Category Archives: Health

Latest Dispatch From the “You Can’t Make This S*** Up” Department

Thanks to TheEnlightenedMind622 for bringing this to my attention. My jaw is still on the floor.

Desperate No-Vaxxers Paying COVID-Positive People $150 for Dinner and COVID Infection

PARTY LIKE IT’S 2019

A new vaccination mandate in Italy requires everyone over 50 to be vaccinated or pay a hefty fine. Some are opting to pay to get infected with COVID instead.

ROME—The messages started popping up on Telegram a few days after Italy announced a new vaccine mandate requiring everyone over age 50 to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk hefty fines and even termination from their jobs.

Here in the first epicenter of the pandemic outside of China, Italy has paid a hefty price with lockdowns that have crippled the economy and the deaths of more than 140,000 people. Vaccine mandates have become the primary strategy in moving forward, yet a small number of people continue to resist.

The only alternative to getting vaccinated is having recovered from the infection, which must be registered on a person’s national health card. “I am urgently looking for a positive and I am willing to pay,” one desperate anti-vaxxer wrote, according to Italian police who are cracking down on the clandestine COVID meetups and other scams ahead of the Feb. 1 deadline for the over-50 vaccine mandate.

Soon after the announcement of the new law, enterprising opportunists started offering COVID parties where people who tested positive for the disease mix and mingle with those who want to catch it—one racket in Tuscany even includes a truffle dinner with Barolo wine, along with a positive-testing infection for around $150.

Other scams have also emerged. Two people were arrested in Rome after one man who was COVID positive used the health card of someone who wanted to skirt the vaccines to get tested at a pharmacy. When the COVID-positive man opted to pay with his own credit card—which obviously did not match the health card of the man who wanted a positive COVID diagnosis attached to his—the pharmacy conducting the test reported them both.

Infectious-disease specialist Pier Luigi Lopalco said on Italian television that the COVID parties and other scams are against the law and people involved should be hunted down and arrested. “This uses the same logic as playing Russian roulette. For a person who has never had COVID, who has not been vaccinated, encountering this virus can mean a mild form of the disease, but it can also mean ending up in intensive care,” he said on Italian television. “The discriminating factor between these two occurrences, probably, lies in genetics. And there is nothing that can be done to know in advance.”

He added, “Nobody can know before getting infected if they belong to the lucky group that will not have serious consequences or to that less fortunate group that can end up being intubated.”

The trend is not so terribly different from anti-vax parents who held measles parties for their kids when vaccinations became mandatory in Italy—which led to legislation that made such practices illegal.

After an anti-vax nurse was arrested for hosting a COVID party in Milan last week, virologist Roberto Burioni tweeted his disgust. “I would pay any amount to get me (and my loved ones) the vaccine, instead there are people who pay not to have it,” he wrote. “It’s like paying to have airbags removed from your car.”

Good News Monday Bonus Round

Sharing some warm, fuzzy, anti-Omicron holiday news.

Photo by Heather White on Pexels.com

Dogs are boosting owners’ mental health during pandemic, making them less likely to be depressed

by Study Finds

ST. LOUIS — Dogs are the light of many pet owners’ lives and now a new study finds they’re also lighting the way out of depression for many Americans. Researchers found that dogs are boosting their owners’ mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Study authors say pets have also increased amounts of social support by fueling friendships. The findings come from a review of more than 1,500 people in the U.S. — half of whom own dogs.

Dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them compared to potential dog owners, and their depression scores were also lower, compared to potential dog owners,” the study’s corresponding author Dr. Francois Martin of Nestle Purina Research writes in the journal PLOS One.

“There were no differences in anxiety and happiness scores between the two groups. Dog owners had a significantly more positive attitude towards and commitment to pets. Taken together, our results suggest that dog ownership may have provided people with a stronger sense of social support, which in turn may have helped buffer some of the negative psychological impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers report.

Dog walking can be a stress reliever

Researchers defined potential dog owners as individuals interested in owning a dog in the future. Both groups answered an online survey during the study. Results show the dog owners also had a significantly more positive attitude towards and commitment to their pets. However, the team did not find any differences in anxiety and happiness scores between these groups.

“Dog walking during confinements may have alleviated stressors and motivated self-care,” Dr. Martin’s team writes.

Other recent studies suggest pet ownership improves mood, leads to less loneliness, greater social support, and less stress by increasing exercise. Owners also said their dogs helped them cope with emotional stressors (91%) and maintain physical activity (96%) during lockdown.

