2-15-20 Coronavirus: First death confirmed in Europe
A Chinese tourist has died in France after contracting the new coronavirus - the first fatality from the disease outside Asia. The victim was an 80-year-old man from China's Hubei province, according to French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn. He arrived in France on 16 January and was placed in quarantine in hospital in Paris on 25 January, she said. Only three deaths had previously been reported outside mainland China - in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan. However, 1,523 people have died from the virus within China, mostly in Hubei where it first emerged. These include 143 deaths newly reported on Saturday by the country's national health commission. A further 2,641 people have been newly confirmed as infected, bringing China's total cases to 66,492. All countries should be prepared for the arrival of the virus, the head of the World Health Organization said on Saturday. In late January, France became the first European country to confirm cases of the virus. It has had 11 confirmed cases of the disease, officially called Covid-19. Six people remain in hospital. The deceased man had been in a critical condition in the Bichat hospital in northern Paris, the health minister said. He died of a lung infection due to the coronavirus. The man's 50-year-old daughter is among the six in hospital with the virus, but she is recovering, Ms Buzyn said. The other five are British nationals who caught the virus at a chalet in the ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie. Outside mainland China, there have been more than 500 cases in 26 countries. Earlier, the US said it was sending a plane to Japan to evacuate Americans stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is being held in quarantine in a Japanese port. Some 400 US citizens are reported to be on the vessel, according to Japan's NHK broadcaster. Those with symptoms are expected to be treated in Japan. Out of 3,700 people on board, 218 have tested positive for the virus. Australia also said it was considering removing its citizens from the ship.
2-15-20 Very few infants seem to be getting sick with the new coronavirus
Scientists aren’t sure why kids seem to be more protected. As the outbreak of a new coronavirus continues, infants appear to be largely spared. A new study that tallied cases of infants hospitalized with the virus in China from December 8 to February 6 found only nine. The children, aged 1 to 11 months old, had fevers, cough or other mild respiratory symptoms. None developed severe complications from the disease, now known as COVID-19, Zhi-Jiang Zhang of Wuhan University and colleagues report online February 14 in JAMA. The results could mean that babies are less susceptible to the virus or may just have a lower risk of being exposed, the researchers note. It’s also possible that babies who do become sick have such a mild case that they aren’t seen by a doctor. All of the infants identified had at least one infected family member and became sick after their relatives fell ill. More than 63,000 people have been reported infected in mainland China as of February 14, a large increase from most previous estimates that appears due to changes in how China is identifying cases of the disease. Another study on COVID-19 and babies, published online February 12 in the Lancet, found no evidence that mothers in late pregnancy who had a cesarean section could transmit the virus to their babies before or during birth. The mothers were admitted to Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University from January 20 to 31. Samples of amniotic fluid taken from six pregnant women who developed COVID-19 pneumonia and had C-sections were negative for the virus, as were throat swabs from the newborns. Umbilical cord blood and the mother’s breast milk also tested negative, Yuanzhen Zhang of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and colleagues report.
2-15-20 AI can predict which criminals may break laws again better than humans
Computer algorithms perform better than people in more realistic scenarios. Computer algorithms can outperform people at predicting which criminals will get arrested again, a new study finds. Risk-assessment algorithms that forecast future crimes often help judges and parole boards decide who stays behind bars (SN: 9/6/17). But these systems have come under fire for exhibiting racial biases (SN: 3/8/17), and some research has given reason to doubt that algorithms are any better at predicting arrests than humans are. One 2018 study that pitted human volunteers against the risk-assessment tool COMPAS found that people predicted criminal reoffence about as well as the software (SN: 2/20/18). The new set of experiments confirms that humans predict repeat offenders about as well as algorithms when the people are given immediate feedback on the accuracy of their predications and when they are shown limited information about each criminal. But people are worse than computers when individuals don’t get feedback, or if they are shown more detailed criminal profiles. In reality, judges and parole boards don’t get instant feedback either, and they usually have a lot of information to work with in making their decisions. So the study’s findings suggest that, under realistic prediction conditions, algorithms outmatch people at forecasting recidivism, researchers report online February 14 in Science Advances. Computational social scientist Sharad Goel of Stanford University and colleagues started by mimicking the setup of the 2018 study. Online volunteers read short descriptions of 50 criminals — including features like sex, age and number of past arrests — and guessed whether each person was likely to be arrested for another crime within two years. After each round, volunteers were told whether they guessed correctly. As seen in 2018, people rivaled COMPAS’s performance: accurate about 65 percent of the time.
2-15-20 75-million-year old eggshells suggest most dinosaurs were warm-blooded
An analysis of fossil eggshells may have settled a long-running debate about dinosaurs, suggesting that all species were warm-blooded. This also means the ancestors of dinosaurs must have been warm-blooded too, says Robin Dawson at Yale University, who led the research. It is now mostly agreed that the feathered dinosaurs called theropods that gave rise to birds were warm-blooded, but there is still a debate about whether other groups of dinosaurs were too. Until recently, we had only indirect methods of working out the body temperature of ancient animals, so there was no way to be sure. There is a way to work out the temperature at which organic matter forms inside bodies based on carbon and oxygen isotopes. This technique can be applied to eggshells to reveal the body temperature of the mother when the shells formed. In 2015, researchers applied this method to the eggshell of a theropod and a sauropod – a long-necked dinosaur – and found both were warm-blooded. Now Dawson’s team has applied this method to three more fossil eggshells. One belonged to a theropod called Troodon formosus, and another to a duck-billed dinosaur called Maiasaura peeblesorum. The researchers are confident the third eggshell belonged to a sauropod known as a dwarf titanosaur, although the dinosaur hasn’t yet been definitively identified. The team’s analysis suggests the duck-billed dinosaur had a body temperature of 44°C, the troodon had a temperature up to 38°C and the dwarf titanosaur 36°C – all warmer than the environments they lived in. Crucially, duck-billed dinosaurs belonged to a different group of dinosaurs from theropods and sauropods, which are more closely related to each other. This group includes animals such as triceratops and stegosaurs. It is much less likely that warm-bloodedness evolved independently in each of these three major types of dinosaur, says Dawson, which implies all dinosaur groups would have shared this trait, pointing to an ancestral origin. “If these three major groups had the capacity to use their metabolism to raise body temperature, that is something that stands for them all,” she says.
2-15-20 Tiny 2-billion-year-old fossil blobs may be the oldest complex cells
Fossils of single cells have been found in 2-billion-year-old rocks in China. The microfossils may be the oldest examples of complex eukaryotic cells in the fossil record – in which case they may be our distant ancestors. Leiming Yin at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China and his colleagues found the fossils in a set of rocks called the Hutuo Group in the Wutai mountains in northern China. Previous studies have shown that the rocks were laid down between 2.15 and 1.95 billion years ago. The team collected samples of slate from the ancient rocks and used acid to dissolve the excess rock, revealing the microfossils. In total the researchers found eight kinds of microfossil: four were bacteria, two couldn’t be identified and two appear to be eukaryotes. Eukaryotic cells are larger and more internally complex than those of other microorganisms like bacteria. The origin of eukaryotes is a milestone in evolutionary history because, while the first eukaryotes were all single-celled, they ultimately gave rise to all multicellular organisms – including fungi, plants and animals. One microfossil the researchers found appears to belong to a known genus of eukaryotes called Dictyosphaera. There were also six specimens of a new genus that the team has dubbed Dongyesphaera. Both are roughly spherical cells with multi-layered outer walls and visible spines – all of which the team says suggests they are eukaryotes, not bacteria. Experts contacted by New Scientist gave the fossils a cautious welcome. It is “plausible” that they are eukaryotes, says Malgorzata Moczydlowska-Vidal at Uppsala University in Sweden. “I could go for them being eukaryotic,” says Anette Högström at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.
2-14-20 Controversial psychology tests are often still used in US courts
A third of the psychological tests used in US court proceedings aren’t generally accepted by experts in the field, a study has found. “A clinician has the freedom to use whatever tool they want and it’s the wild west out there,” says Tess Neal at Arizona State University. Neal’s team looked at the validity of psychological assessments commonly used in US courts. Assessments were used in a range of circumstances, from parental custody cases to the determination of a person’s sanity or their suitability for a death sentence. In a custody case, for instance, a psychologist might be asked to assess whether a parent is responsible enough to care for their child. Neal’s team first looked at the huge range of psychological tests currently used in courts, according to 22 previous surveys of forensic mental health professionals. “There’s way more variety out there than we realised,” says Neal. The researchers found that 60 per cent of the tests used in US courts hadn’t received generally favourable reviews of their scientific validity in widely accepted textbooks such as the Mental Measurements Yearbook. And 33 per cent weren’t broadly accepted by psychology experts, according to nine previously published reviews of the field. The most problematic tests are usually those that are too subjective, says Neal. For instance, the second most common assessment used according to previous surveys was the Rorschach inkblot test, in which people are asked what images they see in abstract patterns. This has been widely criticised for letting clinicians interpret responses based on their own impressions of a person. “There are questions about its scientific underpinnings,” says Neal. Another problematic personality test asks people to complete sentences where only the first few words are given, which again is thought to be too subjective.
2-14-20 Virus rips through ship
The number of people infected with the new coronavirus on a cruise ship in the port city of Yokohama more than doubled this week to at least 175—meaning the ship now hosts the highest number of cases outside China. The 3,700 people on board the Diamond Princess are mostly confined to their rooms; those who test positive are evacuated for treatment. Passengers are allowed out a few minutes a day to breathe fresh air on deck, where they must remain masked and stay at least 6 feet away from others. Some experts said that Japan’s decision to quarantine the entire ship put healthy passengers at higher risk of catching the respiratory illness. “This is almost like a shooting gallery for the virus,” said Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It doesn’t make sense and is almost cruel.”
2-14-20 Babies are more likely to be conceived in autumn but we don’t know why
Babies are most likely to be conceived in late autumn and least likely to be conceived in spring, according to a large study in North America and Denmark. Births tend to spike at certain times of the year, but this may reflect seasonal variation in when women try to get pregnant rather than when they are most likely to conceive, says Amelia Wesselink at Boston University. To find out when couples have the best chance of conceiving, Wesselink and her colleagues studied almost 6000 women in the US and Canada and more than 8500 women in Denmark who were trying to get pregnant without using fertility treatment. They were surveyed every eight weeks to find out if they had conceived and answered a questionnaire about their lifestyle. The researchers first looked at when the women started trying to get pregnant. They found that early autumn, particularly September, was the most popular time. This may reflect a preference for a baby to be born earlier in the summer, when it may be easier to take time off work, or to avoid being pregnant during the hot later summer months, says Wesselink. The researchers then looked at when women were most likely to actually become pregnant. They adjusted the results to account for seasonal variations in pregnancy attempts and other factors that may differ across the year, such as how frequently couples had sex, their body mass index, physical activity and stress levels. The chance of conceiving in a given menstrual cycle was 16 per cent higher for North American women and 8 per cent higher for Danish women in late November and early December when compared with late May and early June, when their chances of conceiving were lowest. Why fertility seems to vary in this way is still a mystery, says Wesselink. She and her colleagues now plan to investigate whether seasonal fluctuations in temperature, humidity or air pollution explain changes in women’s fertility across the year. They are also interested in whether women’s fertility follows similar seasonal trends in the southern hemisphere.
2-14-20 Smoking damage heals
It’s never too late to stop smoking—and your lungs may even make a partial recovery. That’s the surprising conclusion of a new study, which found that quitting cigarettes can spark a healing process even in people who puffed a pack a day for 40 years. The chemicals in tobacco smoke corrupt the DNA in lung cells, gradually turning them from healthy to cancerous. Researchers at University College London examined lung biopsies taken from 16 people—including current smokers, ex-smokers, and people who’d never smoked—and found that nine out of 10 lung cells in current smokers had up to 10,000 more genetic mutations than in nonsmokers. Study co-author Kate Gowers calls these genetic alterations “mini time bombs, waiting for the next hit that causes them to progress to cancer.” But a tiny proportion of lung cells remains unaffected, and when a person stops smoking, these cells grow and replace the damaged cells around them. In ex-smokers, up to 40 percent of their cells looked like those of people who’d never smoked. Why these cells remain unscathed—and how many cells they can replenish—is unclear, reports BBC.com. The researchers say answering those questions could help them improve the repair process.
2-14-20 Meat is bad for you, again
Four months after a major study concluded that people shouldn’t worry about the health risks of eating red and processed meat, a group of prominent researchers is pushing back on that controversial finding, reports The New York Times In a new study that analyzed data on 30,000 people over an average of three decades, the researchers found that those who ate the most red meat, processed meat, and poultry had a small but significant increase in their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Those who ate two or more servings a week saw their risk increase by 4 to 7 percent. “Even though it seems to be a small amount of risk,” said senior author Norrina Allen, from the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, “any excess risk for something as major as heart disease and mortality is worth considering.” Critics of last year’s study complained that it assessed the evidence using a tool designed for clinical drug trials rather than dietary studies; the lead author also came under fire for taking money from a food industry group.
2-14-20 Psychologists rank reasons why newly-wed heterosexual couples argue
Psychologists say they have produced the first rigorous analysis of why newly-wed heterosexual couples argue. Topping the list is that people feel their partner pays them inadequate attention or affection. The other main sources of disagreement are based around sex, money, control, jealousy and housework. The psychologists have turned the results into a standardised list of questions they say could help couples and therapists get to the bottom of constant rows. “Understanding the main reasons for disagreement in relationships, and what men and women perceive as disagreement, can help couples mitigate arguments by anticipating conflict,” says Guilherme Lopes, a psychologist at Oakland University, Michigan, who led the study. His team first asked university students to nominate hundreds of topics they thought married couples might argue about. The suggestions ranged from the very serious, including abortion, to the stereotypical and trivial, such as which TV programmes to watch. The team removed the suggestions they thought were irrelevant or redundant and then ran a list of the remaining 83 possibilities past 107 heterosexual couples from the local area who had married in the past year. For each topic, both partners were asked to grade how much they thought they rowed about it with their spouse. The team then took the most popular answers and grouped them by theme into six principal reasons for conflict, rejecting those ideas that couples said rarely prompted disagreement. Perhaps not surprisingly, given they had been married less than a year, couples said they didn’t argue about dating other people. Neither did they disagree about what side of the bed to sleep on. More common arguments focused on disputes such as who should pay for something, whose friends the couple sees more often, frequency of sex and who does more work. The psychologists took the most important 30 – grouped into those six principal themes – and now present them as a Reasons for Disagreement in Romantic Relationships Scale, which they say can help explain conflict between partners.
