COVID-19 vaccine acceptance falling globally and in the U.S., survey finds

vaccine

The percentage of people globally who say they will get a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen in recent weeks, even as tens of millions of doses have been administered around the world, new survey data suggest.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, along with MIT, Facebook, and WHO, have been overseeing a global COVID behavior survey since July 2020 from nearly 1.7 million participants across 67 countries. The most recent data, drawn from more than 86,000 participants in 23 countries including the U.S., were collected in the two weeks ending February 1. The Center for Communication Programs is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

After a slight increase to 66 percent of people saying they would get a COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of January 2021, the average acceptance level across the 23 countries in this analysis fell to 63 percent. This overall decline comes amidst increased focus and media discussion on the rollout and access to COVID-19 vaccines. Broken down by country, the latest survey found that, in the final two weeks of January, vaccine acceptance declined in seven countries, remained similar in another seven, and rose in nine more.

Since March 2020, when WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, more than 112 million cases have been recorded and nearly 2.5 million people have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, the largest number of deaths in any country.

“We had hoped we would find that acceptance of COVID vaccines was on the rise in more countries, since vaccination is a critical part of ending the pandemic,” says CCP’s executive director Susan Krenn. “This means we have more work to do in helping people understand why getting vaccinated is so crucial to helping them, their families, and their communities.”

A key point to communicate is that a large percentage of people in a community need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, the level at which the spread of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—becomes difficult. Herd immunity levels vary depending on the infectiousness of a disease. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has estimated that 70 to 85 percent of Americans need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity for COVID-19. That threshold is much higher than the percentage of people in many countries reporting that they would be willing to get a vaccine.

The surveys leveraged Facebook’s reach of more than two billion global users, an average of 112,000 of whom participated in surveys roughly every 14 to 17 days since July. The questions have been about COVID-19 prevention behaviors such as mask wearing and social distancing, vaccine acceptance and trusted COVID influencers. This work has informed both global and national COVID-19 policies, and in the coming month the survey will evolve to include more countries and richer data to better describe global efforts to address the pandemic.

Of five countries in the Americas, the latest data found, only the United States saw a decline in vaccine acceptance in late January (from 69 percent to 65 percent). The other four countries— Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia—saw an increase of five percentage points in vaccine acceptance. Argentina saw much higher acceptance rates among certain demographics. For example, in the most recent survey, acceptance rates in Argentina are higher among older (+18 percent), college educated (+12 percent), urban residents (+20 percent), and men (+5 percent) than they were two weeks earlier.    

The survey found that reported vaccine acceptance rates in European countries remained constant, with Italy and the United Kingdom well into the range of achieving herd immunity. Some countries (Italy, the UK, and Germany) have very low rates of reported non-acceptance (8 percent, 10 percent, and 13 percent, respectively). By contrast, respondents in Turkey and France are consistently among the lowest reported rates of vaccine acceptance within the 23 countries surveyed in this study: 24 percent and 56 percent, respectively.  

After a recent dip, acceptance levels in Nigeria are beginning to rise. Gender differences there continue to exist among participants, but since the last data collection period women’s acceptance rates increased 4 percentage points from 51 percent to 55 percent.

Along with the new data on vaccine acceptance rates, CCP released another wave of data about other COVID-19 prevention behaviors for the last two weeks in January. From the first survey in July, reported handwashing in the United States is down in every group except rural residents. Over the same period, reported mask wearing and physical distancing are up in the U.S. And while a smaller percentage of Americans report they have trust in scientists, they are still the most trusted sources of COVID-19 information.

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Lonely adolescents are susceptible to internet addiction: Increasing numbers at risk in the coronavirus situation

teen internet

Loneliness is a risk factor associated with adolescents being drawn into compulsive internet use. The risk of compulsive use has grown in the coronavirus pandemic: loneliness has become increasingly prevalent among adolescents, who spend longer and longer periods of time online.

