Posts tagged with "virus"

Vaccine illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Small Businesses Sign Vaccine Plan

­­SURVEY OF SMALL EMPLOYERS; 400+ SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS AND NATIONAL ADVOCATES LAUNCH INITIATIVE ON VACCINE LEADERSHIP TO GET U.S. ECONOMY BACK ON TRACK 

New National Survey of More than 3,300 Small Business Owners: Survey of small employers found that 64 percent of business owners say it is very important that their employees get vaccinated

Over 400 Small Business Owners and Leaders — Sign pledge to commit to becoming a small business vaccine leader 

Small employers want employees to get vaccinated and are willing to help to make it happen. The majority (63 percent) of small businesses are willing to encourage and incentivize employees to get vaccinated.

 Reimagine Main Street (RMS), a project of Public Private Strategies (PPS), has launched a public awareness campaign that will support small business owners in being leaders on the Covid-19 vaccines with their employees and in their community. The campaign was announced during a webinar that also included findings from a survey of more than 3,300 small employers on their perspectives on the vaccines conducted by Reimagine Main Street, in partnership with the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (National ACE), the US Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC), and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC). The survey results provide insights into how small business owners view the vaccines and their plans for themselves and their workers. 

Other business organizations including the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NLGCC), the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) are stepping up to engage their members. 

“Small businesses like mine have struggled during this pandemic, but the vaccine shows us that the end is in sight,” said Shaundell Newsome, Founder of Sumnu Marketing and Chairman of the Board of the Urban Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas, who moderated the webinar. “I have implemented a vaccine plan for my employees and all business owners should do the same so we can make it through Covid-19 as quickly as possible.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 70-85% of Americans need to receive the vaccine to achieve herd immunity. Once that happens, small businesses will be able to get back to business at full capacity and the economy and communities can completely reopen.

“The survey findings demonstrate that small business owners recognize the importance of the vaccines in reopening Main Street,” said PPS Founder and Principal Rhett Buttle. “By championing the vaccine with the employees and in their communities, small employers can help fully reopen the economy as quickly as possible.”

NEW SURVEY: 

The survey of more than 3,300 small employers shows strong support for ensuring workers get vaccinated. View the full survey. Key findings include: 

  • 63% of small employers intend to encourage their employees to get vaccinated. 
  • Nearly half (45%) of small employers’ plan to give workers paid time off (PTO) to get vaccinated.
     
  • More than 80% of small employers report having conversations with employees about vaccines and a majority (55%) say they would use free or low-cost resources to provide guidance and information about Covid-19 vaccines.

PLEDGE FROM SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS: 

The campaign also calls on employers to sign a pledge to be a SMALL BUSINESS VACCINE LEADER, which more than 400 small business owners have already signed. In signing it, small business owners are pledging to do at least one of the following things:

  • Commit to getting the vaccine when it is their turn and let their employees know why they are choosing to get the vaccine
  • Create a vaccine plan for their employees
  • Provide incentives to employees who receive the vaccine, such as PTO to receive the vaccine
  • Continue to follow state and federal guidance on social distancing and wearing masks after all employees are vaccinated
  • Assist with vaccine promotion and distribution in their community (examples include volunteering to help at COVID-19 vaccination sites, donating supplies or services to vaccination sites, and being vocal in their community on the business case for getting vaccinated)

NEW TIP SHEETS: 

Reimagine Main Street is also giving small business owners the resources they need to play a critical role in championing the vaccine with their employees and in their communities. In addition to general tools and resources, the campaign includes tip sheets in multiple languages for small business specifically targeted to demographics, including:

QUOTES FROM BUSINESS OWNERS AND LEADERS: 

Ron Busby, Sr., President/CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.

“When our country faces a crisis, the most vulnerable are hit the hardest, especially in the Black community. This was the case with Covid-19, but business owners can help put us on the path to recovery by embracing the vaccine.”