2-14-20 Human brain parts left over from surgery boosts research
US researchers are developing a better understanding of the human brain by studying tissue left over from surgery. They say that their research is more likely to lead to new treatments than studies based on mouse and rat models. Dr Ed Lein, who leads the initiative at the Allen Institute has set up a scheme with local doctors to study left over tissue just hours after surgery. He gave details at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. "It is a little bit crazy that we have such a huge field where we are trying to solve brain diseases and there is very little understanding of the human brain itself," said Dr Lein. "The field as a whole is largely assuming that the human brain is similar to those of animal models without ever testing that view. "But the mouse brain is a thousand times smaller, and any time people look, they find significant differences." Dr Lein and his colleagues at the Allen Institute in Seattle set up the scheme with local neurosurgeons to study brain tissue just hours after surgery - with the consent of the patient. It functions as if it is still inside the brain for up to 48 hours after it has been removed. So Dr Lein and his colleagues have to drop everything and often have to work through the night once they hear that brain tissue has become available. "What we are finding is that there are many more types of cells in the human brain than in animal models. Their electrical properties and their anatomy can be significantly different between mouse and human," he said. And it is for this reason that efforts to come up with treatments for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's have been "relatively fruitless", according to Dr Lein. He says that patients, undergoing invasive brain surgery for disorders such as epilepsy, have been enthusiastic about signing up to the scheme.
2-14-20 Microbiologists took 12 years to grow a microbe tied to complex life’s origins
Scientists are hopeful that an archaean may help answer how multicellular life evolved. Cramped in a small submarine 2,500 meters below the Pacific’s surface in 2006, microbiologist Hiroyuki Imachi scanned the ocean floor for signs of microbial life. As the sub drifted over the bottom of Japan’s Nankai Trough — a hotbed of understudied microbes living off methane bubbling up from tectonic faults — Imachi spotted a nest of small clams against a whitish microbial mat, suggestive of an active methane seep below. The submersible’s robotic arm plunged a 25-centimeter tube into the blackish-gray sediment to retrieve a core of muck. It would take another 12 years of lab work for Imachi and colleagues to isolate a prize they hadn’t even set out to find — a single-celled microbe from an ancient lineage of Archaea, a domain of life superficially similar to bacteria. That find could help biologists reconstruct one of life’s greatest leaps toward complexity, from simple bacteria-like organisms to more complicated eukaryotes, the enormous group of chromosome-carrying creatures that includes humans, platypuses, fungi and many others. “Patience is very important in doing successful science,” says Imachi, of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology in Yokosuka. He and his colleagues published their findings in the Jan. 23 Nature, to enthusiastic acclaim from fellow microbiologists. “I’m very lucky.” Many scientists think an unusual meal kicked off the evolution of more complicated cells about 2 billion years ago. An ancient archaean, the theory goes, gobbled up a bacterium that, instead of being dinner, sparked a symbiotic relationship in a process called endosymbiosis (SN: 6/8/74). Eventually, the bacterium evolved into mitochondria, the energy-producing cellular structures that fueled the rise of complex life.
2-14-20 Coronavirus’s genetic fingerprints are used to rapidly map its spread
Widespread data sharing has revealed a clearer picture of the virus’s movements. Unprecedented data sharing and breakneck genetic sleuthing are charting the new coronavirus’s travels around the globe. By cataloging tiny genetic tweaks to the virus, called 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, computational biologist Trevor Bedford at Fred Hutch, a cancer research center in Seattle, and his colleagues show the virus is spreading around Wuhan, China, and kicking off much smaller chains of transmission elsewhere. That mapping was presented February 13 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement in Science and is being constantly updated by a wide collaboration of scientists at www.nextstrain.org. Charting these genetic lineages will help scientists piece together what this virus might be capable of, and whether interventions are helping slow its spread, Bedford said (SN: 1/28/20). Since the virus’s debut, scientists from around the world have been furiously exchanging data, including genetic details of viruses that have infected people. By February 12, the genetic makeup of over 100 virus samples had been shared by research groups around the world. Comparing those genomes allowed Bedford and colleagues to piece together a viral family tree. “We can chart this out on the map, then, because we know that this genome is connected to this genome by these mutations,” he said. “And we can learn about these transmission links.” Researchers have found identifying mutations in the virus as it has moved around the globe — and none that suggests the virus is getting more virulent, Bedford said. For a spreading virus, mutations are expected. Viruses typically have “a very error-prone form of replication,” Bedford said. For instance, seasonal flu mutations occur once every 10 days and “we don’t worry about that suddenly becoming extra severe.”
2-13-20 Coronavirus: Why Singapore is so vulnerable to coronavirus spread
Several international cases of the coronavirus from the UK to South Korea can be traced back to Singapore and some countries are now advising against travel to the international hub. But while Singapore has been commended for its management of the crisis, the tiny city-state faces unique challenges. Changi airport in Singapore is one of the most interconnected hubs in the world. In fact, there's a flight taking off and arriving every 80 seconds here, making it more connected than JFK and San Francisco in the US and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. But the scenes there these days are very different. Dozens of thermal scanners dot the terminals, automatically taking the temperature of passengers as they enter and exit Singapore. Travellers are checked for fever, cold and cough symptoms - airport staff on the lookout for any sign of the coronavirus. The country's open borders and interconnectedness as well as its pro-active approach to testing means it has reported one of the highest tallies outside mainland China - 50. "We are vulnerable, but we have to do everything that we can to contain that spread of the virus," says Lawrence Wong, co-chair of Singapore's task force on the coronavirus. But when a virus comes to Singapore it won't just affect this city. It can and has spread through Singapore to other countries around the world. This became painfully obvious when one meeting held in a luxury hotel in mid-January spawned several coronavirus cases around the world. More than 100 people attended the sales conference, including some from China. About a week after that meeting, stories of confirmed coronavirus cases began popping up all over the world - from South Korea to Malaysia, the UK and even Spain. The first Malaysian to catch the virus was a 41-year-old man who had attended the conference along with colleagues from China. Subsequently, his sister and mother-in-law caught it from him.
2-13-20 Coronavirus infections spike to 15,000 new Chinese cases in a day
China has reported a massive increase in the number of its citizens infected by the new coronavirus, after officials there changed how cases were defined. The numbers now include people who are less seriously ill. After a week of cases appearing to level out in China, where the outbreak began, the number shot up on Wednesday, with 15,152 people diagnosed with the virus causing the newly named disease, covid-19. A total of 254 people in China died on Wednesday from the coronavirus. The World Health Organization had warned earlier this week that it was “way too early” to say which direction the epidemic would go after the statistics suggest infections might be slowing. David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told New Scientist the sudden spike yesterday was a result of Chinese authorities changing the definition of coronavirus cases. “They’ve changed their case definition to include people who are less ill,” he says. “It’s good because we’ll now better understand the full spectrum of disease in China, we’ll understand how many are having less serious disease, and this will also have an impact when they are doing the ratio of deaths to cases. [Until] now we have a skewed idea of deaths.” The change in the ratio of cases to deaths would appear to suggest the virus is less deadly than previously thought, though it is too early to tell, says Heymann. China has made the change in response to requests from the WHO, in order to get a better idea of what is going on, says Heymann. The move is a positive one, he says. “It will help in deciding which strategies are working and which might not be working.”
2-13-20 Coronavirus: Sharp increase in deaths and cases in Hubei
Some 242 deaths from the new coronavirus were recorded in the Chinese province of Hubei on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the outbreak. There was also a huge increase in the number of cases, with 14,840 people diagnosed with Covid-19. Hubei has started using a broader definition to diagnose people, which accounts for most of the rise in cases. China sacked two top officials in Hubei province hours after the new figures were revealed. Until Wednesday's increases, the number of people with the virus in Hubei, where the outbreak emerged, was stabilising. But the new cases and deaths in the province have pushed the national death toll above 1,350 with almost 60,000 infections in total. Meanwhile Japan has announced its first coronavirus death - a woman in her 80s who lived in Kanagawa, south-west of Tokyo. It is the third death outside mainland China, following one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong. The woman's diagnosis was confirmed after her death and she had no obvious link to China's Hubei province, Japanese media reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is seeking "further clarity" from China about the changes to how cases of the virus are being confirmed. China has been accused of suppressing the full extent of the outbreak in the past, says the BBC's Nick Beake in Hong Kong. David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "What has happened in China is that they have changed the definition of what the disease really is - now they are taking people who have lesser symptoms. "The deaths are quite worrisome, there is an increased number of deaths reported, but if you look overall at the total number of deaths and the total number of cases, the fatality ratio is about the same as it has been - but it is still high, as high as the death rate in influenza."
2-13-20 Coronavirus: Will someone develop a vaccine?
While the world worries about the spread of the deadly coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, one would expect the major pharmaceutical firms to make millions, even billions, by rushing to develop a vaccine. But in reality, this is not the case. While the global vaccine market is expected to grow to $60bn (£46bn) this year, big profits are not guaranteed. ''Successfully developing a preventive vaccine or treatment for a public health crisis is difficult. It typically takes a lot of time and money," says US-based Brad Loncar, a biotechnology investor and chief executive of Loncar Investments. "There is typically little money in it for companies that do successfully develop something, not the billions that some investors mistakenly expect." The global vaccines industry is dominated by big players such as Pfizer, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson. Worldwide sales of vaccines totalled $54bn last year, and have almost doubled since 2014, according to data analysts Statista. Driving this growth is the increase of infectious diseases like influenza, swine flu, hepatitis and Ebola. "One would think that the industry has the reserves to jump at this challenge. But none of the four top vaccine companies has shown significant interest," says Dr Ellen 't Hoen, director at medicines law and policy at University Medical Center Groningen in Amsterdam. Outside of the big firms, there are a handful of smaller pharma companies pushing to find a vaccine for the deadly Covid-19 outbreak, which has already claimed more than 1,000 lives. Gilead, a US biotech business that makes anti-HIV drugs, has announced it will trial its drug Remdesivir. Meanwhile Kaletra, a combination of two anti-HIV drugs from pharma group AbbVie is being trialled on patients in China. Both trials are based on existing medicines. "A large company like Gilead or AbbVie will be able to use an existing medicine against this as a therapeutic treatment, but it's unlikely to be much of a needle mover from a stock market perspective for a large company like that," adds Mr Loncar.
2-13-20 We'll soon know if covid-19 can be treated with HIV and Ebola drugs
The results of two clinical trials testing whether HIV and Ebola drugs are effective at treating the symptoms of covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, will be known soon, says the World Health Organization. Marie-Paule Kieny from the WHO told a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on 12 February that doctors in China have given a combination of two HIV drugs – lopinavir and ritonavir – to “quite a number” of people with covid-19. The results of the trial will be known within “a few days or a few weeks”, she said. Doctors in China will also start testing a drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat the Ebola virus, in people with covid-19 very soon, Kieny told the press conference. The drug was tested without much success with Ebola, but may be more effective against covid-19, she said. “But we will have to wait for a few weeks to know whether this gives any positive signal,” she added. In addition, four vaccines are being developed to try to prevent people getting the disease in the first place, Soumya Swaminathan from the WHO told the press conference. “It’s likely that there will be one or two that will go into human trials in about three to four months from now,” she said. “However, it would take at least 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to become available for wider use.” The press conference followed a global research forum held in Geneva on 11 and 12 February that brought together scientists, public health agencies and health ministries from around the world to discuss the research that needs to be done to tackle the covid-19 outbreak. Researchers from Wuhan, where the outbreak began, attended via video link due to the restrictions on their travel.
2-13-20 Coronavirus: How maths is helping to answer crucial covid-19 questions
Back in mid-January, the current coronavirus outbreak was merely an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases. At least, that is what the tally of 41 confirmed infections in the Chinese city of Wuhan suggested. But then cases started appearing in other countries: first one in Thailand, then one in Japan, then another in Thailand, all among people who had travelled from Wuhan There were some flights to these places from Wuhan, but for three cases to have already appeared internationally, there must have been a lot more infections in the city that hadn’t been picked up. When researchers used flight data to estimate how many unreported cases there must have been to generate these patterns, it suggested the total in Wuhan was more likely to be in the thousands than the dozens. During an outbreak, we rarely see the full picture at first, and this is where mathematics is essential. As well as the question of how many cases there really are, we also need to know how severe the disease really is: if someone is diagnosed with the new coronavirus, what is the chance it will prove fatal? As of 11 February, there had been 395 cases confirmed outside China and one death (which may be the most accurate picture of the outbreak). At first glance, it seems the chance of death must therefore be 1/395 or 0.3 per cent. However, this calculation makes a crucial error. There is generally a delay of a couple of weeks between someone falling ill and dying or getting better, so we can’t include recent cases in the analysis, because we don’t yet know what will happen to them. If we adjust for this delay – and instead focus on the cases that occurred long enough ago to know what happened to them – we instead end up with a fatality risk of around 1 per cent. We saw a similar data illusion occur during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014: early reports put the chance of death much lower than it should have been, causing unnecessary speculation about why it seemed unusually low.
2-13-20 Bats’ immune defenses may be why their viruses can be so deadly to people
A virus originally from bats may be behind an ongoing outbreak of a new coronavirus. When it comes to viruses, ones from bats are weirdly deadly — at least to humans. The mammals can carry many viruses with the potential to cause serious diseases in people, including rabies, Ebola, Nipah, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and others. Bats rarely get sick from those viruses. Why these pathogens tend to be so dangerous when they infect other animals has been a mystery. Previous work suggests that a bat’s immune system is especially adapted to tolerate viruses, thanks in part to its ability to limit inflammation. Now a study using cells grown in a lab hints that to counter a bat’s immune defenses, these viruses have gotten good at spreading rapidly from cell to cell. That means that when they get into animals without a similarly strong immune system, the viruses are particularly adept at causing serious damage, researchers report February 3 in eLife. The study is “an important piece of the puzzle in understanding why viruses [from bats] may be emerging and impacting people and other animals,” says Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist with EcoHealth Alliance in New York City, who wasn’t involved in the research. “There’s a lot we can learn from bats about their immune system and take some of that information to think about our own health and developing our own therapeutics” against viruses, he says. Scientists have pinpointed bats as potential sources of several viral outbreaks in humans. Insect-eating bats may have been the source of the 2014–16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa (SN: 12/31/14). Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) harbor Marburg virus, a hemorrhagic virus related to Ebola. Other bat species are reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses, possibly including one that sparked an ongoing outbreak in China (SN: 1/24/20).
2-13-20 Some West Africans may have genes from an ancient ‘ghost’ hominid
The passed-down DNA helps with functions including tumor suppression and hormone regulation. An ancient, humanlike population still undiscovered in fossils left a genetic legacy in present-day West Africans, a new study suggests. These extinct relatives of Homo sapiens passed genes to African ancestors of modern Yoruba and Mende people starting around 24,000 years ago or later, say UCLA geneticists Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman. Surviving DNA of those ancient hominids is different enough from that of Neandertals and Denisovans to suggest an entirely different hominid was the source. Yoruba and Mende groups’ genomes contain from 2 to 19 percent of genetic material from this mysterious “ghost population,” the scientists report February 12 in Science Advances. Some DNA segments passed down from the mysterious Homo species influence survival-enhancing functions, including tumor suppression and hormone regulation. Those genes likely spread rapidly among modern West Africans, the investigators suspect. DNA from Han Chinese in Beijing as well as Utah residents with northern and western European ancestry also showed signs of ancestry from the ancient ghost population, Durvasula and Sankararaman found. But DNA from those two groups was not studied as closely as that from the Yoruba and Mende people. The report adds to recent evidence that interbreeding of ancient people with various Homo species played a bigger role in the evolution of modern Africans than has generally been assumed. For instance, after leaving Africa around 60,000 to 80,000 years ago, H. sapiens groups interbred with European Neandertals before taking Neandertal DNA back to Africa starting around 20,000 years ago, another team has concluded (SN: 1/30/20). That study found that Neandertal DNA accounts for, on average, about 0.5 percent of individual Africans’ genomes, far more than reported in earlier studies. Most present-day people outside Africa carry about three times as much Neandertal DNA as Africans do.
