Coronavirus: Indian 'Delta' variant may raise hospital risk, Public Health England warns - Godz
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Coronavirus: Indian ‘Delta’ variant may raise hospital risk, Public Health England warns

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The Indian ‘Delta’ variant appears to be twice as likely to lead to hospital admissions as the Kent strain, Public Health England said today as it announced another 5,472 cases of the virus. 

PHE confirmed the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January.

There have been a total of 12,431 confirmed infections with the variant, known to scientists as B1617.2, and 94 people were admitted to hospital with it last week. The report said the risk of being admitted to hospital could increase by as much as 2.6 times over the Kent variant, and people may be 70 per cent more likely to go to A&E. 

That count of hospital admissions was double the week before, when 201 people went to A&E and 43 were admitted overnight. PHE said: ‘The majority of these had not been vaccinated.’

Vaccines still appear to work against the strain, PHE said, although it was concerned that a single dose could be up to 20 per cent less effective than it was against the Kent variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘Please come forward to be vaccinated and make sure you get your second jab. It will save lives.’

Seventeen people are confirmed to have died from the mutant strain by May 23. Of these, 11 were un-vaccinated, three had received one dose, two had both doses and it could not be established whether one individual had received a vaccine.

This Public Health England graph shows how the number of cases of the Indian variant (dark green line) has exploded since it was first found, spreading faster than any other strain did over the same time after its discovery 

The PHE report showed that the proportion of cases being caused by the Indian variant has rocketed in all regions of the country.

It is highest in the North West where nearly 100 per cent of cases are being caused by the strain.

Officials have become more confident that the variant has a ‘substantially increased growth rate’ compared to the Kent strain and that they have data ‘supporting a reduction in vaccine effectiveness’.

They estimated that one dose of a jab was about 15 to 20 per cent less effective against the strain than against the Kent variant, but that two doses appeared to still work well. 

But they admitted to ‘a high level of uncertainty around the magnitude of the change in vaccine effectiveness after 2 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.’ 

Dr Harries added: ‘With this variant now dominant across the UK, it remains vital that we continue to exercise caution particularly while we learn more about transmission and health impacts.

‘The way to tackle variants is to use the same measures to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 we have used before. Work from home where you can, and practise hands, face, space, fresh air at all times.

‘If you are eligible and have not already done so, please come forward to be vaccinated and make sure you get your second jab. It will save lives.’

The effectiveness of vaccines protecting against people appears clearly evident in data in PHE’s report. Of 9,427 recorded cases of the variant between February 1 and May 31, only 267 had had two doses of a jab (2.8 per cent). Another 1,364 (14.5 per cent) had protection from a single vaccine dose, meaning eight out of 10 cases were unvaccinated or unknown.

Just two out of 17 people who died were fully vaccinated and a vast majority of people admitted to hospital with the virus were unvaccinated.

Bolton remains the hotspot for cases of the Delta strain, with 2,149 cases recorded so far by PHE, followed by 724 in Blackburn with Darwen. Both remain among the places with the highest infection rates in the country.

PHE said: ‘There are encouraging signs that the transmission rate in Bolton has begun to fall and that the actions taken by residents and local authority teams have been successful in reducing spread.’

The PHE report showed that the proportion of cases being caused by the Indian variant has rocketed in all regions of the country. It is highest in the North West where nearly 100 per cent of cases are being caused by the strain

PHE confirmed the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January

The effectiveness of vaccines protecting against people appears clearly evident in data in PHE’s report. Of 9,427 recorded cases of the variant between February 1 and May 31, only 267 had had two doses of a jab (2.8 per cent)

Public Health England’s weekly Covid report found cases are on the up in every region of England and every age group with the biggest spike seen in people in their 20s.

The weekly figures mark an inevitable rise in infections that scientists and ministers knew would happen once lockdown rules were ended, but come alongside fears that the Indian variant is close to triggering a third wave.

PORTUGAL REMOVED FROM GREEN LIST AS ‘NEPAL VARIANT’ ALREADY FOUND IN UK

Holidaymakers suffered a hammer blow today as Portugal was removed from the UK’s green list, with Grant Shapps citing fears over the spread of the new Nepal variant.

