Michigan’s outbreak worries scientists. Will conservative outposts keep pandemic rolling?

When Kathryn Watkins goes shopping these days, she doesn't bring her three young children. There are just too many people not wearing masks in her southern Michigan town of Hillsdale.

At some stores, "not even the employees are wearing them anymore," said Watkins, who estimates about 30% of shoppers wear masks, down from around 70% earlier in the pandemic. "There's a complete disregard for the very real fact that they could wind up infecting someone."

Her state tops the nation by far in the rate of new covid cases, a sharp upward trajectory that has more than two dozen hospitals in the state nearing 90% capacity.

The nation is watching.

Michigan's outbreak could be an anomaly or a preview of what will happen in the nation as it emerges from the pandemic. Will pockets of covid denialism and vaccine resistance like that in Hillsdale — where the local college newspaper ran an opinion piece against the shots — serve as reservoirs for a wily virus, which will resurface to cause outbreaks in nearby cities and states?

"That's a million-dollar question right now," said Adriane Casalotti,chief of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials. "Whatever is going on there could happen in other places, especially as things start to reopen."

Some public health experts are alarmed: "In more rural or conservative communities where covid denialism and the behavior that comes with that is coupled with vaccine hesitancy, you're less likely to get vaccinated and more likely to do things that spread the virus," said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and now a senior fellow at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Multiple factors contributed to Michigan's outbreak — El-Sayed calls it "a cauldron of bad dynamics." But its magnitude is unparalleled, even as other states are also seeing increases, attributed in part to challenges like pandemic fatigue and political and economic pressure to fully reopen.

Deaths from covid in Michigan are up 219% since March 9, weekly state data shows. Hospital admissions are increasing, affecting a growing number of young people. Positive test rates are at their highest levels since last April. Dozens of outbreaks, including clusters related to youth sports, K-12 schools and colleges, are ongoing. If there is any good news, it's that the proportion of deaths among those 60 and older is declining, which is attributed to a high vaccination rate among that age group.

Fueling the trajectory in Michigan, experts say, are a highly contagious variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, known as B 1.1.7; public mobility returning to pre-pandemic levels; and optimism about vaccine rollout, leading people to drop their guard. The state, like some others, also loosened restrictions in March, allowing more people inside restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues.

Paradoxically, some experts say another factor may be the success that earlier stay-at-home orders from last year had, helping tamp down previous surges — meaning Michigan's spike may simply signal the state's catching up to other regions.

"We locked things down and had fewer cases than neighboring states," said Josh Petrie, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. "More recently, since March, we see that steep increase again."

But those emergency orders, while tamping things down, also fueled a backlash, including a plot by extremists to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor who ordered them.

Lawsuits brought by Republican lawmakers last year diluted her power to issue emergency orders. Nationally, dozens of mainly Republican-controlled state legislatures are seeking to limit the emergency powers of governors, public health officials or both.

The resistance stretches beyond the capital, Lansing.

About 70 miles south, in Hillsdale County, where Watkins lives, the sharp divisions are complicating the effort to fight the virus.

The semi-rural region, population 45,000, has seen 3,980 cases and 82 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Staunchly conservative, the county voted overwhelmingly for incumbent Donald Trump. Nationally, polls have shown that Republicans are more hesitant to get vaccinated than Democrats or independents.

Statewide, data from the federal Department of Health and Human Services show vaccine hesitancy is high in Michigan, although not the highest in the country.

But in Hillsdale County, an estimated 21% are hesitant, with 8% strongly hesitant, according to the federal data.

There, health officials report that about 33% of Hillsdale County residents have received at least one shot, although more than 70% of those 65-plus have done so. Statewide, the overall average percentage of all adults who have had at least one shot is 45%. In the Democratic stronghold of Ann Arbor, where Washtenaw County reported 54% having had at least one shot, 15% are hesitant to do so, with 5% strongly hesitant.

Vaccination resistance "does play a role," said Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "We know from research that people's attitudes toward vaccination are largely influenced by what friends, family and neighbors do."

Statewide, younger residents have the lowest vaccination rate, with just under 20% of 16- to 19-year-olds getting at least one shot and about a quarter of those in their 20s, according to state data.

