individual player statistics, the researchers looked at multiple aspects of single developing immune cells to define which cells would only give rise to T and B lymphocytes. This revealed a new stage in lymphocyte development, information which could enrich future studies of the immune system. The discovery has also led to new research opportunities, with WEHI establishing of one of Australia’s first dedicated and integrated single cell research platforms in 2018, which is now being used to solve other research questions.

The research, which was published in Nature Immunology today, was led by Dr. Shalin Naik, Dr. Daniela Zalcenstein, Mr Luyi Tian, Mr Jaring Schreuder and Ms Sara Tomei.

Focussing on single cells

Our immune system comprises many different types of cells with different functions, but all immune cells are derived from a single type of cell, a blood stem cell. The development of different immune cell types occurs through a branching ‘family tree’ of immature cells. At earlier stages of immune cell development, individual cells can give rise to several different types of mature cell, but as development progresses, cells become more limited in which final mature cells they can produce.

T and B lymphocytes—which are critical for targeted, specific immune responses—are closely related immune cells, meaning they share many common steps in their development, said Dr. Naik. “Decades of research have defined how T and B lymphocytes develop, and the ‘branch points’ in their family tree when the developing cells lose the capacity to develop into other immune cell types,” he said.

Dr. Zalcenstein said that to gain new insights into questions such as how immune cells develop, the team established Australia’s first ‘single cell multi-omics’ platform, which is now available to all researchers within the Single Cell Open Research Endeavour (SCORE) established by Dr. Naik and Dr. Zalcenstein in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Wilcox of WEHI’s Genomics Hub and Associate Professor Matthew Ritchie.

“Multi-omics technologies combine different biological data sets—such as genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics—to compare different samples in more detail than is possible by looking at one data set. We have applied this approach to study individual cells, in this case developing immune cells, to understand in more detail which cells can give rise to lymphocytes. This approach is called single cell multi-omics,” she said.

“Rather than looking at data combined from many cells in a sample, we focus in on individual cells to understand the differences that exist within a larger population. It’s like looking at a football team—you can average out the number of goals, tackles and kicks per player in a game, but if you look at individual player statistics, you may discover that one player scored lots of goals, while another player was responsible for most of the tackles,” she said.

A new lymphocyte progenitor

SCORE’s study of immune cell precursors revealed a previously unrecognised cell type that could give rise to T and B lymphocytes, but not other immune cells.

“This cell occurred much earlier in lymphocyte development than we had suspected,” Dr. Naik said. “Previous techniques had grouped different immune progenitors together, but by studying individual cells we were able to identify one cell type that was committed to developing into T and B lymphocytes.”

The discovery adds a new layer to the family tree of T and B lymphocytes and could provide a boost to other areas of research.

“Understanding in more detail how T and B lymphocytes develop could lead to better approaches to regenerate these cells as a treatment for certain diseases,” Dr. Naik said. “We also know that many types of leukaemia arise from defects in early stages of immune cell development, so we are curious to know whether this progenitor cell has links to any forms of leukaemia.”

Source: Read Full Article

Frere Jacques, are you sleeping? Research shows lullabies in any language relax babies

Virtually all new parents quickly discover that a lullaby will in fact help an infant unwind, but they might surprised to learn that babies aren’t fussy about the language.

Researchers at Harvard’s Music Lab have determined that American infants relaxed when played lullabies that were unfamiliar and in a foreign language. Their results were published in Nature Human Behaviour Oct. 19.

“There’s a longstanding debate about how music affects listeners as a result of both prior experiences with music and the basic design of our psychology,” said Samuel Mehr, a Department of Psychology Research Associate and Principal Investigator at the Music Lab. “Common sense tells us that infants find the lullabies they hear relaxing. Is this just because they’ve experienced their parents’ singing before and know it means they’re safe and secure? Or is there also something universal about lullabies that produces these effects, independently of experience?”

The new findings supported the latter hypothesis: Infants responded to universal elements of songs, despite the unfamiliarity of their melodies and words, and relaxed. The study was conducted in 2018 and 2019 at the Music Lab, which focuses on the psychology of music from infancy to adulthood.