Ramiro Cavazos, President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

“It is going to take years for the Hispanic small business community to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, but the vaccine can get us started down that path. Business owners can help speed the recovery by championing the vaccine with their employees and community.”

Justin G. Nelson, Co-Founder and President, NGLCC

“COVID-19 has forced business owners in the LGBTQ community to look out for each other as we try to make it through this pandemic. Small business owners should protect themselves, their employees, and their communities by championing the vaccine.”

Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 

“Hispanic businesses have closed at a disproportionate rate because of Covid-19 and the path to recovery begins with the vaccine. If small business owners champion the Covid-19 vaccines, businesses and communities will be able to fully reopen much faster.” 

Chiling Tong President/CEO of the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on Asian American and Pacific Islander businesses both financially and through the rise in anti-Asian violence. It is critical that we get through this pandemic as quickly as possible, and the vaccine is key to doing so.”

Mas Torito, owner of Kokoro Restaurant in Denver

“My family restaurant has been in business for over 30 years and this past one was the toughest we have ever weathered. To come back stronger than ever, we have championed the vaccine, but it is critical that more small businesses do so as well.”

Ginger Torres, co-founder of PPE for Navajo First Responders in Phoenix

“Hesitancy to take the Covid-19 vaccine is prevalent among many Native Americans, but small business owners can play a huge role in changing that. I urge all small business owners to be leaders on the vaccine with their employees and in their communities.”

Patty Gentry Young, co-owner of Young Hair Inc., Spring Field, Ohio

“We all take steps to be proactive about our health and getting the Covid-19 vaccine should be one of them. Small business owners can play an important role in encouraging their employees and others in their community to get the vaccine.”

Piso 21 illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Piso 21

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Sun by Mina Tocalini for 360 Magazine

Urban Sun Cleans Coronavirus 

Inspired by the light of the sun, and scientific research which proves that a new specific light can safely clean up to 99.9% of the coronavirus, Studio Roosegaarde launches the world’s first Urban Sun.

Daan Roosegaarde and his team of designers, external experts, and scientists challenged themselves to discover how the power of light can be used to combat viruses and therefore, enhance our well-being. Research shows that though traditional 254nm UV light is harmful, the new far-UVC light with a wavelength of 222 nanometers can actually sanitize viruses safely.

Urban Sun, a project in development by Studio Roosegaarde, shines a large circle of this far-UVC light into public spaces, cleaning those spaces of the coronavirus. It acts as an additional layer of protection to current government rules. Urban Sun aims to inspire hope. It combats the negative impact of social isolation by aiming to improve cultural gatherings, sporting events, public squares, and schoolyards.

Urban Sun debuts at Studio Roosegaarde, with the potential for future exhibits. The project is supported by the Dutch Council of the Public Health & Society Board. Urban Sun is created by Roosegaarde’s team, together with external experts and scientists from the Netherlands, the US, Japan, and Italy. The Urban Sun’s far-UVC light source is measured and calibrated by the Dutch National Metrology Institute VSL. Urban Sun meets the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) safety standards.

Professor Karl Linden, award winning innovator in UV technologies and founding board member of the International Ultraviolet Association: “Urban Sun is inspiring. It will make enjoying public spaces safer and I look forward to visiting locations where this far-UVC sun is shining.”

Designer Daan Roosegaarde: “Suddenly our world is filled with plastic barriers, our family reduced to pixels on a computer screen. Let’s be architects of our new normal and create better places to meet.”

The science behind Urban Sun is based on multiple peer-reviewed articles authored by scientists from Columbia University and Hiroshima University. Research shows that 222nm far-UVC light can reduce the presence of viruses, including various strains of coronavirus and influenza, up to 99.9%.

For more information, please visit Studio Roosegaarde’s website.

AC_LatinoCovid by Allison Christensen for 360 Magazine

Antibody Cocktail May Prevent Symptomatic COVID-19 Infections

An antibody cocktail being tested at UVA Health and other sites was able to block 100% of symptomatic COVID-19 infections among people exposed to the virus, early results from the clinical trial suggest.