2-13-20 Car-sized turtle fossils unearthed
Fossils of a turtle the size of a car have been unearthed in what is now northern South America. The turtle - Stupendemys geographicus - is believed to have roamed the region between 13 and 7 million years ago. The fossils were found in Colombia's Tatacoa Desert and Venezuela's Urumaco region. The first Stupendemys fossils were discovered in the 1970s but many mysteries have remained about the 4-metre long animal. It was about the size and weight of a saloon car and inhabited a huge wetland across northern South America before the Amazon and Orinoco rivers were formed. The male had forward pointing horns either side of its shell. Deep scars found in the fossils indicate that the horns were probably used like lances to fight rivals. Researchers say they've found a 3-metre long shell and a lower jaw bone which has given them more clues about its diet. They think the giant turtle lived at the bottom of lakes and rivers alongside giant crocodile eating a diverse diet of small animals, vegetation, fruit and seeds. Stupendemys's large size was crucial in defending itself from other large predators. One of the Stupendemys fossils was found with a giant crocodile tooth embedded in it.
2-12-20 Your decision-making ability is a superpower physics can't explain
In a universe that unthinkingly follows the rules, human agency is an anomaly. Can physics ever make sense of our power to change the physical world at will? I’VE been thinking about getting a puppy. You know, for a bit of companionship, something to motivate on grey days when spirit and flesh are weak. I even went to a stray dogs’ home, because that seemed the right thing to do. There was a lovely one there, with beautiful, mischievous eyes. She reminded me of a mutt we had when I was a kid, called Whiskey. I bottled it in the end, though. Did I really have the time to give her the love and attention she deserved? Whims, memories, hopes, judgements, morals, qualms – all coming together to influence decisions. It is hard enough for us to understand how we reach them. For fundamental physicists, it is a complete mystery. That is because our decision-making ability is a not-so-secret superpower to alter the physical world, changing its evolution apparently at will – something no physical law yet devised can explain. “We act, we decide, we initiate actions,” says Carlo Rovelli at Aix-Marseille University in France. “How can we insert this agency into the general picture of nature?” Rovelli and others have undertaken to find out. Their journey has led them into the depths of the human mind and its relationship with physical reality, throwing up surprising and profound connections: to the mysteries of entropy and flowing time, to reality and consciousness, and to the nature of physical law itself. Get to grips with what underlies our everyday acts, and we could be on the way to a deeper, all-inclusive understanding of both the cosmos and our place in it.
2-12-20 When a smile is not a smile – what our facial expressions really mean
Smiling and other facial expressions aren't displays of feelings that transcend cultures but turn out to be full of hidden meaning. EVERYBODY knows a genuine smile when they see one. The corners of the mouth turn up, of course, but the expression is all in the eyes. Those wrinkly crow’s feet around the edges are what distinguish this from an inauthentic or social smile. They are what make it a sure-fire sign that someone is happy. Right? Well, maybe not. And the same goes for all the other facial expressions of emotion. It may sound heretical, but psychologists are starting to question whether these really do reveal our emotions – or whether they might serve a more nefarious purpose. The orthodox view holds that there is a group of basic emotions – at least six, but perhaps many more – that all humans display on their faces in fundamentally the same way. This means that other people can reliably read your emotional state from your face. It is an appealing idea that has influenced everything from educational practices and behavioural-learning programmes for children with autism to emotion-detecting software algorithms. But now it is being challenged. Some dissenters believe that facial “expressions” aren’t reliable guides to our emotions at all, but tools that we use to manipulate others. If this is correct, the implications for our social interactions are enormous. The idea that patterns of facial muscular movements express and indicate our emotions has a long history. It was popularised by influential 17th-century French artist Charles Le Brun, a court painter to Louis XIV, who prescribed the facial configurations.
2-12-20 Can a blood pressure drug help ease the painful memory of an ex?
A Montreal researcher says he has found a way to take the emotional sting out a bad breakup by "editing" memories using therapy and a beta blocker. Dr Alain Brunet has spent over 15 years studying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), working with combat veterans, people who have experienced terror attacks and crime victims. Much of his research has centred on the development of what he calls "reconsolidation therapy", an innovative approach that can help remove emotional pain from a traumatic memory. At the heart of his work is a humble pharmaceutical - propranolol - a beta blocker long used to treat common physical ailments like hypertension and migraines, but which research now suggests has a wider application. The reconsolidation method involves taking propranolol about an hour before a therapy session where the patient is asked to write a detailed account of their trauma and then read it aloud. "Often when you recall memory, if there's something new to learn, this memory will unlock and you can update it, and it will be saved again," the Canadian clinical psychologist tells the BBC. That process of reconsolidation creates a window of opportunity to target the highly emotional portion of that memory. "We're using this enhanced understanding on how memories are formed and how they are unlocked and updated and saved again - we're essentially using this recent knowledge coming out of neuroscience to treat patients," says Dr Brunet. His work has often been compared to the science fiction film Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, where an estranged couple have their memories of each other erased, though Dr Brunet notes memories aren't gone after reconsolidation therapy, they just stop hurting. Memories, their neutral, factual elements, are saved in the brain's hippocampus. But the emotional tone of the memory is saved in its amygdala.
2-12-20 The smuggled Mongolian dinosaur fossil that seemed too good to be true
When a bizarre fossil appeared for sale in Europe, it looked so odd it had to be fake. But a high-tech investigation introduced us to Halzkaraptor escullei – part velociraptor, part penguin. DESOLATE and beautiful, southern Mongolia’s Gobi desert is a vast, treeless expanse, with few permanent settlements and even fewer paved roads. It was here, amid the crumbling outcrops of a fossil site known as Ukhaa Tolgod, that the poachers struck. The thieves would have worked methodically, digging out a half-metre-long block of soft red sandstone containing the whitish bones of a small dinosaur. They probably doused the skeleton with superglue, a crude substitute for the substances that palaeontologists use to harden and protect fossilised bone. Then they probably wrapped the block in hessian and plaster, loaded it into a four-wheel-drive truck, and drove away, leaving smashed pieces of bone and bottles of superglue strewn across the desert. They had something valuable, that much the poachers knew. What they couldn’t have guessed was that it would turn out to such be a sensational dinosaur discovery. Nor could they have known the epic journey this fossil would take around the world, passing through the hands of criminals, dealers, and scientists – only to end up right back where it began, in Mongolia, a decade later. One reason the country is such a hotbed for fossil poaching is that unlike most places, it has great tracts of exposed Cretaceous rock in areas devoid of vegetation. Dinosaur bones are abundant here, and relatively easy to find. It is impossible to say exactly how many have been smuggled out of the country since the trade began in the 1990s.
2-12-20 Coronavirus: How well prepared are countries for a covid-19 pandemic?
No country is fully prepared for a coronavirus pandemic, according to a public health expert. But some countries will be better placed to handle an outbreak than others. THE new coronavirus is now spreading in several countries. As New Scientist went to press, eight cases of infection had been confirmed in the UK, including a man who went home to Brighton from a conference in Singapore via a ski resort in France. Four other people on the ski trip were diagnosed as infected after returning to the UK, including a doctor. The medical centre where the doctor works has now been shut. A further five people at the ski resort were diagnosed while still in France, and one other case was confirmed on return to Spain. So is the rest of the world ready for the coronavirus? The short answer is no. “I am utterly convinced that no country is fully prepared,” says Jennifer Nuzzo at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. Serious disease outbreaks pose three threats. There is the direct impact in terms of illness and deaths. Then there are people with other illnesses who are disadvantaged because health services are overwhelmed. For instance, regular vaccinations ceased during recent Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, leading to children dying of other diseases. Finally, there is the economic impact of travel bans and people not working. Nuzzo is one of the authors of the Global Health Security Index, which scores countries out of 100 based on their ability to cope with these threats. The average score in 2019 was just 40. China scored 48. The US, UK, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada top the ranking, with scores ranging from 84 to 75, but they too will struggle if the coronavirus becomes a pandemic and spreads globally, even if it isn’t especially deadly, says Nuzzo. For now, the aim is to stop the coronavirus from spreading. The strategy is to identify people who are infected, quarantine them and trace their contacts in case any are infected too.
2-12-20 Will the covid-19 coronavirus outbreak die out in the summer’s heat?
Will the covid-19 outbreak caused by the new coronavirus fade as the northern hemisphere warms up? This has been suggested by some researchers and repeated by some political leaders including US president Donald Trump, but we simply do not know if this is the case. “We absolutely don’t know that,” says Trudie Lang at the University of Oxford. “I keep asking virologist colleagues this and nobody knows.” “So when you hear people say the weather will warm up and it will just disappear, it’s a very unhelpful generalisation,” she says. This is essentially what Trump claimed on 10 February. “The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,” he told a meeting. “A lot of people think that goes away in April as the heat comes in.” Trump is not the only politician to make this sort of claim. The UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, told ITV reporter Tom Clarke last week the hope was to slow the spread of the virus so it gets here in spring and summer when coronaviruses, of which the new virus is just a specific example, are less transmissible. It’s thought the virus can survive for up to four days on surfaces. Some researchers, including Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, do think the new coronavirus will not remain infectious for so long in warmer conditions. “One extreme scenario is that it will burn itself out sometime in the summer,” says Hunter. “The other extreme scenario is that it will reduce in the summer but it will come back again in the winter and become what we call endemic, in that it will spread pretty much everywhere.” However, if it is less infectious in warmer conditions, there will also be a greater chance of it spreading in the southern hemisphere as conditions cool. David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the global response to the SARS outbreak in 2003, points out that the MERS coronavirus has spread in Saudi Arabia in August, when it is very hot. “These viruses can certainly spread during high temperature seasons,” he says.
2-12-20 We discovered a coronavirus similar to the covid-19 virus 7 years ago
THE Covid-19 coronavirus is similar to one detected in bats in China in 2013. But a failure to act on the warnings of those who studied it means we missed an opportunity to protect human health. While some are now saying the Covid-19 virus passed to humans from pangolins, it is likely that pangolins are merely victims of the infection, like us. “From the virology evidence available to date, the virus is almost certainly from a species of bat,” says Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London.
2-12-20 Teen born without left half of her brain is leading a normal life
A TEENAGER who was born without the entire left hemisphere of her brain has above-average reading skills – despite missing the part of the brain that is typically specialised for language – New Scientist can exclusively reveal.
2-11-20 How bad is the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak likely to get?
The World Health Organization has now named the new coronavirus disease: Covid-19. If the virus isn’t halted, it could infect 60 per cent of the world’s population and kill one in 100 of those infected – around 50 million people – Gabriel Leung, at the University of Hong Kong, told The Guardian on 11 February. But no one knows if it really will, because we don’t know whether the virus can be contained, how deadly it is and how many people have it. The number of confirmed cases globally reached 42,000 on Tuesday, but the rise in cases has been slowing since 6 February. This suggests China’s decision to limit people’s movements in the most affected province, Hubei, is working and that containment may be effective. That isn’t certain, however. The decline may also reflect overwhelmed hospitals or testing labs. Studies continue to estimate that there are far more cases in China than those reported. What’s more, tests of people repatriated from China hint there are many mild and asymptomatic cases, who may be able to spread the virus but aren’t necessarily being tested or quarantined. Even if mild cases are being tested, they may not have been making it into official figures. Diagnostic guidelines issued last week in China say people without symptoms who test positive for the virus as part of efforts to trace contacts of known cases should only be counted as confirmed cases if they start showing symptoms. The WHO said on Tuesday this would change. As for death rates, these are hard to calculate early in an epidemic, when the outcome of most cases is still unknown, says Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London. Using models based on the rate of rise of deaths, Ferguson and his colleagues have calculated that some 18 per cent of people confirmed to have the virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan die. This is similar to earlier estimates.
2-11-20 Coronavirus officially named Covid-19, says WHO
The World Health Organization says the official name for the new coronavirus will be Covid-2019. "We now have a name for the disease and it's Covid-19," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. It comes after the death toll from the virus passed 1,000. Tens of thousands of people have been infected. The word coronavirus refers to the group of viruses it belongs to, rather than the latest strain. Researchers have been calling for an official name to avoid confusion and stigmatisation. "We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," the WHO chief said. "Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks" There are now more than 42,200 confirmed cases across China. The number of deaths has overtaken that of the Sars epidemic in 2003. On Monday, some 103 died in Hubei province alone, a daily record, and the national death toll is now 1,016. But the number of new infections nationally was down almost 20% from the day before, from 3,062 to 2,478.
2-11-20 Could the new coronavirus really kill 50 million people worldwide?
. If the spread of the new coronavirus is not halted, it could infect 60 per cent of the world’s population and kill 1 in 100 of those infected – around 50 million people. This is what Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, told the Guardian newspaper on 11 February. Is he right? The short answer is that no one knows, because there are many things we still do not know about the virus. First, can we stop it spreading globally? So far, there have been over 40,000 cases in China, and 24 other countries have reported around 300 cases. The virus is spreading much more readily than other coronaviruses that have jumped from animals into people. Halting its spread requires identifying and isolating those who are infected. This could be especially difficult because some people might be infectious even when they have only mild symptoms. And while the average time from people being infected to showing symptoms is around 3 days, it might sometimes be as long as 24 days – longer than the two-week quarantine period currently recommended. China is taking drastic measures to contain the virus, but it is not clear if they are working. There has been a fall in the number of new cases reported per day, but this could be due to hospitals being overwhelmed. It also seems China is now not counting people who test positive for the virus but do not show symptoms. There is a good chance that wealthy countries could contain the trickle of cases currently being detected. The worry is that the virus is already spreading widely in countries that lack the resources to detect it. The head of the World Health Organization has warned that we may only be seeing “the tip of the iceberg”. If so, the chances of preventing a global pandemic are low. That brings us to the next question: how many people will be infected if the virus goes global? It has been estimated that 24 per cent of the world’s population was infected by the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, despite older people having pre-existing immunity because they had been exposed to similar viruses.
2-11-20 Tyrannosaurus species named 'Reaper of Death' found in Canada
A new species of tyrannosaur that stalked North America around 80 million years ago has been discovered by scientists in Canada. The dinosaur lived in the late Cretaceous Period, making it the oldest known tyrannosaur from North America. Another species of tyrannosaur, a Daspletosaurus, was found in Canada in 1970, a study says. Researchers say the new discovery has given them insights into the evolution of tyrannosaurs. Standing roughly 8ft (2.4m) tall, the predator would have cut an intimidating figure. Like its tyrannosaur relatives, the carnivorous dinosaur had a long, deep snout, bumps on its skull and large steak-knife-like teeth measuring more than 7cm (2.7in) long. The predator's name - Thanatotheristes degrootorum - translates to "Reaper of Death" from the Greek. "We chose a name that embodies what this tyrannosaur was as the only known large apex predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death," said Darla Zelenitsky, a palaeobiology professor who co-authored the study. "The nickname has come to be Thanatos." Fragments of Thanatos's fossilised skull were found by John De Groot, a farmer and palaeontology enthusiast. He stumbled across the fossils in 2010 while hiking near Hays, a hamlet in southern Alberta. "The jawbone was an absolutely stunning find," said Mr De Groot. "We knew it was special because you could clearly see the fossilised teeth." Tyrannosaurs, or "tyrant lizards", were the dominant predators on land for millions of years before the extinction of dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. By the late Cretaceous Period, around 80 million years ago, North American tyrannosaurs had become enormous beasts. But the fossil records before this period are patchy. It is hoped that this new study will help palaeontologists fill gaps in their knowledge. "There are very few species of tyrannosaurids, relatively speaking," said Prof Zelenitsky of Canada's University of Calgary. "Because of the nature of the food chain these large apex predators were rare compared to herbivorous or plant-eating dinosaurs."