In the experiment, each infant watched an animated video of two characters singing either a lullaby or a non-lullaby. To measure the infants’ relaxation responses to the recordings, the researchers focused on pupil dilation, heart rate changes, electrodermal (a measure of “arousal” or excitement, from electrical resistance of the skin), frequency of blinking, and gaze direction as indicators of relaxation or agitation. Generally, the infants experienced a decrease in heart rate and pupil dilation, and attenuated electrodermal activity in response to the unfamiliar lullabies.

The researchers had to act quickly because of the limited attention spans of their subjects; most babies could pay attention for about five minutes before getting distracted.

“In an ideal world, we would play babies a dozen songs that are lullabies and a dozen songs that are not lullabies and gather a lot of data from each infant. But an infant’s attention span is short, so the experiment is short too,” said Mila Bertolo, co-first author of the research.

The songs were chosen through a previous Music Lab study, in which adults rated how likely a foreign unfamiliar song was to be a lullaby, a dance song, a healing song, or a love song. Using a cross-cultural sample of adult-rated lullabies helped the researchers avoid incorporating their own selection bias into the process, where they might be more inclined to choose songs that most closely resembled a western lullaby, said Bertolo.

The 16 songs selected for the experiment came from the Natural History of Song Discography, and included lullabies and other songs originally produced to express love, heal the sick, or encourage dancing. Languages like Scottish Gaelic, Hopi, and Western Nahuatl, and regions including Polynesia, Central America, and the Middle East were represented in the songs chosen.

“Melody is one of the things that sticks out for lullabies. In comparison, in a lot of other song types, such as dance songs, you would see rhythm as being more of a driving force,” explained Connie Bainbridge, who co-led the research with Bertolo in the Music Lab, and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in communication at UCLA.

Separately, researchers asked parents to listen to both types of song and choose which they would use to soothe their infant. They almost always chose the lullaby, indicating that they also recognized the universal elements of the lullaby, even subconsciously. “Calming a fussy infant is an urgent matter for parents. Those of us with kids might be particularly sensitive to the acoustic features that appear universally in lullabies, as these may be most likely to calm our infants efficiently,” said Mehr.

The findings are “a testament to how effective music is,” said Bertolo. “This piece of the puzzle helps us make sense of certain kind of downstream effects” like music therapy in clinical settings. “It’s an interesting question to see whether the same thing that drives the relaxation for infants would carry through into adulthood.”

The researchers predict that the results could be replicated with a different group of subjects from another culture. They also plan to continue investigating questions raised during the experiment, such as which of the specific acoustical elements of a lullaby encourage relaxation, how singing interacts with other activities and environments to induce relaxation, and what inferences infants might make during listening.

The research provides evidence that singing can help infants relax—and in doing so might improve daily life for both child and caregiver.

Source: Read Full Article

Coronavirus cases surge past 40 million infections worldwide

Concerning coronavirus trend? US sees big spike in new cases

Fox News correspondent Jonathan Serrie has the latest from Atlanta on ‘Special Report’

LONDON – The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the world has surpassed 40 million, but experts say that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true impact of the pandemic.

The milestone was hit Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, which collates reports from around the world.

The actual worldwide tally of COVID-19 cases is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, many people have had no symptoms and some governments have concealed the true number of cases. To date, more than 1.1 million confirmed virus deaths have been reported, although experts also believe that number is an undercount.

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The U.S., India, and Brazil are reporting by far the highest numbers of cases — 8.1 million, 7.5 million, and 5.2 million respectively — although the global increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe, which has seen more than 240,000 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic so far.

Will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready for emergency use by November?

Dr. Marc Siegel, Fox News medical contributor reacts to Dr. Fauci’s recent comments on a potential COVID-19 surge and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine 
production timeline.

Last week, the World Health Organization said Europe had reported a record weekly high of nearly 700,000 cases and said the region was responsible for about a third of cases globally. Britain, France, Russia and Spain account for about half of all new cases in the region, and countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic are facing more intense outbreaks now than they did in the spring.

WHO said the new measures being taken across Europe are “absolutely essential” in stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming its hospitals. Those include new requirements on mask-wearing in Italy and Switzerland, closing schools in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, closing restaurants and bars in Belgium, implementing a 9 p.m. curfew in France and having targeted limited lockdowns in parts of the U.K.

The agency said several European cities could soon see their intensive care units overwhelmed and warned that governments and citizens should take all necessary measures to slow the spread of the virus, including bolstering testing and contact tracing, wearing face masks, and following social distancing measures.

