Excessive drinking responsible for 255 deaths per day in U.S.

(HealthDay)—Excessive drinking was responsible for an average of 255 deaths per day in the United States during 2011 to 2015, according to research published in the July 31 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Marissa B. Esser, Ph.D., from the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues estimated national and state average annual alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost (YPLL) during 2011 to 2015, including deaths from one’s own excessive drinking and from others’ drinking.

An average of 93,296 alcohol-attributable deaths (255 per day) and 2.7 million YPLL (29 years of life lost per death, on average) were identified in the United States each year. The researchers found that 54.7 percent of all alcohol-attributable deaths were caused by chronic conditions and 56.0 percent involved adults aged 35 to 64 years. Per 100,000 population, age-adjusted alcohol-attributable deaths ranged from 20.3 in New Jersey and New York to 52.3 in New Mexico. Per 100,000 population, YPLL varied from 613.8 in New York to 1,651.7 in New Mexico.

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Bacterial predator could help reduce COVID-19 deaths

A type of virus that preys on bacteria could be harnessed to combat bacterial infections in patients whose immune systems have been weakened by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, according to an expert at the University of Birmingham and the Cancer Registry of Norway.

Called bacteriophages, these viruses are harmless to humans and can be used to target and eliminate specific bacteria. They are of interest to scientists as a potential alternative to antibiotic treatments.

In a new systematic review, published in the journal Phage: Therapy, Applications and Research, two strategies are proposed, where bacteriophages could be used to treat bacterial infections in some patients with COVID-19.

In the first approach, bacteriophages would be used to target secondary bacterial nfections in patients’ respiratory systems. These secondary infections are a possible cause of the high mortality rate, particularly among elderly patients. The aim is to use the bacteriophages to reduce the number of bacteria and limit their spread, giving the patients’ immune systems more time to produce antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Marcin Wojewodzic, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham and now researcher at the Cancer Registry of Norway, is the author of the study. He says: “By introducing bacteriophages, it may be possible to buy precious time for the patients’ immune systems and it also offers a different, or complementary strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies.”

Professor Martha R.J. Clokie, a Professor of Microbiology at the University of Leicester and Editor-in-Chief of PHAGE journal explains why this work is important: “In the same way that we are used to the concept of ‘friendly bacteria’ we can harness ‘friendly viruses’ or ‘phages’ to help us target and kill secondary bacterial infections caused by a weakened immune system following viral attack from viruses such as COVID-19”.

Dr. Antal Martinecz, an expert in computational pharmacology at the Arctic University of Norway who advised on the manuscript says: “This is not only a different strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies but, more importantly, it is exciting news relating to the problem of bacterial resistance itself.”

In the second treatment strategy, the researcher suggests that synthetically altered bacteriophages could be used to manufacture antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus which could then be administered to patients via a nasal or oral spray. These bacteriophage-generated antibodies could be produced rapidly and inexpensively using existing technology.

“If this strategy works, it will hopefully buy time to enable a patient to produce their own specific antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thus reduce the damage caused by an excessive immunological reaction,” says Dr. Wojewodzic.

Professor Martha R.J. Clokie’s research focuses on the identification and development of bacteriophages that kill pathogens in an effort to develop new antimicrobials. “We could also exploit our knowledge of phages to engineer them to generate novel and inexpensive antibodies to target COVID-19. This clearly written article covers both aspects of phage biology and outlines how we might use these friendly viruses for good purpose.”

Dr. Wojewodzic is calling for clinical trials to test these two approaches.”This pandemic has shown us the power viruses have to cause harm. However, by using beneficial viruses as an indirect weapon against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other pathogens, we can harness that power for a positive purpose and use it to save lives. The beauty of nature is that while it can kill us, it can also come to our rescue.” adds Dr. Wojewodzic.

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US cities with pro sports see more flu deaths

Sports leagues may want to consider calling a timeout on reopening their doors to fans, based on new West Virginia University-led research that links an uptick in seasonal flu deaths to U.S. cities with pro sports teams.

Analyzing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 1962 to 2016, WVU economists found that flu deaths increased by between 5 and 24 percent during the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB seasons, with the largest increase for NHL games.

Given that COVID-19 is believed to be more contagious and deadlier, Economics Professor Brad Humphreys has a message for sports leagues until a vaccine is available or herd immunity exists: “Don’t let the fans back into the games.”

“Opening pro sports games to fans is probably a terrible idea, in terms of public health,” said Humphreys, one of the authors of the paper “Professional Sporting Events Increase Seasonal Influenza Mortality in U.S. Cities.” “You’re right on top of people and everybody’s yelling, screaming, high-fiving and hugging. And you’ve got people eating and drinking. You could be putting the virus right into your mouth. The bottom line is we need to be very careful if we’re considering opening up games to the fans.”

Humphreys’ WVU co-authors include Jane Ruseski, associate professor of economics, and Alexander Cardazzi, a Ph.D. student.

Researchers examined cities that introduced a new sport franchise from the big four leagues over the 54-year timeframe. Welcoming new teams in all leagues led to an increase in flu mortality, according to the report.

