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Official COVID-19 count may underestimate deaths by 28 percent

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July 1 (UPI) — Official counts of COVID-19 cases in the United States may underestimate deaths by as much as 28 percent, according to an analysis published Wednesday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

From March 1 through May 30, an estimated 122,300 Americans died after being infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the researchers said. That’s higher than the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s tally of 95,235.

The difference is based on the researchers’ assessment of “excess deaths” across the country — the actual number of reported deaths compared to figures from the same period for the previous five years.”

There have been questions about whether the reported statistics overcount COVID-19 deaths, but our analyses suggest the opposite,” study co-author Daniel Weinberger, an associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University School of Medicine, told UPI.

“The number of reported COVID-19 deaths likely represents an undercount of the true burden caused by the virus.”

Analyses of “excess deaths” have been used to estimate deaths caused by infectious diseases in the past, including pneumonia, the flu and HIV, according to Weinberger and his colleagues.

As of Wednesday morning, nearly 2.7 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than 127,000 have died, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

CDC officials acknowledged last week that the total number of people actually infected with COVID-19 may be 10 times higher than official estimates because many who are infected don’t experience symptoms and don’t know they have it.

For the study, researchers reviewed mortality data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.They compared the “expected” number of deaths for the period — based on an average of totals for 2015-19 — and compared it to the total for 2020. The period covers the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak so far in parts of the United States.

The excess deaths for the three-month period in 2020 could be attributed to COVID-19, but may also be influenced by “people avoiding care for emergency medical conditions, like heart attacks,” as well as declines in certain categories of deaths, like car accidents, Weinberger said.

“Excess deaths can provide useful information in addition to the traditional statistics that are based on laboratory testing, [but] the data need to be interpreted with caution,” Weinberger said. “Looking at changes in deaths due to any cause provides a more complete picture of the epidemic.”



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Kids’ ‘green’ time reduces adverse effects of ‘screen’ time on behavior, learning

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — More time spent outdoors — and less in front of a screen — leads to improved mental health in children and adolescents, according to an analysis of existing research published Friday by the journal PLOS ONE.

Based on data from 186 previously published studies, researchers determined that young people who spent more time on handheld games and devices, television and computers were more likely to have behavior and emotional problems and display symptoms of aggression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

The young people also were more likely to have learning or social difficulties.

Conversely, children who spent more time outdoors and who had increased access to “green” spaces for play and learning were less likely to have these undesirable traits.

“Overall, the studies showed that high levels of screen time were associated with poorer psychological well-being, while more green time was associated with better psychological well-being,” co-author Tassia Oswald told UPI.

“While a lot more work needs to be done in this field to help us understand why this is the case, it is important that [technology] doesn’t become the only thing young people do in their leisure time,” said Oswald, a doctoral student in public health at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The prevalence of mental health illness among children and adolescents is increasing globally, according to Oswald and her colleagues.

In the United States, roughly 7%, or 4.5 million, of children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with a behavioral problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

On average, American children and adolescents spent between four and six hours per day watching or uses devices with screens, and may be exposed to violence and misleading or inaccurate information, among other potentially problematic content, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

A separate study of 1,239 8- to 9-year-olds in Melbourne, Australia, published earlier this week by PLOS ONE, found that watching two or more hours of television per day at that age was associated with lower reading performance compared to peers two years later.

In addition, using a computer for more than one hour per day was linked to a similar reduction in their ability to understand and work with numbers.

However, no links were found between the use of video games and academic performance, the analysis showed.

Preliminary evidence suggests that green time potentially could limit the effects of high screen time, meaning nature may be an under-utilized public health resource to promote youth psychological well-being in a high-tech era, according to Oswald and her colleagues.

“Monitoring screen time can be difficult for parents — especially at the moment when many children have transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19 lockdowns,” Oswald said.

“Trying to encourage a balance of activities is good — so if a child spends an hour on a video game, encourage them to get outside for an hour.”



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Study: Common cold may help prevent flu, perhaps COVID-19

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — The virus most often behind the common cold is capable of preventing the flu virus from infecting airways by jump-starting the body’s immune defenses, a study published Friday by The Lancet Microbe found.

Now, the researchers from Yale University, want to determine if rhinovirus, the most common cold-causing virus, offers similar protective effects against COVID-19.