In a brutal overhaul, the only major tourist destination in the lowest bracket is being axed from 4am Tuesday – with sources suggesting the new strain identified in the country was a significant factor in the decision.

No countries are being added to the ‘green list’, dashing hopes that places such as Malta, Jamaica and Grenada could be added to the roster thanks to easing Covid rates.

And more countries are being put on the ‘red list’ that means returning travellers must go into quarantine hotels. They are Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Bahrain, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago and Afghanistan.

Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said there had been a rise in test positivity in Portugal, and also pointed to the danger that the coronavirus variant linked to Nepal could pose a fresh threat to the escape from lockdown.

‘I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end we’ve seen two things really which caused concern,’ he said.

‘One is the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation, and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.’

At least 43 cases of the strain, which combines mutations from the Indian and South African versions, have been spotted in the UK. And a case has been identified in Portugal – which does far less genomic screening than Britain.

The decision sparked fury from the travel industry, while Portuguese government branded it ‘illogical’ and the MP for the Algarve Cristóvão Norte said it was ‘unfair’ and ‘overly cautious’.

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Ministers remain tight-lipped about whether social distancing will be allowed to end on June 21 as planned, but Matt Hancock said there was a ‘good sign’ that vaccinated people were making up only a minority of hospital admissions.

The Health Secretary said the government is keeping a close eye on daily case levels but stressed what ‘really matters’ is how many people end up in hospital and die from the disease and how well the jabs keep numbers down.

He also appealed for the public to be patient, warning it is still ‘too early’ to say whether the planned ‘freedom day’ can go ahead.

One of the scientists most closely tracking the UK’s outbreak, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London and the Covid Symptom Study, changed his tuned after an optimistic start to the week, saying lockdown should only be ‘softened’ rather than ended. On Tuesday he had said ‘vaccines work’ and appeared to back lifting restrictions. 

Professor Spector’s study estimated there had been an 80 per cent spike in the number of people developing Covid symptoms each day, from 2,550 on May 22 to 4,608 last week. He warned of ‘the start of an epidemic in the young’.

The PHE report showed that, in the last week of May, the positive test rate shot up by 63 per cent in the North West of England and by 65 per cent in people aged 20 to 29. It also rose 74 per cent in the South East but remained at lower levels than most other regions.

Younger adults and teenagers saw the worst increases in cases while the rise in older generations was slower, offering promise that the vaccines are protecting the most at-risk from getting infected with the virus.

Mr Hancock’s comments came ahead of a G7 health ministers’ meeting in Oxford, where they are expected to discuss the threat from variants after it emerged there is another one first seen in Nepal that is already in England.

Today’s PHE report showed infection rates had risen in 112 areas of England in the week ending June 1 and come down in only 37, showing the country’s outbreak as a whole is growing.

This aligns with figures from NHS Test & Trace and the Covid Symptom Study, which both noticed a spike in the numbers of people catching the virus in their most recent reports.

Growing numbers suggest the virus is not contained only to hotspots, but some areas and groups are worse affected than others.

By far the highest infection rate is in the North West of England – home to Indian ‘Delta’ variant hotspots Bolton and Blackburn – where there were 87 positive tests for every 100,000 people last week, up 63 per cent in a week.

Second ranked is Yorkshire & The Humber, with a rate of 39 per 100,000, followed by London (31), East Midlands (24), North East (24), West Midlands (23), South East (23), East Anglia (21) and the South West (9).

The biggest week-on-week rises were in the South East (74 per cent), the North West (63 per cent), the West Midlands (44 per cent) and London (34 per cent). 

Between age groups, the 65 per cent spike to 52 cases per 100,000 among 20-somethings was the worst increase. The highest rate was in 10 to 19-year-olds, at 72 per 100,000.

This week’s Public Health England report showed infection rates are highest among teenagers (dark blue) in most regions, although it is less clear in the South West. Cases are rising in most age groups in most regions now that lockdown rules have ended

The number of Britons getting ill with Covid has increased by 80 per cent in a week, according to the ZOE and King’s College London study. It estimated there were 4,608 new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK last week, up from 2,550 the week before

While young age groups saw big week-on-week surges in the positive test rate, ranging from 29 to 65 per cent for people between 10 and 50, growth was much slower in older groups, with only a 14 per cent rise in over-80s and 19 per cent among people in their 70s.