In an opinion piece in the newspaper of Hillsdale's local college, the Hillsdale Collegian, a student editor argued vaccines were "not worth the risk." But that was soon followed by another piece, also written by a student, urging vaccination.

There have been 323 cumulative covid cases among the approximately 1,500 Hillsdale College students and more than 700 staff members since September. Many other universities and colleges in Michigan are also seeing outbreaks, according to state data.

Unfortunately, resistance to vaccination often goes hand in hand with refusing to wear a mask. Darrel Scharp, 75, a self-described "strong Democrat" who lives in nearby Osseo, said some businesses, are still "celebrating noncompliance," such as not requiring masks or otherwise flouting rules. His doctor has told him that, sadly, he often "had to argue with his patients about masks."

Hillsdale's mayor, Adam Stockford, in July wrote on his Facebook page that he was "furious" that the local health department was warning businesses to comply with the state's emergency mandates to prevent covid spread. And Hillsdale College held an in-person graduation ceremony last summer, defying the state's law against large gatherings.

With a Michigan outbreak now in full steam, debate about how to handle the upcoming high school prom peppers the Facebook page of the Hillsdale Daily News. Would holding it in person risk even more viral spread, endangering the most vulnerable?

Oh, great, wrote one sarcastically, "spread covid like wildfire for a party."

But another responded, "Let them have their proms and graduations haven't you taken enough from them as it is!!!!!"

Politicians nationwide face similar divides. There's pressure from hard-hit business owners to reopen and growing resentment by a public tired of restrictions.

In recent weeks, Michigan's governor has tried to thread the needle. She has noted that a mask mandate remains in effect, and there are capacity limits — expanded in March — for indoor dining, retail and entertainment. Yet, while resisting any mandatory retrenchment, she has asked residents to voluntarily forgo dining indoors at restaurants, keep their children out of in-person school and pause youth activities for two weeks.

That's a hard message. Said Casalotti: People are being told, "We're not going to shut down as we did in the past, but we still want you to change your behavior. It takes four sentences to explain. It's hard to put those levels of decision on people's shoulders."

This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Posted in: Healthcare News

Tags: Children, Coronavirus, Doctor, Fatigue, Health and Human Services, Hospital, Pandemic, Public Health, Research, students, Vaccine, Virus

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Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million


Europe passed the grim milestone of one million coronavirus deaths on Monday, as the World Health Organization warned that infections are rising exponentially despite widespread efforts aimed at stopping them.

The death toll across Europe’s 52 countries, compiled by AFP from official sources, totalled at least 1,000,288 by 1830 GMT.

“We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

“The trajectory of this pandemic is growing… exponentially.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, when we have proven control measures,” she told reporters.

The coronavirus has already killed more than 2.9 million people and infected nearly 136 million across the world.

But despite the sombre news in Europe—the world’s worst-hit region—Britain eased curbs for the first time in months on Monday, allowing Britons to enjoy a taste of freedom with a pint and a haircut.

The changes illustrate how fast-vaccinating countries are leaving other—mostly poorer—nations behind.

In South Africa, the president called for African-made vaccines as the continent lags behind, struggling with inadequate supplies as well as a lack of financing and logistical problems.

“Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration,” Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa suggested India or Brazil could help after successfully developing their own generic pharmaceutical industries.

But both giants are battling severe COVID outbreaks, with India overtaking Brazil on Monday as the country with the second-highest number of infections after logging more than 168,000 new cases in a day.

Muslims prepare for second COVID Ramadan

Experts have warned that huge, mostly maskless crowds at political rallies and religious festivals have fuelled India’s caseload.

In the Himalayan city Haridwar, maskless Hindu pilgrims on Monday squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder on the banks of the Ganges River for a dip during the Kumbh Mela ritual.

Several Indian regions have tightened their coronavirus measures, with Maharashtra—India’s wealthiest state and current epicentre of its epidemic—imposing a weekend lockdown and night curfew.

Neighbouring Bangladesh has announced it will virtually seal itself off, shutting down both international and domestic transport starting Wednesday while shutting offices in an attempt to staunch its own spiralling outbreak.

