Showing all posts tagged: health

Personal responsibility the only foil to Covid and long Covid

14 November 2022

Medical professionals are calling for more work from home mandates to combat the present surge in Covid infections in Australia. But the strain a new load of cases would impose on the health system is only one of their concerns. There is also the worry of an increase in instances of long Covid, something that becomes more likely, the more often someone is infected by Covid, says Dr Michael Bonning, NSW president of the Australian Medical Association.

“The risk of long COVID for everyone is really there and the more often you get infected, the higher your chances,” Bonning said. “[It doesn’t matter if] you’ve had it once and it was fairly mild.”

But Australian governments are reluctant to re-impose Covid mandates, saying Australians must take “personal responsibility” and “learn to live with Covid”. While this is true, I’m not sure Covid, as opposed to possibly the flu or common cold, is something we can really afford to live with, particularly if it leads to long Covid.

Long Covid, which can last for two months, some times longer, sees sufferers experience symptoms including extreme fatigue, cough, breathlessness, joint or muscle pain, chest pain, memory and concentration problems, and reduced appetite and weight loss, among other things. That’s not something to look forward to.

But then again, neither are lockdowns, or other restrictions. While they saw short term success, infection rates generally saw a decline, Covid returned once restrictions were removed. Covid has us in a bind. To live as normally as possible, free of Covid and long Covid, and restrictions, personal responsibility is one of the few options we have. But for “personal responsibility” to be effective, everyone has to do the right thing.

At its most basic, this means mask wearing where crowds are present, keeping up to date with Covid vaccinations, and isolating if infected. Covid is a slippery beast, and has had us marching to its beat for three years. The only real hope is an effective treatment is forthcoming, that will eventually eliminate the disease all together.



Casual and on-demand workers feel forced to work if unwell

6 November 2022

Covid has not gone away. In fact there are concerns a new wave of infections may be building. And while those who have the means — including people who can work from home — may be able to stay out of Covid’s way, not all workers are so fortunate. Especially vulnerable are casual and gig-economy workers. If they don’t show for work, they don’t get paid. There is a fear some of these people will nonetheless choose to work, even if they have Covid, simply because they have no choice.

A recent survey conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, found almost forty-percent of casual workers go to work if they are injured or unwell:

It found 37 per cent of workers in insecure jobs — including contractors, casuals, part-time and gig-economy workers — say they’ve worked while injured. Labor market economist Leonora Risse agrees it’s a big problem — and it extends to workers who turn up at work when sick. “We’ve always had some degree of insecure work in the workforce, but this is shining a light on the need to address it,” she says. Dr Risse says that employers may need their workers, but they also need them to be healthy.

I’m not sure what plans Australian governments have if there were to be another major surge in Covid cases, but it seems like lockdowns, and emergency payments for workers stricken with Covid, are off the table. But people feeling compelled to go work, so as to keep a roof over their head? This cannot end well.

Update: Professor Paul Kelly, Australia’s chief medical officer, confirmed in a television interview this morning that Covid infections have increased in the past week.



Climate change aggravates the spread of infectious diseases

15 August 2022

In the same week a reminder that climate change exasperates the emergence and spread of infectious diseases is issued, news that polio has been detected in New York sewage, and an instance of a virus, Langya henipavirus, spreading from animals to humans in China, are reported. This on top, of course, of COVID, and the more recent Monkeypox outbreak.

The continual release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is escalating several climatic risks, which, in turn, worsen human pathogenic illnesses. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, which amply demonstrated the social upheaval driven by infectious diseases, offers alarming hints to the possible outcomes of impending health crises caused by climate change.


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Rabies, a deadly virus from which few people recover

28 July 2022

According to Wikipedia, fifty-nine thousand people die from rabies annually. Once infected — commonly by way of a dog or bat bite — the prognosis is grim: death is a virtual certainty. There is some good news however, if you suspect you may have been infected somehow, you can still get the rabies vaccination which should halt the disease. But you need to act quickly.

Rabies, a word deriving from Latin word, means madness, and is the subject of this month’s Kurzgesagt video, which they describe as the deadliest virus on Earth. If you’re not a Kurzgesagt subscriber, I highly recommended following them. They have a knack for explaining complicated concepts in simple terms, while being engaging at the same time.


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Mall Walking, a popular though unofficial sport

18 July 2022
Shopping centre, photo by Steve Buissinne

Image courtesy of Steve Buissinne.

Say what you will about large shopping centres, those monuments to consumer greed with maze-like floorplans (quite deliberate by the way), but they have their adherents. And not just those hoping to be spotted in the queue as they await admittance to one of the centre’s luxury retailers either.