NYC BANQUET HALL CITED FOR HUGE PARTY THAT VIOLATED CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS

WHO has previously estimated about 1 in 10 of the world's population — about 780 million people — have been infected with COVID-19, more than 20 times the official number of cases. That suggests the vast majority of the world's population is still susceptible to the virus.

Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.

A man walks past anti-lockdown graffiti in Manchester, England, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 as the row over Greater Manchester region’s coronavirus status continues. Britain’s government says discussions about implementing stricter restrictions in Greater Manchester must be completed Monday because the public health threat caused by rising COVID-19 infections is serious and getting worse. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against the belief that herd immunity might be a viable strategy to pursue, saying this kind of protection needs to be achieved by vaccination, not by deliberately exposing people to a potentially fatal disease.

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” Tedros said last week.

The U.N. health agency said it hopes there might be enough data to determine if any of the COVID-19 vaccines now being tested are effective by the end of the year. But it warned that first-generation vaccines are unlikely to provide complete protection and that it could take at least two years to bring the pandemic under control.

Source: Read Full Article

Haircuts and golf in Melbourne as virus curbs ease

Residents of Australia’s second-biggest city flocked to salons and golf courses Monday as some stay-at-home restrictions were eased after coronavirus infection rates fell.

Melbourne’s five million people had been barred from leaving their homes with a few exceptions—including shopping for essentials, exercising, or going to work—for three months.

They still face a litany of travel restrictions and tough-to-remember rules for even the most mundane activities, but will now be able to get a much-needed haircut and do more outdoor socially distanced activities.

“We’re already fully booked until December,” salon owner Daniel Choi told AFP.

“From yesterday, there are so many messages for me: ‘I want a haircut’. They want to change their style.”

Salon owners still have to contend with restrictions on the number of people allowed on the premises at the same time, meaning those eager to correct self-inflicted dye jobs or improvised trims could face a long wait.

But for the lucky first customers there was a sense of elation.

“It’s a sense of relief actually that finally I could get it done,” said customer Karen Ng.

“It’s nice actually to have some normality.”

Golfers can also tee it up again, although they will have to go around in groups of two and, according to Golf Australia, “masks must still be worn when playing”.

“It’s a great sight… GOLFERS ON COURSE!” Green Acres Golf Club tweeted.

But many restrictions remain in place in the city.

Masks are mandatory, restaurants are limited to takeaways and deliveries, non-essential shops have to remain closed and there is a ban on travel outside the greater Melbourne area or more than 25 kilometres (16 miles) from home.

The city’s second round of stay-at-home restrictions began in July, when the state of Victoria saw around 190 new cases a day, rising to 700 in August.

Victoria recorded just four new cases on Monday.

But not everyone was happy with the limited easing, including Australia’s conservative treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who criticised the regional authorities for not going further.

Source: Read Full Article

Viral ‘molecular scissor’ is next COVID-19 drug target

American and Polish scientists, reporting Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances, laid out a novel rationale for COVID-19 drug design—blocking a molecular “scissor” that the virus uses for virus production and to disable human proteins crucial to the immune response.

The researchers are from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) and the Wroclaw University of Science and Technology. Information gleaned by the American team helped Polish chemists to develop two molecules that inhibit the cutter, an enzyme called SARS-CoV-2-PLpro.

SARS-CoV-2-PLpro promotes infection by sensing and processing both viral and human proteins, said senior author Shaun K. Olsen, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and structural biology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

“This enzyme executes a double-whammy,” Dr. Olsen said. “It stimulates the release of proteins that are essential for the virus to replicate, and it also inhibits molecules called cytokines and chemokines that signal the immune system to attack the infection,” Dr. Olsen said.

SARS-CoV-2-PLpro cuts human proteins ubiquitin and ISG15, which help maintain protein integrity. “The enzyme acts like a molecular scissor,” Dr. Olsen said. “It cleaves ubiquitin and ISG15 away from other proteins, which reverses their normal effects.”

Dr. Olsen’s team, which recently moved to the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio from the Medical University of South Carolina, solved the three-dimensional structures of SARS-CoV-2-PLpro and the two inhibitor molecules, which are called VIR250 and VIR251. X-ray crystallography was performed at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.