“However, recent studies have also reported that pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic may have negatively affected people because of limited availability to resources,” the researchers write, noting that these resources include veterinary care and pet supplies.

“The present study aimed to understand if pet dogs offered their owners social support and contributed to better wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they continue. “It was hypothesized that pet dog ownership would act as a buffer against negative impacts caused by the pandemic.”

Each group answered validated “psychometric” questionnaires on depression, anxiety, and happiness.

“Other types of pets are also likely to provide social support to humans. However, it is unclear if this support is equivalent and if the psychological mechanisms involved are the same as human-dog relationships,” Dr. Martin writes.

Furry friends help during difficult times

In the context of the pandemic, there is emerging evidence the relationship and attitude of people towards their pets may vary according to the species. Therefore, the team only included dog and potential dog owners in the investigation. All the participants were over 18 years of age.

Study authors excluded people owning other types of pets or those who failed to complete the entire survey. Those who owned more than one dog were asked to answer for the pet they felt closest to. The final sample comprised 1,535 volunteers, including 768 and 767 dog and potential dog owners, respectively.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected diverse populations and our results provide evidence that pet owners and potential pet owners have also been impacted,” Dr. Martin concludes.

“Our results show that pet dog owners were significantly less depressed than non-pet owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are attached and committed to their dogs and they reported more social support available to them. Our work adds to the corpus of scientific literature demonstrating that pet dogs may positively contribute to the wellbeing of owners during difficult times.”

Study authors are calling for more work to better understand the relationship between pet ownership and well-being. Future research, the team says, would focus on people with low and moderate social support and include owners with diverse dog attachment level.

Good News Monday: Preventing Wrinkles AND Cancer?

Here’s another reason to take care of our complexions: New research finds that increased collagen helps fight cancer. While topical creams may or may not make much difference (dermal penetration is minimal), treatments that build collagen such as Genesis and IPL (intense pulsed light) may do more than keep that youthful glow. Schedule that derm appointment STAT!

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Anti-wrinkle cream ingredient collagen could hold the key to curing cancer

NEW YORK — A substance that the body creates naturally and is also an ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams could hold the key to stopping the spread of cancer. Researchers from The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai say cancerous tumors secrete a form of the protein collagen that keeps them quiet for years, even as they spread to other parts of the body. Their findings reveal that these tumor cells only turn malignant once their supplies of collagen run out.

Experiments involving mice and humans found increasing levels of type III collagen — the form of the protein cancer cells produce and cover themselves in — stops diseased cells from spreading. The collagen that surrounds the cells forces them to remain in a dormant state, preventing recurrence and metastasis — where they migrate to other organs.

“Our findings have potential clinical implications and may lead to a novel biomarker to predict tumor recurrences, as well as a therapeutic intervention to reduce local and distant relapses,” says senior author Professor Jose Bravo-Cordero in a media release.

Using state-of-the-art scanning techniques, the team tracked breast, head, and neck cancer cells implanted in mice. This enabled them to visualize the supporting “scaffold” as they became dormant and how this covering changed as the cells awoke.

Covering tumor cells in collagen could keep cancer asleep

In samples from cancer patients, researchers found type III collagen predicted tumor recurrence and metastasis. In the mice, infusions of collagen around cancer cells blocked their progression, forcing them back into dormancy.

“This intervention aimed at preventing the awakening of dormant cells has been suggested as a therapeutic strategy to prevent metastatic outgrowth,” Prof Bravo-Cordero says.

“As the biology of tumor dormancy gets uncovered and new specific drugs are developed, a combination of dormancy-inducing treatments with therapies that specifically target dormant cells will ultimately prevent local recurrence and metastasis and pave the way to cancer remission.”

How cancer cells remain inert for long periods before awakening to wreak havoc throughout the body has baffled experts for decades. The study, published in the journal Nature Cancer, solves a major mystery and opens the door to therapies using collagen as a cancer treatment.

From cosmetics to cancer research

Most people likely know collagen for its use in helping people look younger. However, the protein is also a natural building block for the skin, bones, and connective tissues throughout the body. It provides strength and elasticity, but women experience a dramatic drop in production after menopause.

In cosmetic products, collagen injections can improve the contours of the skin. Fillers that contain collagen remove lines and wrinkles from the face. It can also improve the appearance of scars.

