Researchers analyze prehistoric viruses in animals dug out from the Siberian permafrost.
- Scientists in a Siberian laboratory in Russia began studying ancient viruses.
- The viruses come from prehistoric animals dug out from the melting permafrost.
- The research lab used to be a center for the development of biological weapons.
The world's only known woolly mammoth trunk.
Credit: Semyon Grigoryev/NEFU
The positive steps we are taking to prevent disease might have a negative side effect.
- A new study out of Princeton suggests that measures to prevent COVID-19 are also preventing certain other diseases.
- The nature of seasonal diseases means that people who avoid them this year may just be putting it off, leading to a large wave later.
- These estimates don't mean we should be less preventive now, only that we must be sure to take care in the future.
Why you should still wear a mask<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc3NDYzNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzc1ODM1Nn0.UNIHh2X2AtR6fq_fhAwejphFKIOY9J3lGFWgDf-R6oE/img.jpg?width=980" id="d681e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1dc1e7ee8c2f01ac128b4b48c1675510" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="960" data-height="1280" />
A chart from another study on the effectiveness of masks and lockdowns. The grey line in the bottom two marks when mask mandates were imposed.
Credit: Zhang, Li, Zhang, and Molina<p><br>Again, before you decide that this means mask mandates are just delaying some kind of reckoning, we can look at the numbers. Several <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/07/coronavirus-deadlier-than-many-believed-infection-fatality-rate-cvd/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sources</a> agree <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that</a> the <a href="https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-disease-2019-vs-the-flu" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">coronavirus</a> is <a href="https://www.livescience.com/covid-19-vs-flu-deaths-hospitalized-patients.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deadlier</a> than <a href="https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/flu-kills-more-people-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the </a><a href="https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/flu-kills-more-people-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flu</a><a href="https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/flu-kills-more-people-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">.</a> We also don't have a vaccine for it yet, unlike for the flu, and keeping yourself and others from getting sick now remains extremely important for keeping people alive. </p><p> A friend of mine remarked at the beginning of the pandemic that certain events in society leave marks on the people in it, much like growth rings on a tree showing years of drought decades after it occurred. If the findings of this study are accurate, then COVID-19 will leave rings visible in seasonal outbreaks over the next few years alongside the slew of others it will create. <br></p><p>Given what this study shows us and the hard-learned lessons we have about what happens when you don't listen to scientists, maybe we'll do a better job at controlling those potential epidemics.</p>
The program aims to notify people after they've come in close contact with someone who tested positive.
- The program currently involves 25,000 contract tracers who are capable of tracing 10,000 contacts per day.
- Participation in the program is voluntary, though officials said it may become mandatory if necessary.
- The program will eventually include a smartphone app that records who you've come in close proximity to.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / Getty<p>Hancock said the program will be voluntary at first, but that the government will make it mandatory if "that's what it takes."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If we don't collectively make this work, the only way forward is to keep the lockdown," he said. "The more people who follow the instructions, the safer we can be and the faster we can lift the lockdown."</p><p>The NHS wants people who are experiencing symptoms to visit <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/" target="_blank">nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19</a>. The agency also wants to automate its Test and Trace program through the <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2020/05/27/nhs-app-covid-19-uk-coronavirus-track-trace/" target="_blank">NHS COVID-19 app</a>, which is currently being tested by more than 52,000 people on the Isle of Wight. If the test on the Isle of Wight is successful, the app is expected to be available for the rest of England in June.</p>
How the contact-tracing app works<p>The app doesn't ask for names or personal information, except for a partial postal code. Rather, each user's phone is assigned a randomized identifier number that's transmitted to a centralized database. The app doesn't do much else, besides ask users how they're feeling each day.</p><p>Other governments have already been using digital contact tracing apps to limit the spread of COVID-19. South Korea, for example, made a tracing app mandatory for new arrivals to the country, and people who violate quarantine are required to wear location-tracking bracelets. As of May 29, South Korea has reported less than 300 deaths. The U.K. has suffered <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-casualties/uks-covid-19-death-toll-tops-40000-worst-in-europe-idUSKBN22O16T" target="_blank">more than 40,000</a>.</p>
Privacy concerns<p>Manual contact tracing has been used for decades to help contain viruses — the NHS describes it as a "tried and tested method used to slow down the spread of infectious diseases." But the prospect of digital contact tracing has <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/28/contact-tracing-apps-can-help-stop-coronavirus-they-can-hurt-privacy/" target="_blank">raised concerns for privacy advocates</a> who question how governments and private companies might use the technology. </p><p>Speaking about the new NHS app, Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), told <a href="https://www.wired.co.uk/article/nhs-covid-19-tracking-app-contact-tracing" target="_blank">Wired U.K.</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In theory, that's a privacy risk, but it's only stored on the NHS app system and there's no way to link device 123456 to 'Ian Levy' or a particular place," Levy said. "If you discover that my app ID is 123456, there are some theoretical things you can do to try to understand my contacts if you've followed me round. But if you've followed me round, you've probably seen my contacts anyway."</p><p>In the U.S., federal officials haven't indicated that they're developing a national contact-tracing app. But several states — <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/05/20/alabama-north-dakota-and-south-carolina-to-debut-apple-and-googles-covid-19-contact-tracing/#4147ac591732" target="_blank">Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina</a> — are working individually with Apple and Google to implement their own contact-tracing apps. </p><p>Similar to the NHS app, Apple and Google's system uses Bluetooth signals to record when users come in close proximity with each other. The companies said their system won't collect users' personal information. </p><p><span></span>Apple and Google develop the contact-tracing apps themselves. Rather, they've made the technology available so that individual health agencies to do so. In addition to the three U.S. states, <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/05/20/alabama-north-dakota-and-south-carolina-to-debut-apple-and-googles-covid-19-contact-tracing/#49f900e1732e" target="_blank">22 countries have also signed on to use Apple and Google's system.</a></p>
Creators of the popular protein-folding game, Foldit, are seeking help to design a treatment for COVID-19.