“Our collaborator, Dr. Marcin Drag, and his team developed the inhibitors, which are very efficient at blocking the activity of SARS-CoV-2-PLpro, yet do not recognize other similar enzymes in human cells,” Dr. Olsen said. “This is a critical point: The inhibitor is specific for this one viral enzyme and doesn’t cross-react with human enzymes with a similar function.”

Specificity will be a key determinant of therapeutic value down the road, he said.

The American team also compared SARS-CoV-2-PLpro against similar enzymes from coronaviruses of recent decades, SARS-CoV-1 and MERS. They learned that SARS-CoV-2-PLpro processes ubiquitin and ISG15 much differently than its SARS-1 counterpart.

“One of the key questions is whether that accounts for some of the differences we see in how those viruses affect humans, if at all,” Dr. Olsen said.

Source: Read Full Article

Iran announces its virus death toll passes 30,000

Iran announced Saturday that its death toll from the coronavirus has passed the milestone of 30,000, in what has been the Mideast region’s worst outbreak.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari announced that the total death toll from the outbreak had reached at least 30,123.

She said that 4,721 virus patients are in critical condition.

Iran has been struggling with the coronavirus since announcing its first cases in February, with more than 526,000 confirmed cases to date.

In recent weeks, Iran has seen daily death tolls spike to their highest-ever levels, sparking increasing concern even as government officials continue to resist a total lockdown for fear of cratering the economy, which has been hard-hit by U.S. sanctions.

On Wednesday, Iranian officials announced a travel ban to and from five major cities, including the capital of Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad, that they said aimed to contain the virus’ spread.

The coronavirus has also spread to some of the highest levels of Iran’s government, which includes many older men. Among those recently infected is the head of the country’s atomic energy organization, while Iran’s vice president in charge of budget and planning tested positive on Sunday.

After downplaying the outbreak in its first weeks, Iranian officials have more recently begun to admit the scope of the epidemic within the country.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, who had tested positive for the virus in March after playing down its threat and refuting reports of mass deaths, told state TV on Wednesday that the country’s true death toll is about double the reported figures.

According to officials, there are also large numbers of patients in hospitals being treated as COVID-19 cases but who have not been tested, whose tests came out as false negatives or whose symptoms are not the same as those listed by the World Health Organization and who are therefore not counted in the official case numbers.

Like in many other countries, the spiraling outbreak in Iran reflects the government’s contradictory virus response. This week, as the daily recorded death toll hit the record for three times, authorities announced tighter restrictions for the hard-hit capital of Tehran.

Recently reopened universities and schools, as well as libraries, mosques, cinemas, museums and beauty salons, shut down. In the past week, the government mandated that all Tehran residents wear face masks outdoors and in public places, warning violators would be fined. Officials promised those who tested positive would be closely tracked.

Movement restrictions this spring somewhat checked the spread of the disease. Then the government swiftly reopened the country, desperate to boost its stricken economy. Since June, the case count has steadily increased—and spiked to new heights in recent weeks.

Long before the virus hit, Iran’s economy was ailing, pummeled by U.S. sanctions after the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. As the death toll soared this week, the nation’s currency plunged to its lowest level ever, following the U.S. administration’s decision last week to blacklist Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed American sanctions.

As Iran approaches winter, the seasonal influenza could be an added and serious issue for the country, as it has had purchasing the flu vaccine amid new American sanctions on Iranian banks.

Iran’s Red Crescent Society said in a tweet on Tuesday that they were in charge of importing two million flu vaccine doses into the country, but that new U.S. sanctions prevented the import.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the United Arab Emirates has announced its highest single-day total of new cases of the coronavirus amid a spike in the Gulf nation that is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The country’s Health Ministry said tests found 1,538 new cases of the virus, pushing the overall number of cases to 114,387.

The ministry said another four people died from the virus, pushing the overall death toll to 459. Overall recoveries are at 106,354.

Recorded infections have soared again in recent weeks, as authorities have relaxed restrictions and resumed schools for in-person instruction. Dubai has reopened its airport for international travelers and embarked on an active campaign promoting itself as a tourism destination amid the pandemic.

Source: Read Full Article

It's a … ! Pregnant Lesley Anne Murphy and Alex Kavanagh Reveal Baby's Sex

Spilling the beans! Lesley Anne Murphy and her fiancé, Alex Kavanagh, announced the sex of their unborn baby with an adorable reveal.