In addition, those who developed asymptomatic infections accumulated far less virus in their bodies than usual and saw their infections resolve within a week, according to interim data released by the cocktail’s manufacturer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

“This is the first treatment shown to prevent COVID-19 after a known exposure, and offers protection for unvaccinated individuals caring for a family member with COVID-19,” said UVA Health’s William Petri Jr., MD, PhD, one of the leaders of the trial at UVA. “We expect that Regeneron will file for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA so that this drug can be used outside of the context of a clinical trial.”

Antibodies for COVID-19

The phase 3 clinical trial aims to determine if the antibodies will prevent COVID-19 infection in people who have been exposed but not yet developed the disease. This is known as “passive immunization.”

Regeneron’s new analysis, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, looked at outcomes in approximately 400 trial participants. Of 186 people who received the antibodies, none developed symptomatic COVID-19. Of the 223 who received a placebo, eight developed symptomatic COVID-19, the company reports.

Asymptomatic infections occurred in 15 of the antibody recipients and in 23 of the placebo recipients. Overall rates of infection, including both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, were approximately 50% lower in the antibody group.

Among those who developed infections, placebo recipients had, on average, a peak viral load (the amount of virus in the body) that was more than 100 times greater than antibody recipients. The antibody group also recovered more quickly–all the infections resolved within seven days, while 40 percent of infections in the placebo group lasted three to four weeks, Regeneron said.

The cocktail also appears to shorten the duration of viral shedding, the time when the virus is being manufactured in the body. The viral shedding period was nine weeks among antibody recipients and 44 weeks among the placebo recipients. While people with COVID-19 are not infectious for this entire time, reducing the duration of viral shedding may shorten the period when they can spread the disease.

There were more adverse events reported among placebo recipients than among antibody recipients – 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Regeneron attributed this to the larger number of COVID-19 infections in the placebo group.

There was one death and one COVID-19-related hospitalization in the placebo group and none in the antibody group. Injection-site reactions were reported among 2 percent of both groups.

“We are profoundly grateful to the nurses and staff of the UVA COVID-19 clinic, led by Dr. Debbie-Anne Shirley,” Petri said. “Their day-to-day support made our participation in this trial possible.”

About the Clinical Trial

Phase 3 clinical trials, such as the one under way at UVA, examine the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and treatments in large numbers of people. Positive results in the phase 3 trial could spur the federal Food and Drug Administration to make the antibody cocktail available for post-exposure COVID-19 prevention.

The antibody cocktail is not a vaccine and is not expected to provide permanent immunity to COVID-19.

The team conducting the study at UVA is led by Petri and Shirley and includes Gregory Madden, MD; Chelsea Marie, PhD; Jennifer Sasson, MD; Jae Shin, MD; Cirle Warren, MD; Clinical Research Coordinator Igor Shumilin; assistant Rebecca Carpenter; and COVID-19 Clinic nurses Michelle Sutton, Elizabeth Brooks, Danielle Donigan, Cynthia Edwards, Jennifer Pinnata, Samantha Simmons and Rebecca Wade.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

Mina Tocalini, 360 Magazine, COVID-19

Covid Risk Increases During Holidays

By Hannah DiPilato

With the holiday season quickly approaching, Covid cases are skyrocketing all over the country and officials are advising people to social distance this holiday season.

According to CNN, more than 12 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and over 260,000 people have died. With those that are elderly or immune-compromised, the risk of complications due to COVID-19 is higher.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated the safety guidelines for traveling. “CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving Day period,” Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager for the CDC, said in a conference call.

“Right now, especially as we are seeing exponential growth in cases and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time,” Walke continued.

The CDC has also recommended people stay in their immediate households for the holiday season. Even without traveling across the country, seeing those you don’t usually see can lead to a breakout of coronavirus.