Rates were significantly lower among the elderly groups, too – just five cases per 100,000, 10 times lower than in people in their 20s.

Mr Hancock said: ‘It’s too early to say what the decision will be about step four of the road map, which is scheduled to be no earlier than June 21.

‘Of course I look at those data every day, we publish them every day, the case numbers matter but what really matters is how that translates into the number of people going to hospital, the number of people sadly dying.

‘The vaccine breaks that link – the question is how much the link has yet been broken because the majority of people who ended up in hospital are not fully vaccinated.

‘That’s a good sign if you like because it means that the vaccine is clearly protecting people from ending up in hospital but it also demonstrates that we need to keep going with this vaccine programme.’  

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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California marijuana dispensary offers products for just ONE CENT to anyone with Covid vaccine card

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A central California cannabis dispensary is offering selected products for only one penny for any customer who shows a valid COVID-19 vaccine card as rates fall across the state.

The 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center in Contra Costa County – 40 miles west of Dan Francisco – started its promotion last week, reported the Los Angeles Times.

As of Thursday, the dispensary reports that more than 400 people have already taken advantage of the discount.

It comes as daily vaccination rates decline across the state and the country, falling by 54 percent in California and 75 percent in the U.S. – making it unlikely President Joe Biden will meet his goal to at least partially vaccinate 70 percent of adults by Independence Day. 

 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center is offering cannabis products for only one penny for customers who show proof they have been vaccinated

‘We wanted to offer our platform to help the state achieve their goal of immunity against COVID-19,’ Zee Handoush, executive director of 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center, said in a statement. 

‘We saw other local businesses offering vaccine incentives, and we wanted to add cannabis to that growing list.’

The business said they are offering products in the $20 to $30 range for only $0.01 if proof of vaccination is shown.

Ben Grambergu, marketing director of the dispensary, believes the effort is already helping get more people in the community vaccinated.

‘It does seem to be moving the needle,’ he told the Times. 

‘I think it actually is helping get some of these folks in the cannabis community.’

The dispensary joins a wider effort by private companies and state governments around the country offering incentives to Americans who get vaccinated.

Krispy Kreme was the first company to make national headlines with an incentive for Americans to vaccinated, in which it offered one free donut every day to anyone who showed proof of vaccination.

CVS Health later joined, holding a massive sweepstakes for anyone who got vaccinated at pharmacy locations, including cash, cruises and other trips.

Some state governments have offered vaccine lotteries, including California.

Last week, Gov Gavin Newsom drew the first winner of the state’s $50,00 vaccine lottery, which is eligible to all Californians who have received the shots

The efforts come as vaccine demand has fallen in recent weeks. 

In The Golden State, health department data shows a 54 percent drop from 284,000 per day last month to 129,000 per day. 

Across the U.S., more than 20 million vaccines were distributed in the first week of April, while only about five million doses have been given out in the past seven days, a drop in demand of 75 percent. 

Despite the drop, California is currently outpacing the rest of the nation with its vaccine rollout. 

About 56 percent of Californians have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to official state data, compared to about 52 percent of the national population, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Contra Costa County is about even with the rest of the state, with 57 percent of the population having been vaccinated so far.

Case rates in Contra Costa County have sharply fallen since the reached their peak over winter

The county has largely controlled its COVID situation since a spike over winter as well.

More than 100 new cases in one day have nor been recorded since April, a success for a county that has over 1.1 million people.

Cases around the state have been on a steady decline as well, and the state is now averaging around 1,000 cases a day over the past week. 

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: The free bowel cancer test kit in the post that could save your life

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A little gift from the NHS arrived through my letterbox this week. It contained a small plastic vial with a tiny brush and an invitation to post them a sample.

The ‘gift’ is in fact a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and is part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme. 

And while it might not be everyone’s idea of a great present, I was delighted, as this test can be a lifesaver.

You use the kit to collect a very small sample of poo and then post it to the NHS (it provides a stamped addressed envelope). 

The ‘gift’ is in fact a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and is part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme

The sample will be tested for signs of blood and if these are detected, you may be asked to have further tests. It is a cheap and effective way of doing mass screening and I’m a big fan.