A study investigating detrimental internet use by adolescents involved a total of 1,750 Finnish study subjects, who were studied at three points in time: at 16, 17 and 18 years of age. The results have been published in the Child Development journal.

Adolescents’ net use is a two-edged sword: while the consequences of moderate use are positive, the effects of compulsive use can be detrimental. Compulsive use denotes, among other things, gaming addiction or the constant monitoring of likes on social media and comparisons to others.

“In the coronavirus period, loneliness has increased markedly among adolescents. They look for a sense of belonging from the internet. Lonely adolescents head to the internet and are at risk of becoming addicted. Internet addiction can further aggravate their malaise, such as depression,” says Professor of Education and study lead Katariina Salmela-Aro from the University of Helsinki.

Highest risk for 16-year-old boys

The risk of being drawn into problematic internet use was at its highest among 16-year-old adolescents, with the phenomenon being more common among boys.

For some, the problem persists into adulthood, but for others it eases up as they grow older. The reduction of problematic internet use is often associated with adolescent development where their self-regulation and control improve, their brains adapt and assignments related to education direct their attention.

“It’s comforting to know that problematic internet use is adaptive and often changes in late adolescence and during the transition to adulthood. Consequently, attention should be paid to the matter both in school and at home. Addressing loneliness too serves as a significant channel for preventing excessive internet use,” Salmela-Aro notes.

It was found in the study that the household climate and parenting also matter: the children of distant parents have a higher risk of drifting into detrimental internet use. If parents are not very interested in the lives of their adolescents, the latter may have difficulty drawing the lines for their actions.

Problematic net use and depression form a cycle

In the study participants, compulsive internet use had a link to depression. Depression predicted problematic internet use, while problematic use further increased depressive symptoms.

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CovMT: Tracking virus mutations across the world

virus

A SARS-CoV-2 tracker uses publicly available sequencing data to show how the virus is changing and spreading over time. The tracker, called CovMT, was developed at KAUST and is expected to help researchers and policymakers understand the evolution of the virus’s mutations. This could have implications for vaccine development, patient treatment and the implementation of restrictions.

“As new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerge, authorities around the world need to know if these, or similar variants, have entered their countries,” says computational biologist, Intikhab Alam, who designed the CovMT system with a team in KAUST’s Computational Bioscience Research Center. “The World Health Organization is stressing to all countries to ramp up their sequencing efforts. With this increase in sequencing, we expect CovMT will help researchers, the public and policymakers to explore up-to-date country-specific information on sequencing efforts, evolving virus variants and disease severity.”

Each day, publicly available data is downloaded to CovMT from GISAID, an initiative that collates genetic sequences and the related clinical and epidemiological data about the SARS-CoV-2 virus from various parts of the world. The CovMT platform processes this data to detect mutations and mutation fingerprints and define clades.

CovMT thenprovides interactive graphics to help visualize the resultsin a user-friendly form.

For example, the tracker shows which SARS-CoV-2 clades are present in which continents. It also shows the countries that are providing SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data and the local and foreign mutational fingerprints of the virus present in each country.

The team devised the concept of “mutational fingerprints” to describe virus isolates that have the same set of virus mutations. This helps scientists to see where a virus with a mutational fingerprint was first detected and then to which countries it eventually spread. Since GISAID includes some patient data that correlates virus variants and mutations with disease severity, the tracker can also predict the disease severity of virus isolates that have similar mutational fingerprints but lack patient data.

The tracker shows that the B.1.1.7 variant, which acquired a specific mutation in its spike protein called N501Y to lead to a rapid rise of infections in the UK in the autumn and winter months of 2020, has also acquired the E484K mutation. This could have implications for vaccine effectiveness against this variant.

Also, the tracker shows that 510 virus isolates of the B.1.351 variant have three mutations in the receptor binding region of the spike protein. This region is of particular significance because mutations in it could make the virus more infectious. This triple RBD mutation variant is now found in South Africa, the UK and 22 other countries.