For a time in the 1980’s and 90’s large shopping centres were hugely popular among people looking for safe, sheltered, places to exercise, relax, and socialise, says Alexandra Lange, writing for Bloomberg.

It’s not hard to see why either, especially for avid walkers. The size of larger centres — where walkable floor space, split across multiple levels, can potentially amount to several kilometres — make for ideal all-weather exercise circuits, for those calling themselves mall walkers. Back in the 80’s and 90’s when the popularity of mall walking was at its peak, organised groups of walkers would descend on the malls daily, usually soon after opening time.

The mall, in its quiet early hours, provides affordances most cities and suburbs cannot: even, open walkways, consistent weather, bathrooms and benches. The mall is also “safe,” as Genevieve Bogdan told The New York Times in 1985; the Connecticut school nurse was “apprehensive about walking alone outdoors early in the morning before work.”

This is something I partake of during lunchbreaks, when I’m in Sydney, and working from the food court of a shopping mall in the city’s east. It takes about twenty-five minutes to complete a circuit, and on a quiet day I might go around twice. By my estimations, I might cover close to five kilometres.

While I’m not there so much post pandemic, I used to notice others clearly doing the same thing. I’d regularly see the same people, pacing the walkways, during what I supposed was their lunchbreak. I’ve also seen one or two people posting on Twitter, saying something to the effect of “I’m doing a lap or two of the centre.” I’m not sure if organised walking groups are present though, as I’m usually there later in the day, and it sounds like they’re active earlier on.

But the future doesn’t look hopeful for latter-day mall walkers, at least in the United States. In 2020, CNBC reported up to twenty-five percent of malls in America face closure over the next few years. I’m not sure what the outlook is for shopping centres in Australia. I would say we’ll see some closures, as American trends tend to copy over here, even if there’s a lag of several years.



Human tolerance to high temperature, humidity, lower than thought

2 July 2022

New research from Pennsylvania State University (PennState) shows human tolerance to temperatures — in situations where humidity is at one hundred percent — isn’t as high as previously thought. And that’s for younger people in good health.

For those not in that category, temperatures of 31°C (wet-bulb) would be far too high. Such temperatures are a regular occurrence in many parts of the world, certainly areas of Australia during the height of summer, so temperatures in the high thirties, or even forties, with one hundred percent humidity, pose a danger for just about everyone.

But in their new study, the researchers found that the actual maximum wet-bulb temperature is lower — about 31°C wet-bulb or 87°F at 100% humidity — even for young, healthy subjects. The temperature for older populations, who are more vulnerable to heat, is likely even lower.



COVID infection may result in long term cognitive decline

28 June 2022

A specialist medical team at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, have been monitoring the health of one hundred and twenty-eight people who were infected with the original COVID-19 Alpha strain in the early months of 2020.

Study participants experienced varying degrees of infection, with a small number requiring hospitalisation. But the findings of the study — to date — are unsettling to say the least.

Around one quarter of the ADAPT study’s participants were experiencing noticeable cognitive decline a year after getting COVID. And, some sort of cognitive decline was recorded in almost all of the participants, regardless of the severity of the initial infection. “When we look over time, across the 12 months of the study, we see that even the people who have performance within a normal expectation do also have a mild cognitive decline,” says neuropsychologist and associate professor Lucette Cysique.

However, Dr Cysique noted that in most cases cognitive decline was mild, and few people would notice, unless they found themselves in a “very cognitively demanding situation.”

I’m not sure I find that particularly reassuring. COVID strikes me as being a disease best avoided. If that is at all possible.



Could your morning cup of coffee reduce your risk of death?

11 June 2022

I’ve always heard drinking too many cups of coffee could be a health risk. But “too many” must be defined. One hundred cups a day might pose a risk, in the same way excessive consumption of anything can be detrimental to our health. Recent research though has found drinking coffee in moderation, about four cups a day, may have health benefits for some people.

Compared to people who didn’t report drinking coffee, the researchers found, people who drank coffee (up to and above 4.5 cups a day) were less likely to die of any cause over a seven-year follow-up period. This pattern held true after accounting for other factors like a person’s lifestyle, and even when people reported drinking sugar-sweetened coffee. “Moderate consumption of unsweetened and sugar-sweetened coffee was associated with lower risk for death,” the study authors wrote.