2-10-20 Coronavirus super-spreaders: Why are they important?
Super-spreading, where individual patients pass on an infection to large numbers of people, is a feature of nearly every outbreak. It is not their fault but can have a significant impact on how diseases spread. There are reports of super-spreading during the new coronavirus outbreak, which has centred on Wuhan, in China. Briton Steve Walsh, who had been in Singapore, has been linked to four cases in the UK, five in France and possibly one in Majorca. It is a bit of a vague term, with no strict scientific definition. But it is when a patient infects significantly more people than usual. On average, each person infected with the new coronavirus is passing it on to between two and three other people. But this is only an average; some people will pass it on to nobody while others pass their infection on to far more. Massive - and they can have a huge effect on an outbreak. In 2015, a super-spreading event led to 82 people being infected from a single hospital patient with Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), a coronavirus distantly related to the current virus And in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the vast majority of cases (61%) came from just a tiny handful of patients (3%). "There were more than 100 new chains of transmission from just one funeral in June 2014," Dr Nathalie MacDermott, from King's College London, says. Some just come into contact with far more people - either because of their job or where they live - and that means they can spread more of the disease, whether or not they themselves have symptoms. "Kids are good at that - that's why closing schools can be a good measure," Dr John Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says. "Commercial sex workers were very important in spreading HIV," Prof Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, says . Others are "super-shedders", who release unusually large amounts of virus (or other bug) from their bodies, so anybody coming into contact with them is more likely to become infected. Hospitals treating severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) became a major centre of super-spreading because the sickest patients were also the most infectious and they came into contact with lots of healthcare workers.
2-10-20 African nations step up efforts to prevent spread of coronavirus
There are signs that the rise in cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus may be slowing this week, suggesting that the unprecedented measures to limit people’s movements in the most affected areas of China may be working. But as people start to pick up the infection in countries other than China, the fear now is that it could explode somewhere less able to contain it.
2-10-20 Brain activity can help predict who'll benefit from an antidepressant
An AI can predict from people’s brainwaves whether an antidepressant is likely to help them. The technique may offer a new approach to prescribing medicines for mental illnesses. Antidepressants don’t always work, and we aren’t sure why. “We have a central problem in psychiatry because we characterise diseases by their end point, such as what behaviours they cause,” says Amit Etkin at Stanford University in California. “You tell me you’re depressed, and I don’t know any more than that. I don’t really know what’s going on in the brain and we prescribe medication on very little information.” Etkin wanted to find out if a machine-learning algorithm could predict from the brain activity of people diagnosed with depression who was most likely to respond to treatment with the antidepressant sertraline. The drug is typically effective in only a third of the people who take it. He and his team gathered electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings showing the brainwaves of 228 people aged between 18 and 65 with depression. These individuals had previously tried antidepressants, but weren’t on such drugs at the start of the study. Roughly half the participants were given sertraline, while the rest got a placebo. The researchers then monitored the participants’ mood over eight weeks, measuring any changes using a depression rating scale. By comparing the EEG recordings of those who responded well to the drug with those who didn’t, the machine-learning algorithm was able to identify a specific pattern of brain activity linked with a higher likelihood of finding sertraline helpful. The team then tested the algorithm on a different group of 279 people. Although only 41 per cent of overall participants responded well to sertraline, 76 per cent of those the algorithm predicted would benefit did so.
2-10-20 Food residues offer a taste of pottery’s diverse origins in East Asia
Some hunter-gathers used pots to cook fish, while others served up animals such as sheep. Pottery making may not have emerged in one Big Bang–like event. Instead, it was more like a cluster of ceramic eruptions among ancient East Asian hunter-gatherer groups as the last Ice Age waned, a new study suggests. East Asian hunter-gatherer populations living about 700 kilometers apart made and used cooking pots in contrasting ways between around 16,200 and 10,200 years ago, says a team led by Shinya Shoda, an archaeologist currently based at the University of York in England. Each of those groups probably invented its own distinctive pottery-making techniques, the scientists suspect. “Our results indicate that there was greater variability in the development and use of early pottery than has been appreciated,” Shoda says. Pieces of ceramic cooking pots from one group preserved chemical markers of fish, including salmon, Shoda’s group reports in the Feb. 1 Quaternary Science Reviews. Early pottery making by those hunter-gatherers accompanied seasonal harvests of migrating fish, the researchers say. Fatty acids extracted from remnants of a second group’s pots came from hoofed animals such as sheep or goats. Those vessels were used to render grease from animals’ bones, the team suggests. Each group appears to have had its own pottery-making style. Members of the Osipovka culture, who lived along the Lower Amur River in what’s now the Russian Far East, crafted cone-shaped vessels with flat bottoms and thick walls. Clay paste was mixed with gravel and other material. Inside and sometimes outside surfaces of pots were scraped with tools like combs. At sites of the Gromatukha culture, situated on the banks of the Amur River and its tributaries northwest of Osipovka sites, researchers found slightly curved pots that rested on either flat or round bases. Clay was typically mixed with grass, especially in the oldest pots. Cord marks and zigzag patterns cover many vessels.
2-10-20 Coronavirus claims 97 lives in one day - but number of infections stabilises
The number of people killed by the new coronavirus rose by 97 on Sunday, the highest number of casualties in a day. The total number of deaths in China is now 908 - but the number of newly-infected people per day has stabilised. Across China, 40,171 people are infected while 187,518 are under medical observation. Meanwhile, 60 more people have tested positive on a cruise ship quarantined in Japan - meaning 130 out of 3,700 passengers have caught the virus. The Diamond Princess ship is on a two-week quarantine off Yokohama, after a passenger - who earlier disembarked in Hong Kong - tested positive. The infected passengers are taken off board and treated in nearby hospitals. The new cases mean around a third of all coronavirus patients outside of China were on the Diamond Princess. According to Chinese data, 3,281 patients have been cured and discharged from hospital. On Monday, millions of people returned to work after the Lunar New Year break, which was extended from 31 January to curb the spread of the virus. But precautionary measures remain in place, including the staggering of working hours, and the selective reopening of workplaces. Chinese president Xi Jinping visited a local hospital in Beijing that offers treatment to coronavirus patients. He also took part in a video chat with medical workers in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Images from state media show Mr Xi wearing a mask and having his temperature checked. The president has largely stayed away from public view during the outbreak. "We must have confidence that we will eventually win this battle against the epidemic," he told staff at Ditan hospital in Beijing. Over the weekend, the number of coronavirus deaths overtook that of the Sars epidemic in 2003 which also originated in China and killed 774 people worldwide.
2-9-20 Coronavirus: Thousands on cruise ship allowed to disembark after tests
Thousands of people stuck on a cruise ship in Hong Kong for five days have been allowed to disembark after tests for coronavirus came back negative. Some 3,600 passengers and crew on the World Dream ship were quarantined amid fears some staff could have contracted the virus on a previous voyage. Another cruise ship where dozens of cases have been confirmed remains in quarantine off Japan. The outbreak has killed 813 people, all but two in mainland China. The coronavirus has now killed more people than Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2003, that epidemic killed 774 people in more than two dozen countries. In the Chinese province of Hubei alone, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the death toll is now put at 780 by regional health officials. More than 34,800 people have been infected worldwide, the vast majority in China. The World Dream was put in quarantine on Wednesday after it emerged that three passengers who had sailed on a previous voyage were later found to have contracted the virus. Chief port health officer Leng Yiu-Hong said all crew members - some 1,800 people - had tested negative for coronavirus, and that everyone would be allowed to disembark without the need to self-quarantine after leaving. On Sunday, Hong Kong's health minister said 468 people had been ordered to stay at home, in hotel rooms or government-run centres, one day after officials implemented a mandatory two-week quarantine period for anyone arriving from mainland China. In mainland China, millions of people were preparing to return to work after an extended Lunar New Year break, imposed in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. However, a high number of companies and businesses will remain closed and many people are expected to work from home. In Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing, state media reported schools would remain shut until at least 1 March, while many parts of Hubei province remain on lockdown. Other areas are under severe travel and gathering restrictions.
2-9-20 Reconnecting with the sun
With every bite eaten and breath taken, we incorporate sunlight into the fabric of our bodies. Visiting Ireland on the winter solstice brought to life the human-sun connection. he sky is powder blue, and the sun magnificent, as I stride through glittering grass and fallen sycamore seeds to Dowth, a Neolithic passage tomb in County Meath. Unlike its more famous neighbor, Newgrange, there are no tour buses here, no glitzy visitor's center, and — apart from today — no public access; only a wooden stile and a small sign on the verge of an Irish country road. The mound of the large burial chamber rises from the earth like a pregnant belly. At its base, I instinctively turn left, walking clockwise — sunwise — around it, until I come to a large boulder bearing ancient markings. The seven suns etched into its surface are just as a child would draw them, with rays radiating from a central circle. Pecked out with a hammer and stone chisel some 5,200 years ago, they're a clue to the phenomenon that occurs here on this, the shortest day of the year. Our ancestors revered the sun as a creator and destroyer of life. Their senses told them that when the sun is absent, everyone and everything suffers. They tracked its movements, noticing how it rises a little further along the horizon each day, until the solstices, when it pauses (the word solstice comes from "sun standstill"), then tracks back in the opposite direction. The winter solstice was particularly significant. To mark this crucial turning point, when the sun appeared to be at its weakest, people held feasts and created monuments, which they aligned with the rising or setting midwinter sun, perhaps in the hope that things would get better: that the barrenness of winter wasn't forever. Today, we've largely lost this connection. Electric lighting and central heating buffer us against the changing seasons, and enable us to work and socialize around the clock, even during the long nights of winter. Where our ancestors spent most of their days outside, we live approximately 90 percent of our lives indoors.
2-8-20 Lyme disease cases may rise 92 per cent in US due to climate change
Climate change could spur a 92 per cent increase in new cases of Lyme disease in the US by the end of the century, even if the world manages to limit warming to the commitments of the Paris climate deal. The number of people in the US being infected has been steadily rising in recent years, and there is no human vaccine for the disease, which can lead to lifelong health problems if not treated early. So far, the evidence for climate change’s influence on the ticks that infect humans with Lyme disease has been unclear. Now, Erin Mordecai at Stanford University in California and her colleagues have looked at past temperature and rainfall in the US to estimate their impact on Lyme disease cases in the US between 2000 and 2017. The team controlled for other possible drivers, including changes in forest cover and public awareness of tick-borne disease, as measured by online interest through Google Trends. The results were used to model what could happen in the future, and suggested that even if temperature rises are held to 1.8°C, below the 2°C goal of Paris, annual Lyme disease cases will jump by an extra 34,183 by 2100, a 92 per cent increase on levels seen in the last decade. Numbers are expected to significantly climb much earlier – 27,630 extra cases are expected by 2050. “These results indicate that substantial future increases in US Lyme disease burden are likely,” the team writes. Worryingly, the team says the results are likely to be conservative because they assume no human population growth. When that is factored in, the number of extra future cases nearly doubles. Richard Ostfeld at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, says the study largely backs up earlier research suggesting that climate change will make Lyme disease incidence worse in the US. “The methods seem credible, and the effort to control for non-climatic variables – such as public awareness, land use change – is laudable,” he says.
2-8-20 Coronavirus: Hong Kong imposes quarantine rules on mainland Chinese
Hong Kong has begun a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, in a fresh effort to contain the deadly new coronavirus. Visitors must isolate themselves in hotel rooms or government-run centres. Residents must stay inside their homes. Anyone caught flouting the new rules faces a fine and a prison sentence. Meanwhile, 722 deaths were recorded in mainland China, including one American. A Japanese man also died with symptoms consistent with the virus. The 60-year-old US citizen, the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the illness, died on Thursday at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, according to a US embassy spokesman in Beijing, who did not give details. Separately, the Japanese foreign ministry said a man in his 60s died, also in Wuhan, from what was suspected to be a case of coronavirus. However, it said it could not confirm the diagnosis, and that Chinese officials said the cause of death was viral pneumonia. The city is opening its second makeshift hospital since the outbreak began. Leishenshan hospital was built in two weeks and will be able to accommodate 1,500 patients. The number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 34,546. Outside China, 270 cases have been confirmed in 25 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with two fatalities - one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines. On Saturday, France confirmed five new cases in its Haute-Savoie region, including a nine-year-old boy and bringing the total of infected in the country to 11. French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said all of the five new cases were British nationals staying in the same chalet, which had also housed a Briton who had been in Singapore. Their condition is not said to be serious. A further six people who stayed at the chalet are under observation. Two schools - one the nine-year-old boy has been attending, along with another school where he has French classes - have been closed as a precaution.
2-8-20 Cases of the new coronavirus hint at the disease’s severity, symptoms and spread
Most cases are mild but older patients with health problems can face severe complications. As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in China and around the world, experts are getting a better handle on the severity of the disease, how it progresses in patients and just how easily it can spread in enclosed places, such as hospitals. As of February 7, the virus has killed 637 people and infected 31,211 more in China, according to the World Health Organization. An additional death, and 270 more cases, have been reported in 24 other countries. More detailed data on about 17,000 cases show that 82 percent are mild, 15 percent are severe and 3 percent are critical, the WHO reported in a news conference February 7. Overall, the WHO says less than 2 percent of patients who have fallen ill with 2019-nCoV have died, most often from multi-organ failure in older people and those with underlying health conditions. For instance, of 138 patients infected with coronavirus and admitted to Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in January, 26 percent ended up needing treatment in the intensive care unit, researchers report February 7 in JAMA. Those patients were older and had other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They suffered complications from the coronavirus pneumonia, including shock and acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs, leading to severe shortness of breath. These cases are part of the largest study yet of people hospitalized with the novel coronavirus, and provide a more detailed look at the symptoms and severity of the disease. The new study suggests that the virus spread quickly at the hospital. Of the 138 patients tracked at Zhonghan, 57, or 41 percent, appear to have been infected at the hospital. They include 40 health care workers and 17 patients already admitted for other conditions.
2-7-20 Coronavirus: Should you be afraid?