“CovMT can be adapted for other infectious diseases like MERS-CoV and the influenza virus in the future,” says molecular biologist, Takashi Gojobori, the acting director of KAUST’s Computational Bioscience Research Center. He formed the task force that developed CovMT.

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In High-End Real Estate, Are Doctors the New Doormen?

Gyms with Peloton bikes and lap pools are nice, but how about a doctor on call? Some new luxury developments now come with just that, offering residents memberships to medical centers staffed with on-call physicians and nurses. Others are partnering with hospitals and clinics to give homeowners easy access to care, even in remote locations. And a handful have amped up the health and wellness factor, bringing in Eastern medicine gurus and running general health assessments as part of their fitness and spa programs.

At Madison House, a new condo tower under construction in Manhattan’s Nomad neighborhood, buyers get a free one-year membership to Sollis Health, a private medical concierge company that handles everything from emergency calls to routine annual check ups. At Legacy Hotel and Residences, in downtown Miami, there’s a $60 million medical and wellness center on site staffed with doctors, nurses, and nutritionists on site. And at NEMA Chicago, a 76-story luxury rental building downtown, there’s an elaborate fitness center that comes with a complimentary full-body fitness assessment, including blood pressure analysis and body scans.

The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach has 111 condominiums, 15 standalone homes, and prices starting at $2 million. Included with every condo purchase is a one-year membership to the Agatston Center for Preventative Medicine, a private medical center founded by Arthur Agatston, the celebrity doctor best known for creating the South Beach Diet. Developer Ophir Sternberg says he’s a member himself and thought buyers might like it as much as he does. “Most are very pleasantly surprised when we do the final walk through and give them their keys and a special medical concierge card,” he says, noting the value of the annual service is about $12,000. “At other developments, it’s just a bottle of champagne.”

For developers, offering medical care can telegraph a sense of luxury that’s broadly appealing and in keeping with the times. “This is not like gold-plated doors or a certain type of stone,” says Evan Stein, the developer of Manhattan’s Madison House. “We think this connotes luxury and what the [building’s] service level is.” Renderings of Madison House’s striking floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sculptural 75-foot-long Olympic pool plays most prominently in marketing materials, but the membership to Sollis has also raised plenty of eyebrows. “Nobody actually wants to sit there and think about their doctors, but they go, ‘wow, ok.’”

In more remote locations, knowing that good care is available can be a big selling point—especially in the midst of a pandemic. At Costa Palmas, a more than 1,000-acre private resort community in Los Cabos, Mexico, there are residences, a Four Seasons resort, and an Aman resort. A partnership with Patronus Medical gives residents and guests 24-hour telemedicine access. Though the partnership was in the works pre-Covid, Michael Radovan, Managing Director of Sales at Costa Palmas, said they’ve recently developed thorough pandemic protocols for screening both employees and guests as well.

In downtown Miami, Legacy Hotel & Residences are attached to a 100,000-square-foot medical center—ideal for out-of-town buyers who want to get treatment locally for chronic illnesses or indulge in anti-aging or cosmetic procedures. Buyers of the 274 residents also get access to a wellness center with a nutritionist, cryotherapy, and professional athletic coaching.

“At other developments, it’s just a bottle of champagne.”

Alternative medicine is also coming home. At 30 Park Place in New York come with services by the Four Seasons and several resident “healers.” According to the developer, they work with residents on sound therapy, crystal healing and acupuncture. “They pick up on things that modern medicine could never guide you on,” says Thomas Carreras, the general manager at the property. “We felt there was a demand for being treated beyond a nice massage that just makes you feel good.”

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Panic attack or heart attack? Here’s how to tell the difference

Panic attack or heart attack? here's how to tell the difference

A heart attack and a panic attack share many similar symptoms, so it’s crucial to determine which one it is, experts say.

Chest pain, racing heart, shortness of breath and sweating can occur with both, but only a heart attack can be fatal, according to a team at Penn State Health.