Mental health, well-being, prime concerns for music workers

30 May 2022

A recent survey of people working professionally in the Australian music and live performing arts industries makes for grim reading. Conducted in March by Support Act, a charity assisting artists and workers in the Australian music industry, the findings reveals many are fearful for their livelihoods and mental health:

  • 66% of participants had high/very high levels of psychological distress, more than four times the general population
  • 59% experienced suicidal thoughts, which is over four and a half times the proportion of the general Australian population
  • 29% reported having a current anxiety condition and 27% reported currently having depression, both more than twice that of the general population
  • Over one third of participants reported incomes from their work in music/live performing arts as less than $30,000 per annum, which is below the poverty line
  • Just 15% said they felt safe at work all of the time, with 35% saying they were exposed to unsafe working conditions in the last year
  • Over 47% lost their jobs due to the pandemic

The full summary of survey findings (PDF) can be read here.


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What’s behind the return of monkeypox?

27 May 2022

C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity at UNSW, writes about the recent monkeypox outbreak, which may be linked to the discontinuation of vaccine programs for the now eradicated smallpox virus, an immunisation that also offered protection from monkeypox.

Scientists have puzzled over why a previously rare infection is now becoming more common. The vaccine against smallpox also protects against monkeypox, so in the past, mass vaccination against smallpox protected people from monkeypox too. It is 40 years since smallpox was declared eradicated, and most mass vaccination programs ceased in the 1970s, so few people aged under 50 have been vaccinated. There are even fewer in Australia, where mass smallpox vaccination was never used, and an estimated 10% of Australians have been vaccinated. The vaccine gives immunity for anything from five to 20 years or more, but may wane at a rate of about 1-2% a year.



COVID chasers are not getting COVID out of the way

19 January 2022

When the COVID pandemic started almost two years ago, people would side-step each on the footpath for fear of contracting the virus. Now some people, known as COVID chasers, are going out of their way to become infected, by attending so-called COVID parties, where, I suppose, someone in attendance has the disease. People are of the belief they can get COVID “out of the way”, and get on with their lives.

If only it were so simple. The problem is we’re not dealing with a disease that gives an infected person life-long protection once they recover. While someone who is infected with COVID, and recovers, will develop anti-bodies, the life of these anti-bodies is short lived, lasting anywhere from three to sixteen months. Like all diseases, COVID affects everyone differently. Someone might feel like they have a cold, but another person, especially those unvaccinated, may find themselves in an intensive care ward. There’s the real risk COVID will get them “out of the way” instead.

With the virus spiralling out of control in some areas, the chances are many people will contract the virus. If you became seriously ill, perhaps you could draw some consolation from having made the best efforts to avoid the disease. But how many people would feel that way given they had deliberately tried to become infected? Be careful what you wish for. In the meantime, be safe, and keep reading books.


Combatting the spread of COVID-19 in Australia

10 January 2022

Australia needs to adopt a vaccine-plus strategy to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19, says C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, at Sydney’s UNSW, writing for The Conversation.

Among other things, this includes expanding PCR testing capacity, making rapid antigen test kits freely available to everyone, ditto high quality face masks, and stepping up the vaccine booster program.

If there’s no change in policy, there will be a higher, faster peak that far exceeds available health care, which may then force a lockdown. If people who need simple measures like oxygen cannot get a hospital bed, the death rate will start rising. The other option is to use “vaccines-plus” to flatten the curve and ease the load on society and the health system.

The perception the Omicron strain of COVID-19 is mild — thinking that possibly resulted in Australian federal and state government leaving the virus to spread — while sounding comforting, is not necessarily the case, says MacIntyre:

The Omicron wave has made health systems buckle in most states, with NSW worst affected currently. Delta was twice as severe as previous variants, so if Omicron is 20-45% less severe than Delta, that’s still no laughing matter with low booster rates.

It’s food for thought, considering the long term effects of the virus are yet to be understood. It sounds like prevention is easier than cure, but prevention is not easy.

It’s worth doing everything we can to prevent COVID and the long term burden of illness it may cause. In addition to long COVID, SARS-CoV-2 lingers in the heart, brain and many other organs long after the acute infection, and we don’t know the long term impacts of this.


Find a RAT, a Rapid Antigen Test kit in Australia

4 January 2022

Find a RAT in Australia, is a great and timely initiative by Melbourne based Australian application developer Matt Hayward, to help people locate Rapid Antigen Test kits to self-test for COVID-19.

With people in some locations reporting waiting several hours, sometimes longer, to take a PCR test, and waiting days instead of hours for the result because of the strain some test providers are under, a Rapid Antigen Test may be the only option some people have.

In recent days though RAT kits have become difficult to find, not to mention at a reasonable price, but hopefully Find a RAT will assist in locating them.