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Medicine and Health

By getting COVID vaccines on a regular basis, you protect your immune system against new viruses and variants

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A new study suggests that getting your COVID shots on a regular basis might have benefits beyond just protecting you against the newest strains that are going around. The Washington University School of Medicine led a group of researchers who found that the vaccine makes antibodies that are effective against a wide range of variants. These antibodies might even help us build our defenses against future coronaviruses.

This is why immune imprinting is bad:
In the past four years, we’ve heard a lot about how COVID-19 is similar to and different from influenza, which is another very dangerous respiratory virus.

Since the flu is a seasonal disease (unlike COVID, as far as we know), scientists have to make changes to the flu vaccine every year based on their best guesses about which strains of the virus will be causing the most trouble. But there’s a catch. The immune system makes memory cells in response to a vaccine one year, but they don’t always make room for new cells that make antibodies the next year. This makes the immune response weaker. It’s called imprinting when this happens.

There was no information on whether imprinting could hurt the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine like it could with the flu shot. Even though it doesn’t happen every year like the flu, we all know how easily this virus can change into new types, so the vaccines have been updated several times.

What the research showed
To find out more, the researchers looked at antibodies from people and mice that had been vaccinated with mRNA COVID-19. The vaccines were designed to target two different types of COVID-19: the older OG variant from the time of social distance and running out of toilet paper, and the newer Omicron variants. At some point during the pandemic, some of the people who took part had also gotten antibodies from a natural COVID infection.

There was evidence of imprinting from the first vaccine, but it didn’t seem to be having the bad effects that it can have with flu shots. Not many of the antibodies that were found were specific to either original COVID or Omicron. Instead, most of them were cross-reactive, which means they recognized both types of the virus.

The antibodies were then put to the test against a group of different coronaviruses. Two types of SARS-CoV-2 came from different Omicron lineages. These included a pangolin coronavirus, the SARS virus from the 2002–2003 epidemic, and the virus that caused Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The antibodies were able to stop all of these viruses except for MERS, which is more different from the others in terms of how it evolved.

The combination of the different vaccines was what the scientists found to be the key to this cross-reactivity. When people were only vaccinated against the original COVID variant and not given an Omicron booster, they did not make the same range of antibodies. This means that staying up-to-date on the newest variants and regularly immunizing more people against them could have even bigger benefits than just keeping COVID away.

When COVID hit, we had to start over. Most people had never seen or heard of a virus like this before, so there wasn’t a level of immunity in the population to help protect us. If people keep getting vaccinated against COVID, this study raises the interesting possibility that things would be very different if a new coronavirus showed up.

“We don’t know for sure if getting a new COVID-19 vaccine every year would protect people against new coronaviruses, but it seems likely,” said Michael Diamond, a senior study author. “Based on these results, it looks like these cross-reactive antibodies may help protect against a pandemic caused by a related coronavirus if they don’t go away quickly. To be sure, we would have to keep an eye on their levels over time.”

What’s new with vaccines and the different types of FLiRT?
That all sounds pretty good, though. Just recently, there was news about a whole new set of COVID variants. How are our efforts to vaccinate people right now?

The FLiRT variants are the most recent ones to receive a lot of calls around the world. One in particular, KP.2, has recently passed JN.1 as the most common virus in the US, causing the second most infections.

Some people believe that KP.2’s mutations may have protected it from infections and vaccines in the past. However, this new research backs up what many health experts have already said: all the antibodies you’ve made in the past will still be helping to protect you.

Staying healthy is important, though, so if you can get an up-to-date shot where you live (especially if it’s been a while since your last one), you might want to think about it, or you could wait until the next round of updates. Not long ago, epidemiologist Adrian Esterman told Newsweek, “There will be a new vaccine available around September that will give much better protection. It will be based on either JN.1 or one of the FLiRT subvariants.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine was taken off the global market not long ago, which also changed the vaccine landscape. When new types of viruses came out, AstraZeneca did not change the formula for their vaccine, Vaxzevria. This is different from some other companies that make mRNA vaccines, for example.

Without these updates, Vaxzevria probably isn’t working as well as it used to, and because of a drop in demand, AstraZeneca is said to have decided to stop making it for business reasons. When it was first made, it was an important part of the global pandemic response. But now that there are so many other options—something we could only dream of in the darkest days of 2020—it seems like it’s done its job.