Across the Muslim world, worshippers are gearing up for the start of their second Ramadan of the pandemic, with the holy fasting month due to kick off in many countries on Tuesday.

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, the sanitary measures are less strict than a year ago when mosques were shut completely and a curfew was in force.

The mood in Cairo was relatively cheerful as the city prepared for special prayers on Monday night, with bright lights festooning the streets. Many of those rushing around the city shopping for last-minute supplies were maskless, however.

Saudi authorities have meanwhile said that only people immunised against COVID-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramadan.

Glimmers of hope

In Britain, despite one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death tolls, there were glimmers of hope Monday as pubs and restaurants were allowed to serve people outside—a move welcomed by the hard-hit hospitality sector, despite wintry temperatures.

“It’ll be great to see everybody again and see all the locals,” Louise Porter, landlady of The Crown Inn in Askrigg, northern England, told AFP.

“Our lives have just been turned upside down, just like everybody else’s,” she said, adding: “We’re still here to tell the tale.”

England’s hairdressers, indoor gyms and swimming pools also got the green light to reopen.

Once the worst-affected country in Europe, Britain launched a successful vaccination campaign coupled with lockdown measures that cut deaths by 95 percent and cases by 90 percent from January.

Italy has also been one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, and on Monday, Rome saw the latest in a series of anti-lockdown demonstrations, with several hundred people turning out in protest against weeks of restaurant closures.

In France, now the European country with the most infections, an expansion of the vaccine rollout has buoyed optimism among lockdown-weary residents. Everyone aged over 55 years old is now eligible for a COVID vaccination.

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Nanobody cocktails neutralize SARS-CoV-2 and variants

Researchers report a collection of nanobodies derived from llamas, some of which can work synergistically and work against newer virus variants.

Although several strategies have been implemented to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it continues unabated. Despite several vaccines being approved and used, vaccination rates have been slow, and there have been challenges in the equitable distribution of vaccines. These, along with decreasing immunity in persons already infected and the emergence of new virus variants, make it difficult to contain the pandemic.

Several therapeutic strategies have used convalescent sera and human monoclonal antibodies. However, new variants have emerged, with mutations that can evade these therapeutics.

An alternative to monoclonal antibodies is nanobodies. These are smaller proteins derived from animals like llamas and alpacas. Their small size allows them to bind to regions that are generally not accessible to the larger monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies. They are also simpler to manufacture as they can be easily cloned and expressed in bacteria. They can also be delivered directly to the lungs via nebulization.

However, the nanobodies also recognize regions of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein receptor-binding domain (RBD), which can cause escape mutations, reducing their potency.

Pre-screening protocol to select llamas with naturally strong immune responses, as determined by activity against standard animal vaccines

Testing nanobody neutralization capability

In a study published in the bioRxiv* preprint server, researchers report a collection of a large number of nanobodies that could potentially be resistant to escape mutations.

To build their suite of nanobodies, the team refined and optimized their previous method. They chose llamas with a strong immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and selected 113 nanobodies for further testing. A large proportion of the antibodies bind to the RBD, while the other bind to the non-RBD portion of the S1 subunit of the spike protein and the rest to the S2 subunit.

To identify nanobodies that will be resistant to virus mutations, the team selected a large number of high RBD binding nanobodies and tested them against the B.1.1.7 variant. Of the seven nanobodies they tested, they found six showed strong binding to the variants. In addition, they also chose nanobodies that bind to the non-RBD regions of the spike protein.

The authors then categorized the antibodies depending on what parts of the RBD they bind to. Their analysis revealed the RBD-binding nanobodies could be classified into three distinct groups. Within each group, the nanobodies could be grouped into bins so that some bind to distinct epitopes and partially overlap, binding to other separate epitopes.

This suggests two or more nanobodies can bind to the RBD at the same time. Further analysis revealed at least three different nanobodies could bind to the RBD simultaneously, which will be important in designing nanobody cocktails for therapies.

The nanobodies were potent in neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 pseudoviruses, with 16 nanobodies neutralizing the pseudovirus at less than 20 nM concentration. Nanobodies that target the non-RBD regions and the S2 subunit also neutralized the virus but at higher concentrations. The authors write this is the first evidence of nanobody neutralization targeting regions outside the RBD.