Bowel cancer is very common — but also very treatable, if caught early. But if it’s missed it is often fatal — 16,000 people die from it in the UK every year; it is the second most common cause of cancer death, after lung cancer.

I’ve known people who’ve had bowel cancer, including Lynn Faulds Wood, the former BBC Watchdog presenter, who died last year at the age of 72.

Although it tends to occur in people over the age of 50, thanks to junk food and rising obesity rates, it’s increasingly striking younger people. Rates are rising in the under-40s, but falling in older groups, thanks to screening.

In the UK, anyone aged 60 or over is automatically sent an at-home testing kit in the post (although of course whatever your age, if you have symptoms such as persistent changes in your bowel habits, talk to your GP about testing).

J ust how effective it is was confirmed in a recent study by Exeter University, where they offered the FIT kit to everyone over 50 with suspicious symptoms and found that of the 3,890 patients checked, 618 had traces of blood in their samples, and further tests revealed that 43 had bowel cancer.

Further tests generally means having a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy — basically a camera on the end of a flexible tube inserted via your rectum. I had this done six years ago, as part of a documentary I was making, that explored which medical screening tests are worth having. Bowel cancer screening got the thumbs up, so I agreed to give it a go, with a camera crew recording every moment.

Apart from the mild embarrassment of being filmed while it happened, the procedure was fast and painless. It helped that Maggie Vance, the nurse, was hugely enthusiastic about her work.

Things started well, but on the way out she found a polyp, a small growth on the wall of my guts.

‘This is nothing to worry about, but I am going to remove it and then send it to the lab anyway,’ Maggie told me, reassuringly. Even so, I was a little concerned.

I’ve known people who’ve had bowel cancer, including Lynn Faulds Wood, the former BBC Watchdog presenter, who died last year at the age of 72

Fortunately, like most polyps, it was benign, but around 3 per cent become cancerous.

The point of bowel cancer screening is to pick up cancers before they spread. But what can you do to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer in the first place? 

The main risk factors include: being over 50; a family history of the disease; or a history of non-cancerous growths (i.e. polyps) in your bowel; and longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s; or type 2 diabetes.

If you’re overweight, losing a few inches round the waist can really help, as it reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes and because excess fat, particularly round the middle, means higher rates of inflammation, which can lead to cancer.

And eating plenty of fibre-rich food, such as wholegrains and vegetables, helps as it has an anti-inflammatory effect. There is also some evidence that cutting back on processed meat, such as bacon and sausages, may help, though benefits are likely to be modest.

In a study by Oxford University, which looked at the eating habits of almost half a million people aged 40 to 69 for six years, 2,609 people developed bowel cancer, with those who ate larger amounts of red or processed meat being at higher risk than those who didn’t.

In the low red/processed meat group, 40 people per 10,000 went on to develop bowel cancer, while among those who regularly ate 76g or more a day of red or processed meat (the equivalent of a couple of slices of bacon or ham), the bowel cancer rate was 48 per 10,000. In other words, eating red or processed meat every day appeared to raise your risk of bowel cancer over six years by 0.08 per cent. Chicken or fish didn’t have any effect.

My wife Clare and I have largely given up bacon and are cutting back on the red meat, but that is mainly for ethical and environmental reasons.

If you want to avoid bowel cancer your best bet is take part in regular, free screening. I’m about to stick my sample in the post and hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, get the all-clear. Otherwise, I will probably be asked back for another sigmoidoscopy, though this time without a film crew in tow. The nation sighs in relief!

Nine steps to turn yourself into an early bird 

As a medical student I used to envy the owls, people who could stay up partying to the small hours. My wife, Clare, is one, and it’s very hard to drag her away from late-night events.

I, on the other hand, like to be in bed by 11pm, then wake up at around 7am, when I cheerfully drag Clare out of bed.

Whether you’re a lark or owl is partly down to age (we tend to get more larkish as we get older) and genes. Tests have shown that I have a number of ‘lark’ genes and now it seems those genes might be protecting my mental health.