See Model Elsa Hosk and More Pregnant Stars’ Creative Sex Reveals

The Bachelor alum, 33, shared the news in an Instagram video posted on Friday, October 16. In the clip, the DRONEGEAR founder came home to find Murphy surrounded by pink balloons and popping a pink bottle. The pair showed off balloons that read “Oh baby” and “Baby girl” while the Temptations’ song “My Girl” plays in the background.

“Excited to announce … We’re having a BABY GIRL!!!!” the season 17 contestant captioned the post. “This is how I surprised Alex that the future is female🎉🎉🎉 #itsagirl #babygirl #girldad #thefutureisfemale.”

Excited to announce… We’re having a BABY GIRL!!!!💝This is how I surprised Alex that the future is female🎉🎉🎉 #itsagirl #babygirl #girldad #thefutureisfemale

A post shared byLesley • The Road Les Traveled (@lesleyannemurphy) on

The couple announced in September that they are expecting their first child. Murphy shared an Instagram video of herself jumping down to dance with Kavanagh before he cradled and kissed her growing bump. The sweet clip was set to The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”

“Started from the kitchen now we’re here,” Murphy captioned the post. “Baby Kavanagh taking flight in 2021! Finally someone to occupy the middle seat 🙂 @drone.pilot and I couldn’t be more excited to grow our little family!!! #family #love #travel #adventure #coronababy #thelastdance #kitchendance #encore.”

Bachelorette’s Emily Maynard, More Celeb Pregnancy Announcements of 2020

The Arkansas native detailed how she discovered her pregnancy in a blog post on October 6. Murphy wrote that she found out she was expecting when she missed a period and took a pregnancy test.

“I walked into the living room and blurted out, ‘Ummmm … we’re pregnant!’” she wrote. “As I was brushing my teeth, I could hear him taking really deep breaths from our bedroom. As I walked back in, he immediately ran out and vomited in the toilet. Talk about a physiological response to pregnancy news! And I thought I was supposed to be the sick one! We laugh about it all the time. He’s very excited to become a dad regardless of the response.”

Celebrity Engagements of 2020

The twosome announced their engagement in February after one year of dating. However, their wedding plans have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Wedding planning turned into prenatal care,” Murphy wrote in her October 6 blog post. “Scheduled flights transformed into scheduled house tours. When life gives you 2020 lemons, make lemonade because it’s yummy, refreshing and well, nonalcoholic.”

For access to all our exclusive celebrity videos and interviews – Subscribe on YouTube!

Source: Read Full Article

US hoping for two Covid-19 vaccines by end of November

Two American companies expect to apply for emergency approval for their COVID-19 vaccines by late November, welcome news as the US hits a third surge of its coronavirus epidemic and approaches its eight millionth case.

Pfizer said Friday it hopes to move ahead with its vaccine after safety data is available in the third week of November, a couple of weeks after the November 3 presidential election.

The announcement means the United States could have two vaccines ready by the end of the year, with Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna aiming for November 25 to seek authorization.

“So let me be clear, assuming positive data, Pfizer will apply for Emergency Authorization Use in the US soon after the safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November,” the company’s chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter. The news lifted the company’s shares two percent in the US.

But experts warn that even when vaccines are approved, it will take many months until they are widely available.

In any case, they are unlikely to be a good substitute for mask wearing, social distancing and other recommended behavior to curb transmission because we don’t know how effective they will be.

Indoor gatherings in colder weather

After falling numbers throughout the summer, the country hit an inflection point in its coronavirus outbreak around the second week of September—with a new daily case average of more than 50,000 according to the latest figures, and the trajectory is upward.

With a shade under eight million confirmed infections and more than 217,000 deaths, America is the hardest-hit country in the world.

The US never came close to returning to its baseline after its first wave in spring, meaning the current spike can be more accurately termed a third surge.

Geographically, the major hotspots are in the Upper Midwest and parts of the Rocky Mountains in the west, while parts of the Northeast that were hit hard in spring are seeing their outbreaks starting to rekindle.

Harvard surgeon and health policy researcher Thomas Tsai told AFP there were multiple factors behind the rising cases—from under testing in the Midwest to authorities failing to monitor the reopening of bars and restaurants and dialing back when necessary.

What’s more, “from the contact tracing reports from various municipalities and states, the worry is that the spread is driven now, by indoor social gatherings in people’s homes,” he added, as the focus of social life shifts from public to private spaces in the colder weather.