Nanobody cocktails more potent against escape variants

The team also tested the best nanobodies against pseudoviruses carrying the spike protein of the B.1.351 variant. Some nanobodies showed no neutralization activity against this variant, while one showed similar neutralization as the wild-type virus. Two nanobodies, however, showed increased neutralization activity against the variant. The nanobodies that neutralized the pseudovirus also neutralized the real SARS-CoV-2 virus and human airway epithelial cells. The team also found some nanobody combinations can work synergistically and increase potency dramatically.

Using nanobody cocktails mixed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and allowing multiple replications, the authors also identified mutations that resist neutralization. Some potent nanobodies caused mutations at the same location as generated by antibodies in human convalescent sera, such as E484K, indicating the ACE2 binding site is a point of vulnerability for neutralization.

However, nanobody cocktails also increased the genetic barrier for escape. Mixing two nanobodies required the virus to undergo two different amino acid substitutions, making it more difficult for it to escape neutralization. Carefully choosing mixtures with more nanobodies may further decrease escape mutations.

Thus, the escape experiments show that currently used or newer therapeutics may yet lose their potency with newer virus variants emerging, which is very likely as some of the mutations seen in the experiments have not been seen in human isolates so far. However, using a combination of nanobodies, which can work synergistically to improve neutralization potency, the large collection of nanobodies generated by the team may help develop more potent treatments.

*Important Notice

bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
  • Mast, F. D. et al. (2021) Nanobody Repertoires for Exposing Vulnerabilities of SARS-CoV-2. bioRxiv, https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.04.08.438911, ​https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.04.08.438911v1

Posted in: Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Disease/Infection News

Tags: ACE2, Amino Acid, Antibodies, Bacteria, Coronavirus, Coronavirus Disease COVID-19, Genetic, Immune Response, Lungs, Nanobodies, Pandemic, Protein, Pseudovirus, Receptor, Respiratory, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, Severe Acute Respiratory, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Spike Protein, Syndrome, Therapeutics, Virus

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Lakshmi Supriya

Lakshmi Supriya got her BSc in Industrial Chemistry from IIT Kharagpur (India) and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Engineering from Virginia Tech (USA).

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Iran enforces 10-day lockdown amid fourth wave of pandemic

Iran enforces 10-day lockdown amid fourth wave of pandemic

Iran on Saturday began a 10-day lockdown amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, state TV reported, a worrisome trend after more than a year of the country battling the Middle East’s worst outbreak.

Iran’s coronavirus task force, charged with determining virus restrictions, ordered most shops closed and offices restricted to one-third capacity in cities declared as “red-zones.”

The capital Tehran and 250 other cities and towns across the country have been declared red zones. They have the highest virus positivity rates and the most severe restrictions in place. Over 85% of the country now has either a red or orange infection status, authorities said.

The severe surge in infections follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Millions traveled to the Caspian coast and other popular vacation spots, packed markets to shop for new clothes and toys and congregated in homes for parties in defiance of government health guidelines.

The new lockdown also affects all parks, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, malls and bookstores.

There appeared to be no respite in sight to the virus’s spread as Iran’s vaccine rollout lagged. Only some 200,000 doses have been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization.

COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world, delivered its first shipment to Iran on Monday from the Netherlands containing 700,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

The Health Ministry said there were more than 19,600 new infections on Saturday, including 193 deaths. The confirmed death toll since the beginning of the outbreak stood at more than 64,200.

Hadi Minaie, a shop owner at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, said mismanagement was the reason for the new surge and the government should have prevented people’s movements during Nowruz—not at a time when people need to earn a living.

“Nobody can say the lockdown should not have been imposed. But better management would have been enforcing it during Nowruz holiday when everywhere was already closed not now that everyone wants to work and earn a living,” he said.

“Lockdowns are only effective to some extent but for how long should the people be paying the price,” said Alireza Ghadirian, a carpet seller at the bazaar. He said the government needed to do more to provide vaccines.

Authorities have done little to enforce lockdown restrictions and originally resisted a nationwide lockdown to salvage an economy already devastated by tough U.S. sanctions. A year into the pandemic, public fatigue and intransigence has deepened.