Walke said he does not plan to visit his own family for the holiday season. “I haven’t seen my parents since January. I’m staying home and that’s been difficult as I have older parents who would like to see me and who would like to see my children as well,” he said.

“It’s been a long outbreak, almost 11 months now, and people are tired. And we understand that and people want to see their relatives and their friends in the way they’ve always done it,” he continued, “But this year, particularly, we’re asking people to be as safe as possible and limit their travel.”

If you plan to gather with those outside of your immediate household, there are important precautions to take to prevent the spread of coronavirus. First, keep gatherings as small as possible. Many states have restrictions in place which limit the number of people allowed to gather inside. Check your local and state regulations to ensure your gathering is following the laws.

The CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz said, “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household.”

If possible, move your Thanksgiving dinner outside. Coronavirus is less likely to spread outside where there is better ventilation than indoors. Although many places are getting cold, tell your guests to load up with blankets and winter gear. If it’s too cold for an outside gathering, keep the windows open to ventilate the area.

One of the most important and simplest things you can do to stop the spread of Covid is to wear a mask. In many states, masks are required in public places and Thanksgiving dinner should be no exception. Keep your mask on unless eating and remain six feet away from other guests.

It is also recommended that guests handle making their own food and bringing their own utensils to Thanksgiving dinner this year. This prevents the spread of germs as well as cross-contamination between households. Remember to frequently wash your hands when cooking, eating and generally to stop the spread of germs.

Covid cases are rising in communities as well as healthcare networks which is making the virus even harder to handle. Many more people are becoming hospitalized due to the virus and healthcare workings are at risk.

According to the Associated Press, 905 staff members at The Mayo Clinic Health System have been infected with coronavirus in the last two weeks. The Mayo Clinic Health System is a network of clinics and hospitals in the midwest that are run by Mayo Clinic.

Executive dean of Mayo Clinic Practice, Dr. Amy Williams, said that most cases came from exposure within the community and not from work. “It shows how widely spread this is in our communities and how easy it is to get COVID-19 in the communities here in the Midwest,” she said.

If a virtual gathering isn’t in your Thanksgiving plans this year and you will be seeing people outside of your family in person, consider isolating yourself beforehand. Since the incubation period of the virus is 14 days, a negative test result doesn’t necessarily mean a person does not carry the virus. Although a negative test result for coronavirus isn’t a sure sign of safety, it is an extra precaution everyone should add before mingling this holiday season.

Besides getting a coronavirus test, people should also consider a 14-day quarantine before seeing loved ones, or afterward. Isolating before seeing family will decrease the risk of spreading the disease within your holiday circle. If you plan on traveling for the holiday, consider isolating yourself after returning to prevent the spread of covid in your community.

The CDC has predicted this will be a dark winter and although a vaccine is in the works, it likely won’t be ready for mass distribution for a few more weeks. The holiday season will only lead to more cases with an increase in travel and group gatherings. As the weather in many places gets colder, inside gatherings are more likely to occur.

The CDC also recommends everyone get their flu shot for the upcoming flu season. By protecting yourself from the flu, you can help the healthcare system more easily manage the large influx of people going to the hospital.

In all states except Hawaii, Maine and Vermont, there is an active or imminent outbreak of coronavirus according to Covid Act Now. Even these three states are at risk for an outbreak. Currently, North Dakota has the highest number of new daily cases per 100,000 people with 159.6 cases. Wyoming and New Mexico follow closely behind.

Many states have separated their cities and counties into different zones depending on the number of Covid cases present. The restrictions in place for these areas are then determined by the number of cases.

New York City is starting to enforce tighter restrictions as cases start to rise. “In the next week or two we should see some substantial restrictions,” said Mayor, Bill de Blasio. “I think indoor dining will be closed, gyms will be closed.  I’m not happy about it. No one is happy about it but that’s what’s coming.” There is currently a 10 person gathering limit and a curfew for nonessential businesses between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Similarly, in Boston, Governor Charlie Baker has released a stay-at-home advisory for the same time frame. People are urged to only go out between these hours for essentials. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people while outdoor gatherings should be capped at 25 people.

