Find your way back to the gym, but safely

gym

If the pandemic put your workout routine on ice, you’re in good company.

Gym attendance plummeted last year, and as people slowly return, their bodies may be telling them, “Hey! It’s been a while!” Even the likes of action hero Will Smith acknowledged, “I’m in the worst shape of my life” before posting a video poking fun at how much he had forgotten about working out.

If you, like Smith, are plotting a fitness comeback, experts applaud you. But, they say, you need to be careful. Here’s their advice on how to do that.

It starts with a vaccine.

The first step in a safe return to the gym is to remember what drove people away.

“Number one, get vaccinated,” said Dr. Brandee Waite, director of sports medicine at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, California. That’s especially important as coronavirus variants spread.

“If you’re indoors, and exercising and breathing hard, and are not vaccinated, by all means please wear a mask to protect yourself and the community that you wanted to rejoin,” she said.

Even fully vaccinated people should wear masks in public indoor settings in parts of the country with “substantial” or “high” transmission rates, according to updated guidance issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masking also is a good choice for vaccinated people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 or those with high-risk or unvaccinated family members.

The CDC offers guidelines for gyms. Waite suggested checking to make sure you know what your gym is doing and are comfortable with it—so an unwelcome surprise doesn’t become an excuse for not returning.

Is it safe to work out after having COVID-19?

For most people, yes, Waite said. It depends on lingering symptoms. Anyone who had COVID-19 should get clearance from their physician before returning to exercise. Some people also might want guidance from a physical therapist or a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation.

A team of British researchers, writing in the journal BMJ in January, recommended waiting at least a week after symptoms clear and minimizing exertion for the first two weeks.

But overall, Waite said, “We want to get people back exercising, because we need their cardiovascular health to get better to improve their overall health.”

Pace yourself.

Pandemic or no pandemic, taking off for a long time and then trying to go right back to where you were “is definitely a way to get injured,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, an associate professor in the department of health and human development and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh.

And that injury is going to reduce how active you can be long-term. “So I would definitely recommend taking it slow.”

Waite said her clinic has been swamped by people who rushed back into exercising at the same level as they did last year, then injured themselves. For people who are coming back to exercising, Waite’s general rule is to do about half of what you were doing before you stopped.

“Not just half time, but maybe half of the intensity, and see where your body is. And then wait a full 48 hours before you tax it again, because sometimes you have delayed-onset muscle soreness.”

To prevent injury, don’t increase your effort more than 10% a week, Waite said. That goes for “your intensity, your time, your distance, whatever it is that you’re doing per week. If you’re trying to get there a little faster, maybe 10 to 20%.”

No pain, no gain? Not necessarily.

If your goal is to become stronger, faster or win a race, you want to get to the point where you have muscle fatigue, or “the point where you feel a burn or feel a slight discomfort,” Barone Gibbs said.

But if your main goal is simply to improve your cardiorespiratory health, reduce your risk of heart disease, maintain your weight and regulate your blood sugar and blood pressure, you don’t need go that far.

“If your goal is just to be healthy, you don’t necessarily need to be going to the gym and exercising until you throw up,” she said. “Just walking for 30 minutes a day can really give you those benefits.” Federal physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

It’s OK to push through soreness, Waite said. But pain is different. “True pain should stop you, because you’re probably going to change your mechanics and then hurt yourself.”

That’s what lands people in her clinic, she said. Injured people say, “The coach was encouraging me,” or they were close to an arbitrary performance goal and “I pushed through, even though my shoulder was starting to hurt.”

So, listen to your body, Barone Gibbs said. “At the end of the day, exercise is supposed to make you feel good and better. And if it’s not making you feel good and better, you’re overdoing it.”

New groove? That’s great.

If you’ve found something you like better than your pre-pandemic routine—go for it, Barone Gibbs said.

Waite agreed. “The best activity for you to do is the activity that you most enjoy.” And it’s probably good for your body to change things up.

Starting from scratch? You can do it.

“Everybody has to start somewhere,” Waite said. “Wherever your starting point is, honor it as your valid starting point, and make a plan for smart progression.”