Study authors note that collagen is present in the extracellular matrix, an intricate network that determines the physical properties of tissues — including tumors. Most cancer deaths are due to these harmful cells spreading throughout the body, which can still happen several years after surgical removal of the original tumor.

Previous research has shown collagen dressings heal chronic wounds that do not respond to other treatments. Encasing a tumor in collagen may have similarly dramatic success, Prof. Bravo-Cordero explains.

The study author adds that wound treatment with collagen scaffolds has displayed promising results and is a therapeutic alternative for people with complex skin wounds.

“Our studies demonstrate the potential therapeutic use of type III collagen to prevent the reawakening of cancer cells by inducing and maintaining cancer cell dormancy in the primary site,” researchers conclude in a statement to SWNS.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bloody Marvelous

Whoops, almost missed Monday this week. That’s what I get for spending hours attempting to delete all the cyber-hysteria emails that pop up like whack-a-mole: Delete twenty and another thirty-five pop up, seemingly instantaneously.

Anyway. This is seriously cool stuff.

Test tubes with blood
(© jarun011 – stock.adobe.com)

HEALTH & MEDICALSCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

3D-printed blood? New process for creating plasma could revolutionize wound healing

by Chris Melore

DUBLIN, Ireland — Blood contains all sorts of life-giving components, from red blood cells that carry oxygen to white blood cells that fight off infections. However, our blood also works hard to repair wounds. Thanks to platelet-rich plasma (PRP), blood clots around scraps and scratches, allowing our bodies to heal and limit scarring. Now, researchers in Ireland have discovered an innovative way of improving the healing process even further — 3D printing!

A team from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences say replicating more blood plasma through 3D printing technology can help scientists create a PRP implant that speeds up healing. Platelet-rich plasma is the body’s natural healing substance and it makes up about half of a person’s blood.

The new study explored the possibility of extracting PRP from a patient with severe skin wounds and creating more of this substance in a 3D printer. Scientists would then use these platelets to form an implant doctors can place on difficult-to-heal skin wounds — like a scaffold — during surgery.

No more scars for serious wounds?

Tests by the RCSI team found that applying a PRP implant speeds up the healing process by triggering the development of new blood vessels (vascularization). The implant also inhibits scarring and the thickening of tissue around wounds (fibrosis). Researchers say both of these benefits are key for wounds to heal effectively.

“Existing literature suggests that while the PRP already present in our blood helps to heal wounds, scarring can still occur. By 3D-printing PRP into a biomaterial scaffold, we can increase the formation of blood vessels while also avoiding the formation of scars, leading to more successful wound healing,” says RCSI professor of bioengineering and regenerative medicine, Fergal O’Brien, in a university release.

“As well as promising results for skin wound healing, this technology can potentially be used to regenerate different tissues, therefore dramatically influencing the ever-growing regenerative medicine, 3D printing and personalized medicine markets.”

The findings appear in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Good News Monday: Easy Weight Loss

Prunes: they’re not just for old folks anymore! I’m giving this a try ASAP.

Prunes

(© Dionisvera – stock.adobe.com)

[Reprinted from studyfinds.com]

Prunes may be the secret weapon to prevent holiday weight gain

LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom — Has Thanksgiving already sent your diet spiraling off a cliff? You’re probably not alone. With holiday weight gain a major issue for many, a new study has found the one snack that may keep your holiday appetite (and your waistline) in check — prunes.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool discovered that eating more prunes helped a group of dieters control their appetite better, consume fewer calories, and even lose slightly more weight than people choosing others snacks during a 12-week test.

“These studies demonstrate that dried fruit can both produce satiety and be incorporated into the diet during weight management,” says Professor Jason C. G. Halford, President of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), in a media release.

Researchers examined the impact of eating prunes in two phases. The first compared the reactions of participants who either ate prunes, raisins, or jelly bean-like candies during the experiment. The team found that people eating prunes generally consumed the fewest number of calories during their next meal. The prune snackers also reported feeling less hungry throughout the day, feeling fuller after eating, and feeling as though they couldn’t eat as much later on.

Prunes make it ‘easier’ to lose weight

In the second part, study authors examined the amount of weight each person lost after completing a 12-week weight loss program. They split the volunteers into two groups, one eating prunes as their daily snack and one who only received guidance on healthy snacking but could choose whatever snack they wanted.

Although researchers say the weight loss difference between the two groups was not significant in terms of total pounds lost, results show the prune group participants lost slightly more weight on average (4.4 pounds vs. 3.4 pounds). People eating prunes also told the team they felt it was easier to lose the weight than those eating other snacks.