You’ve seen “the breathless headlines,” said Shannon Palus in Slate.com, reading like the previews from “a pandemic movie.” The Wuhan coronavirus that became an epidemic in China last month is sowing panic around the globe, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases, 425 dead, and experts increasingly convinced its spread can’t be contained. (See Business and International.) But for Americans, “it’s not as scary as it sounds.” There have been only 11 confirmed cases here, which means the current odds of getting it are near zero. And even if you were to somehow contract the virus, symptoms for most people are not life-threatening—a fever, respiratory congestion, and a cough. “Treatment means riding out the symptoms as you would with a common cold.” If you want to fret about illness, worry about the flu, said Marc Siegel in the Los Angeles Times. You’re “a million times more likely to encounter” the influenza virus over the next few months. This season, the flu is believed to have infected more than 19 million Americans, hospitalized as many as 310,000, and killed more than 10,000. Compared with that, the coronavirus risk is “trivial,” said Rex Nutting at MarketWatch.com. And yet we’re so complacent about the flu that many “won’t take even the simplest precautions.” Only 45 percent of adults get the flu vaccine, which is cheap and widely available. There’s no vaccine for the new virus, but the same basic rules apply for preventing infection for any respiratory virus: “Wash your hands often; don’t put your fingers in your eyes, nose, or mouth; and stay away from people who are coughing.” So why, then, are people panicking? asked David Ropeik in The Washington Post. “When it comes to risk, we are not always as wise as we think we are.” From Ebola to the Zika virus, we “instinctively worry more about new risks than familiar ones,” especially risks we don’t fully understand. Fear can create its own problems, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. It can lead to the spread of “rumor, exaggeration, and wild misinformation,” as well as scapegoating. It’s already begun, with an online explosion of “racist memes blaming Chinese people and Chinese culture for the virus.” Yes, the new virus is scary. “How we respond to it may be worse.”
2-7-20 China: Is it doing enough to control the coronavirus?
To stem the new coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government has “established a strong defense network against the invisible enemy,” said the Global Times (China) in an editorial. The respiratory illness has killed more than 420 people in China and infected some 20,000 others so far, but thanks to the nation’s extraordinary efforts, “the speed of the virus’ spread seems to have stabilized.” In the central Chinese city of Wuhan—the disease’s epicenter—thousands of construction workers labored around the clock to build a 1,000-bed hospital in just 10 days. Some 1,400 military medics are now treating patients there. Wuhan and its 11 million residents have been placed under a strict quarantine, and most other cities have taken action to bar nonresidents from entering. Chinese people are sensibly avoiding restaurants and other gathering places to avoid infection, and all citizens’ health and travel records are being “made known to their neighbors or colleagues.” This disaster has demonstrated “China’s astonishing mobilization ability and solidarity.” Online rumors are complicating the fight, said Alice Wu in the South China Morning Post. “Panic shopping and hoarding” has spread across the country as people crowd into stores to stock up on food and face masks, despite authorities’ admonitions to stay home. Abroad, racism against anyone who looks Chinese is on the rise. In Sri Lanka, Singaporean tourists were banned from a popular hiking spot; in Indonesia, locals marched on a hotel and demanded that Chinese guests leave; in Canada, parents urged that schoolchildren from China be quarantined. The fear is understandable, said Andrio Adiwibowo in The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), because it “may be too late” to stop a global pandemic. Within China, the number of infected people is still on the rise, while “outside China, a new case has been confirmed almost every day in 14 countries.” All we can do is bolster our own defenses “against not only the coronavirus but also other viruses that may strike in the future.”
2-7-20 Cruise ship quarantined
A cruise ship carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew members has been placed under a two-week quarantine in Yokohama harbor after a Hong Kong man who disembarked from the vessel tested positive for the new coronavirus. Passengers aboard the Diamond Princess have been confined to their rooms, and hundreds of people who may have had contact with the sick man are being screened for the respiratory illness. At least 10 people have tested positive so far, including one American. Meals are being delivered by staff wearing masks and goggles. Princess Cruises has waived Wi-Fi fees, so passengers are streaming movies and uploading videos to Facebook. “What my bar bill is going to be, goodness only knows,” said British passenger David Abel.
2-7-20 Doing their bit
Bill and Melinda Gates, who announced they were donating $100 million to help in the detection and treatment of the Wuhan coronavirus and accelerate the development of a vaccine.
2-7-20 Second heart attacks
People who survive a heart attack are more likely to suffer a second one if they have a paunch, new research suggests. It’s been known for years that having extra fat around your waist, even if you’re skinny elsewhere, raises your risk for a heart attack. But this is the first study to show that having a pot belly also makes subsequent attacks more likely, reports USNews.com. Researchers in Sweden tracked more than 22,000 heart attack survivors for four years; during that time almost 8 percent of the subjects suffered a second heart attack or stroke. After accounting for factors such as smoking and diabetes, the researchers concluded that patients who were abdominally obese—a waist size of 37.6 inches or above for men, 32 inches or more for women—were at greater risk. The link was clearer in men, possibly because men have more visceral fat, which sits around the organs and can turn into artery-clogging cholesterol. Lead author Hanieh Mohammadi said that maintaining a healthy waist circumference is important “regardless of how many drugs you may be taking or how healthy your blood tests are.”
2-7-20 Menopause blood test
Scientists say they have created a blood test that can predict when a woman will experience menopause up to two years in advance. Women are born with a lifetime’s supply of eggs that gradually diminishes with age; menopause occurs when that supply runs out. Current hormone tests allow doctors to predict menstruation end dates within a four-year window, which is not clinically useful. A more accurate test would enable women to make better-informed health decisions, such as whether or not to have a hysterectomy to stop painful periods. Researchers at the University of Colorado have now found that by measuring levels of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), a chemical made by ovaries, they can pinpoint that date with far greater precision. After analyzing the blood tests of 1,537 women, the team discovered that participants over age 47 whose AMH levels were below a certain cut-off point had a 67 percent chance of having their last period within the next year, and an 82 percent chance of having it in the next two. “Establishing a way to measure time to the final menstrual period,” lead author Nanette Santoro tells ScienceDaily.com, “has long been the holy grail of menopause research.”
2-7-20 Going gray from stress
It turns out there may be truth in the old adage that stress can turn your hair gray. A team at Harvard University has found that in mice, stressful events can deactivate the stem cells responsible for producing hair color. Located at the base of each follicle, these melanocyte stem cells differentiate and generate pigment-producing cells. When the mice were injected with a compound that raised their stress hormone levels, the differentiation process accelerated, exhausting the stem cells and leaving hairs that were transparent—gray, in other words. The researchers believe the sympathetic nervous system, which activates our “fight or flight” reaction in response to danger, is key to this process. It releases the chemical norepinephrine in stressful situations, raising our heartbeat and sharpening mental focus. But high levels of the chemical can send the stem cells into overdrive. In petri dish tests, noradrenaline caused human melanocyte stem cells to proliferate, suggesting stress could affect human hair in the same way. “If we can know more about how our tissues and stem cells change under stress,” lead author Ya-Chieh Hsu tells The New York Times, “we can eventually create treatments that can halt or reverse its detrimental impact.
2-7-20 The world’s oldest asteroid impact
Researchers say they have identified the world’s oldest asteroid crater: a 43-mile-wide scar in Western Australia’s outback that was created more than 2 billion years ago. This massive impact may have brought an end to the ice age known as Snowball Earth, when most of the world was covered with ice sheets up to 3 miles thick. The Yarrabubba impact structure is barely recognizable as a crater, because wind, rain, glaciation, and plate tectonics have scraped several miles off our planet’s surface over millions of millennia. To test the site’s age, geochronologists used electricity to splinter sample rocks into sand-size grains, and then looked for traces of zircon and monazite. Those tough minerals can survive for billions of years and, importantly, contain uranium and thorium—radioactive elements that can be used to measure age. Researchers determined that the Yarrabubba strike took place 2.229 billion years ago, some 200 million years before the next-oldest known impact, which created the Vredefort Dome in South Africa. They also calculated that when the asteroid hit Earth’s icy surface, the collision would have sent more than 100 billion tons of water vapor into the upper atmosphere—enough to trigger a period of global warming. “After the impact, glacial deposits are absent in the rock record for 400 million years,” co-author Nicholas Timms, from Australia’s Curtin University, tells CNN.com. This suggests the “impact may have influenced global climate.”
2-7-20 Brain cells called microglia eat away mice’s memories
A new study offers clues on how we forget. Immune cells in the brain chew up memories, a new study in mice shows. The finding, published in the Feb. 7 Science, points to a completely new way that the brain forgets, says neuroscientist Paul Frankland of the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto, who wasn’t involved in the study. That may sound like a bad thing, but forgetting is just as important as remembering. “The world constantly changes,” Frankland says, and getting rid of unimportant memories — such as a breakfast menu from two months ago — allows the brain to collect newer, more useful information. Exactly how the brain stores memories is still debated, but many scientists suspect that connections between large groups of nerve cells are important (SN: 1/24/18). Forgetting likely involves destroying or changing these large webs of precise connections, called synapses, other lines of research have suggested. The new result shows that microglia, immune cells that can clear debris from the brain, “do exactly that,” Frankland says. Microglia are master brain gardeners that trim extra synapses away early in life, says Yan Gu, a neuroscientist at Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China. Because synapses have a big role in memory storage, “we started to wonder whether microglia may induce forgetting by eliminating synapses,” Gu says. Gu’s team first gave mice an unpleasant memory: mild foot shocks, delivered in a particular cage. Five days after the shocks, the mice would still freeze in fear when they were placed in the cage. But 35 days later, they had begun to forget and froze less often in the room. Next, the researchers used a drug to get rid of microglial cells in some mice’s brains. Mice with fewer microglia froze more in the cage than mice with normal numbers of microglia, indicating that those rodents held on to the scary memory. The same was true of mice with microglia that, thanks to a drug, were unable to gobble up synapses. Those mice also seemed to hold on to the memory, the researchers found.
2-7-20 CRISPR-edited immune cells for fighting cancer passed a safety test
The edited T cells caused no serious side effects in the trial’s 3 participants. Immune cells edited with CRISPR/Cas9 to fight cancer seem to be safe and long-lasting, a small safety test of the cells in three cancer patients at the University of Pennsylvania shows. All three had cancers that could not be controlled by other therapies. While the gene-edited immune cells didn’t cure their cancer, the cells stayed in the body up to nine months and didn’t cause any serious side effects, researchers report February 6 in Science. The result is an important milestone in the gene editor’s journey toward being used clinically (SN: 12/16/19). But the Phase I clinical trial — which measures safety, not effectiveness — also saw some errors made during editing, one concern with the technology (SN: 3/5/19). CRISPR/Cas9 is a two-part molecular tool for cutting DNA. One part, a snippet of genetic material called a guide RNA, leads the DNA-cutting enzyme Cas9 to specific spots in DNA where researchers want to make a change. In this case, the team altered three genes in immune cells called T cells. The edits were aimed toward making the T cells more efficient than usual in killing cancer cells. Most (93.5 percent to 100 percent) of the cuts were right on target, but the gene editor made some cuts the researchers didn’t intend. These “off-target” cuts plus deletions and rearrangements of some DNA were found in a few edited cells. For instance, the sloppiest guide RNA caused 7,778 on-target edits and only 38 off-target edits. In seven of these off-target instances, the unwanted edits landed in the CLIC2 gene. Those edits are probably not dangerous as that gene is not active in T cells anyway, the authors say. Scientists worry that editing mistakes, deletions and rearrangements may inactivate genes that restrict cell growth or create cancer-promoting mutations. But edited T cells containing off-target edits in the study didn’t appear to grow abnormally.
2-6-20 CRISPR cancer trial finds that gene-edited immune cells are safe
CRISPR gene-edited immune cells have been injected into three people with advanced cancer without any serious side effects, the first trial of its kind in the US. It is also the first CRISPR cancer trial in the world to publish its findings, and the encouraging results will pave the way for many more trials. “It’s an important milestone,” says Waseem Qasim at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in the UK, who is carrying out a similar trial there. The US trial was intended only to assess safety. The three participants had tumours that hadn’t responded to other treatments, and were given only one dose of gene-edited cells. “Is it safe and feasible?” says team member Edward Stadtmauer at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think that’s what we demonstrated.” Many cancers involving blood cells are now treated by removing immune cells from individuals, adding a gene that makes them target cancer cells and putting them back in the body. But this treatment doesn’t work for everyone, says Stadtmauer. And in some, it works at first but they later relapse. The hope is that using gene editing to delete genes in addition to adding the targeting gene will make this approach even more effective. For instance, immune cells have a safety switch, called PD-1, that other cells can flip to say “don’t hurt me”. Many cancers exploit this to avoid immune attacks. In this trial, the team removed immune cells from three people who had tumours with the same protein on their surface. A virus was used to add a gene to make the immune cells target this protein. Next, three genes, including PD-1, were deleted using CRISPR. After six weeks, the cells were put back in the individuals, where they survived for at least 9 months. There were two big safety concerns. Firstly, CRISPR can cause unintended changes to genomes that could turn cells cancerous. Deleting three genes means cutting around each one in three spots in the genome, for instance, and the wrong ends can be joined up. This did happen in some cells, but there was no sign of any turning cancerous.
2-6-20 We’ve found more than 2500 new viruses and some are unlike any we know
More than 2500 new viruses have been found by scanning DNA recovered from human and animal cells. The method that was used promises to identify countless more viruses. There are untold numbers of species of virus, but only about 9000 have been characterised well enough for their genomes to be included in the definitive Reference Sequence data base, built by a branch of the US National Institutes of Health. A team led by Chris Buck at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, had previously scanned samples of human and animal tissue for viral DNA. At the time, the researchers were looking for new papillomaviruses and polyomaviruses, some of which cause cancer. Unlike many other viruses, these have genomes made of circular DNA. “I think we’re getting close to knowing all the human-infecting species in those families,” says Buck. But in the process, he says the team “pulled up a giant amount of other stuff that was not papillomavirus or polyomavirus”. This extra genetic data wasn’t studied further until graduate student Michael Tisza joined the lab. He devised a set of computer programs that could sort through it and identify new virus species. “We’ve provided a user-friendly way to sift through these junk piles,” says Buck. The analysis of the additional circular DNA data revealed 2514 new viruses. While many belong to existing families of viruses, 609 don’t resemble any known viruses. Some of the new viruses are highly unusual. One belonged to a group called CRESS viruses, but was far bigger than any known CRESS virus. It turned out to have three copies of a gene used to make an outer shell that encapsulates the entire virus particle. The whole particle, shell and all, is called a virion. “It seems like, by duplicating this gene a few times, the virus was able to make a bigger virion to accommodate more DNA,” says Buck.
2-6-20 Coronavirus: Why I chose to stay in Wuhan rather than return to the UK
As the number of coronavirus cases in China soars, international governments have chartered flights out of Wuhan for foreign nationals. The UK has urged all its citizens in China to leave. New Scientist spoke with a British man who has chosen to remain in Wuhan, which has been under lockdown since 23 January. He works in logistics for construction companies in China and wishes only to be identified as Charlie out of privacy concerns. Charlie has lived in Wuhan for six years. His partner is Chinese, so might not be able to join him on a flight to the UK if he were to leave. Businesses are still mostly closed throughout the entire city. One of the major problems right now is the lack of transport: cars, metro, buses. It is quite a large city to get around. From my perspective, the Chinese government is handling the situation extremely well. This could have easily turned into something a lot more nasty in terms of civil unrest. I think most people are quite happy to wait it out so long as they can still get fresh food and feel like they’re not in danger. I go out pretty much every day. I can do my work from my apartment so that’s not too much of a problem. It’s more just not wanting to stay indoors all day, every day. There aren’t really too many places to go. I usually try to get some exercise, so I’ll take a push bike out, just around empty streets. And then depending on which supermarkets have either fresh stock or not too many people, as reported by friends or the businesses themselves, I’ll go and visit them and see what they’ve got. Within reason, I’m free to move about the city. Last week was probably the worst. There was nothing fresh in any of the supermarkets. That’s not so bad now, but there’s a definite lack of fresh meat. Vegetables and fruits: that depends on the supermarket. Some of them have quite a good selection. They might raise the prices tenfold, but things like apples and cabbages are usually OK.