Barone Gibbs recommends starting with as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking a day. “Try that a couple of times a week, and try to build up to that 150 minutes per week.”

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Heated tobacco products: The next generation of smoke-free alternatives targeting teens

In the last decade, the popularity of traditional cigarettes — particularly among teenagers — has declined tremendously, while the use of electronic cigarettes has been on the rise.

But now a new smoke-free alternative called heated tobacco is slowly gaining a foothold in the U.S. market. Also known as heat-not-burn tobacco products, the devices heat up a cigarette without using an open flame.

The heated cigarette produces an aerosol that contains the nicotine as well as other chemicals and additives. The device is more similar to a traditional cigarettes than an e-cigarette or a vape device, which don’t contain tobacco, because the nicotine is coming directly from the cigarette.

Tobacco companies are attempting to glamorize these products, experts told ABC News.

“They’re attempting to make the packaging and the marketing look white and clear and clean and very modern,” said Erika Sward, assistant vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. “But we can’t afford to be fooled again on another tobacco product.”

“The tobacco industry is always looking for new ways to get new people to smoke and use nicotine products and be hooked for life,” said Dr. Maria Rahmandar, medical director of the Substance Use and Prevention Program at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

PHOTO: A man holds a cigarette in his hand in Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 28, 2018.

So far, only one such device — made by one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris — has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Moira Gilchrist, vice president of strategic and scientific communications at Philip Morris, told ABC News that the company’s heated tobacco product “is not for youth at all.”

“We place a really high emphasis on making sure we’re selling a product only to the right people, and that we’re not attracting the wrong audience,” Gilchrist added.

Despite this sentiment, teens are still curious — and at risk.

While heated tobacco products only became legal in the United States in 2019, the device have already started to catch the attention of high school students. Nearly one in 10 of California’s 10th and 12th graders have heard of heated tobacco products, with the vast majority saying they first learned about them from the internet or social media, according to a study published in Pediatrics, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Although the survey found that less than 1% of California teens have actually used heated tobacco products, researchers are worried.

“Our concern is that this is a new product and the design is kind of slick,” the study’s co-author, Dr. Shu-Hong Zhu, who is also the director of the Center for Research and Intervention in Tobacco Control at the University of California, San Diego, told ABC News. “Our goal was to raise the alarm. We fear this might be like the new e-cigarettes.”

Almost one in five students surveyed said they would try heated tobacco products if offered to them by a friend. This number doubled for students who have already used e-cigarettes or vape devices, according to the study.

PHOTO: A man holds an iQOS electronic cigarette in Tokyo, Aug. 23, 2016. This product is heated (not burned) and consumed in battery-charged device, seeking to appeal to smokers who want their nicotine fix without the usual smell and smoke.

Heated tobacco products have been marketed as a better alternative to smoking, but the American Academy of Pediatrics warns the devices contain about the same amount of nicotine as traditional cigarettes and give off secondhand aerosol that is unsafe to breath.

“If someone is interested in quitting smoking there are ways that are safe and effective,” Sward said. “This is a product that is aimed at continuing someone’s addiction.”

Moreover, the devices also contain chemicals like carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas), acetone (the active ingredient in nail polish remover), ammonia (commonly used in household cleaners) and benzene (a component of gasoline).

“Any time [parents] or their children are inhaling these kinds or any type of chemicals into their lungs, they’re putting their health at risk,” Sward warned.

As teens head back to school this fall, experts are urging families to be aware of these new, dangerous products.

“Nicotine is just so powerful,” Rahmandar said. “There is no safe tobacco product. There is no safe nicotine product. These products are certainly not safe and harmless — especially to the developing brain.”

Chidimma J. Acholonu, M.D. M.P.H. is a pediatric resident physician at the University of Chicago and a contributor for the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Advancing the long-term well-being of people living with HIV

HIV

Since antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV was introduced in 1996, AIDS-related morbidity and mortality has declined significantly. People living with HIV are now expected to live nearly as long as people without HIV. Despite these advances, those living with HIV often report poor well-being and health-related quality of life.