In an analysis of more than 13,000 patients with symptoms of a respiratory infection, those who had rhinovirus were not simultaneously infected with the flu virus — even during months when both viruses were active.

The finding may help explain why an expected surge in cases of H1N1 swine flu, predicted for Europe in fall 2009, never occurred, the researchers said.

It’s possible that the H1N1 virus was unable to infect those who already had the common cold, which was widespread at the time, they said.

“Infection with the common cold virus protected cells from infection with a more dangerous virus, the influenza virus, and [this] occurred because the common cold activated the body’s general antiviral defenses,” study co-author Dr. Ellen F. Foxman told UPI.

“This may explain why the flu season, in winter, generally occurs after the common cold season, in autumn, and why very few people have both viruses at the same time,” said Foxman, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Concern has risen over the potential overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic with the annual flu season in the United States.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that the level of new cases of the coronavirus across the country is “too high.”

If cases continue to rise as flu season approaches, Fauci said, people infected with either of the two viruses, or both, could overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system.

“There [have been] a few reports of influenza-COVID-19 co-infections earlier in the year, and many of us are quite concerned what an influenza epidemic added to the COVID-19 pandemic could do,” Dr. Tony Moody, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, told UPI

“At this point, we don’t really know what the two diseases will look like, or if other respiratory viruses will help or hurt during the current pandemic,” said Moody, who was not part of the Yale research.

For this study, Foxman and her colleagues analyzed nasal and throat specimens collected from 13,707 people with evidence of a respiratory infection. Just over 7% of the specimens tested positive for the rhinovirus, while just under 7% had confirmed influenza A infection.

Only 12 people in the study population had evidence of both viruses simultaneously, the researchers found.

To test how the rhinovirus and the influenza virus interact, Foxman and her colleagues created human airway tissue with epithelial cells, which line the airways of the lung and are a chief target of respiratory viruses, grown from stem cells.

After the tissue had been exposed to rhinovirus, the influenza virus was unable to infect the tissue because the cells’ antiviral defenses were already turned on before the flu virus arrived, Foxman said.

The rhinovirus triggered production of the natural antiviral interferon in the cells. Interferon is part of the early immune system response to the invasion of pathogens, Foxman said.

The protective effect offered by this new interferon lasts for at least five days, she said.

The findings may allow researchers to better predict how respiratory viruses spread and find new ways to combat them in the absence of vaccines, the researchers said.

They emphasized, however, that whether the annual seasonal spread of the common cold virus will have a similar impact on COVID-19 remains unknown.

“Our results show that interactions between viruses can be an important driving force dictating how and when viruses spread through a population,” Foxman said.

“Since every virus is different, we still do not know how the common cold season will impact the spread of COVID-19, but we now know we should be looking out for these interactions.”



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People who don’t believe in God may get better sleep, study says

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Atheists and agnostics are much more likely to sleep like an angel than Catholics and Baptists, a new study finds.

It included more than 1,500 participants in the Baylor University Religion Survey who were asked about their religious affiliation, behaviors and beliefs, as well as their average nightly sleep time and difficulty getting to sleep.

While 73% of atheists and agnostics said they got seven or more hours of nightly sleep, only 63% of Catholics and only 55% of Baptists said they got at least seven hours of sleep a night, preliminary data show.

Seven or more hours of sleep a night is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM, for good health.

Catholics and Baptists were also more likely to report having difficulty falling asleep than atheists and agnostics.

Study participants who said they slept seven or more hours per night were much more likely to believe that they would get into heaven, compared to those who got less sleep.

However, beliefs about getting into heaven weren’t linked with difficulty falling asleep at night.

The researchers said that better sleep results in a more optimistic outlook and that in this study, that manifested as people believing they’d get into heaven.

“Mental health is increasingly discussed in church settings — as it should be — but sleep health is not discussed,” said study author Kyla Fergason, a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“Yet we know that sleep loss undercuts many human abilities that are considered to be core values of the church: being a positive member of a social community, expressing love and compassion rather than anger or judgment, and displaying integrity in moral reasoning and behavior,” Fergason said in AASM news release.

“Could getting better sleep help some people grow in their faith or become better Christians? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do know that mental, physical and cognitive health are intertwined with sleep health in the general population,” she noted.

The findings were recently published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep, and were presented last week at the virtual annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more on sleep.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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