A heart attack occurs when a blockage in an artery restricts blood flow to the heart muscle. Symptoms continue until a person gets emergency medical treatment. In a panic attack, symptoms may last 20 minutes and then go away.

However, only a health professional can confirm a heart attack or a panic attack, so any of the common symptoms should be taken seriously, the experts said.

Men 45 and older and women 55 and older are at higher risk for heart attack than younger men and women. Others at high risk include people with high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or a family history of heart attack.

“If a young person with no risk factors experiences chest pain, the likelihood of it being a heart attack is very low,” Dr. Rajesh Dave, an interventional cardiologist at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center, said in a Penn State news release.

“But chest pain in a 50-year-old man who’s a long-time smoker with a 20-year history of diabetes most likely signals a heart attack and needs urgent medical care,” Dave added.

Stress and anxiety are the main risk factors for panic attacks, but anxiety can also be associated with a heart attack.

Heart attack patients often have some symptoms in the days or weeks before the attack, and heart attacks most often occur during physical activity. Panic attacks typically happen when a person is resting and can be caused by an anxiety trigger, such as receiving bad news.

People having a panic attack should sit in a calm, dark place and take deep breaths to help slow their heart rate.

Dr. Michael Farbaniec, a cardiologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said, “If you can’t tell whether it’s a panic or heart attack—or just want to be sure—call 911 and get seen right away.”

You can reduce your heart attack risk by eating a heart-healthy diet and getting regular exercise, Dave said. Panic attacks can be prevented through stress-lowering techniques such as meditation and yoga.

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Deaths from food allergy rare and decreasing in the UK, finds study

food allergy

Deaths from serious allergic reactions (“anaphylaxis”) due to food have declined over the past 20 years, an analysis of UK NHS data had found. This is despite an increase in hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis over the same time.

The analysis, conducted by scientists from Imperial College London and published in the BMJ also found that cows’ milk is the commonest single cause of fatal food-induced allergic reactions in school-aged children.

Around two million people are thought to live with a food allergy in the UK. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include an itching sensation inside the mouth, ears and throat, an itchy rash, and swelling of the face. In anaphylaxis, which can sometimes be fatal, a person can develop breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing or speaking. However, deaths from anaphylaxis are rare. It is estimated there are less than 10 fatalities due to food allergy per year in the UK.

Dr. Paul Turner, lead author of the study from Imperial’s National Lung and Heart Institute said: “This study raises two important points. The first is that despite hospital admissions increasing, the number of deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis has fallen. However, the second, more worrying point, is that cow’s milk is now the single most common cause of fatal allergic reactions in children. There is now a lot of awareness of allergies to peanut and tree nut, but many people think milk allergy is mild, perhaps because most children outgrow it. However, for those who don’t, it remains a big problem because milk is so common in our diet, and people don’t realise how dangerous it can be.”

The study, funded by the Food Standards Agency and Medical Research Council, analysed UK hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis between 1998-2018, and how these compare to fatal anaphylaxis events.

Food Standard Agency ‘s Head of Policy and Strategy for Food Hypersensitivity, Sushma Acharya, said: “These important findings help us understand the trends of severe food induced allergic reactions, like who is most at risk and which foods are responsible. This research is part of a wider study we have commissioned to support our ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to be a food hypersensitive consumer. We want to improve the quality of life for people living with food hypersensitivity and support them to make safe informed food choices.

“We note that young adults are most at-risk from severe and fatal allergic reactions to foods. Our upcoming promotion to encourage young people to ask for allergen information when ordering food is one example of how this valuable data will be used to inform our campaigns and policy making.”

The team at Imperial are now investigating why some people may be more susceptible to severe allergic reactions, and whether factors such as genetics may play a role.

During the study period from 1998 to 2018, hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis increased by 5.7% per year, or three-fold (from 1.23 to 4.04 admissions per 100,000 population per year).