To guide stakeholders in improving health system responses to achieve the best possible long-term health outcomes for people living with HIV, a global multidisciplinary group of HIV experts led by CUNY SPH Senior Scholar Jeffrey Lazarus and including Distinguished Professor Denis Nash and Associate Professor Diana Romero developed a consensus statement identifying the key issues health systems must address in order to move beyond the longtime emphasis on viral suppression to instead deliver integrated, person-centered healthcare for people living with HIV throughout their lives.

Following a rigorous, multi-stage Delphi process, the research team established a diverse panel of experts with expertise in the long-term health needs of people living with HIV. The panel reviewed the literature on multimorbidity and stigma and discrimination in order to identify priority issues to incorporate in the Delphi process to develop a consensus statement.

“An important strength of this consensus statement is that it was generated through this rigorous process, incorporating quantitative and qualitative data from experts from over 20 countries,” says Dr. Romero.

The panel found that multimorbidity, health-related quality of life, and stigma and discrimination continue to be major issues for people living with HIV, including those who have achieved viral suppression and in particular those from marginalized populations.

“These factors can lead to depression, social isolation and barriers in accessing health and support services,” says Dr. Lazarus, who is also associate professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. “Many of these issues are not currently addressed in HIV monitoring, strategies or guideline.”

‘There is ample evidence that addressing things like mental health, stigma reduction, quality of life, and in many settings, housing and food security, will also improve HIV outcomes like adherence to antiretroviral medications and viral suppression,” Dr. Nash says. “The field of HIV implementation science can play a key role in assessing the impact of strategies integrated into HIV service delivery to mitigate these issues.”

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Neonatal meningitis: The immaturity of microbiota and epithelial barriers implicated

Neonatal meningitis: the immaturity of microbiota and epithelial barriers implicated

Meningitis is associated with high mortality and frequently causes severe sequelae. Newborn infants are particularly susceptible to this type of infection; they develop meningitis 30 times more often than the general population. Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria are the most common cause of neonatal meningitis, but they are rarely responsible for disease in adults. Scientists from the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with Inserm, Université de Paris and Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital (AP-HP), set out to explain neonatal susceptibility to GBS meningitis. In a mouse model, they demonstrated that the immaturity of both the gut microbiota and epithelial barriers such as the gut and choroid plexus play a role in the susceptibility of newborn infants to bacterial meningitis caused by GBS. The findings were published in the journal Cell Reports on June 29, 2021.

Newborn infants are more likely to develop bacterial meningitis than children and adults. Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the pathogen responsible for a significant proportion of cases of neonatal meningitis. In most instances, infection is preceded by bacterial colonization of the gut. The commensal bacterial gut flora (known as the microbiota) plays a key physiological role, as it is involved in digestion, offers protection from gut pathogens and contributes to tissue differentiation and immune development. Newborns have no gut microbiota; it gradually develops in the first few weeks after birth.

In a new study, scientists from the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with Inserm, Université de Paris and Necker-Enfants malades Hospital (AP-HP), demonstrated in a mouse model that the immaturity of the gut microbiota in neonates is involved in neonatal susceptibility to meningitis caused by GBS. In the absence of a mature microbiota, the bacteria can extensively colonize the gut. In the absence of a mature microbiota, the barrier function of blood vessels in the gut that the bacteria must cross to reach the brain through the bloodstream is also less effective, and the immune system is unable to control infection.

Unexpectedly, the scientists also demonstrated that, independently of the microbiota, the epithelial barriers formed by the gut and the choroid plexus (the interface between the blood and the cerebrospinal fluid that irrigates the brain) are not entirely mature in newborns, which facilitates bacterial access to the brain. The signaling pathway known as the Wnt pathway, which is involved in tissue growth and differentiation, is more active in newborns, resulting in a less effective barrier function at the gut and choroid plexus levels in neonates.

“In this study, we show how two factors associated with infancy—the immaturity of the gut microbiota and the growth of gut and choroidal epithelial tissues—play a role in the susceptibility of newborn infants to meningitis caused by GBS, at all stages of infection from gut colonization to dissemination in the brain,” explains Marc Lecuit (university professor/hospital practitioner, Université de Paris and Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital), head of the Biology of Infection Unit at the Institut Pasteur and Inserm and last author of the study.