“We found data that reported flu mortality by city by week dating back to the 1960s,” Humphreys said. “We decided the best experiment was to try to look at what happened when a city got a new pro sports team compared to cities that didn’t. As it turned out, after a new professional sports team came into a city, that flu season and every flu season afterward had more people dying of the flu.

“It isn’t one or two people dying. This is closer to 30 or 40 additional flu deaths over the course of flu season. When you blow it up to a virus that’s more fatal like COVID-19, we could be talking about hundreds of additional deaths because of these games.”

The study also showed a decline in flu deaths in U.S. cities during season stoppages. That means cities reported fewer flu deaths during the 2011 NBA lockout and the 1982 NFL strike.

Research began in March when organizations, such as the NBA, suspended play due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. Humphreys was further intrigued after reading about a soccer game in Italy that was believed to have been a catalyst in spiking that country’s positive cases.

On Feb. 19, the day of a soccer match between Atalanta and Valencia, there were only three confirmed cases in the country of Italy. Two weeks later, that number jumped to 997—just in Bergamo, northeast of Milan and home to the Atalanta team.

“At the time, they had the highest death rate anywhere in the world,” Humphreys said. “That game served as a super-spreader event.”

The NBA and NHL both plan to resume their seasons this summer, but without fans in attendance. In fact, NBA players will have the option of wearing an Oura smart ring that detects early signs of the novel coronavirus—which is part of research from the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.

Details of the upcoming MLB and NFL seasons remain uncertain.

The economists hope this timely research will not only help inform sports league reopening policy decisions, but mass gatherings in general such as concerts, conferences and conventions.

“You’ll have some people say, ‘Oh, but everybody can wear a mask,'” Humphreys said. “But you’ve seen how people are complying with that, right? And if these arenas are at full capacity, social distancing isn’t happening.”

A COVID-19 model formerly used by the White House projects that more than 200,000 American could die from the virus by October. As of late Wednesday, 119,000 people have died of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., with a total of 2.2 million positive cases.

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Brazil now second in virus deaths, as US states see rising cases

Brazil on Friday claimed the unenviable position of having the second-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide behind the United States, where several states have posted record daily case totals, signaling the crisis is far from over.

US and European stocks ended the week on an upswing after a rout sparked by the US data and fresh evidence of the economic damage caused by virus-related lockdowns, with British GDP shrinking by a record 20.4 percent in April.

Meanwhile, in several European countries, the focus shifted to the courts, and who might eventually be pinned with the blame for the global financial and health crisis.

Brazil’s health ministry recorded 909 deaths in the past 24 hours, putting the total at 41,828—meaning the country of 212 million people has now surpassed Britain’s death toll.

Experts warn the actual number of cases in Latin America’s biggest economy could be many times higher than the confirmed figure of 828,810.

“Some areas are at a critical stage” in Brazil, with intensive care unit occupancy levels of more than 90 percent, World Health Organization emergencies director Mike Ryan told journalists in Geneva.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who threatened last week to quit the WHO over “ideological bias,” has dismissed the virus as a “little flu,” and berated state officials for imposing lockdowns.

Latin America is the latest epicenter in the world’s battle with the novel coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year.

The region has recorded more than 1.5 million infections and 76,000 deaths, with no signs the virus is slowing.

In the US, which has confirmed the most COVID-19 deaths—over 114,000—more than a dozen states, including two of the most populous, Texas and Florida, reported their highest-ever daily case totals this week.

“It’s important that we remember that this situation is unprecedented. And that the pandemic has not ended,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a media briefing on Friday.

Nevertheless, US President Donald Trump and many local officials remain determined to get the world’s biggest economy back on track.

The virus and resulting lockdowns have caused a spike in US unemployment—44.2 million people have filed claims for jobless benefits since mid-March.

Worldwide, the pandemic has killed more than 425,000 people and infected more than 7.6 million.

Court action

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, prosecutors questioned Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over his government’s initial response.

In the country’s northern Lombardy region, an investigation has been launched into why a quarantined “red zone” was not enforced around two towns sooner.

And in Bergamo province, 50 victims’ family members filed complaints this week over how the crisis was handled.

“All investigations are welcome. The citizens have the right to know and we have the right to reply,” Conte said this week.

Elsewhere, British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair launched legal action against the British government over a “flawed” 14-day coronavirus quarantine system introduced this week.

Europe’s reopening

Europe is pushing ahead with its exit from lockdown, with a number of countries preparing to reopen borders on a limited basis on Monday after the EU Commission urged a relaxation of restrictions.

France said it would gradually reopen its borders to non-Schengen countries from July 1.

Greece said it would welcome tourists again, though Britons remain barred—and passengers from Italy, Spain and the Netherlands must undergo tests on arrival.

Germany said it would end land border checks on Monday.

And Italy said it would allow amateur contact sports—including team sports—from June 25.

‘Fight not over’

Yet world health officials have warned that the virus is far from contained.

“The fight is not over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

In evidence of the continued threat, eleven residential estates in the southern part of the Chinese capital were locked down due to a fresh cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a nearby meat market, officials said Saturday.

Seven cases have so far been linked to Xinfadi meat market, six of them confirmed on Saturday, officials added. Nine nearby schools and kindergartens have been closed.

China has largely brought domestic infections under control, and the majority of cases in recent months have been among overseas nationals returning home.

In India, experts are warning the worst is far from over.

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