Things on the west coast seem just as bleak. According to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries will be closed for dine-in services for at least three weeks. People in Los Angeles are being advised to stay home and have a similar curfew to Boston and New York City.

In some cities where cases are skyrocketing, restrictions are not being put in place as heavily as in California and New York. In Miami, restaurants are able to be open to 100% capacity and seat 10 people per table. Most things in Miami are reopened, but with restrictions such as requiring masks.

It is crucial for everyone to work together to bring covid cases back down over the coming weeks. As cases spike, it is important to remember that each state has precautions in place for a reason. Although many states won’t fully shut down, you can decide to continue social distancing and only going out for essentials.

Mina Tocalini, 360 Magazine, COVID-19

New Possible Key for Targeting Viruses

“Position 4” didn’t seem important until researchers took a long look at a particular peptide. That part of the peptide drawn from a SARS-CoV virus turned out to have an unexpected but significant influence on how it stably binds with a receptor central to the immune system’s ability to attack diseased cells. 

In a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center revealed models at an atomic resolution that detail not only the binding but also, for the first time, the unbinding mechanisms that underlie a key component of the immune system. 

They say a better understanding of the entire mechanism could lead to advancements in immunotherapy that boost the body’s ability to fight disease. 

Rice computer scientist Lydia Kavraki, alumnus Jayvee Abella and postdoctoral researcher Dinler Antunes, led the study.

“Finding good targets to trigger a protective immune response is very challenging, especially in cancer research,” Antunes said. “The fact that this particular peptide was predicted not to bind to HLAs (human leukocyte antigens) by sequence-based methods highlights a blind spot in our current prediction capacity.”

“By incorporating structural analysis, we can detect the contribution of these secondary interactions to peptide binding and stability, hopefully enabling us to find better targets for antiviral vaccine development and T-cell-based cancer immunotherapy,” he said.

The researchers used their simulations to illuminate details of how the intracellular SARS peptide, QFKDNVILL, binds to an MHC receptor protein known as HLA-A24:02, primarily at dominant anchors on both ends of the peptide (at positions 2 and 9) and presents them for inspection to the immune system’s T cells. 

Stable binding of a peptide and MHC is a prerequisite to the activation of T cells, which look for peptides not normally found in healthy cells. If the peptide and protein don’t bind, the T cell is not prompted to attack. 

“That much was known from previous studies of the bound and unbound states of many such complexes,” Kavraki said. “What they didn’t capture was the intermediate states and the transitions that lead from one state to another, especially the unbinding.

“I think this is the only analysis that shows the unbinding of peptides from the MHC with atomic resolution,” Kavraki said. “Other peptides have similar characteristics and we think they would have similar behaviors.”

All of these interactions were revealed in great detail through Markov state models that analyze how systems change over time. In this case, the models revealed the importance of secondary sites that support the peptide’s primary anchors. That’s where position 4 stood out.

“There are the main, canonical anchors that people know, but there are these secondary interactions that contribute to the binding and the stability,” Antunes said. “These are harder to capture, but in this study, it seems that position 4 plays a very important role. When you mutate it, it affects the behavior of the peptide as it unbinds from the molecule.”

The researchers modeled mutations of the MHC to see how they would influence binding and found they supported the importance of position 4 to the stability of the complex.

“Our computational approach was able to make predictions on the effect of mutations that are then experimentally verified,” said co-author Cecilia Clementi, a former Rice professor who recently became Einstein Professor of Physics at the Free University of Berlin. 

The researchers developed a two-stage process to simplify the computational complexity of atom-scale analysis of large molecules. The first stage used a technique called umbrella sampling to accelerate the initial exploration of the molecules. The second, exploratory stage used adaptive sampling, in which simulations are driven to accelerate the construction of the Markov model.  