One bright sign is that COVID-19 treatments have improved markedly, and since the cases are more spread out than before, hospitals aren’t being overwhelmed.

Widespread mask use might also mean that when people do get infected, they have less virus in their body which makes them less sick.

‘No magic bullet’

While vaccines are a crucial tool against the virus, experts have warned they can’t be a substitute for behavioral measures like masks and distancing.

“It’s welcome news that there will be one more thing that can help prevent COVID transmission,” said Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious disease doctor and professor at Mayo Clinic.

“But I think we need to be cautious and understand that a vaccine isn’t a magic bullet,” she added.

Pfizer and Moderna, both funded by the US government, launched Phase 3 of their clinical trials at the end of July, and both were producing their doses at the same time.

They aim to deliver tens of millions of doses in the US by the end of the year.

Both are “mRNA vaccines,” an experimental new platform that has never before been fully approved.

They both inject people with the genetic material necessary to grow the “spike protein” of SARS-CoV-2 inside their own cells, thus eliciting an immune response the body will remember when it encounters the real virus.

This effectively turns a person’s own body into a vaccine factory, avoiding the costly and difficult processes that more traditional vaccine production requires.

Source: Read Full Article

Coronavirus pushes classroom online leaving teachers to find new ways to connect with students

Virtual learning creates difficulties for ESL students

For non-native speaking English students, trying to get good grades while learning a new language can be challenging at the best of times, but as classes turn virtual some students are being left behind.

With the coronavirus mounting a resurgence in areas across the U.S., schools not already using a hybrid schedule to teach students may look to begin virtual learning in their districts. But by moving lessons online, teachers will lose the in-person connection they have with some students, which could make it difficult to pick up on cues regarding mental health.

“Teachers are translators of emotion,” Dr. Isaiah Pickens, a clinical psychologist who works with teachers and educators to identify and address racial inequality issues and mental health problems in students, told Fox News. “They are able to see students as an individual and in the context of the classroom.”

HEALTHY YOUNG PEOPLE MAY WAIT FOR CORONAVIRUS VACCINE UNTIL 2022, WHO OFFICIAL SAYS

Losing the physical classroom, however, doesn’t mean teachers have to lose the connection with their students. Pickens said teachers will still have plenty of information coming their way from students that could signal a larger issue is going on.

“If there’s a change in mood, there’s less engagement, hearing things as the student learns from home like arguments, etc., these allow educators to perk their ears up,” he said.

And while the safety of the physical classroom may be gone, there are many ways educators can provide support to their students virtually that might even be more helpful than before.

“The virtual world gives multiple modes for communicating, so there are multiple ways you can communicate something that you are experiencing,” Pickens said, adding that a chatroom, an email, or a video chat might actually make it easier for a student to approach a teacher with an issue rather than doing so in-person.

Others, however, may feel at a disadvantage to teaching their students remotely, especially those who never had the chance to meet their students in person to establish a baseline for their mood, demeanor or work habits. For those teachers, Pickens recommends looking for the universal signs that could mean emotional distress such as feelings of hopeless, incomplete assignments, low levels of engagement, or not participating in class activities online, or being a disruption like arguing with students in online chats.

“Teachers don’t need to be social workers, but what [recognizing these emotions] does is it normalizes that one, we’re all going through something right now and two, it’s OK to share parts of ourselves in virtual space to use that foundation to continue to connect and open up in many ways,” he said.  

Being direct when communicating with the student can help bolster their emotional being or let them know there is help available. Teachers should reach out directly to the student to let them know they notice a change in attitude, Pickens said.

“Being direct allows students to feel seen,” Pickens said. “Communicating that they are not a burden, whether virtual or in a private chat, saying ‘I’m wondering what it is that has you feeling whatever feeling they are feeling,’ it helps the kids have language to communicate. Think about who is the best ongoing support for the child, it might be a parent, or it might be a peer who can help make the kid feel less lonely – and sometimes it might be professional support.”

On the flip side, Pickens said virtual learning has helped teachers notice students who may have previously slipped through the cracks due to shyness or lack of confidence in the classroom, and those students are starting to blossom through online platforms. It’s also helping to identify students who might need more academic support.

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE 

“One of the things teachers have been really praising is multiple ways to engage in class – students are engaging a lot more and it’s very easy to be a student by just participating in the chat,” he said.

Source: Read Full Article