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The Best Ways To Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Popping on a pair of sunglasses may be a stylish way to see better during the summer, but your lenses may not offer the amount of protection that your eyes really need. Indeed, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV radiation can damage your eyes the same way that it can burn your skin. The problem is so prevalent that eyelid skin cancers make up between 5 and 10% of all skin cancer cases in the United States. In other words, it’s time to take a few extra steps this summer to make sure your whole body is protected.

Luckily, once you cultivate a few new habits, protecting your eyes can be pretty easy. Obviously, finding a good pair of sunglasses that offer full UVA and UVB reflection is the first step. The organization recommends that the glasses you choose block between 99 and 100% of harmful rays. If you’re not sure how much protection they provide, you can look for the Skin Cancer Foundation stamp of approval that ensures full-scale coverage. Plus, your sunglasses should have a permanent spot on your face even when the sun rests behind the clouds. As you may know from your sunscreen education, harmful rays can come through at any time of day — even when the sun isn’t shining. Keep your glasses on hand throughout the year, particularly between May and September.

Light also reflects off of water, snow and sand with nearly 80% of the damaging rays having enough strength to reach your skin, the outlet notes. If you’re close to these surfaces, take extra precautions.

Choose sunglasses that have anti-reflective properties

Once you’ve found your high-powered glasses that reflect nearly all of the damaging rays from the sun, you can add an extra layer of protection by finding a pair that has an anti-reflective coating on the back of the lenses. This combats a common issue that may damage your eyes. “Up to 50 percent of UV rays that reach the eyes come from reflection off the back surface of the lens,” Dr. Amanda Rights, an optometrist, explained to Healthline.

Essentially, having this reflective coating can make a big difference in your eye health. Plus, bigger may be better when it comes to sunglasses. “Wraparound-style glasses or surf-style glasses with larger temples or ‘arms’ block more than thin-framed glasses and help to protect you from the side,” Dr. Benjamin Bert, an ophthalmologist, told the outlet. “It is important to remember when you are out on the water, or other reflective surfaces, that you are getting exposed to the sun’s rays from above and those reflected from below. Having glasses that fit appropriately to protect you from multiple angles is important.”

But beyond your sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats can do the job as well. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that your hat should have at least a three-inch brim without any holes to fully protect your eyes and the surrounding skin. As you ascend in altitude, make sure to take better cover — the higher you go, the more intense the rays.

Armed with a good pair of sunglasses, a hat and awareness of the sun’s patterns, you’ll keep your eyes feeling good and looking great.

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The handshake went on hiatus during the pandemic. Some doctors hope it’s gone for good

handshake

As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re starting to see the return of an age-old ritual: the handshake.

Many of us went a year or more without clasping someone else’s hands. But as vaccination rates go up and social distancing restrictions fall, we’re starting to press the flesh again.

“I am shaking people’s hands when they offer it to me,” said Sheila Nezhad, a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis. Nezhad, who recently started in-person campaigning, has been exchanging fist bumps, elbow bumps and the traditional grip-and-grin, even though it was little disorienting at first to put ‘er there.

“It kind of felt like getting back on the bike after having not ridden one for a while,” she said.

Not everyone is happy that the handshake is making its way back. Though it’s a deeply ingrained way of expressing friendship and respect, some medical experts wish it were gone for good.

“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again, to be honest with you,” said White House health adviser Anthony Fauci back in April 2020. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

“It’s never been safe,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic physician and professor specializing in infectious diseases and vaccines.

Handshaking carries the risk of transmitting a host of undesirable conditions, including norovirus, food poisoning and “hand-borne transmission of fecal bacteria,” Poland said.

“We’re not talking about a minor issue,” he said. “Would you lick someone’s hand?”

Handshaking may have started as an ancient custom to demonstrate to a stranger that you had no weapon in your hand. But “you are, in fact, bearing at some level, a bioweapon” on your unwashed hand, Poland said.

“I’m not going to shake hands,” said Dr. Mark Sklansky, a professor and pediatric cardiologist at UCLA. “I think it’s really a bad habit.”