But if you were one of the millions of people who got this vaccine, this new antibody research should give you confidence that the good effects could last for a long time after the vaccine is no longer available. This is because of any booster shots you have had or will continue to get.

The study was written up in Nature.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Medicine and Health

Microplastics have been detected in the male genitalia of humans for the first time

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Researchers have recently discovered microplastics in human penises, expanding the list of body parts where these harmful particles have been detected.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are shorter than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) and can originate from various sources, including plastic production or the breakdown of plastic objects. With their apparent penetration into every small space, some people are worried about the potential consequences for our well-being.

The initial phase of this process involves determining their presence within the body. Researchers from the University of Miami, the University of Colorado, and the research institution Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon embarked on a quest to ascertain whether these entities could be detected in penises.

In order to accomplish this, the team collected penile tissue samples from six individuals who were undergoing surgery to treat erectile dysfunction. One of the samples was used as a control for comparison. Subsequently, the samples were examined for microplastics using laser direct infrared (LDIR) microspectroscopy, a method that enables scientists to identify the types, sizes, and quantities of microplastics present.

The analysis indicated that microplastics were present in 80 percent of the samples, with sizes ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers. However, another microscopy technique detected some microplastics as small as 2 micrometers (equivalent to thousandths of a millimeter, for reference to their minuscule size).

The microplastics (MPs) consisted of seven distinct types, with polyethylene terephthalate being the most abundant at 47.8 percent. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic, is frequently utilized in the manufacturing of clothing as well as packaging for food and beverages.

Polypropylene, accounting for 34.7 percent of the sample, emerged as the second most prevalent plastic. This versatile plastic is utilized in various applications, including rigid food packaging and plastic laboratory equipment.

The authors state that their study is a pioneering investigation into the existence of microplastics (MPs) in penile tissue. “Our research provides important information about the presence of MPs in human tissues, which contributes significantly to the ongoing discussion about the impact of environmental pollutants on human health.”

While this study represents the initial discovery of microplastics in penile tissue, previous findings have already identified their presence in the surrounding region. In a recent study, scientists discovered substantial amounts of microplastics in the testes of both humans and dogs. Additionally, another investigation revealed the presence of microplastics in all 36 semen samples examined by the researchers.

Scientists have consistently highlighted the need for further research, but they have indicated the potential impact of microplastics on reproductive health, specifically investigating the connection between microplastics and erectile dysfunction.

In an interview with Sky News, Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, the main researcher, stated that further investigation is needed to understand the mechanism behind the presence of microplastics in the penis.

The research is published in the International Journal of Impotence Research

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Medicine and Health

Long-Term COVID Risk Factors Found in Data from Almost 5,000 People

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More information about who may be most likely to get a long-lasting illness has been found by looking at data from 4,700 people who have recovered from COVID-19. Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes the painful symptoms of long COVID—there are hundreds of possible causes—but this new study gives them a better idea of who may be affected.

If you get infected with SARS-CoV-2, you will have a long-term condition called Long COVID for at least three months. The symptoms may get worse over time or come on and off in waves. Some people will get better after a while, but for others, whose symptoms started in the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and haven’t gone away yet, they are still sick.

A lot of work has been done by scientists to figure out what causes long-term COVID and to find treatments that might help, not just for these patients but also for people with other post-viral syndromes. There are still a lot of things we don’t know, though. One of the biggest questions is who may be most likely to get long-term COVID. Someone at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center may have led a new study that could help.

“Our study clearly establishes that COVID posed a substantial personal and societal burden,” said Professor Elizabeth C. Oelsner, who wrote the study and was the lead author. “By figuring out who was most likely to have had a long recovery, we have a better idea of who should be involved in ongoing research into how to lessen or stop the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

The 4,700 people who took part in the study agreed to be a part of the Collaborative Cohort of Cohorts for COVID-19 Research, or C4R. C4R is made up of more than 50,000 people from all over the US who are doing long-term research to help us learn as much as we can about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The people who took part were asked to say how long it took them to get better after getting COVID. The average time to get better from an infection between 2020 and 2023 was 20 days, and more than one in five adults had symptoms for at least three months.