- Since being founded in 2008, the crowdsourced protein-folding game, Foldit, has helped solve many novel problems.
- In recent months, the Foldit team has presented its community with problems relating to COVID-19.
- Foldit founder, David Baker, says over 20,000 different designs for potential COVID-19 antiviral proteins have been submitted.
Foldit Lab Report 7: Quarantine Edition<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7d7e9081ebec48e1d95fd8ac4b7a53a1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fbvvunp_wPY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While most Americans are self-isolating, which certainly helps stop the spread of COVID-19, Baker is asking Foldit gamers to help hunt for proteins that could stop the virus in its tracks. They're specifically seeking proteins that block the viruses's entry into new cells upon entering the human body. If successful, new antiviral drugs could be developed that would reduce the symptoms once you're infected. </p><p>Brian Koepnick, who works in Baker's lab and helps run Foldit, <a href="https://www.hhmi.org/news/citizen-scientists-are-helping-researchers-design-new-drugs-to-combat-covid-19" target="_blank">says</a> the diversity of responses they receive to problems posed is a necessary step in discovering new solutions. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We find that the creativity of crowdsourcing is really, really useful—if you ask 100 people to do something, they'll do it in 100 different ways. That's really valuable for us in protein design problems."</p><p>As COVID-19 plagues the entire planet, driving fear and uncertainty in citizens, at least there is precedent for this disease. We know that this type of virus infects cells through its spike protein, which latches onto certain cells and proliferate. Baker says that a protein that "grabs the coronavirus's spike protein might be able to run interference," preventing it from attaching to other cells and spreading. </p><p>Every puzzle Baker's lab publishes is online for roughly a week. They work with up-to-the-minute information about COVID-19; thus, the team is constantly updating its puzzles. According to Baker, a few entries seem promising—there have been 20,000 different designs submitted already—though as with any treatment, each design will require real-world testing. </p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">Baker notes that they've successfully crowdsourced strategies for dealing with flu, which brings hope that a treatment could be found in this situation. </span><span style="background-color: initial;">"In general, the coronaviruses appear to mutate less than influenza viruses. So that makes them a little bit easier of a target."</span></p>
Foldit players have come up with more than 20,000 different designs for potential COVID-19 antiviral proteins. Scientists plan to test 99 of the most promising designs (shown here) in the lab.
Photo: Foldit<p>This is truly an unprecedented moment in history. While researchers have worked on pandemics across the planet before, there has never been such a sense of urgency. Our global response to this coronavirus is likely to set the stage for how we treat diseases of this magnitude in the future. And as science writer Ed Yong <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/01/825179922/fighting-covid-19-is-like-whack-a-mole-says-writer-who-warned-of-pandemic" target="_blank">says</a>, there is reason for hope. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The first steps so far have actually been encouragingly quick. A vaccine candidate has already entered early safety trials after a record breakingly short time from actually identifying and sequencing the genome of this new virus."</p><p>There is a long road from trials to implementation, Yong says. We're 12 to 18 months away from a vaccine. Still, the rapidity of this process has been aided by the sheer number of researchers simultaneously working on the problem. </p><p>Give the number of players on Foldit's platform, it's not about expertise as much as, in Baker's words, persistence and ingenuity. Citizen science is one of the greatest benefits of the digital age. In many ways, platforms like Foldit are leading the way to a new form of education. If you're interested in contributing, <a href="https://fold.it/" target="_blank">download the software and start playing</a>.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is</em> "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</p>
Dr. Larry Brilliant played a key role in eradicating smallpox from the world – so what are the biggest dangers humanity faces now? Brilliant rates politics as on-par with infectious disease.
The greatest global threats to health can be divided into two categories, explains epidemiologist and former head of philanthropy at Google, Dr. Larry Brilliant: there is the biological, and the socio-political. In the last 30 years, there have been at least 30 heretofore unknown viruses that have jumped from animals to humans, for worrying reasons Brilliant attributes to modernity and our increase in animal protein consumption. Still, the socio-political threats are the more immediately dangerous. There are centrifugal forces at play that are pushing society to two extreme camps. The domestic and global division caused President Trump’s ‘America First’ mentality and disregard for public health leaves us vulnerable to new viruses that, if they aren’t detected early enough, could be the next pandemic. "Right now because of the re-organization and nationalism… and dislike for the United Nations and its agencies, I think we're in a period of grave vulnerability," says Brilliant. Larry Brilliant is the author of Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History.