“This study reveals that nutrient-dense prunes can provide an advantage over other snack choices due to their favorable effects on satiety and appetite control,” adds Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD Nutrition Advisor for the California Prune Board.

“These are the first data to demonstrate both weight loss and no negative side effects when consuming prunes as part of a weight management diet,” Halford concludes.

A recent poll found that Americans expect to gain eight pounds during the holiday season. Although prunes have a reputation of being a snack people only choose to relieve constipation, researchers say putting out a bowl at your next holiday party may cure you of festive overeating.

The findings appear in the journal Nutrition Bulletin.

Good News Monday: A Little Goes a Long Way

Finally back home after three weeks of travels. Now that I’m not taking long walks through Paris, etc., and the weather’s turned rainy, I’m heartened by the following article.

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

Just 5 minutes of movement every hour can undo harms from inactivity

OCTOBER 29, 2021 by Study Finds

LONDON — Has life indoors during the pandemic left you more inactive and fighting off the “COVID 15”? You’re not alone. COVID quarantines have dramatically lowered the amount of physical activity many people usually get through simply socializing outdoors or by going to work. Now, researchers from King’s College London say getting up and moving around for just five minutes every hour can help people shake off their pandemic inactivity.

The team compared the levels of physical activity in people suffering from genetic muscle disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, prior to and toward the end of quarantine. The participants consisted of adults with a variety of physical capacities, ranging from very mobile to needing assistance to move. The study also included 41 people in wheelchairs, who studies frequently overlook, according to the team. The results, according to the researchers, are applicable to people with a variety of capabilities since COVID isolation or switching to remote work disrupted many individuals’ normal schedules.

During the year-long assessment, accelerometers gauged the level of physical activity prior to quarantine in 2019 until the end of quarantine in 2020. These sensors recorded the duration, regularity, and degree of movement in four different categories: robust, mild, low, and sedentary.

Throughout the pandemic, results showed a considerable drop in the degree of physical activity participants got each day. Individuals, on average, were engaging in nearly an hour and a half of mild exercise each day prior to quarantine. As a result of the confinement, people spent an average of 25 minutes less each day on low activity tasks and moved less often (11% less per hour) during the day.

Being physically active is about more than just working out

Due to last year’s restrictions on traveling, outdoor recreational activities, and large gatherings, the study finds people spent less time doing light activities and moved less often in general. Since this daily light activity isn’t necessarily exercise, it’s hard for people to notice these minuscule changes in daily light activity. Despite one’s health status, moderate exercise and frequent activity during the day both play a role in better health outcomes.

“Even people who don’t do much exercise have been impacted by lockdown inactivity. During COVID-19 lockdown, our study detected an extra hour per day of inactivity in disabled and independent adults with neuromuscular diseases. Moving less is detrimental to health. Reduced activity can be especially harmful for those with neuromuscular conditions, disabilities or advanced age,” says lead author and neurological physiotherapist Sarah Roberts-Lewis in a university release.

“The reduction in light activity measured in this study is likely to be similar for anybody whose daily routine has been restricted by lockdown. Based on our findings, we suggest people move their bodies for 5 minutes each hour during the day. Additionally, spend 30 minutes each day doing some extra light activity, like yoga or chair exercises. The World Health Organization activity guidelines state ‘every move counts’; they provide suggestions about light activities suitable for all abilities. Simple changes can help with reconditioning during and after lockdown,” Roberts-Lewis concludes.

This study appears in the journal BMJ Neurology Open.

Good News Monday: Gettin’ The Boost

Another adventure in the ongoing saga,Tales of Covid. Despite all the perky reassurances that our initial Pfizer shots were still “highly” effective, whatever that means, Dear Husband and I were eager to get a third shot as soon as possible.

Breaking news Friday was that the Oregon Health Authority would follow the CDC’s Thursday booster recommendation for us 65+-ers as well as the immunocompromised and workers in potentially perilous industries.

Actually finding somewhere to do it was a bit more challenging. The first stop was a nearby RiteAid drugstore, where the apologetic youngster at the prescription drop-off told us they were waiting for the OR pharmacy board to also get on board so nothing was likely to happen any time soon.

Next stop: the Internet, to check availabilty through our local healthcare system. Although phone calls and attempting an online appointment proved futile, the walk-in urgent care clinic seemed poised to administer boosters, so off I went first thing Saturday morning while DH stayed behind to watch football and await my report. I expected long lines of eager seniors brandishing canes and face masks, but the clinic looked quite deserted.