Over the same time, the case fatality rate (number of fatalities compared to hospital admissions) for food-anaphylaxis more than halved, from 0.7% in 1998 to 0.3% in 2018. This may be due to better awareness of food allergy, and how to quickly recognise and treat serious allergic reactions.

Deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis are rare. The study also assessed food-related anaphylaxis fatalities, recorded since 1992, when data first became available. There had been 187 fatalities since 1992 where the cause of death was likely to be food-induced anaphylaxis. At least 86 (46%) of these were due to peanuts or tree nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts.

Sixty-six deaths were reported in children, of which 14% were caused by peanuts, 9% by tree nuts and in 12% of cases, the nut could not be identified. However, the most common single cause of fatal anaphylaxis was cows’ milk, responsible for 26% of cases. Furthermore, there was a trend towards a greater proportion of reactions being caused by milk since 1992.

The research team add that cow’s milk is quite protein-rich, meaning a small amount of cow’s milk can result in a significant exposure.

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The ACA Marketplace Is Open Again for Insurance Sign-Ups. Here’s What You Need to Know.

For people who’ve been without health insurance during the pandemic, relief is in sight.

In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to open up the federal health insurance marketplace for three months as of Monday so uninsured people can buy a plan and those who want to change their marketplace coverage can do so.

Consumer advocates applauded the directive. Since 2016, the number of Americans without health insurance has been on the rise, reaching 30 million in 2019. The economic upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus has made a bad situation worse, throwing millions off their insurance plans.

The move is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s approach. As covid-19 took hold last spring and the economy imploded, health experts pleaded with the Trump administration to open up the federal marketplace so people could buy insurance to protect themselves during the worst public health emergency in a century. The administration declined, noting that people who suddenly found themselves without coverage because they lost their jobs were able to sign up on the marketplace under ordinary rules. They also cited concerns that sick people who had resisted buying insurance before would buy coverage and drive up premiums.

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The Biden administration is promising to spend $50 million on outreach and education to get the word out about the new special enrollment period. That’s critical, experts said. Although the number of people signing up for Affordable Care Act plans has generally remained robust, the number of new consumers enrolling in the federal marketplace has dropped every year since 2016, according to KFF, corresponding to funding cuts in marketing and outreach. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

“There are a lot of uninsured people who even before covid were eligible for either hefty marketplace subsidies or for Medicaid and not aware of it,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. A marketing blitz can reach a broad swath of people and hopefully draw them in, regardless of whether they’re uninsured because of covid or not, she said.

Here are answers to questions about the new enrollment option.

Q: When can consumers sign up, and in which states?

The sign-up window will be open for three months, from Monday through May 15. Uninsured residents of any of the 36 states that use the federal healthcare.gov platform can look for plans during that time and enroll.

Most of the states and the District of Columbia that operate their own marketplaces are establishing special enrollment periods similar to the new federal one, though they may have somewhat different time frames or eligibility rules. In Massachusetts, for example, the sign-up window remains open until May 23, while in Connecticut, it closes March 15. Meanwhile, Colorado has reopened enrollment in its marketplace for residents who lack insurance, but anyone already enrolled in one of the state’s marketplace plans won’t be allowed to switch to a different plan until the regular open enrollment period in the fall.

At this point, only Idaho has not announced plans to open their marketplaces, said Corlette. It may still do so, however.

Q: Can people who lost their jobs and health insurance many months ago sign up during the new enrollment period?

Yes. The enrollment window is open to anyone who is uninsured and would normally be eligible to buy coverage on the exchange (people who are serving prison or jail terms and those who are in the country without legal permission aren’t allowed to enroll).

People with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level (about $51,500 for one person or $106,000 for a family of four) are eligible for premium tax credits that may substantially reduce their costs.

Typically, people can buy a marketplace plan only during the annual open enrollment period in the fall or if a major life event gives them another opportunity to sign up, called a special enrollment period. Losing job-based health coverage is one event that creates a special sign-up opportunity; so is getting married or having a baby. But usually people must sign up with the marketplace within 60 days of the event.