Saeed Valizadeh, a motorcyclist who earns his living transporting passengers and light packages from the bazaar, said if the government paid a stipend to low-income citizens, then they could afford to stay at home.

“Those who are wealthy have no problem staying home but we can’t,” he said.

President Hassan Rouhani said several factors played a role in the rising number of cases but the prime culprit was the U.K. variant of the virus that entered Iran from Iraq.

Earlier this year, the country kicked off its coronavirus inoculation campaign, administering a limited number of Russian Sputnik V vaccine doses to medical workers.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Iraq, authorities introduced new measures to bolster vaccinations among citizens including restrictions on air travel.

The health ministry said it requested airlines to not sell tickets to travelers unless they show proof they were vaccinated. Workers at hospitals, restaurants, malls and shops would require a vaccination card as well.

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Researchers discover a new monoclonal antibody that is effective against SARS-CoV-2 variants

A new monoclonal antibody targets a particular region of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) on the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This region is usually not accessible to immune cells,  which may be why it has broad neutralizing capabilities.

With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continuing around the globe, new mutants of SARS-CoV-2 are emerging. These new variants are likely more infectious and can better evade our immune response.

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, in particular the RBD, is key in binding to host receptors, mainly the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in humans. One highly conserved region of the RBD, called antigenic site II, can elicit neutralizing antibodies. However, this region is generally inaccessible because of the RBD conformation, and there is a low fraction of antibodies targeting this site in infected individuals.

Study: Structural basis for broad sarbecovirus neutralization by a human monoclonal antibody. Image Credit: Design_Cells / Shutterstock

In a new study published in the bioRxiv* preprint server, researchers report a new monoclonal antibody that is targeted toward site II and has a broad neutralizing capability.

Testing potency of monoclonal antibody

The authors sorted spike protein-specific memory B cells from a convalescent individual 75 days after symptom onset. They found one monoclonal antibody, called S2X259, which reacted with 29 of 30 spike proteins of sarbecoviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and its new variants. The antibody also reacted with bat sarbecoviruses, suggesting its broad neutralizing capability.

The antibody also bound strongly to 10 RBDs from different sarbecoviruses. The binding of this antibody was not affected by the different single-point RBD mutations seen in the new variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the United Kingdom, South African, Brazilian, and the B.1.427/B.1.429 variants.

Using pseudotyped virus systems, the team found that the antibody neutralized SARS-CoV-2 and did not lose its potency against the different variants or the N439K or Y453F mutation. The antibody not only neutralized a variety of sarbecoviruses that use the ACE2 receptor but also cross-reacts with sarbecoviruses that do not use ACE2 for infection.

To understand how this antibody has high neutralizing potency, the team imaged the complex formed between the spike protein and the antibody using cryo-electron microscopy. They found that the antibody recognizes a glycan-free site, which requires two RBDs to be in the open conformation. It forms contacts with residues 369-386, 404-411, and 499-508 in the RBD.

The epitope the antibody binds to is conserved in all the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants. In addition, it does not target the 417 or 484 residues (mutations here are found in B.1.351 and P.1), and this could be why it is potent against the different variants.

The action of this antibody does not affect the neutralization effect of class 1 and class 3 antibodies. The majority of approved antibodies for clinical use belong to these classes. Hence, the new antibody can be used in combination with other antibodies to increase neutralization breadth.

The S2X259 broadly neutralizing sarbecovirus mAb recognizes RBD antigenic site II. a-b, CryoEM structure of the prefusion SARS-CoV-2 S ectodomain trimer with three S2X259 Fab fragments bound to three open RBDs viewed along two orthogonal orientations. c. The S2X259 binding pose involving contacts with multiple RBD regions. Residues corresponding to prevalent RBD mutations are shown as red spheres. d-e, Close-up views showing selected interactions formed between S2X259 and the SARS-CoV-2 RBD. In panels a-e, each SARS-CoV-2 S protomer is coloured distinctly (cyan, pink and gold) whereas the S2X259 light and heavy chain variable domains are coloured magenta and purple, respectively. N-linked glycans are rendered as blue spheres in panels a-c.