2-6-20 Weighted blankets are the new parenting trend. Do they work?
Is there any science behind claims that weighted blankets can help anxious kids?. hen Pamela Hunter's young daughter Ransom was diagnosed with a neurological condition called sensory processing disorder, Hunter noticed that Ransom was often calmed when draped in a homemade woven blanket. "I tested it out on her and immediately we saw her body relax," Hunter says. In the years since, Hunter launched Sheltered Co., a Los Angeles company that sells hand-woven, large, slightly heavy blankets made from sustainable materials. So-called weighted blankets are having a moment, as doctors and celebrities sing the praises of these hefty textiles. Some claim weighted blankets can help people with autism, sensory difficulties, restless legs, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and other ailments. But what exactly do they do? And are they safe for kids? The theory around weighted blankets is that they can help treat anxiety by relaxing the nervous system. "It's hypothesized that the deep pressure and more consistent sensory input provided by these weighted items reduces the level of arousal and stress which our body physiologically has," explains Dr. Amna Husain, pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics. It sounds complicated, but essentially, the soothing effects of a weighted blanket are similar to those you might feel upon receiving a hug when you're upset or anxious. Pediatric occupational therapist Natasha Bravo likens weighted blankets to baby swaddles. "When a baby is swaddled, they are experiencing evenly distributed pressure around the entire contour of their body which is calming and grounding," she says of the cocoon-like experience weighted blankets can provide. "Gentle consistent pressure can also impact breathing patterns into more deep and slower breaths."
2-6-20 Some people have extremely sweaty palms - but spraying Botox may help
A possible new method of treating excessive sweating involves blasting the palms of the hands and armpits with liquid Botox at high pressure, avoiding painful injections. A small study of this experimental technique found it improved sweating from the palms and armpits, but we need larger studies to confirm it works. Severe sweating affects about 5 per cent of people. The problem often hampers relationships and work performance due to feelings of embarrassment, not wanting to shake hands or socialise, difficulty holding objects, and the need to change clothes regularly, says Samantha Eisman at Sinclair Dermatology, a skin clinic in Melbourne, Australia. Conventional treatments include surgery, medication and prescription antiperspirants, but they often don’t work or have unwanted side effects. For example, surgery to stop sweating from the palms and armpits can lead to sweating from other areas of the body instead. An increasingly popular alternative is injections of botulinum toxin – sold under the trade name Botox – to block the nerves that are responsible for sweating. This works well for many people but can be extremely painful – even when anaesthetic is used – because needles have to be repeatedly inserted at 1-centimetre intervals across the sensitive palms and armpits. To overcome this drawback, Hyoung Moon Kim at Maylin skin clinic in South Korea and his colleagues have invented a needle-free alternative that shoots liquid Botox into the skin with a high-pressure jet nozzle. They tested the device on 20 people with severe palm or armpit sweating, or both, and found that the nozzle successfully delivered Botox into their skin. One month later, the participants said that their sweating had mostly disappeared from their palms and armpits, which was confirmed by chemical tests of their skin.
2-6-20 People who grow up outside of cities have a better sense of direction
Growing up outside a city may give you a better sense of direction, according to an analysis of data from the mobile video game Sea Hero Quest. The game was designed in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK to help study the mental processes involved in spatial navigation. Antoine Coutrot at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and his colleagues analysed game data for more than 440,000 people aged 19 to 70 from 38 countries. The data was collected while people played a level where they had to memorise a map of the sea and then use their virtual boat to navigate to various checkpoints as quickly as possible. However, the researchers did not measure how fast players finished the task. Correcting for video-game ability, they instead measured the trajectory of each participant’s path. The more erratic one’s trajectory to and from the checkpoints, the worse the researchers defined that player’s navigational skill. Previous studies done by the group have found a strong correlation between this measure and a participant’s real-life navigation abilities. The team also asked players their age, gender, level of education and where they grew up. Coutrot found that in every country, those who grew up in cities scored worse at navigation than their country’s other inhabitants. This effect was true for all genders, ages and levels of education. The effect was larger in some countries than others. For example, the difference in navigation ability between city-dwellers and country-dwellers was six times worse in America, than Romania. The researchers hypothesised that one of the reasons for these differences may partly be due to how the countries’ respective cities are organised. Using open source data, the team looked at the organisation of street networks in the ten most populous cities in each country, analysing how grid-like each country’s cities are on average.
2-6-20 Wasp nests provide the key to dating 12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art
The technique involved dating mud wasp nest remnants found both beneath and on top of the paint. Fanciful human figures adorning rock shelters in western Australia’s Kimberley region have often been assumed to date back 17,000 years or more. In a stinging rebuke of that idea, a new study suggests that most of these figures were painted much more recently — around 12,700 to 11,500 years ago. Ages of rock art in Southeast Asia (SN: 11/7/18), Australia and elsewhere are notoriously difficult to establish (SN: 10/28/19). Geoscientist Damien Finch of the University of Melbourne in Australia and his colleagues radiocarbon dated small, hardened pieces of 24 mud wasp nests positioned partly beneath or partly on top of 21 Gwion-style rock paintings, thus providing maximum and minimum age estimates. The dated paintings came from 14 Aboriginal rock art sites. Gwion art depicts elaborately garbed human figures and objects such as boomerangs and spears. Most radiocarbon dates from the mud wasp nests indicate the Gwion figures were painted around 12,000 years ago, at least 5,000 years later than typically thought, the scientists report February 5 in Science Advances. Radiocarbon evidence from a nest partly overlying one of the paintings, however, suggests it was, in fact, created about 17,000 years ago or more, they say. A 1997 study estimated that another Gwion painting was done at least 16,400 years ago, based on a different way of estimating a mud wasp nest’s age. That investigation dated the time since quartz particles in a mud wasp nest overlying a Gwion figure were last exposed to sunlight. But some rock art researchers disagree about whether that age estimate was accurate. Radiocarbon dating of mud wasp nest remains needs to be combined with other rock art dating approaches, including the method from the 1997 study, to evaluate additional Gwion paintings, says archaeologist June Ross of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. Once securely dated, Gwion art will provide insights into ancient Aboriginal cultural practices and social life, predicts Ross, who did not participate in the new study.
2-6-20 Mud wasps used to date Australia's aboriginal rock art
When the veteran telecoms engineer Damien Finch went on a three-week bush walk in Australia's Kimberley region, he became enthralled with its rock art. On his return home, he tried to find out more about these enigmatic aboriginal paintings and engravings. "I couldn't believe how little was known about them; we didn't even know how old they were," Damien said. "It seemed disrespectful that scientists hadn't studied this stuff more; it was downplaying the importance of the culture," he told BBC News. Now, 10 years on and in his 60s, Damien is putting that right. He's approaching the end of his doctoral research on the topic, and in this week's Science Advances journal, has published his own efforts to age the Kimberley's so-called Gwion figures. These feature finely painted human forms, often in elaborate ceremonial dress and carrying spears and boomerangs. It was thought they were painted some 16,000 years ago, but the University of Melbourne investigator has been able to show the likely age is nearer in time - at about 12,000 years ago. Dating rock art is really hard. Aboriginal artists use iron oxide pigments (ochre) which contain no organic material and are therefore resistant to any radiocarbon analysis. Damien has got around this by studying instead the scraps of organic matter stuck on top of and underneath the paintings. And for this, he's working with wasps. In particular, the ones that build nests out of mud. There's a wide group of these. Some will enclose their prey - such as a paralysed spider or caterpillar - inside an earthen box. Before sealing the lid, the wasps lay an egg on the unfortunate victim. The developing larva then consumes the immobile spider or caterpillar, eventually digging its way out of the nest as an adult to carry on the cycle. From Damien's point of view, when the female wasp gathers her mud supplies she inevitably picks up fragments of charcoal from the Kimberley's fire-prone landscape. And this charcoal can be radiocarbon dated.
2-6-20 An ancient skeleton from an underwater Mexican cave sheds light on early Americans
Bones from a woman who died around age 30 appear close to 10,000 years old. Nearly 10,000 years ago, the body of a young woman ended up in a dry cave in southern Mexico. Her bones, discovered by divers in the now-submerged cave, are revealing clues to a short, hard life as well as the history of the first Americans. Traditionally, scientists thought just one group of humans crossed a land bridge connecting Asia to North America around 12,000 years ago. But sinkhole caves in the Yucatán Peninsula have yielded nine other skeletons, including a teenage girl linked to modern native Americans (SN: 5/15/14), that suggest humans had already reached that far south by roughly 12,000 years ago. Explorers mapping a Yucatán cave called Chan Hol found this new female skeleton, dubbed Chan Hol 3, in 2016. Salty cave water degrades collagen in bones, stymieing usual radiocarbon dating methods. But low levels of uranium and thorium in calcite mineral deposits from stalactites that dripped onto Chan Hol 3’s fingers pegged her skeleton to at least 9,900 years old, researchers report February 5 in PLOS ONE. Tooth cavities indicate she lived on a high-sugar diet until she died around age 30. While it’s unclear what killed her, over the years, she sustained three skull injuries — all show healing — and suffered from a bacterial infection. Comparing Chan Hol 3’s skull to those from Mexico in the same time period revealed two distinct patterns: round skulls with low foreheads in the Yucatán, like Chan Hol 3’s, and longer skulls in Central Mexico. That suggests two human groups — probably with different looks and cultures — coexisted in Mexico around 12,000 to 8,000 years ago, say geoarchaeologist Silvia Gonzalez of the Liverpool John Moores University in England and her colleagues.
2-5-20 Coronavirus: Why infections from animals are such a deadly problem
The Wuhan coronavirus is the latest example of an infection that jumped from animals into humans – and when infections do this, they can be particularly deadly. THE new coronavirus is the latest example of a disease that jumped from animals into humans. When infections do this they can be deadly – and 2019-nCoV is no exception. Nearly all viruses and bacteria that infect other organisms are completely harmless to people. But a tiny proportion can infect us and cause so-called zoonotic diseases, which come from animals rather than other people. Such diseases are a massive problem. They make around 2.5 billion people ill every year and kill 2.7 million, according to a 2012 estimate. Not all zoonotic diseases cause serious illnesses, but the Ebola virus, for example, currently kills most of those it infects. One reason zoonotic viruses can be this deadly is that we lack pre-existing immunity to them. Another is that these viruses aren’t adapted to humans. Viruses that normally circulate among people can evolve to become less lethal, as this helps them spread. “They don’t want you to drop dead within a day because you won’t pass it to anyone else,” says Chris Coleman at the University of Nottingham, UK. To get infected, people need to come into contact with the animal the virus usually infects. This is most likely with domesticated animals. Camels carry the MERS coronavirus that causes sporadic human cases, for instance. Many viruses that jump into people, like MERS, seldom spread from person to person. They can still infect thousands, though: rabies is mostly passed on by dog bites, but kills 60,000 people a year. Others, such as Ebola, can spread from person to person, but aren’t very good at it and so cause relatively small outbreaks. The 2019 coronavirus, by contrast, appears quite good at spreading from person to person. While we don’t know how deadly it is yet, Coleman says “it’s not the most deadly coronavirus we’ve ever had”.
2-5-20 Overactive immune cells in babies may lead to childhood asthma
The way a young child’s immune system works seems to influence whether they will go on to develop temporary or persistent asthma. The finding could help identify more targeted treatments for different types of asthma, say researchers. By the time a child is 18 months old, they have already been exposed to a lot of bacteria, viruses and fungi. This starts to shape a child’s immune system for later life. To find out if such experiences might also predict a child’s risk of developing asthma, Susanne Brix at the Technical University of Denmark and her colleagues followed a group of infants in Denmark for the first six years of their lives. The team looked at how immune cells work in toddlers, and whether this is linked to the children’s risk of developing asthma by the time they were six. “Asthma is pretty prevalent in the Nordic European countries,” says Brix. “We have a prevalence of around 20 per cent in early childhood.” Brix and her colleagues first took blood samples from 541 children aged 18 months. Each sample was then exposed to a range of compounds – such as fragments of viruses or components of vaccines – to see how immune cells in the blood would respond. The responses of a particular type of immune cell seem to be linked to a child’s later risk of asthma, says Brix. This cell type, called a T helper cell, responds to potentially harmful pathogens by releasing a range of proteins. Two specific proteins seem to be linked to whether a child will go on to develop asthma. Those whose immune cells produce more of these proteins are significantly more likely to have asthma when they are six years old, says Brix. Her team also found differences in the immune response between girls and boys. The immune cells in blood samples taken from boys responded more strongly to bacteria and fungi, while girls seem to mount stronger responses to viruses.
2-5-20 Same-sex attraction isn't an evolutionary paradox - here's why
Our explanations for how same-sex attraction evolved are wrong – it's the spectrum of sexuality that is important. HOW did human same-sex attraction come to be? At first glance it seems to be an evolutionary paradox. For a trait to evolve, it has to be passed on to children to whom it confers some sort of advantage. But as gay sex, of itself, cannot yield offspring, we should expect same-sex attraction to go extinct. Evolutionary biologists have long struggled with this paradox, but my colleagues and I believe that if you come to the puzzle from a different angle, the apparent contradiction disappears. The trick is to recognise the complexity of human sexual activity and sexuality. Firstly, same-sex attraction only looks like a paradox if we consider human populations to be made up of two distinct groups: people who are exclusively gay and people who are exclusively straight. But human sexuality isn’t like this. Every study since the pioneering work of Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues in the 1940s and 50s has backed up the idea that sexuality varies continuously from a majority of people who identify as exclusively straight to a minority of people who identify as exclusively gay. In the middle are a range of people, including those who identify as bisexual, mostly straight or mostly gay. Acknowledging this spectrum radically changes the evolutionary question. It means that we should be asking how variation in sexuality evolved, not just how same-sex attraction has evolved. Secondly, the majority of sex, be it gay or straight, isn’t for reproduction. For humans and our chimpanzee and bonobo relatives, sex has a range of social functions that include play, social bonding, affiliation and even barter, conflict resolution, dominance and appeasement. Thinking about the evolution of sex has to consider these social functions as well.