“The challenge is that these MHCs are pretty large systems for computational chemists to simulate,” said Abella, whose research on the topic formed much of his doctoral thesis. “We had to make some approximations and leverage advances in these classes of methods to move forward.”

“We’re not the first one to study unbinding, but what characterizes our work over others is that we keep full atomic resolution in our simulations,” he said. “Other works use a technique known as a Markov chain Monte Carlo, whereas we use molecular dynamics, which lets us incorporate time into our computation to capture the kinetics.”

Their methods can be applied to other peptide-MHC complexes with existing 3D models. “This was, in some sense, a feasibility study to show we can use molecular dynamics and build a Markov state model of a system this size,” Abella said. 

The researchers also noted the study’s relevance to the current fight against COVID-19, as the SARS peptide they viewed, QFKDNVILL, is highly similar to the NFKDQVILL peptide in SARS-CoV-2, with the same binding pockets in positions 2, 4 and 9.

“These results suggest that both peptides can bind to HLA-A*2402 and provide targets for anti-viral T-cell responses, which are of great interest in light of the current pandemic,” said co-author Gregory Lizée, a professor in the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology at MD Anderson. “But these results also shed light on many other potential immune targets, including those of other viruses and even human cancers.”

Kavraki noted that experimental work by long-term collaborator Lizée and Kyle Jackson, a graduate research assistant at Lizée’s lab who produced the mutant proteins, were critical to validate their simulations. Kavraki’s own lab won a National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response Research grant to help identify fragments of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins as possible targets for vaccine development. 

Kavraki is the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and a professor of bioengineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. 

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the Gulf Coast Consortia, the NSF, the Einstein Foundation Berlin and the Welch Foundation supported the research.

Are We Living Too Clean?

By Jessica ter Haar, Ph.D., scientific director of the International Probiotics Association

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that proper hygiene is vital to keeping ourselves and the members of our communities safe and healthy. We are constantly reminded of the need to disinfect our hands, avoid touching our faces, keep our distance and take COVID-19 safety measures seriously.
But could all the hand washing, antibacterial cleansing and social distancing cause another health problem?

It may seem counterintuitive, but the extreme clean living our society has adopted could in fact make our body’s innate immune system weaker. Many people have entered into a sort of “microbe-phobia” to avoid the coronavirus, but it is important to remember that not all microbes are bad. In fact, many are essential for good health.
Sterilizing everything can have the unintended negative consequence of eradicating the good germs that we would normally be exposed to in our daily lives. In doing so, we are weakening our body’s own natural defenses to everyday threats.

Microbes—including bacteria, fungi, and viruses—are invisible to the naked eye, and our bodies host trillions of these microorganisms inside and out. Scientifically, this population is known as the microbiome. The gut microbiome, for example, is a concept that has been around for centuries but has only been commonly used in conversation since the early 2000s.

Some microbes are harmful and can make us sick, but many keep us healthy and should not be feared but appreciated. Understanding the role of the human microbiome has been complicated further by the confusion surrounding terminology – a big one being the differences between bacteria, fungi and viruses. It’s important to know more about them and how they differ when considering good versus bad microbes.

Bacteria are single-cell organisms, and most are not dangerous to humans. In fact, less than 1% of all bacteria are responsible for disease. Many bacteria live in our bodies and help us stay healthy. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, which kill the bacteria or at least stop the bad bacteria from multiplying.

Fungi are single-celled or multi-celled organisms that are similar to bacteria in that they live in different environments and cause disease. Fungal infections can become life-threatening if the immune system is weak, but certain fungi also have many beneficial qualities. The discovery of penicillin, a type of fungus, was due to a variety of mold which is now used to produce this antibiotic.

Viruses, including the coronavirus, are more challenging. They have no cells of their own and instead rely on host cells to multiply and replicate. Many viruses peacefully co-exist with humans, but some can cause diseases, including the relatively harmless common cold, while others can be deadly and bring about serious diseases like AIDS, measles and COVID-19. It is difficult to fight a virus with medication, which is why vaccinations are often used to support the immune system to better prepare the body to fight the virus.