Potential use against a broad range of sarbecoviruses

Using computational analysis, the team determined what RBD mutations could escape the antibody from binding. They found only a few RBD mutations disrupt the binding of this antibody. The substitution of the residue at position 504 gave the most significant disruption in binding.

When they replicated a pseudotyped SARS-CoV-2 virus in the presence of the S2X259 antibody, the only mutation they found caused by selective pressure was G504D. This mutation has rarely been seen in human isolates so far.

The selection of a single escape mutation suggests the region targeted by the antibody might not tolerate amino acid substitutions without changing viral fitness. Hence it is conserved across different sarbecoviruses. Thus, there is a high barrier for the emergence of mutations against this antibody, suggesting it could become key in combating the pandemic.

When Syrian hamsters were challenged with SARS-CoV-2, with the antibody administered 48 hours before virus infection, the authors found more than two orders of magnitude decrease in virus in the lungs compared to hamsters that did not receive any treatment. In addition, the antibody also protected hamsters infected with the B.1.351 strain.

The detection of a large variety of sarbecoviruses in bats and other mammals, along with the increased human-animal interactions, makes it likely that more cross-species transmission of viruses can occur. With increasing evidence that antibodies targeting the RBD form a major proportion of neutralizing activity, RBD-based vaccines could elicit high levels of antibodies like S2X259 with high potency. Such strategies can help overcome the current COVID-19 pandemic and help prepare for future sarbecovirus infections.

*Important Notice

bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
  • Tortorici, M. A. et al. (2021) Structural basis for broad sarbecovirus neutralization by a human monoclonal antibody. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.04.07.438818, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.04.07.438818v1

Posted in: Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Miscellaneous News | Disease/Infection News | Healthcare News

Tags: ACE2, Amino Acid, Angiotensin, Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2, Antibodies, Antibody, Coronavirus, Coronavirus Disease COVID-19, Electron, Electron Microscopy, Enzyme, Glycan, Glycans, Immune Response, Lungs, Microscopy, Monoclonal Antibody, Mutation, Pandemic, Protein, Receptor, Respiratory, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, Severe Acute Respiratory, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Spike Protein, Syndrome, Virus

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Lakshmi Supriya

Lakshmi Supriya got her BSc in Industrial Chemistry from IIT Kharagpur (India) and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Engineering from Virginia Tech (USA).

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Famed Animal Expert Jack Hanna Diagnosed With Dementia

Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of Ohio’s Columbus Zoo and Aquarium known for his many TV appearances, has been diagnosed with dementia, his family announced Wednesday in a post on Twitter.

His condition is now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease, the family wrote. Hanna, 74, announced his retirement last year.

“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated,” his daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna wrote in the letter.

“Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed alongside him,” they wrote.

Jack Hanna

Hanna often appeared on “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Show,” “Late Late Show,” “Larry King Live,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Maury.” He also hosted his own weekly TV programs, including “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures,” “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” and “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown.”

Hanna joined the Columbus Zoo in 1978. He is credited with transforming the zoo from an “aging collection of pens and buildings” into what it is today — often listed as one of the best zoos in the U.S., according to NBC News.

“While Jack retired from his official role at the end of 2020, his legacy will be ever-present in our work as we continue to fulfill our organization’s mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife,” the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium told CBS News.

The family said that Hanna spent his life connecting with wildlife and people because he believed that seeing and experiencing animals was the “key to engaging them in more impactful conservation efforts.” The media appearances allowed him to bring awareness to global conservation and the natural environment, they wrote.

Hanna is no longer able to travel and work in the same way as before, the family added, but they hope his enthusiasm will continue a legacy. At the Columbus Zoo, Hanna advocated for improved wildlife habitats and connection between animals and humans. After he left the role of executive director in 1992, he continued to be a spokesman for the zoo until retirement.

His wife, Suzi, has been by his side for 53 years and continues to be the family’s “rock,” his daughters wrote in the letter. They asked for privacy during this time, especially due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and thanked readers and viewers for their ongoing support.

“While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through,” they wrote. “And yes — he still wears his khakis at home.”


Jack Hanna, “Twitter post at 12:59 p.m. on April 7, 2021: A Letter from the Hanna Family.”

