The Daily Dose: Experts struggle to quantify COVID-19 deaths; Childhood traumas wiped away during puberty.

Coming to grips with the devastation COVID-19 is leaving in its wake has been a challenge from the beginning, whether it’s because of testing deficiencies or how a COVID-19 fatality is classified. Sometimes, epidemiologists need to rely on alternative tools and methods to supplement the data at their disposal. An article in Nature takes a look at the scientific community’s quest to quantify the pandemic’s effects. According to the article, “In times of upheaval — wars, natural disasters, outbreaks of disease — researchers need to tally deaths rapidly, and usually turn to a blunt but reliable metric: excess mortality. It’s a comparison of expected deaths with ones that actually happened, and, to many scientists, it’s the most robust way to gauge the impact of the pandemic. It can help epidemiologists to draw comparisons between countries, and, because it can be calculated quickly, it can identify COVID-19 hotspots that would otherwise have gone undetected.” Despite what you may have heard, many times science is not an exact science.

The People’s Republic of China continues to make positive strides in a wide range of scientific fields. Much of their success owes to the consistent spending they’ve dedicated to research and development. According to Science, “Total public and private science and technology expenditures in 2019 rose 12.5% over the previous year to 2.21 trillion Chinese yuan ($322 billion), the National Bureau of Statistics reported yesterday. Spending on basic research accounted for 6% of the total; applied research, 11.3%; and development, 82.7%. The spending amounted to 2.23% of GDP, an increase of 0.09 percentage points from the previous year.” Even with the impressive spending, CCP spending on science failed to reach the goal set for the year, most likely due to COVID-19 restraints.

It has long been suggested that infection by the Zika virus increases the chances of people developing severe cases of Dengue. What essentially happens is that the immune system views the initial Zika infection similar enough to being infected by Dengue and counts it as such. If an actual Dengue infection occurs later, the body reacts as if it is the second time. According to The Scientist, “The findings, reported in Science today (August 27), indicate that antibody-dependent enhancement—a phenomenon known for making a second infection with a virus worse than the first—is not limited to influencing infections by the same pathogen. This raises concerns that such cross-species effects may occur for other types of viruses—including coronaviruses—and may impact vaccine safety, scientists say.” This is worrying, especially since the vast majority of Dengue and Zika cases occur in countries with resource-poor healthcare systems.

Now for some positive news. The psychological effects of childhood trauma may not be as long lasting as experts once believed. In fact, it seems that they may not be permanent at all in some cases. According to Science News, “…recent studies offer hints that such a difficult future may not be inevitable. As Gunnar and others have shown, impaired stress responses can return to normal during puberty, raising the possibility that imbalances created by early trauma can be erased. The research is prompting a new view of puberty as an opportunity — a chance for people who had a shaky start to reset their physiological responses to stress.” This is welcome news. While it is disheartening to see anyone suffer, it’s even more so when it happens to young children. Good to know our bodies have our backs.

Speaking of brains… Elon Musk’s wildly ambitious chip-in-the-brain Neuralink has fallen short of knocking neuroscientists off their feet. In fact, the much-hyped demonstration elicited more shrugs than anything else since similar technologies already exist and are used clinically. That’s not to say Musk’s latest world-changing endeavor won’t have an impact down the line. Common consensus appears to indicate that the science hasn’t caught up to the idea just yet.

That’s all folks. Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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