With the new special enrollment period, how long someone has been uninsured isn’t relevant, nor do people have to provide documentation that they’ve lost job-based coverage.

“The message is quite simple: Come and apply,” said Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: What about people who are already enrolled in a marketplace plan? Can they switch their coverage during this new enrollment period?

Yes, as long as their coverage is through the federal marketplace. If, for example, someone is enrolled in a gold plan now but wants to switch to a cheaper bronze plan with a higher deductible, that’s allowed. As mentioned above, however, some state-operated marketplaces may not make that option available.

Q: Many people have lost significant income during the pandemic. How do they decide whether a marketplace plan with premium subsidies is a better buy for them than Medicaid?

They don’t have to decide. During the application process, the marketplace asks people for income information. If their annual income is below the Medicaid threshold (for many adults in most states, 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $18,000 for an individual), they will be directed to that program for coverage. If people are eligible for Medicaid, they can’t get subsidized coverage on the exchange.

People can sign up for Medicaid anytime; there’s no need to wait for an annual or special enrollment period.

Those already enrolled in a marketplace plan whose income changes should go back into the marketplace and update their income information as soon as possible. They may be eligible for larger premium subsidies for their marketplace plan or, if their income has dropped significantly, for Medicaid. (Likewise, if their income has increased and they don’t adjust their marketplace income estimates, they could be on the hook for overpayments of their subsidies when they file their taxes.)

Q: What about people who signed up under the federal COBRA law to continue their employer coverage after losing their job? Can they drop it and sign up for a marketplace plan?

Yes people in federal marketplace states can take that step, health experts say. Under COBRA, people can be required to pay the full amount of the premium plus a 2% administrative fee. Marketplace coverage is almost certainly cheaper.

Normally, if people have COBRA coverage and they drop it midyear, they can’t sign up for a marketplace plan until the annual fall open enrollment period. But this special enrollment period will give people that option.

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This Is One Of The Most Soothing Sounds That Can Help You Feel Better Throughout The Day

As many of us search for small tweaks to our routines to make the days more exciting, music has offered a welcome relief to the sometimes-monotonous routine of 2021. While some employ various anxiety-relieving techniques, music can also offer relief while helping you feel focused. From waterfall sounds to classical melodies, the type of tunes that you choose can make a big difference in your mood. But, when it comes to feeling at peace, one type of sound outshines the rest.

Those cooing birds outside of your window may be doing more for your state of mind than you think — studies show that these chirps offer the most restorative vibrations of any nature sound, The Guardian reports. While many who have studied natural well-being are well versed in the benefits of contact with nature, simply adding these sounds to your morning even while you’re indoors offers holistic recovery attributes. The Guardian reports that birdsong reduces stress and assists in focusing one’s attention and feeling renewed — not a bad playlist addition after all. 

Apparently, when you turn on a chorus of birdsongs — in the forest, at the ocean, or whatever location your playlist takes you to — you’re likely hearing the mating calls of various species. The Guardian notes that listening to the sounds of birds has scientific evidence of improving the way that you feel, no matter the time of day. Furthermore, having birdsong playing in the background can make focusing much easier, whereas music with lyrics can take away from your ability to stay present, the BBC contends.

The reasons behind birdsongs' health benefits stem from evolution

Beyond just helping you feel focused and alert, listening to these types of sounds actually allows your body to feel safe. The BBC reports that bird-chirping melodies produce a “body relaxed, mind alert” state that many seek to create in their daily lives.

“People find birdsong relaxing and reassuring because over thousands of years they have learned when the birds sing they are safe, it’s when birds stop singing that people need to worry,” Julian Treasure, author of Sound Business and chairman of noise consultancy, The Sound Agency, told the BBC. “Birdsong is also nature’s alarm clock, with the dawn chorus signaling the start of the day, so it stimulates us cognitively.”