NBC News, “Beloved animal expert Jack Hanna has dementia, steps away from public life.”

CBS News, “Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia, family says.”

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Increasing compliance with existing restrictions can stop the spread of COVID-19 virus, says expert

Responses from 9 500 inhabitants in 11 countries in a study financed by the EU have given the researchers an insight into how governments should act to stop the spread of the virus.

"Implementing a combination of many restrictions has the opposite effect. Increase compliance with existing restrictions instead," says Sofia Wikman, researcher at University of Gävle.

In an online questionnaire, researchers asked citizens about 44 different restrictive public health measures aimed to limit the spread of the virus to see how efficient citizens found them. What restrictions are seen as infringements of individual liberties? What views and demographic factors impact compliance? What is the best way for governments to improve citizens' compliance?

There were 9543 responses to the survey and respondents came from 11 countries: United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Czechia, Finland, India, Latvia, Poland, Rumania and Sweden

Best measures according to citizens

The new study provides researchers with unique responses concerning what measures the citizens find to be the most effective, and which ones they see as undermining their human rights.

Responses reveal that politicians should start with the least restrictive and most effective public health measures first in case of pandemic emergencies.

Measures require balancing between the negative financial, psychological, and social effects and protection of human rights."

Sofia Wikman, Researcher, University of Gävle

Countries with public lack of confidence in the government should invest in efforts that persuade men

The results reveal that there are significant differences between countries concerning perceived effectiveness, restrictiveness and compliance.

  • In countries where there is a public lack of confidence in the government, governments should increase their efforts to persuade their citizens, especially the men, that the measures are effective.
  • Financial compensation should be provided to citizens who have lost their job or income due to the measures implemented to improve measure compliance.
  • Use solely evidence-based information in public campaigns.
  • Refrain from implementing measures perceived as more restrictive for citizens' human rights than effective and that lack objective evidence on their effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus.

University of Gävle

Journal reference:

Georgieva, I., et al. (2021) Perceived Effectiveness, Restrictiveness, and Compliance with Containment Measures against the Covid-19 Pandemic: An International Comparative Study in 11 Countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073806.

Posted in: Disease/Infection News | Healthcare News

Tags: Pandemic, Public Health, Virus

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Jimmy Fallon's Wife Nancy Juvonen 'Went All Out' to Make Pod School for Their Girls: 'It's Legit'


Jimmy Fallon's wife Nancy Juvonen brought homeschooling to a new level.

On a special episode of The Tonight Show, marking one year since the show was forced to shoot remotely at Fallon's home, the late-night host, 46, greeted viewers in front of a group of excited children.

The at-home pod school is where his girls, Winnie and Franny, do their learning, along with the kindergarteners and first graders of neighbors and family friends.

"It's called the Barn School and it's a New York curriculum school and they're very good students and they're very polite," Fallon said during the opening of Friday's episode. "Before it was a school, we did a show from here a year ago. And before it was the show, it was my home. So welcome to our show."

Speaking with PEOPLE ahead of the episode, Fallon explained that Nancy took it upon herself to create the safe and productive place for their kids to learn.

"Last spring, when they were on Zoom school, you can see they get distracted. You look away and a couple of minutes later they're playing with dolls," Fallon says.  

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Jimmy Fallon Celebrates 7 Years of The Tonight Show with His Daughters: 'My Favorite Co-Hosts'

So when the new school year rolled around and the talk show returned to the studio in Manhattan, "My wife started a school," he says.

"We said, 'Let's just have a pod school with our neighbors and friends,' so we got teachers and a principal and a teacher's assistant and a curriculum from the school district, so yeah, it's legit."

Fallon adds that they outfitted the school with old lockers from a high school and materials from eBay. "My wife went all out. We were so lucky to be able to pull it off."

Jimmy Fallon's Daughter, 5, Adorably Interrupts His At-Home Tonight Show to Tell Him a Secret

Last May, Fallon told PEOPLE that Nancy was the one keeping their at-home Tonight Show all together, coordinating the kids' schooling and keeping them occupied with art projects, while also running cameras, essentially helping to produce the show.