As we begin practicing good hygiene and social distancing recommendations, life is feeling far from normal. But similar to the emotional effects of our isolation, by not living life, we are failing to be exposed to the good natural microbes needed to support our immune system’s defenses, metabolism, digestion and the brain’s ability to modulate mood and focus.

The question is, how can we continue hygiene measures to prevent COVID-19 without weakening our immune systems?

This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics can be the hero in our current germophobic environment to help counter the lack of microbe exposure and stimulate our body’s own bacterial population in the gut microbiome and cells. Probiotics can literally wake up sleepy bacteria and cells and assist in protecting our health.
If you are unfamiliar, probiotics are live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. Experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and WHO created this definition of probiotics, and to date, probiotics have more than 8,000 different scientific research studies indexed by PubMed.

Something as simple as a probiotic supplement can help compensate for our ultra-clean lifestyles and add beneficial microorganisms to our daily health arsenal. Probiotics add to the functional diversity of healthy microbes within our microbiome that bolster our immune system and overall health resilience. Probiotics have quickly risen in popularity and took center stage in the past decade, primarily because of how probiotics make people feel and how they work.

According to research, people report feeling better when they are taking a probiotic, which makes perfect sense because when the gut is happy, the rest of the body seems to be in synchronicity. But let’s not forget that probiotics can also work beyond the gut. There is a lot of probiotic science that continues to evolve, and everything seems to point to positive health outcomes.

Many of the microorganisms in probiotic supplements, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are similar to those naturally found in the body. Different types of probiotics have many different effects on the body like helping to maintain balance of good bacteria; producing certain vitamins and other substances; impacting our mood; and regulating weight.

Interestingly, studies of probiotics have shown beneficial immune impacts. While no probiotic has been found to treat COVID-19, research studies are currently assessing their impact. To date, more than 1,600 human clinical trials have been published about probiotics on ClinicalTrials.gov and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform of WHO databases. The International Probiotics Association is another great resource for updates on studies and new findings with probiotics.

As we wait for life to return to normal, taking something as simple as a probiotic supplement can help our immune systems compensate for an ultra-clean lifestyle and put our minds at ease as we take steps forward to boost our health during these uncertain and challenging times. In learning more about microbes, we can embrace the power of these organisms, take the fear out of equation and develop a plan to keep our immunities strong in the face of any health crisis.

About Jessica ter Haar, Ph.D.,

Jessica ter Haar is director of scientific affairs for the International Probiotics Association (IPA) and is a microbiology expert and probiotic educator focused on digestive and women’s health. She holds a doctorate from the University of Groningen in medical microbiology and probiotics for vaginal infections, and a master’s degree in nutrition and nutraceutical sciences from the University of Guelph. Ter Haar is also the founder and chairwoman of “Women and their Microbes,” a scientific conference directed at scientists, clinicians and industry professionals focused on helping women achieve their best possible microbial health during every stage of life. In her professional work with probiotics, she uses her thorough knowledge base to underscore the importance of probiotics, make scientific knowledge accessible, and address unmet medical and research needs. Additionally, ter Haar consults with a variety of companies in the probiotic, pharmaceutical and food industries on strategies to clearly communicate, valorize and leverage scientific benefits and best practices.

Mina Tocalini, 360 Magazine, COVID-19

New COVID-19 Strain In Southeast Asia

By Eamonn Burke

A mutation of the COVID-19 virus called D614G has been discovered in Southeast Asia, mostly in Malaysia and the Philippines but also in China. The outbreak can be traced back to a man who did not quarantine after his trip from India, causing a 45-case outbreak in Malaysia. The man has since been fined and sentenced to five months in prison. D614G is the leading strain in the United States and Europe, after being discovered in Chicago in June. Now the mutation is quickly spreading across Asia and the entire world.