Sklansky campaigned against disease-spreading handshakes before COVID-19, writing articles like “Banning the Handshake From the Health Care Setting,” published by JAMA in 2014.

More recently he’s been writing songs for music videos, urging people not to shake on it. (Sample lyric: “Dear kindhearted friend, I know you mean well extending your hand when we meet. But let me be open. Please listen to me. I’d prefer not to shake when we greet.”)

We all seemed to agree to put a pause on handshaking during COVID-19.

“It’s unfortunate that we needed a pandemic to shake some sense into people on how disease is transmitted,” said Sklansky, who’s worried that the opportunity to kill the handshake is slipping through our fingers.

Recently, he’s been at social gatherings where “sure enough, people reach out to shake my hand.” (He won’t.)

Even if there weren’t a pandemic or colds or stomach flu to worry about, handshakes also carry the risk of a social gaffe.

Guides to giving a proper handshake make the maneuver sound as hard as mastering your golf stroke. Your grip should be firm. But not too firm. Don’t swing your hand too vigorously. Don’t offer a sweaty hand. No more than three pumps.

Get it wrong, and you could end up like Vice President Kamala Harris, who got grief for appearing to wipe her hand after shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House last month.

So much can go wrong with a handshake. You have to wonder why we bother.

Clasping or shaking hands as a symbol of friendship, trust and hospitality was practiced by Babylonian kings and ancient Romans and promoted by 18th-century Quakers as a more egalitarian greeting than bowing.

It’s become an international ritual of agreement, respect and congratulations in modern business, politics and sports.

“A handshake has always been our personal olive branch,” said Maralee McKee, founder of the Orlando-based Etiquette School of America.

While it’s clearly culturally ingrained, David Givens, an anthropologist and director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Wash., said our desire to shake on it may go deeper than protocol.

Our fellow primates—chimpanzees and gorillas—also reach out and touch their companions’ palms and fingertips. The surface of the hand is rich with nerve endings, making it “an information-gathering organ,” Givens said.

The handshake is literally the personal touch, formal and intimate at the same time.

Scientists studying “social chemosignaling” are trying to determine if shaking hands is one way in which we send subliminal chemical signals to each other, signals that help shape our behavior.

But right now, we are in a socially awkward time of handshake uncertainty, when some people are comfortable shaking hands and some are not.

“It’s about 50-50, maybe 55-45, with 55 being for handshaking,” McKee said.

In other words, you have to be on your toes socially to avoid making someone uncomfortable by offering a handshake or offending someone by refusing to accept one.

St. Paul-based etiquette expert Juliet Mitchell said that while the pandemic “didn’t kill the handshake, we’ve got to acknowledge not everything is back to business as usual.”

If you’re not comfortable accepting an offered handshake, McKee and Mitchell advise being ready to respond with a polite deferral.

Instead of recoiling, keep your hands to your side, maintain eye contact, smile, nod or slightly bow while saying something gracious like, “I’m currently not shaking hands, but it’s so very nice to meet you.”

Then just move on, and don’t over-apologize, Mitchell said.

If you want, you can offer an alternative gesture of greeting, which could range from a fist bump, an elbow bump, a namaste gesture or the wai gesture of Thailand. Movie fans could consider a Wakanda forever salute or a Vulcan “live long and prosper” greeting.

McKee advocates what she calls the social distance greeting, which involves placing the palm of your right hand on your chest slightly above your heart with your fingertips touching your collar bone while smiling and looking the other person in the eye.

These hands-free alternatives are almost certainly likely to be more hygienic than the traditional handshake. Experiments have shown that handshakes transfer more bacteria than fist bumps or even high-fives, and that the longer and firmer the handshake, the more bugs are exchanged.

Sklansky is convinced that even long-held cultural norms can change over time if we realize how unhealthy they are. (He points out that smoking used to be a common practice among doctors.)

“It’s not an easy task” to stop handshaking, he said. “But I’m not going to give up.”

For his part, Givens said that in the future, we may find polite ways to apply Purell after meeting someone, but he’s confident we’ll keep shaking hands.