I wasn’t optimistic, since the receptionist chirpily showed me a now-out-of-date notification that only mentioned the immunocomprised with an eight-month timeline for eligibility. But, to her credit, when I pointed out the smaller line reading “some people who received the Pfizer vaccine may get a booster six months after their second dose”, she allowed me to sign in. One of the few times that vagueness has been a benefit!

While waiting to be called back, I was happy to see two pairs of 20-somethings arriving for their second shots. The message is finally trickling down that the vaccine is a) effective and b) necessary if we’re ever going to beat this thing.

One quick jab, one sore arm, and several headaches later, I feel poised to rejoin the world with a bit less anxiety. DH, who received his booster Saturday afternoon, had more severe side effects — fatigue, soreness, headache, and feeling “flu-ish”– but is on the mend.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on Pexels.com

Another Sad Cautionary Tale

Wishing that those who spread misinformation and/or continue to cause harm to others by refusing to get vaccinated would be held accountable.

Bride-to-Be, 29, Who Was Fearful of Getting Vaccinated Dies of COVID: ‘Misinformation Killed Her’

Samantha Wendell’s funeral will now be held at the church where she had planned to have her wedding. By Julie Mazziotta People Magazine

Samantha Wendell

Samantha Wendell | CREDIT: BLAKE-LAMB FUNERAL HOME

A 29-year-old Kentucky woman who was fearful of getting vaccinated died of COVID-19 after missing her wedding while hospitalized with the virus.

Samantha Wendell had spent nearly the last two years planning her wedding to fiancé Austin Eskew, obsessing over every aspect of the big day, NBC News reported. The surgical technician from Grand Rivers had put off getting vaccinated, worried that her plans to have three or four kids with Eskew wouldn’t be possible after she heard false information from her co-workers that the shots led to infertility.

She “just kind of panicked,” Eskew, 29, said.

The Centers for Disease Control, OB-GYN groups and health experts have emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and are entirely safe for hopeful or expecting moms. “It is just not true that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is associated with infertility in either males or females,” Dr. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, previously told PEOPLE.

RELATED: Unvaccinated Pregnant Nurse and Her Unborn Baby Die of COVID: ‘It’s Hard to Accept’

Wendell ended up changing her mind on getting vaccinated as the delta variant spread through the U.S., and decided that she and Eskew should get inoculated before their honeymoon in Mexico. She made appointments for them for the end of July, but after her bachelorette party a week prior, she started feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19.

“She could not stop coughing,” Eskew, who got it too, said.

Neither of the couple had preexisting health conditions, and Eskew’s symptoms were mild. But Wendell continued to deteriorate and was hospitalized in August. She spent six weeks in the hospital, and five days before their planned wedding date of Aug. 21, Wendell was put on a ventilator. Just before, she asked doctors if she could get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It wasn’t going to do any good at that point, obviously,” her mother, Jeaneen Wendell, said. “It just weighs heavy on my heart that this could have easily been avoided.”

Good News Monday: Your Aging Brain is a Better Brain

Better brainpower with age: Some mental abilities actually improve after turning 50!

by Study Finds

WASHINGTON — Think it’s all downhill for your brain after you hit 50? Think again. Like a fine wine, some mental skills such as concentration and paying attention to detail, believe it or not, actually improve with age.

The exciting discovery could lead to better therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, say scientists.

“These results are amazing, and have important consequences for how we should view aging,” says senior investigator Michael Ullman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University and director of its Brain and Language Lab., in a statement.

The study of hundreds of older people found two key brain functions get better from our 50s onwards. They include attending to new information and focusing on what’s important in a given situation. They underlie memory, decision making and self control, and are even vital in navigation, maths, language and reading.

“People have widely assumed attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions, but the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life,” says Ullman. “This is all the more important because of the rapidly aging population, both in the U.S. and around the world.”

Ullman believes deliberately improving these abilities will help protect against brain decline.

Dementia cases worldwide are expected to triple to around 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle changes that reduce the risk.

For their study, the international team looked at three separate components of attention and executive function in 702 participants ages 58 to 98, when cognition often changes the most. The brain networks are involved in alerting, orienting and executive inhibition. Each has separate characteristics and relies on different regions, neurochemicals and genes, suggesting unique aging patterns. Alerting is characterized by a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information. Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location. The executive network shuts out distracting or conflicting information.