The mutation is estimated to be up to 10 times more infectious, but “We still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” says Phillipines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Verviers. A study from Johns Hopkins points to evidence showing that the new virus is not more deadly than the previous strain. Benjamin Cowling of University of Hong Kong agreed: “(D614G) might be a little bit more contagious. We haven’t yet got enough evidence to evaluate that.” A Cell Press paper also corroborates this, saying that the strain will most likely not impact vaccine development. However, Malaysia’s Director-General of Health, Noor Hisham, warns that this may mean that vaccine studies may be incomplete without accounting for the new strain.

A mutating virus is far from an exceptional thing, because it is how they can continue to spread. In fact, the genome of the coronavirus changes about 2 times a month, according to Science Magazine. Some of them help the virus reproduce, others damage it, and some are neutral. These changes can be just a single letter in the genetic code, but it can make the virus much more transmissible. Dr Thushan de Silva, at the University of Sheffield, says that there is not enough evidence to say whether the D614G mutation helps or harms the virus, but he knows that it is not neutral.

This comes as the FDA has just granted emergency authorization for COVID-19 spit tests, which will make testing much easier and much wider spread. The SalivaDirect test, developed at Yale University, will expedite testing by eliminating a time consuming step in the process.

Meanwhile, the United States passes 170,000 deaths from the virus, with infections of children rising as they return to school. New information from the CDC says that rates of COVID-19 in children are increasing. While they make up only 7% of cases in the country, they are responsible for over 20% of them. In addition to this, and in contrast to previous beliefs, “Recent evidence suggests that children likely have the same or higher viral loads in their nasopharynx compared with adults and that children can spread the virus effectively in households and camp settings.”

Data to reinforce this claim can be found in the rising cases among children at schools that have already reopened, including 7,000 in Alabama. Many schools have debated or committed to reversing course and going online. These rising cases correlating with schools reopening “may explain the low incidence in children compared with adults,” says the CDC, suggesting that children’s perceived resistance to transmitting the virus may have been partly a result of simply staying inside – a sobering reminder of the ever changing narrative of COVID-19.

Dog and Cat illustrated by Mina Tocalini for 360 MAGAZINE.

First American Dog Dies of COVID-19

America has its first canine coronavirus death, with a Staten Island German Shepherd being the first American dog with the virus that has succumbed to the deadly effects of the coronavirus. The dog contracted the virus after living in a household with family members testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Jean Shafiroff, an Ambassador of the American Humane, is available to discuss the symptoms of this deadly virus in four-legged friends and the CDC’s recommendations to keep household pets safe from COVID-19 call Brian at (917) 243-1647 to arrange SKYPE/Zoom/phone.

Jean Shafiroff is an international animal advocate and has worked with several dog advocacy organizations for the fair treatment of canines in the United States and abroad. Activist Jean Shafiroff has been a member of the American Humane, the Southampton Animal Shelter, and several other organizations. Shafiroff continues to advocate for the fair treatment of all animals and adoption.

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Cityscape illustration by Mina Tocalini

NYC in Phase 4

By Eamonn Burke

While the better half of the country is riddled with a massive spike in coronavirus cases, New York City is in the fourth and final phase of reopening, an achievement that governor Andrew Cuomo calls a “hallmark.”

Phase 4 means that sports can resume, as can the entertainment industry. Venues like zoos and gardens can open at 33% capacity. People will also be able to visit popular attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. These developments come as the U.S hits 4 million coronavirus cases and adds 1 million new cases in just 15 days, mostly coming from southern and western states.

Officials are not overstepping bounds however, careful to remain cautious after seeing the negative effects of early reopening in other states. “I want all New Yorkers to be on high alert,” said Cuomo on Friday, warning of the second wave coming. Indoor dining is still prohibited in the city, and malls, movies theatres, and museums remain closed. Perhaps most impactful is Mayor De Blasio’s statement that schools will not fully reopen. He says the decision will be made in September. He plans for a hybrid open, but the teachers union is prepared for a legal fight if schools are forced to reopen unsafely.