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Fibromyalgia likely the result of autoimmune problems

Fibromyalgia likely the result of autoimmune problems

New research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the Karolinska Institute, has shown that many of the symptoms in fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) are caused by antibodies that increase the activity of pain-sensing nerves throughout the body.

The results show that fibromyalgia is a disease of the immune system, rather than the currently held view that it originates in the brain.

The study, published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrates that the increased pain sensitivity, muscle weakness, reduced movement, and reduced number of small nerve-fibers in the skin that are typical of FMS, are all a consequence of patient antibodies.

The researchers injected mice with antibodies from people living with FMS and observed that the mice rapidly developed an increased sensitivity to pressure and cold, as well as displaying reduced movement grip strength. In contrast, mice that were injected with antibodies from healthy people were unaffected, demonstrating that patient antibodies cause, or at least are a major contributor to the disease.

Furthermore, the mice injected with fibromyalgia antibodies recovered after a few weeks, when antibodies had been cleared from their system. This finding strongly suggests that therapies which reduce antibody levels in patients are likely to be effective treatments. Such therapies are already available and are used to treat other disorders that are caused by autoantibodies.

Dr. David Andersson, the study’s primary investigator from King’s IoPPN said “The implications of this study are profound. Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform how we view the condition and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected. Our work has uncovered a whole new area of therapeutic options and should give real hope to fibromyalgia patients.

“Previous exploration of therapies has been hampered by our limited understanding of the illness. This should now change. Treatment for FMS is focussed on gentle aerobic exercises, as well as drug and psychological therapies designed to manage pain, although these have proven ineffective in most patients and have left behind an enormous unmet clinical need.”

Current estimates suggest that at least 1 in 40 people are affected by FMS worldwide (80% of which are women) and is commonly characterized by widespread pain throughout the body, as well as fatigue (often referred to as ‘fibro fog’) and emotional distress. It most commonly develops between the ages of 25 and 55, although children can also get it.

Dr. Andreas Goebel, the study’s principle clinical investigator from the University of Liverpool said, “When I initiated this study in the UK, I expected that some fibromyalgia cases may be autoimmune. But David’s team have discovered pain-causing antibodies in each recruited patient. The results offer amazing hope that the invisible, devastating symptoms of fibromyalgia will become treatable.”

Professor Camilla Svensson, the study’s primary investigator from Karolinska Institute said, “Antibodies from people with FMS living in two different countries, the UK and Sweden, gave similar results, which adds enormous strength to our findings. The next step will be to identify what factors the symptom-inducing antibodies bind to. This will help us not only in terms of developing novel treatment strategies for FMS, but also of blood-based tests for diagnosis, which are missing today.

Dr. Craig Bullock, Research Discovery and Innovations Lead at Versus Arthritis said “Fibromyalgia affects millions of people in the UK and can have a devastating impact on quality of life. It causes pain all over the body, fatigue, disturbed sleep and regular flare-ups where symptoms get even worse.

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The role of newly introduced lineages in COVID-19 resurgence

COVID

Following the first wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections in spring 2020, Europe experienced a resurgence of the virus starting late summer. Although it appears clear that travel had a significant impact on the circulation of the virus, it remains challenging to assess how it may have restructured and reignited the epidemic in the different European countries.

In a new study published in the journal Nature this June 30th, 2021, Philippe Lemey—Rega Institute, KU Leuven, Simon Dellicour—SpELL, Spatial Epidemiology Lab, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and their collaborators, built a phylogeographic model to assess how newly introduced viral lineages, as opposed to persisting ones, contributed to the resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. Their model was informed using epidemiological, mobility, and viral genomic data from ten European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, Switzerland).

Their analyses show that in the majority of the countries under investigation, more than half of the lineages circulating at the end of the summer resulted from new introductions since June 15. The researchers also show that the success of transmission of the newly introduced lineages was predicted by the local incidence of COVID-19: in countries that experienced a relatively higher summer incidence (e.g. Spain, Portugal, Belgium and France), the introduction events led to proportionately fewer active transmission chains after August 15.

For instance, their results also indicate that introductions in the UK were particularly successful in establishing local transmission chains, with a considerable fraction of introductions originating from Spain.