2-5-20 The flawed experiment that destroyed the world's faith in psychiatry
Fifty years ago, psychiatrist David Rosenhan went undercover in a psychiatric hospital to expose its dark side. But his shocking findings aren't what they seem. ON 6 February 1969, David Lurie told a psychiatrist at Haverford State Hospital in Pennsylvania that he had been hearing voices. “Hollow”, “empty” and “thud”, they said. The voices were the only symptom experienced by the otherwise healthy 39-year-old copywriter. After an in-depth interview, in which Lurie was asked about his family life and two children, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalised. Yet all was not as it seemed. David Lurie didn’t exist. This was, in fact, an alias for psychologist David Rosenhan of Stanford University in California, who went undercover with seven other “pretenders” to test whether psychiatric staff could distinguish sanity from insanity. Published in 1973, his study contributed to an erosion of public faith in psychiatry, a mistrust memorably portrayed in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson. Rosenhan’s work held up for scrutiny the often harmful nature of psychiatric hospitals and galvanised a growing movement to shut the large ones and replace them with smaller, community-based mental health centres. In its wake, “psychiatrists looked like unreliable and antiquated quacks unfit to join in the research revolution”, says psychiatrist Allen Frances, formerly at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina. Rosenhan’s paper was “one of the most influential pieces of social science published in the 20th century”, says sociologist and historian Andrew Scull at the University of California, San Diego. But it wasn’t all it seemed. After spending six years investigating Rosenhan and his famous work, I believe he may have carried out a second deception, the effects of which are still being felt in psychiatry today.
2-5-20 Extinct date palms grown from 2000-year-old seeds found near JerusalemI
Seven date palm trees have been grown from 2000-year-old seeds that were found in the Judean desert near Jerusalem. The seeds – the oldest ever germinated – were among hundreds discovered in caves and in an ancient palace built by King Herod the Great in the 1st century BC. Sarah Sallon at the Louis L Borick Natural Medicine Research Center in Jerusalem and her colleagues previously grew a single date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera) from one of the seeds. The team has now managed to grow a further six. The ancient seeds were prepared by soaking them in water, adding hormones that encourage germination and rooting, then planting them in soil in a quarantined area. The team used radiocarbon dating to reveal the seven seeds were all around 2000 years old. Genetic analysis showed that several of them came from female date palms that were pollinated by male palms from different areas. This hints that the ancient Judean people who lived in the area at the time and cultivated the trees used sophisticated plant breeding techniques. Historical accounts of the dates that grew from the palms in this region describe their large size, sweetness and medicinal properties. The Roman scribe Pliny the Elder, for example, wrote that their “outstanding property is the unctuous juice which they exude and an extremely sweet sort of wine-flavour like that of honey”. Unlike Egyptian dates, they could be stored for a long time, meaning they could be exported throughout the Roman Empire. Sallon and her colleagues found that the seeds of ancient Judean dates are larger than modern varieties, which is often indicative of bigger fruit. They now hope to recreate the ancient fruit by pollinating females with males. Judea’s date palm crops started to die out after the region’s wars with Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Sallon believes the hot, dry conditions of the Judean desert probably helped to preserve the leftover seeds for so long.
2-5-20 Coronavirus: Hong Kong to quarantine visitors from mainland China
Hong Kong is to impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all visitors from mainland China as it battles to prevent the spread of a coronavirus outbreak. The policy comes into effect on Saturday but officials refused to close the border entirely, as demanded by medical staff who have gone on strike. Hong Kong, which has 21 confirmed cases and one fatality, suffered 300 deaths in the Sars outbreak in 2002-03. There are 24,300 confirmed coronavirus cases and 490 deaths on the mainland. Those figures included an additional 4,000 cases and 65 deaths on Tuesday. The virus has spread overseas, with some 25 nations confirming cases, although there have so far been only two deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. More than two dozen airlines have suspended or are restricting flights to China. Meanwhile, at least 10 people on board a cruise ship docked in the Japanese port of Yokohama have tested positive for the virus. The coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. Most people infected are likely to fully recover - just as they would from a flu. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said anyone arriving from the mainland, including foreigners, would be quarantined for 14 days from Saturday, although she did not say how this would be imposed. It is unclear where the quarantines would take place or whether Hong Kong residents could spend the time at home. Tens of thousands of people arrived from the mainland on Tuesday. Ms Lam has not moved to close the border entirely, although thousands of medical staff on Wednesday entered the third day of their strike over the issue and have threatened to escalate their action. Hong Kong will, however, close the Ocean and Kai Tak cruise terminals.
2-5-20 What life is like in Wuhan during the coronavirus lockdown
The streets of Wuhan in Hubei province are eerily quiet. The city of 11 million people, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, has been locked down since 23 January, with all public transport, flights and trains suspended. “You pretty much don’t see anybody outside,” says a man who lives in Wuhan and asked to be identified only as Alex. Private vehicles are banned in the downtown area. Highways are shut so residents aren’t able to leave the city. The only places full of people are pharmacies, where queues await those trying to buy face masks, gloves and alcohol disinfectant. Despite concerns about potential food shortages, large supermarkets remain open and well stocked. Some stores won’t allow customers in without a body temperature scan. Following the outbreak, the Lunar New Year holiday – which was supposed to end on 30 January – has been extended across China. In Hubei, businesses will be shut until at least 13 February. Alex doesn’t know when he will return to work. “Every day we’re at home, closely following the news,” he says. The first few days of isolation were boring, he says, and now supplies of items like face masks are running short. Alex considers himself lucky because none of his relatives have been infected to date. But friends and colleagues have been. It has been estimated that at least 75,000 people in Wuhan have been infected with the 2019-nCoV virus. Thousands of medical staff from across China have been sent to Wuhan. A nurse from Anhui province, who didn’t want to be identified, says the 200-bed hospital in Wuhan where she is working is at capacity. Staff are supposed to work 4-hour shifts, but they often last 6 to 8 hours, she says. She adds that protective suits and sterilisation equipment were in extremely short supply until 1 February, when more donations arrived.
2-5-20 Will the coronavirus become a pandemic - and what happens if it does?
The Wuhan coronavirus has exploded in China. There are three likely scenarios for what will happen next – and the bad news is that a pandemic looks difficult to avoid. WITH more than 17,000 confirmed cases – and probably far more undiagnosed – the 2019-nCoV coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, seems poised to go global. As New Scientist went to press, the epidemic was still centred on the province of Hubei, but the virus had travelled to 23 countries, and further epidemics seemed possible. Genetic analysis suggests that the virus isn’t changing much in humans, becoming neither more nor less harmful. So where is the outbreak likely to go from here? There are three options, says Eric Toner at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One, viruses new to humans that don’t adapt quickly can simply peter out after they have spread to several successive people, as another coronavirus from animals, MERS, seems to. But the rocketing number of cases in China mean 2019-nCoV shows no sign of doing this. Two, we could block transmission of the virus enough for it to die out. One way would be with drugs or vaccines (see “New coronavirus: How soon will a treatment be ready and will it work?”), but it may take a year to develop anything effective. Or we could quarantine infected people and block the virus. That worked for the related SARS virus in 2003, but early signs suggest that it might not be so easy this time. “Options one and two seem unlikely,” says Toner. Instead, the virus may simply spread, like flu does, until most people have been exposed to it and either died or recovered and become immune. Then it may burn out for lack of hosts, or become a disease that mostly affects children who haven’t yet encountered it. Last year, Toner led a pandemic management exercise in Baltimore, in which industry and health leaders discussed options as a computer model of a pandemic involving a fictional coronavirus played out. After 18 months, the spread of the virus started to slow down, as people either died or became immune. However, by then, the fictional virus had killed 65 million people.
2-5-20 The FDA has approved the first drug to treat peanut allergies
A new drug called Palforzia could help curb dangerous allergic reactions in kids. A safety net may soon be available to kids with peanut allergies. On January 31, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug aimed at peanut allergies in the United States. The drug, called Palforzia, won’t allow allergic children to chomp PB&J’s, but it may reduce the dangers of unintentional exposure. A regimen of Palforzia carefully metes out escalating doses of purified peanut powder before arriving at a daily maintenance dose. The method was designed to gradually teach the immune system that peanuts aren’t a threat. By the end of a recent clinical trial, about two-thirds of 372 children and teenagers could tolerate the amount of peanut protein in approximately two peanuts (SN: 11/18/18). The same was true for only 4 percent of participants who didn’t receive the peanut protein regimen. (In tests on a small number of adults, the drug didn’t seem to help much.) The drug, made by biopharmaceutical company Aimmune Therapeutics based in Brisbane, Calif., could help severely allergic kids tolerate accidental peanut contact in their daily lives, preventing a serious reaction, or even death. But Palforzia can bring side effects, including anaphylaxis. Some doses are meant to be taken under medical supervision. An estimated 1 million children in the United States have peanut allergies, a number that seems to be increasing. Doctors hope that number will fall with recent advice that encourages parents to feed most babies peanut protein early, between 4 and 6 months of age (SN: 1/13/17).
2-5-20 Injecting nanoparticles in the blood curbed brain swelling in mice
After a head injury, the tiny particles diverted inflammation-causing cells from the brain. Injecting a swarm of nanoparticles into the blood of someone who has suffered a brain injury may one day help to limit the damage — if experimental results in mice can be translated to humans. In mice, these nanoparticles seemed to reduce dangerous swelling by distracting immune cells from rushing to an injured brain. The results, described online January 10 in the Annals of Neurology, hint that the inflammation-fighting nanoparticles might someday make powerful medicine, says John Kessler, a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “All the data we have now suggest that they’re going to be safe, and they’re likely to work” for people, Kessler says. “But we don’t know that yet.” After an injury, tissue often swells as immune cells flock to the damage. Swelling of the brain can be dangerous because the brain is contained within the skull and “there’s no place to go,” Kessler says. The resulting pressure can be deadly. But nanoparticles might serve as an immune-cell distraction, the results in mice suggest. Two to three hours after a head injury, mice received injections of tiny biodegradable particles made of an FDA-approved polymer — the same sort that’s used in some dissolving sutures. Instead of rushing toward the brain, a certain type of immune cell called monocytes began turning their sights on these invaders. These monocytes engulfed the nanoparticles, and the cells and their cargo got packed off to the spleen for elimination, the researchers found. Because these nanoparticles are quickly taken out of circulation, the researchers injected the mice again one and two days later, in an effort to ease inflammation that might crop back up in the days after the injury.
2-4-20 Privacy of hundreds of thousands of genetic volunteers may be at risk
The privacy of people who add their DNA to research databases may be vulnerable to hackers, who could exploit the information published in genome studies to identify an individual’s genetic code. Genetics researchers are inadvertently publishing information that can theoretically be pieced together to identify someone’s DNA held in a research or commercial database, say Daphne Ezer at the Alan Turing Institute in London and her colleagues. Her team simulated how attackers could identify a person’s genetic code, and used this method to find a single dog’s genetic material in a DNA database. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) identify genes that are associated with personal traits or disease. Researchers use large databases containing the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people to conduct these studies and detect subtle DNA differences between participants. Ezer’s team showed how, under some circumstances, a hacker could use the information about an individual’s traits published in GWAS to recover that person’s genetic information – known as a reconstruction attack. “You might even be able to identify an individual with just two studies performed on the same database, if a small number of people are included in one study but not another,” says Ezer. This could happen if, for example, some participants skip a survey question or join one study later than the other, which Ezer’s team describe as a “potentially common” scenario. In these cases, attackers can use algorithms to predict the genetic details of an individual in one of the studies by combining information from both. The team showed this is possible by finding the genetic information of a single dog in the Cornell Dog Genome database.
2-5-20 Who invented the alphabet? The untold story of a linguistic revolution
One of civilisation’s most revolutionary inventions was long thought to be the brainchild of ancient Egyptian scribes. But its true creators may have been far less glamorous. AMENEMHAT III is one of Egypt’s lesser-known pharaohs. He made pyramids, but not on the scale of Khufu’s at Giza. He commissioned many artworks, but none that survive match the opulence of Tutankhamun’s gold mask. He mounted military expeditions, but not with the success of Thutmose III, who built a vast empire. Still, Amenemhat has one claim to fame. Under his rule, a technology emerged that is more impressive, valuable and pervasive than any of these legacies: the alphabet. The alphabet was a revolutionary way of recording information. But it is more than just a writing system. In a recent book, Philippa Steele and Philip Boyes at the University of Cambridge describe it as an “icon of culture“. Today it is so central to education in most countries that children can often recite it long before they have learned to read or write. Beyond the familiar ABC, a variety of alphabets are used to write in many languages, from Russian to Arabic. But all trace back to one common ancestor. The story of that first alphabet has long been a mystery, but over the past 25 years we have made enormous progress towards pinpointing when and where it was invented. Most astonishing, the consensus today is that the alphabet didn’t emerge from a state-sponsored initiative as was long believed. Instead, its originators were probably far removed from the ancient world’s elites. Paradoxically, they may even have been illiterate. “No trained Egyptian scribe would write in the way these geniuses wrote,” says Orly Goldwasser at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. “He would be ashamed to do so.”
2-4-20 Coronavirus outbreak not yet pandemic, World Health Organization says
The deadly coronavirus outbreak that has spread from China does not yet constitute a "pandemic", the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease, according to the WHO. At least 427 people have died with more than 20,000 confirmed cases around the world, most of them in China. More than two dozen nations have reported cases but, so far, no confirmations have been made across Africa or Latin America. On Tuesday, three more Asian countries - Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - confirmed infections among citizens who had not travelled to China. Officials say 425 people have died in China and one in Hong Kong. One death has also been confirmed in the Philippines. The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. On Monday, China's top leadership admitted "shortcomings and deficiencies" in the country's response to the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei province. The rare admission came from the Politburo Standing Committee, which called for an improvement in China's emergency management system and ordered a "severe" crackdown on illegal wildlife markets, where the virus is thought to have emerged. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO's Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, acknowledged that there was rapid spread of transmission in Hubei but said the situation "currently" was not a pandemic. She praised how Chinese authorities had responded to the outbreak, voicing hopes that the world could "get rid of this virus". She also stressed the importance of tackling unfounded rumours. "When you deal with an epidemic, you rapidly see that in addition to the epidemic of diseases, we often have an epidemic of information. And this is what we call 'infodemic'," she said. "And so we have realised over time that this infodemic could be really an obstacle for good response and hamper effective implementation of counter-measures."
2-4-20 SARS and the new coronavirus target the same cellular lock to infect cells
Lab studies are revealing more details about the novel pathogen. The number of 2019 novel coronavirus cases — more than 17,000 as of February 3 — has already eclipsed the roughly 8,000 cases reported for the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak. But scientists are still finding similarities between the two viruses. Analyses of living cells show that the new virus, called 2019-nCoV, uses the same cellular lock to get into cells as SARS, researchers report February 3 in Nature. Previous reports that the new virus relies on that lock — known as angiotensin-converting enzyme II, or ACE2 — to enter and infect cells were based on comparisons between the genetic blueprints of 2019-nCoV and the virus responsible for SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. The new finding, however, provides direct evidence from living cells that 2019-nCoV attaches to ACE2 to gain access, essentially picking the cellular lock with a spiky protein on the virus’s surface. Zheng-Li Shi, a virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, and her colleagues analyzed samples of the new virus from seven patients who had been admitted to a hospital in late December. The researchers isolated the virus from one patient and used it to infect cells grown in a laboratory. When cells had the ACE2 protein on their surface, the virus was able to break into them. The virus could use ACE2 proteins from humans to get into cells, as well as human cells with ACE2 proteins from Chinese horseshoe bats, civets and pigs. Researchers now know that people infected with 2019-nCoV can transmit the virus to others even when not showing symptoms (SN: 1/31/20). This is common for viruses such as influenza, which bind to sialic acid — a molecule often found in the upper airway. But ACE2 can be found deeper in the lungs, so it’s unclear how those without symptoms are spreading the virus.