“We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian,” explains first author Dr Joao Verissimo, of the University of Lisbon, “And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions such as birds or billboards so you can stay focused on driving.”

Remarkably, only alerting abilities were found to decline with age. In contrast, both orienting and executive inhibition actually got better. The latter two skills allow people to selectively attend to objects, and improve with lifelong practice, explain the researchers. The gains can be large enough to outweigh any underlying neural reductions.

In contrast, alerting may drop off because this basic state of vigilance and preparedness does not get better with implementation.

“Because of the relatively large number of participants, and because we ruled out numerous alternative explanations, the findings should be reliable and so may apply quite broadly,” says Dr Verissimo, “Moreover, because orienting and inhibitory skills underlie numerous behaviors, the results have wide ranging implications.”

“The findings not only change our view of how aging affects the mind, but may also lead to clinical improvements, including for patients with aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.” adds Ullman.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Has Delta Peaked?

This is a fascinating analysis of COVID’s two-month cycle, with the Delta variant following a similar pattern to the first outbreaks. (Apologies for formatting wonkiness — cutting and pasting NYT articles doesn’t always work well.)


A testing site in Auburndale, Fla., last month.Octavio Jones for The New York Times
Almost like clockwork

By David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu for The New York Times
Has the Delta-fueled Covid-19 surge in the U.S. finally peaked?
The number of new daily U.S. cases has risen less over the past week than at any point since June, as you can see in this chart:
The New York Times
There is obviously no guarantee that the trend will continue. But there is one big reason to think that it may and that caseloads may even soon decline.
Since the pandemic began, Covid has often followed a regular — if mysterious — cycle. In one country after another, the number of new cases has often surged for roughly two months before starting to fall. The Delta variant, despite its intense contagiousness, has followed this pattern.
After Delta took hold last winter in India, caseloads there rose sharply for slightly more than two months before plummeting at a nearly identical rate. In Britain, caseloads rose for almost exactly two months before peaking in July. In Indonesia, Thailand, France, Spain and several other countries, the Delta surge also lasted somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 months.
* Between February and July 2021, depending on the country.The New York Times
And in the U.S. states where Delta first caused caseloads to rise, the cycle already appears to be on its downside. Case numbers in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri peaked in early or mid-August and have since been falling:
The New York Times
Two possible stories
We have asked experts about these two-month cycles, and they acknowledged that they could not explain it. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.
But two broad categories of explanation seem plausible, the experts say.
One involves the virus itself. Rather than spreading until it has reached every last person, perhaps it spreads in waves that happen to follow a similar timeline. How so? Some people may be especially susceptible to a variant like Delta, and once many of them have been exposed to it, the virus starts to recede — until a new variant causes the cycle to begin again (or until a population approaches herd immunity).
The second plausible explanation involves human behavior. People don’t circulate randomly through the world. They live in social clusters, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, points out. Perhaps the virus needs about two months to circulate through a typically sized cluster, infecting the most susceptible — and a new wave starts when people break out of their clusters, such as during a holiday. Alternately, people may follow cycles of taking more and then fewer Covid precautions, depending on their level of concern.
Whatever the reasons, the two-month cycle predated Delta. It has repeated itself several times in the U.S., including both last year and early this year, with the Alpha variant, which was centered in the upper Midwest:
What now?
The New York Times
In a few countries, vaccination rates have apparently risen high enough to break Covid’s usual two-month cycle: The virus evidently cannot find enough new people to infect. In both Malta and Singapore, this summer’s surge lasted only about two weeks before receding.
We want to emphasize that cases are not guaranteed to decline in coming weeks. There have been plenty of exceptions to the two-month cycle around the world. In Brazil, caseloads have followed no evident pattern. In Britain, cases did decline about two months after the Delta peak — but only for a couple of weeks. Since early August, cases there have been rising again, with the end of behavior restrictions likely playing a role. (If you haven’t yet read this Times dispatch about Britain’s willingness to accept rising caseloads, we recommend it.)
In the U.S., the start of the school year could similarly spark outbreaks this month. The country will need to wait a few more weeks to know. In the meantime, one strategy continues to be more effective than any other in beating back the pandemic: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” as Osterholm says. Or as Nuzzo puts it, “Our top goal has to be first shots in arms.”
The vaccine is so powerful because it keeps deaths and hospitalizations rare even during surges in caseloads. In Britain, the recent death count has been less than one-tenth what it was in January.