This simultaneous relaxing-but-alert response may help you sail through your day with less resistance and a higher level of mental prowess. Birdsong provides no rhyme or reason and no beat to focus on while you work — it simply soothes, BBC notes. Rather than redirecting your energy toward following the pattern of the music, bird songs provide a naturally random tune. The outlet reports that, when used in children’s schools and hospitals, songs of birds aid in reduction of stress as well as an increase in the students’ concentration levels.

Next time you’re looking for music to play during work, play, sleep or meditation, turn on the bird tunes! 

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This is why the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases in winter

Carbon monoxide chat isn’t the most thrilling – but it can save lives.

According to research from Uswitch.com, fire services are being called to 10% more carbon monoxide incidents in homes than they were five years ago.

But perhaps the scariest part is that almost a third (32%) of households say they do not have an alarm to detect the deadly gas in the first palace. 

What’s more, a drop in temperatures – like the cold snap we are having now – can increase the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

This is because carbon monoxide can leak from malfunctioning heating appliances, commonly brought out when it gets really chilly.

‘With temperatures dropping and cold weather settling in, people naturally turn on their gas heating, light their fireplaces or start-up portable heating devices.

‘Often, they do so without having checked that these devices have been tested for carbon monoxide leaks, which is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, coal, and wood do not burn fully,’ says Andrew Hobbs, CEO of Better Indoors – an air quality testing provider.

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Some households in financial vulnerability or living in poor quality housing may resort to using their gas cookers for warmth, because a heater breaks and they cannot afford to replace it, leaving them especially susceptible to poisoning.’

Because you can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, you’ll probably be unaware of a leak – making it highly dangerous.

Andrew says there are around 60 deaths every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales.

How can people protect against carbon monoxide leaks?

Andrew adds: ‘We take on average 30,000 breaths each day and spend 80-90% of our time indoors. Because we cannot see what is in the air we are breathing, we assume it is clean and safe.’

The difficult thing about carbon monoxide is that, without an alarm, you won’t even notice it.

‘It’s therefore critical that you install carbon monoxide alarms on every floor of your home,’ he adds. 

What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The most common symptoms of CM poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

But the tricky thing is that the symptoms are very similar to flu, colds and Covid, so you might not immediately realise it’s to do with a carbon monoxide leak.

If you suspect a problem, immediately open all doors and windows and go outside for fresh air. Then call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.

What happens when you breathe in carbon monoxide?

Sara Quayle, who specialises in helping companies and individuals with safety and first aid at work and home, explains what happens when we breathe in the dangerous gas.

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘When you breathe in carbon monoxide it enters your bloodstream and mixes with your haemoglobin the part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body. Therefore your blood can no longer get oxygen around your body and this then causes the bodies cells and tissues to fail and die.

‘It is so important to have early recognition of carbon monoxide poisoning as you can recover from it but the longer you are in an atmosphere with carbon monoxide the more serious the outcome.

‘This can lead to long-term health issues or death.’

What regular checks should people be doing?

Andrew says: ‘Every year make sure you ask a Gas Safe Registered engineer to check that any gas equipment in your home is installed correctly and tested. 

‘This will include heaters, cookers, fires as well as your boilers and any water heaters. Chimneys and flues should also be regularly cleaned to prevent blockages.’

It’s also vital to have carbon monoxide alarms installed within your home and that batteries are checked frequently.

These alarms usually cost around £15 – a small price to pay for potentially saving your life.

Are certain houses more susceptible to it?

It’s worth pointing out that anyone living in a flat should be mindful of other potential carbon monoxide sources from people living in your building. 

Andrew says: ‘Often carbon monoxide levels can enter your home from theirs via the ventilation system.

‘Also because flats are typically smaller than houses, you should take extra care to keep your own space well-ventilated, and be especially wary when utilising indoor heaters, as they have the potential to release high levels of CM that could rapidly accumulate in an enclosed area.’