2-4-20 The Chinese doctor who tried to warn others about coronavirus
In early January, authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan were trying to keep news of a new coronavirus under wraps. When one doctor tried to warn fellow medics about the outbreak, police paid him a visit and told him to stop. A month later he has been hailed as a hero, after he posted his story from a hospital bed. "Hello everyone, this is Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital," the post begins. It's a stunning insight into the botched response by local authorities in Wuhan in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. Dr Li was working at the centre of the outbreak in December when he noticed seven cases of a virus that he thought looked like Sars - the virus that led to a global epidemic in 2003. The cases were thought to come from the Huanan Seafood market in Wuhan and the patients were in quarantine in his hospital. On 30 December he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them about the outbreak and advising they wear protective clothing to avoid infection. What Dr Li didn't know then was that the disease that had been discovered was an entirely new coronavirus. Four days later he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was told him to sign a letter. In the letter he was accused of "making false comments" that had "severely disturbed the social order". "We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice - is that understood?" Underneath in Dr Li's handwriting is written: "Yes, I do." He was one of eight people who police said were being investigated for "spreading rumours". At the end of January, Dr Li published a copy of the letter on Weibo and explained what had happened. In the meantime, local authorities had apologised to him but that apology came too late.
2-4-20 Coronavirus: China wildlife trade ban 'should be permanent'
Campaigners have urged China to apply a permanent ban on the wildlife trade following the coronavirus outbreak. Markets selling live animals are considered a potential source of diseases that are new to humans. There has been speculation just such a market in Wuhan could have been the starting point for the outbreak. China put a temporary ban on the trade in wildlife as one measure to control the spread of coronavirus, but conservationists say it's not enough. They argue that, in addition to protecting human health, a permanent ban would be a vital step in the effort to end the illegal trading of wildlife. Campaigners say that China's demand for wildlife products, which find uses in traditional medicine, or as exotic foods, is driving a global trade in endangered species. More than 70% of emerging infections in humans are estimated to have come from animals, particularly wild animals. Experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) say there's a high likelihood the new coronavirus came from bats. But it might have made the jump to a currently unknown animal group before humans could be infected. The viruses behind Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) are also thought to have originated in bats. But they are thought to have circulated in civet cats and camels, respectively, before being transmitted to humans. "We are coming into contact with species of wildlife and their habitats that we were not with before," Dr Ben Embarek, with the department of nutrition and food safety at the WHO told the BBC. "We are suddenly exposing ourselves to totally new viruses we have never been in contact with in the past. "Therefore, we have a number of new diseases linked to new contacts between humans and previously unknown viruses, bacteria and parasites." A recent analysis of the nearly 32,000 known land-based vertebrate species showed that around 20% of them are bought and sold on the global wildlife market - either legally or illegally.
2-4-20 An experimental HIV vaccine failed a key trial in South Africa
The vaccine did not reduce the risk of being infected with the virus that causes AIDS A vaccine designed to prevent human immunodeficiency virus infection has proven no better than a placebo during a trial in South Africa. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., announced the results on February 3, citing an analysis by an independent review board. The news is disappointing, but also increases scientists’ resolve to develop an effective vaccine, says Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., who was not involved in the clinical trial. The Phase III trial included more than 5,400 sexually active men and women, ages 18 to 35. Trial participants were given six injections of vaccine or placebo over 18 months. An interim analysis in January found that the risk of becoming infected with HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — was the same whether a participant received the vaccine or the placebo: 129 new infections occurred among the vaccinated group of 2,694, while 123 people were infected from the placebo group of 2,689. All HIV-positive participants were referred for medical treatment. The vaccine was made up of two separate components: a vaccine based on a canarypox — a harmless poxvirus that can enter a variety of cells — that carried HIV genes, and another vaccine based on an HIV surface protein and designed to boost the immune response. The vaccine regimen had been tested in more than 16,000 participants in a Phase III clinical trial in Thailand, and reduced HIV infection by 31 percent in the vaccinated group compared with the placebo group. The trial in Thailand was a test of how well the vaccine worked in a population with low to moderate risk of HIV infection. In contrast, the trial in South Africa focused on a population at high risk for infection: In 2018, one in five adults ages 15 to 49 in the country was living with HIV. The vaccine also may have failed in the new trial in part because “the virus was more diverse in Africa than in Thailand,” Haynes says.
2-4-20 Yarn grown from human skin cells could be knitted into your body
Yarn grown from human skin cells could be used to make implantable “human textiles” for tissue grafts or organ repair. “We can sew pouches, create tubes, valves and perforated membranes,” says Nicholas L’Heureux, who led the work at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux. “With the yarn, any textile approach is feasible: knitting, braiding, weaving, even crocheting.” Synthetic materials used for stitches and scaffolds for growing tissue grafts can often trigger an immune response, causing inflammation that can complicate healing. Surgeons can use dissolvable materials to reduce this risk, but these aren’t great for complex tissue reconstruction if they fail prematurely. The human yarn avoids that by remaining undetected by the immune system. It builds on previous work by L’Heureux’s team that used human skin fibroblast cells to produce sheets of material that could be rolled into tubes to make artificial blood vessels. To spin the yarn, the team cut such sheets into ribbons and twisted them to form threads. These were then intertwined to create yarns of different mechanical strengths that could be dried and spooled until required. To show its potential, the researchers seeded individual threads with different blood vessel cells and braided them together. They also used the yarn as a stitch to close a wound on a rat that healed after 14 days. Another experiment used a custom-made loom to weave a strong and implantable textile tube. When grafted into a sheep’s artery, it showed no leaks and kept blood flowing normally. “With a textile approach, once you’re done assembling, it’s ready to wear,” says L’Heureux.
2-3-20 Economic impact of coronavirus outbreak likely to eclipse SARS crisis
The economic shockwaves of the Wuhan coronavirus look likely to eclipse the 2003 SARS crisis, as shares in China fell dramatically and analysts downgraded their forecasts for the country’s growth. The Shanghai Composite index fell by 8 per cent today, the largest daily drop for more than four years, despite the Chinese central bank saying yesterday it would inject $174 billion worth of liquidity into markets. As the number of infections in China climbed to more than 14,000, UK-based analysts Oxford Economics today cut its 2020 forecast for the Chinese economy from 6 per cent to 5.4 per cent. The group expects global GDP growth this year will be hit by 0.25 percentage points. By comparison, the SARS outbreak cost about 0.15 per cent of global GDP. Ben May at Oxford Economics says while there is much uncertainty over the eventual impact of the coronavirus, it will likely be worse than SARS, because China’s share of global trade has grown since 2003 and the immediate response by Chinese authorities has been stronger. “There’s been much more lockdowns on people and restrictions on business than with SARS,” he says. While emergency flights evacuating Japanese, US and European citizens from China have dominated news bulletins in the past week, one big impact will be on demand for jet fuel. Many domestic and international flights have already stopped. The price of the global benchmark for crude oil, Brent, has fallen to just below $60 a barrel, cancelling out the gains it made after the US killed a top Iranian general last month. The coronavirus is likely to have a much bigger effect on aviation than the SARS outbreak in 2003, because there are so many more Chinese taking to the skies. In 2003 there were 86 million annual Chinese air passengers; today there are more than 600 million. Oil analyst Wood Mackenzie said it expects the virus will lower global oil demand by more than 100,000 barrels a day on average in 2020. Global demand is around 102 million barrels a day. The group said it anticipates a “severe and one-off impact to China’s demand for jet fuel”.
2-3-20 Stone Age replica raft almost ready to repeat epic prehistoric voyage
Would you sail across 460 kilometres of shark-infested waters on this bamboo raft, with no support vessel and only Stone Age technology to hand (and a satellite phone for emergencies)? A crew of eight from the First Mariners experimental archaeology project is preparing to do just that, setting sail from Rote Island in Indonesia and heading across the Timor Sea for the north coast of Western Australia. The aim is to replicate an epic crossing that humans must have made 65,000 years ago to reach the lost continent of Sahul – what is now Australia, New Guinea and a lot of submerged seabed. The team built the raft using only tools and materials that would have been available in the middle Stone Age, and will have to survive the two-week voyage on tubers, coconuts and green bananas, plus fish and rainwater they catch on the way. The raft will be powered by a rudimentary sail made from the giant leaf of the lontar palm (Borassus flabellifer). Steering may prove difficult, but the crew hope that the north-westerly monsoon will blow them straight across the sea. Expedition leader Bob Hobman says the weather forecast is looking good and they are on target to leave on Sunday. “Almost ready,” he told New Scientist. “Leaf sail to come and we can leave. But you can imagine the tension building at the moment.”
2-2-20 Coronavirus: First death outside China reported in Philippines
A man has died of the coronavirus in the Philippines, the first confirmed fatality outside China. The patient was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected. He appeared to have been infected before arriving in the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. More than 300 people have died in the outbreak so far, the vast majority from Hubei. More than 14,000 people have been infected. The US, Australia and an increasing number of other countries have barred the arrival of foreigners from China and are requiring their own citizens to be quarantined. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has overtaken that of the similar Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003. But the mortality rate of the new virus is much lower, suggesting it is not as deadly. The man travelled to the Philippines from Wuhan, via Hong Kong, with a 38-year-old Chinese woman who also tested positive last week, the Philippines Department of Health said. Officials said he was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Manila, where he developed severe pneumonia. The man is thought to have had other pre-existing health conditions. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative to the Philippines, urged people to remain calm: "This is the first reported death outside China. However, we need to take into mind that this is not a locally acquired case. This patient came from the epicentre of this outbreak." According to local news outlet Rappler, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the patient was "stable and showed signs of improvement", but his condition deteriorated rapidly over 24 hours. "We are currently working with the Chinese embassy to ensure the dignified management of the remains according to national and international standards to contain the disease," Mr Duque said, adding that the man would be cremated.
2-2-20 Coronavirus:10 days of hospital building in 60 seconds
Time-lapse footage taken from above shows the construction of Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan city, which has been built to deal with coronavirus patients. According to Chinese authorities, construction began on 24 January, with the hospital due to open on 3 February. Around 300 people have died from the virus so far, with around 14,000 currently affected.
2-1-20 Peanut allergy drug approved by the US FDA
The US has approved its first treatment for peanut allergies in children. The drug AR101, or Palforzia, uses oral immunotherapy, with children given tiny but increasing amounts of peanut protein over a six-month period under medical supervision. After that, users must continue to take a daily dose to be able to tolerate accidental exposure. The treatment is not a cure and makers warn that the risk of a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction remains. And patients must continue to avoid peanuts in their diet. Peanuts are the most common food allergen in the US, with an increase in the number of those affected by food allergies across the West in recent decades. While trials to desensitise patients with peanut allergies have previously taken place in the US and elsewhere, the drug is the first to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drug has not yet been authorised for use in the UK. Palforzia, which has been approved for use in patients aged between four and 17, comes in the form of a powder which is sprinkled on food. Last year, scientists at King's College London said that oral immunotherapy offered "protection but not a cure" for peanut allergies, with treatment only effective while patients continued taking small amounts of the allergen.
2-1-20 The first case of coronavirus being spread by a person with no symptoms has been found
As the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread in China, researchers have found that people carrying the virus but not showing symptoms may be able to infect others. If infected people can spread 2019-nCoV while asymptomatic, it could be harder to trace contacts and contain the epidemic, which is already a global health emergency (SN: 1/30/20). An unnamed Shanghai woman passed the virus to business colleagues in Germany before she showed signs of the illness, doctors report January 30 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The woman had attended a business meeting at the headquarters of the auto supplier Webasto in Stockdorf on January 20 and flew back to China on January 22. She became ill with mild symptoms on the flight back to China and tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, one of her German colleagues fell ill on January 24 with a fever, sore throat, chills and muscle aches. His illness was brief, and he returned to work on January 27, the same day that the woman informed the company she carried the virus. Nasal swabs and sputum, or phlegm, samples from the man contained high levels of the novel coronavirus even though his symptoms had passed. Three other employees of the company also tested positive for the virus. Tracing their contacts, doctors conclude that the first man and another person caught the virus from their Chinese colleague. What’s also concerning is that the first man apparently passed the virus to the other two coworkers, who both had contact with him before he developed symptoms. All cases of the illness have been mild. These cases suggest that people shed the virus before they show symptoms and after recovery from the illness, say Camilla Rothe, a tropical medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University Hospital of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, and her colleagues.
2-1-20 Coronavirus: US and Australia close borders to Chinese arrivals
Countries around the world have closed their borders to arrivals from China, as officials work to control the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The US and Australia said they would deny entry to all foreign visitors who had recently been in China, where the virus first emerged in December. Earlier, countries including Russia, Japan, Pakistan and Italy announced similar travel restrictions. But global health officials have advised against such measures. "Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies," the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. The WHO recommends introducing screening at official border crossings. It has warned that closing borders could accelerate the spread of the virus, with travellers entering countries unofficially. China has criticised the wave of travel restrictions, accusing foreign governments of ignoring official advice. "Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the US rushed in the opposite direction," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. "[It is] certainly not a gesture of goodwill." The death toll from the new virus, which is officially called 2019-nCov, now stands at 259. All the deaths occurred within China and the majority were in Hubei province, where the virus originated. Almost 12,000 cases have been confirmed and a small proportion of those - around 100 - have been identified outside China. The UK, US, Russia and Germany have all confirmed cases in recent days. Meanwhile authorities in Hubei extended the Lunar New Year holiday until 13 February and announced marriage registrations would be suspended to discourage public gatherings. China started celebrating the holiday on 24 January, and Chinese officials had already extended the break in an attempt to postpone travel by large numbers of people as they return to work. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has overtaken that of the similar Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003. But the mortality rate of the new virus is much lower than that of Sars, which has led officials to believe it is not as deadly.
2-1-20 Scientists question White House measures to limit spread of coronavirus
The risk of contracting the virus in the United States is still low As U.S. officials declared the new coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency — imposing measures such as temporary quarantines for people possibly exposed to the virus, and barring entry of foreign nationals who have recently visited China — some experts questioned whether the approach would be effective. A steep rise in the number of cases in recent days, as well as lingering unknowns about the new virus, called 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, including its severity and transmissibility, prompted officials to take the actions, said Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md. at a White House news briefing announcing the measures on January 31. “It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that is absolutely the case,” he said. Two coworkers at a car parts supplier in Germany passed the virus to others before developing symptoms, doctors report January 30 in the New England Journal of Medicine (SN: 1/31/20). Spread of the virus from people with no symptoms puts a strain on efforts to contain the virus by identifying infected people and tracing their contacts, Fauci said. The risk of contracting the coronavirus in the United States is low. Still, the new measures are “not likely to keep us safe,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. While the vast majority of the 9,836 cases confirmed as of January 31 are in China, the virus has spread to 21 more countries, and potentially others where mild cases have likely gone undetected, Nuzzo says, especially since the virus can spread asymptomatically. Airport and other screenings have focused on people with symptoms. “That means we don’t have a clear idea of where the virus is and where it is not.”