The biggest groups of those were found to be women and people who already had heart disease. American Indian and Alaska Native people who took part also had more severe first infections and took longer to recover.

Being vaccinated against the virus and having an infection with an omicron lineage variant, which is usually linked to milder disease, were both linked to a faster recovery. She said, “Our study shows how important it is that COVID vaccinations have been, not only in lowering the severity of an infection but also in lowering the risk of long-term COVID.”

Other health problems that are usually linked to worse outcomes from COVID, like diabetes and chronic lung disease, were linked to longer recovery times. However, this was no longer a statistically significant finding when sex, heart disease, vaccination status, and variant exposure were taken into account.

The study also found an interesting lack of a significant link with mental health disorders. Studies have shown that a lot of people with long COVID have problems with their mental health, but Oelsner said, “We did not find that depressive symptoms before SARS-CoV-2 infection were a major risk factor for long COVID.”

The main thing to remember is that getting vaccinated is still the best way to avoid getting COVID in the first place, so make sure you don’t have a worse experience with it. The current circulating variants are mostly offshoots of Omicron. This may also be a reason to be hopeful, since these variants were linked to shorter recovery times.

New vaccines are being made to match the newest strains, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts out detailed information on when people of different ages and risk levels should think about getting their next booster. Different countries have different vaccine availability, but the health authority in your area should be able to tell you if you can get a shot.

The study can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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Medicine and Health

Which is better for us: fresh or frozen vegetables?

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People are changing how they shop at the grocery store to save money because the cost of living is going up. This is especially true when it comes to vegetables. As a general rule, frozen vegetables are less expensive than fresh ones. However, some people think that fresh vegetables are naturally “better” for you. Which is it?

In a clean corner
Fresh vegetables that are crunchy and taste great are great, but they might not have as many nutrients as you think.

They start to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked. That’s because they are taken away from their source of nutrients when they are picked. So that they can stay alive, the cells in vegetables breathe faster, which can cause nutrients to be lost. It’s also possible for this to happen when vegetables are stored or processed and are exposed to oxygen.

But this is the big nutritional catch with fresh vegetables: how healthy they are depends on how soon you eat them after picking them. Since the prices of vegetables at stores are going through the roof, some people are growing their own or getting them from community gardens. It usually takes a little longer for fresh vegetables from the store to get to our tables.

To get the most out of fresh vegetables, they should be eaten within a few days, if possible. CNN Health spoke with Gene Lester, a plant physiologist and national program leader for the US Department of Agriculture. “After it’s four, five, or seven days old, it’s a whole different story.”

In the cold corner
It became popular to freeze fresh vegetables because they go bad faster when left out in the open air. This way, you can use them up faster and avoid having a fridge full of spoiled green beans. Besides that, because they are frozen so soon after being picked, frozen vegetables are usually thought to have more nutrients.

Still, there is some evidence that frozen vegetables may have less vitamin C than fresh vegetables. Vitamin C is important for many bodily functions and, you know, keeps you from getting scurvy. For that reason, frozen vegetables are blanched, which means they are quickly scalded in steam or boiling water and then quickly cooled.

Blanching food is thought to help keep the flavor and stop that weird gray color that can happen with frozen food. This is done by turning off enzymes in the vegetables, which freezing alone couldn’t do. But heat can also break down vitamin C, so some of it might be lost in vegetables that are going to be frozen.

Vitamin C loss doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut, though. If it’s frozen, there may not be any more loss.

A study from 2015 that looked at how well eight different fruits and vegetables kept their vitamins found that spinach, carrots, peas, and broccoli that were stored fresh or frozen did not differ significantly in terms of vitamin C. It was discovered that frozen corn and green beans had higher levels of vitamin C than fresh ones. The authors said this was because fresh vegetables break down faster.

The whole picture
The study mentioned above also discovered that, on average, frozen vegetables had the same amount of vitamins as fresh ones, and sometimes even more. Any food is “better” than none at all, and any vegetable is better than none at all in the big picture.

Vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they are good for you in many ways, like helping your immune system and giving you more energy.

If you can’t decide between fresh and frozen, choose the option that works best for you, whether it’s financially, practically, or just in terms of taste.

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