That, at least, was the conclusion of a recent study of 840,000 people by Harvard University, which found that those with genes that predispose them to getting up early had lower rates of depression. Another study, reported in the Mail, involving 450,000 Brits, found the same. It may be that because larks get up early we get far more exposure to morning light, which can improve mood. Or it could be that owls experience higher rates of depression because they’re struggling in a world where they are expected to get up at what, to them, is an ungodly hour.

So what can an owl do? Either find a way of life that allows you late lie-ins — or turn yourself into a lark. In a fascinating study from Monash University in Australia, owls did just that, and were able to get up happily two hours earlier. All it took was following these nine simple rules:

1. Wake up at 7am every day.

2. Get plenty of morning light.

3. Have an early breakfast.

4. Only exercise in the morning.

5. Avoid all caffeine after 4pm.

6. Avoid having a nap after 4pm.

7. Avoid bright lights during the evening.

8. Head to bed by 11pm.

9. Stick to this regimen for three weeks.

Yes, nasty wasps really are the good guys 

June and July are when wasp nests are at their busiest and the little predators emerge with but one goal in mind: to sting me.

But Seirian Sumner, a professor of behavioural ecology at University College London, thinks they’re unfairly demonised and that ‘wasps could be as valuable as other beloved insects such as bees, if only we gave them more of a chance’.

In a recent paper she and her colleagues point out that wasps kill aphids and caterpillars that damage crops. And, like bees, they pollinate plants, with some completely dependent on wasps for this — indeed one orchid species has evolved parts that mimic the back end of a female wasp, presumably to attract more of the fellas.

On top of that, wasp venom has antibiotic properties and venom from the yellowjacket wasp has shown promise in treating cancer. I’ll try to keep those good things in mind the next time I’m tempted to swat them with a newspaper…

June and July are when wasp nests are at their busiest and the little predators emerge with but one goal in mind: to sting me

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Over 60% of COVID-19 patients who die have muscle inflammation, German autopsy study finds

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The majority of coronavirus patients who die have muscle inflammation – sometimes very severely- a new study suggests.

Researchers performed autopsies on 43 patients who passed away with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

Of that group, they found that six in 10 had weakness, swelling and redness of their skeletal muscle tissue  – and it was much more evident in patients who were chronically ill. 

The team, from the Charite-Universitatsmedizin in Berlin, Germany, says this inflammation is very different from that seen in organs such as lungs, heart and kidneys, and could explain why people with muscle injuries are more likely to die from COVID-19 and why survivors have long-term weakness. 

In a new inflammation, more than 60% of the COVID-19 patients had evidence of skeletal muscle tissue inflammation (left)

On a scale of zero to four, the non-virus patients had an average inflammation score of one while the COVID-19 patients had an average score of 3.5 (left and right)

Previous studies have found that COVID-19 patients with skeletal muscle injuries were more likely to have serious illnesses and/or death.

Additionally, as many as two-thirds of survivors of COVID-19 experience fatigue or muscle weakness, or muscle pain.

While it is well-known the damage that the virus causes to the major organs, few muscle biopsies have been performed to assess their damage.

For the study, published in JAMA Network Open, team looked at 54 patients who died between March 2020 and February 2021.

Among the deceased patients, 43 had tested positive for COVID-19 and 11 were diagnosed with other diseases.

Autopsies were performed on all the patients and, during that process, skeletal muscle tissue samples were analyzed.  

Muscles looked at included quadriceps, large muscle at the front of the thigh, and deltoid muscles, a large, triangular muscle that spans the upper arm and the shoulder.

Results showed that 60 percent of the coronavirus patients had died with muscle inflammation. 

This was determined by the presence of MHC class I antigens, which are molecules that alert the immune system to cells have been infected with a virus.

Nest, the team compared the coronavirus patients to the non-virus patients.

On a scale of zero to four, the control patients had an average inflammation score of one while the COVID-19 patients had an average score of 3.5.

What’s more, there was greater evidence of muscle inflammation that heart inflammation suggesting that myocarditis is a rare complication.

‘In this case-control study of patients who had died with and without COVID-19, most individuals with severe COVID-19 showed signs of myositis ranging from mild to severe,’ the authors wrote.

‘Inflammation of skeletal muscles was associated with the duration of illness and was more pronounced than cardiac inflammation  

‘This suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may be associated with a post-infectious, immune-mediated myopathy.’

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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