"My wife is the brains behind this whole thing," he said at the time. "She's the production scout, the producer, the lighting person, the editor, the director. I could not do any of this without my wife. She is everything."

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A pandemic lesson: Older adults must make preventive care a top priority

elderly mask

Older people have borne a higher burden of illness and death from COVID-19, with people 65 and older experiencing higher rates of hospitalization and death. That’s only part of the sad story, however. In many instances, older people stopped seeing their doctors, and standard clinical care for their chronic medical conditions and preventive care was postponed.

When medical clinics reopened, after initial shutdowns in the spring of 2020, many patients didn’t return. National surveys and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that nearly a third, or about 32%, of U.S. adults reported delaying routine care because of the pandemic from March to July 2020. In fact, a national survey from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR found that one in five U.S. households had trouble getting medical care when they needed it during the coronavirus outbreak. That was most often because of challenges getting an appointment, which resulted in poor health outcomes in more than half, or 57%, of the cases.

While care for medical emergencies is critical, preventive care is also important to optimize health, especially among older adults. As a geriatrician and professor of medicine, I think one of the best things the U.S. health care system could do is to make 2021 the Year of Preventive Care, particularly for older adults.

Care beyond COVID-19 vaccines

Because of their vulnerability to COVID-19, older Americans were first in line for COVID-19 vaccines as they became available to the public. That aligned perfectly with public health prevention strategies. Vaccination for older adults, including those for influenza, shingles and pneumonia, is a key component of preventive care.

For older adults, though, there’s more to preventive care than vaccination. Preventive care is an important piece of health care, in keeping with the patient’s other medical conditions and goals of care.

Preventive screening in older adults should be based on a personalized prevention plan between the patient and their doctor. Preventive screenings ideally identify issues before problems occur—talking about living alone, change in memory, any falls and who is around to help out when needed.

For people over 65 years old who have Medicare Part B for 12 months, Medicare allows for an annual wellness visit once every 12 months, often at no cost.

The Medicare annual wellness visit differs from a regular follow-up appointment for chronic medical conditions. This visit is fully focused on health risk and prevention. With the changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, your doctor or health care provider can even do it as a telemedicine video visit.

The focus of this visit is on preventive care and health. It includes:

  • A review of your medical and family history
  • Development or updating of a list of current providers and prescriptions
  • Height, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements
  • Detection of any cognitive impairment
  • Personalized health advice
  • Assessment of risk factors and treatment options
  • Advance care planning
  • A schedule or checklist for appropriate preventive services, such as screenings and vaccines

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New Delhi to impose pandemic night curfew


The Indian capital on Tuesday imposed an immediate night curfew a day after the nation posted a record coronavirus surge, with financial hub Mumbai also introducing similar restrictions.

Alarm has grown since India passed more than 100,000 new cases in a single day for the first time on Monday.

New Delhi, which is home to 25 million people, and other major cities have all ordered a clampdown on public movement.

The Delhi regional government said the “sudden increase in COVID-19 cases” and “high positivity rate” meant a night curfew was needed.

The ban will be in place from 10 pm to 5 am with only essential services or people travelling to and from vaccination centres allowed on the streets.

Delhi reported 3,548 new positive cases on Monday, still below its peak of nearly 9,000 in November, when it was one of the worst-hit cities across the nation of 1.3 billion people.

The government has so far shied away from reimposing a repeat of nationwide restrictions imposed in March last year—one of the world’s toughest lockdowns—as it seeks to revive the devastated economy.

But India’s wealthiest state Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, on Sunday announced a weekend lockdown and night curfew on its 110 million population.

The state currently accounts for more than half of the new cases reported each day nationwide.

India, which has the world’s third-highest number of infections after the United States and Brazil, has reported almost 12.7 million cases and more than 165,000 deaths.

Single-day infections have been rising since early February when they fell to below 9,000.

The country has recorded more than 549,000 cases in the last seven days—an increase of 40 percent compared to the previous week, according to an AFP database.

Brazil recorded just under 440,000 cases and the United States reported just over 453,000, but both with a decreasing trend from the previous week.

India’s health ministry said Tuesday that more than 83 million vaccination shots have been administered as part of an ambitious drive to inoculate 300 million by the end of July.

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