“Imagine a fire: if there are already quite a few outbreaks in a forest, lighting a few more will not change the fate of the forest; the fire will spread anyway. On the opposite, if there are only a few sporadic fire spots, then lighting new ones can accelerate and increase the violence of the overall fire to come” explains Dellicour—author of the article, FNRS Research Associate at the ULB.

These results illustrate the threat of viral spread via international travel, a threat that must be carefully considered by strategies to control the current spread of variants that are more transmissible and/or evade immunity.

The pandemic exit strategy offered by vaccination programs is a source of optimism that also sparked proposals by EU member states to issue vaccine passports in a bid to revive travel and rekindle the economy. In addition to implementation challenges and issues of fairness, there are risks associated with such strategies when immunization is incomplete, as likely will be the case for the European population this summer.

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Feedback activity in the visual cortex is necessary for the perception of objects

visual information

An important function of vision is to segregate relevant figures from the irrelevant background. A visual stimulus drives a cascade of neural activity from low-level to higher level visual brain areas. The higher areas also provide feedback to the lower areas, where figures elicit more activity than the background, as if figures in the brain are highlighted with extra activity. Researchers from the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience (NIN) have now showed that feedback causes the extra neuronal activity in low-level areas and that the extra activity is essential for figure-ground perception. The findings were published in Science Advances on the 30th June.

Silencing the brain with light to change perception

The primary visual cortex, also known as V1, is the first cortical brain area that receives visual information from the eyes and sends the information on to ‘higher’ brain areas for further processing. The research team, led by Pieter Roelfsema and Matthew Self, used optogenetics, a technique using light to silence nerve cells, in V1 in mice who had been trained to detect visual stimuli.

Disrupting the conversation between brain areas renders objects invisible

Critically, the researchers silenced only the late part of V1’s response, allowing V1 to pass the visual information on to higher areas but preventing the feedback from higher areas back to V1. The result was dramatic and surprising: “When we allowed V1 to activate the higher areas, but curtailed feedback, mice only detected simple stimuli, but not stimuli on a complex background. This shows that feedback to V1 is necessary for figure-ground segregation” explained Lisa Kirchberger, the lead researcher on the project.

The researchers then silenced activity in the higher visual areas and found that it reduced the enhanced activity elicited by figures. “The results show that higher visual areas send information about objects back to V1 in the form of feedback. V1 and the higher areas are engaged in a conversation and if we disrupt the conversation by silencing V1 we can render objects invisible.”

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These Are The Worst Colors You Can Wear During The Summer

When summer roles around, everyone is excited to change our their seasonal wardrobes and pull out their summer looks. While we are all too ecstatic about outdoor lunches, long walks through the park at night, and even those rooftop bars, we don’t always consider what we will wear to each activity. As it comes with summer, the heat can be truly killer for many of us. Too much time in the heat and the sun can cause us to feel exhausted and even sweat more than normal (via Men’s Health). 

That’s why picking the right color and the right outfit is crucial to having our summertime fun. The outfit is important, yes, but the color is even more critical. We don’t want to pick colors that will leave us in a bad light or a bad way. Therefore, avoiding certain colors when out and about is super important during the summer. Even as important as ordering the right summertime cocktail! 

Don't wear these colors during the summer

It’s pretty well known that wearing black in the summer is a bad idea. Wearing black during the summertime is guaranteed to make you feel run down and hot. This is because black clothing is known to absorb more heat (via NPR). When you’re absorbing that heat, you’re going to feel sweaty, sluggish, and overall bad. This can totally ruin your day or night out, and can even cause things like heatstroke if you’re out in the sun and heat for too long (via Mayo Clinic). 

Wearing lighter colors is a better idea, but you also want to avoid things that are too light like gray. Gray is known to be the “least forgiving” color during the summer. As Simplemost points out, light and dark gray shirts and even dresses show the most sweat stains during the summertime months. The last thing you want is to be out with friends taking pictures and get tagged in a photo where you have huge, wet sweat stains on your shirt! 

The best color for the summer? White. This light and breezy shade doesn’t showcase sweat or cause you to overheat (via Leaf.tv). Win!

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