The best thing to do is to speak to your landlord and make sure they have installed carbon monoxide detectors in shared spaces and in any rooms used as living accommodation where solid fuel is used. 

Any landlords that fail to comply with the regulations could face a fine.

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Relaxed precautions, not climate, the biggest factor driving wintertime COVID-19 outbreaks

mask

Wintertime outbreaks of COVID-19 have been largely driven by whether people adhere to control measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, according to a study published Feb. 8 in Nature Communications by Princeton University researchers. Climate and population immunity are playing smaller roles during the current pandemic phase of the virus, the researchers found.

The researchers—working in summer 2020—ran simulations of a wintertime coronavirus outbreak in New York City to identify key factors that would allow the virus to proliferate. They found that relaxing control measures in the summer months led to an outbreak in the winter regardless of climate factors.

“Our results implied that lax control measures—and likely fatigue with complying with control measures—would fuel wintertime outbreaks,” said first author Rachel Baker, an associate research scholar in Princeton’s High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI). Baker and her co-authors are all affiliated with the HMEI Climate Change and Infectious Disease initiative.

“Although we have witnessed a substantial number of COVID-19 cases, population-level immunity remains low in many locations,” Baker said. “This means that if you roll back enforcement or adherence to control measures, you can still expect a large outbreak. Climate factors including winter weather play a secondary role and certainly don’t help.”

The researchers found that even maintaining rigid control measures through the summer can lead to a wintertime outbreak if climate factors provided enough of a boost to viral transmission. “If summertime controls are holding the transmissibility of coronavirus at a level that only just mitigates an outbreak, then winter climate conditions can push you over the edge,” Baker said. “Nonetheless, having effective control measures in place last summer could have limited the winter outbreaks we’re now experiencing.”

Cases have climbed in many northern hemisphere locations since November. In the United States, spikes in COVID-19 cases are thought to be tied to increased travel and gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Notably, outbreaks were recorded in temperate locations such as Los Angeles in addition to regions with much colder conditions, Baker said. At the same time, large outbreaks were observed in South Africa from November to January, which are that country’s summer months.

“The greater incidence of COVID-19 in various environs really speaks to the climate’s limited role at this stage,” Baker said.

In May, the same authors published a paper in the journal Science suggesting that local climate variations would be unlikely to affect the coronavirus pandemic. The paper suggested that hopes that the warmer conditions of summer would slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in the northern hemisphere were unrealistic.

Gabriel Vecchi, a professor of geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute and co-author of both studies, said that the virus currently spreads too quickly and that people are too susceptible for climate to be a determining factor.

“The influence of climate and weather on infection rates should become more evident—and thus a potentially useful source of information for disease prediction—as growing immunity moves the disease into endemic phases from the present epidemic stage,” Vecchi said.

The most recent study provides insight on how scientists can determine the impact of various factors on the virus at various times, said co-author C. Jessica Metcalf, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and an HMEI associated faculty member.

“An important challenge that we tackle here is balancing the role of many potential factors on the trajectory of the epidemic,” Metcalf said. “As the pandemic progresses, both natural and vaccinal immunity will play an increasing role, underscoring the importance of developing a handle on the landscape of immunity.”

Critical factors to consider when projecting the future of COVID-19 are emerging variants of the virus, as well as how efforts to contain coronavirus have changed other diseases, said co-author Bryan Grenfell, the Kathryn Briger and Sarah Fenton Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs and associated faculty in HMEI.

In November, Grenfell and his co-authors in the Climate Change and Infectious Disease initiative published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as mask wearing and social distancing could result in large, delayed outbreaks of endemic diseases such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“The interaction between NPIs and immunity will become even more complex as a variety of vaccines are deployed and new viral variants arise,” Grenfell said. “Understanding the impact of these variables underlines the importance of immune surveillance and greatly expanded viral sequencing.”

Additional authors of the current paper include Wenchang Yang, an associate research scholar in geosciences at Princeton.

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