Recent studies have deepened our understanding of in-flight Covid-19 risks

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Photo: Darryl Brooks/EyeEm/Getty Images

After hitting a historic low in the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of air travelers in the U.S has been slowly ratcheting up. On October 18, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 1 million air travelers in a single day, an emblematic number that hadn’t been reached since March. With the holiday season approaching, even more people may be encouraged to hop on a plane to visit their families.

“I do have a general sense that people are getting a little tired of not traveling or being isolated from their family and friends. They are looking forward to the holidays to get back together,” says Henry Wu, MD, director of Emory TravelWell Center and associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. That, of course, is concerning given that Covid-19 numbers are hitting daily records in the U.S., …


Inside the puzzle to reconstruct the history of SARS-CoV-2 and how it spilled over into humans

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Illustration: Bernice Liu

As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts the lives of billions around the world, two questions continue to linger: Where did the virus come from, and how did it find its way into humans?

Scientists have been hunting for those answers since the first cluster of unusual pneumonia cases emerged in China in December 2019. …


Understanding infants’ peculiar response to the virus may be a key to finding new treatments

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Photo: Sirapat Saeyang/EyeEm/Getty Images

Babies make up a tiny percentage of all diagnosed cases of Covid-19. In the United States, where 1.2% of the population are children under one year of age, they account for only 0.27% of the positive tests, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. It’s not clear if babies are getting infected at a lower rate compared with other age groups or if they are just not being tested as much. But what is evident is that the ones who are diagnosed have, in general, significantly milder illness compared with adults.

The reason behind babies’ apparent resilience to Covid-19 is being intensely investigated by scientists. Getting to the bottom of that mystery could inspire the development of new treatments, potentially benefiting people of all ages. …


One scientist studying centenarians believes the answer may be in their genes

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Illustration: Virginia Gabrielli

María Branyas, 113 years old and believed to be the oldest woman in Spain, had only mild symptoms of Covid-19. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy praised Sylvia Goldsholl for beating the novel coronavirus at the age of 108. Connie Titchen, 106, received a round of applause from doctors and nurses as she was wheeled out of Birmingham’s City Hospital. She said she felt very lucky to have fought off the virus.

One of the established facts about Covid-19 is that it hits older people hardest — which is why stories of centenarians beating Covid-19 piqued the curiosity of geneticist Mayana Zatz. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of dying due to Covid-19 is 630 times higher in people over the age of 85 as compared to young adults ages 18 to 29. …


An uncoordinated response, political polarization, and the sheer size of the country may help explain it

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Photo illustration. Photos (Getty Images): alexey_ds/daboost

Brazil is now the country with the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths — only the United States has a more devastating case count. Over 100 days after the first case was confirmed in Brazil, the curve is still going up, likely far from reaching its peak. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently declared South America the new epicenter of the disease, with Brazil being the most affected in the region.

Yet, many Brazilians seem to downplay the gravity of the pandemic. In my hometown, Ourinhos, a small city in the state of São Paulo, people crowded the streets of the downtown shopping district when stores reopened, despite surging cases, one week ago. And this past weekend in the city of São Paulo, the largest in the country and home to over 12 million people, the most popular shopping street was brimming with customers who had to form lines outside the stores waiting for their turn to shop. …


The risks you need to weigh and the precautions you need to take

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Photo: Orbon Alija/Getty Images

It’s been five months since I last saw my husband, João. He is currently alone in our apartment in Newark, New Jersey, while I’m staying with my parents in Ourinhos, a small town in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Due to U.S. immigration procedures, we had been in long-distance relationship mode even before Covid-19, but at least the situation was eased by the perspective of him visiting me in Brazil every three months.

Then, the pandemic hit, and his plans of spending Easter in Brazil were abruptly shattered. We suddenly found ourselves heavily quarantined in our respective homes, hoping that this would all be over before summer. Now it’s June, and we have been pondering whether my husband should make his way down to Brazil for a summer vacation. …


Heartbeat monitoring could help achieve your more ambitious fitness goals

A sweaty young woman takes a break while exercising outdoors.
A sweaty young woman takes a break while exercising outdoors.
Photo: Peopleimages/E+/Getty Images

With roughly one in five American adults regularly wearing a smartwatch or a fitness tracker, people are becoming more and more familiar with their own heart rates — a simple measure defined by the number of heartbeats per minute. When measured at rest, heart rate can be an important health indicator (generally speaking, lower resting heart rates are associated with longer lives). And when measured during exercise, heart rate is becoming a widespread tool to plan and monitor physical activity.

Exercise programs like the one created by Orangetheory, a large chain of fitness studios, are heavily based on achieving certain heart rate zones by measuring heart rate during the workout. Their promise is that, if your heart beats fast enough, your body will continue to burn calories even after the end of the training session. Orangetheory’s heart rate–based interval training, they say, “burns more calories post-workout than traditional exercise.” …


Why your face looks tired when you’re tired

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Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Everyone knows what a tired face looks like. Hanging eyelids, dark circles under the eyes, pale skin, droopy mouth corners, wrinkles, and fine lines—these were some of the cues a group of volunteers interviewed during a study associated with tiredness. The participants were shown photos of 10 individuals, each photographed while well-rested and while sleep-deprived, and were able to judge with a fair amount of precision the level of fatigue of the people in the headshots.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that lack of sleep has such a visible impact on one’s face—more specifically on the skin. “Sleep is our most important behavior; the one that occupies most time and is responsible for maintaining the internal balance, a state called homeostasis. And the skin is the largest organ in the human body, so it is definitely affected when sleep is disturbed,” says sleep researcher Monica Andersen, associate professor at the Department of Psychobiology at the Federal University of São Paulo. …


It could hint at how long you’ll live

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Photo: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Could human lives be extended by slowing down our hearts? Triggered by the observation that mammals with a higher heart rate live shorter than those with a slower one, this is the question that Dr. Herbert J. Levine, an eminent cardiologist and professor emeritus at Tufts University School of Medicine, asked in his 1997 article “Rest Heart Rate and Life Expectancy.”

To this day, his question has not been fully answered. But several recent studies have found important links between slower hearts and longer lives, elevating resting heart rate to the level of an important health indicator.

With the increasing popularity of smartwatches and other tracking devices, people are more aware than ever of their own resting heart rates, a measure defined by the number of heartbeats per minute while at rest, like when you’re sitting or lying down, no sooner than two hours after exercising. But how exactly to interpret that number, and what to do with that information, might not be so clear. …


The exhausted person’s guide to skin care

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Photo: CiydemImages/Getty Images

Makeup wipes are high on the list of bestselling beauty and personal care products on Amazon — that’s before lip balm, makeup brushes, and teeth-whitening kits. Made from materials such as cotton, wood pulp, and polyester, these disposable cleaning cloths usually contain ingredients similar to those found in face cleansers. …

About

Mariana Lenharo

Science and health journalist with a special interest in evidence-based medicine and epidemics. Columbia Journalism School alumna. mari.lenharo@gmail.com.

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