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HEALTH

Leave doping ban in past amid virus outbreak, Russia says

MOSCOW (AP) — International authorities should “turn a new page” and forget Russia’s Olympic doping ban because of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s sports minister said Friday.

The World Anti-Doping Agency barred Russia from the Olympics for four years after ruling last year that doping data from a Moscow laboratory had been manipulated. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is to rule on whether the ban is valid, but hearings have been delayed because of the health crisis.

Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said the virus outbreak means the parties in the legal proceedings should avoid a ruling against Russia because it would fracture the Olympic movement.

“The leaders of the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the judges who will decide the ruling should understand that now we’re living in completely different conditions and this crisis which has been created, including the crisis in relationships, should probably come to an end, turn a new page and understand that the main thing right now is to be together,” he said.

“When you see that everyone is isolated and everyone is at home, the consciousness changes, the mentality changes and people understand that now there are priorities and there are issues which go on the backburner,” Matytsin added. “The priority is the future of the Olympic movement, it’s the consolidation of the whole international sporting community.”

Matytsin said sanctioning Russia would damage the Olympic movement. He added that, once the virus outbreak recedes, Russia will offer to hold more international sports events if their current hosts can’t do it.

Matytsin took over as sports minister in January and is well connected with Olympic sports officials from his leadership of the International University Sports Federation.

During the virus outbreak, he said Friday, there should be “respect for the rights of the countries which are among the main actors on the international arena. Russia has always been, is and will remain that sort of partner.”

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HEALTH

Age is not the only risk for severe coronavirus disease

WASHINGTON (AP) — Older people remain most at risk of dying as the new coronavirus continues its rampage around the globe, but they’re far from the only ones vulnerable. One of many mysteries: Men seem to be faring worse than women.

And as cases skyrocket in the U.S. and Europe, it’s becoming more clear that how healthy you were before the pandemic began plays a key role in how you fare regardless of how old you are.

The majority of people who get COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms. But “majority” doesn’t mean “all,” and that raises an important question: Who should worry most that they’ll be among the seriously ill? While it will be months before scientists have enough data to say for sure who is most at risk and why, preliminary numbers from early cases around the world are starting to offer hints.

Senior citizens undoubtedly are the hardest hit by COVID-19. In China, 80% of deaths were among people in their 60s or older, and that general trend is playing out elsewhere.

The graying of the population means some countries face particular risk. Italy has the world’s second oldest population after Japan. While death rates fluctuate wildly early in an outbreak, Italy has reported more than 80% of deaths so far were among those 70 or older.

But, “the idea that this is purely a disease that causes death in older people we need to be very, very careful with,” Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, warned.

As much as 10% to 15% of people under 50 have moderate to severe infection, he said Friday.

Even if they survive, the middle-aged can spend weeks in the hospital. In France, more than half of the first 300 people admitted to intensive care units were under 60.

“Young people are not invincible,” WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove added, saying more information is needed about the disease in all age groups.

Italy reported that a quarter of its cases so far were among people ages 19 to 50. In Spain, a third are under age 44. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s first snapshot of cases found 29% were ages 20 to 44.

Then there’s the puzzle of children, who have made up a small fraction of the world’s case counts to date. But while most appear only mildly ill, in the journal Pediatrics researchers traced 2,100 infected children in China and noted one death, a 14-year-old, and that nearly 6% were seriously ill.

Another question is what role kids have in spreading the virus: “There is an urgent need for further investigation of the role children have in the chain of transmission,” researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University wrote in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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HEALTH

Baseball’s final Olympic qualifying event postponed to June

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Baseball’s final qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed from April to June because of concerns over the virus outbreak that has infected nearly 89,000 people and caused more than 3,000 deaths, mostly in China.

The World Baseball Softball Conference announced Monday the qualification event scheduled for Taichung and Dou Liu in Taiwan from April 1-5 had been postponed to June 17-21 because of “player, personnel and spectator health and safety measures against the spread of the coronavirus.”

Hundreds of new cases of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease have been announced in recent days outside of China. There have been 40 cases and one death in Taiwan.

The Olympics are scheduled to open July 24, with baseball competition set to be played at Fukushima and Yokohama from July 29 to Aug. 8.

The second- and third-place teams from the Americas qualifying tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 will advance to the final qualifying tournament in Taiwan, joining a field that will include Australia, China, Netherlands and Taiwan.

Baseball was an Olympic event from 1992-08 and has been restored for the Tokyo Olympics.

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HEALTH

UEFA seeks to dampen Euro 2020 panic over virus outbreak

AMSTERDAM (AP) — With a European Championship being staged across the continent in three months, UEFA is trying to dampen any panic about the impact of the fast-spreading virus even as uncertainty persists.

Just a couple of minutes were spent in a meeting of European soccer’s top executives on Monday discussing the impact of the COVID-19 disease on the 24-team tournament.

“The UEFA president (Aleksander Čeferin) immediately set the tone that the panic around all this may be worse than the virus itself,” Alexei Sorokin, a Russian member of the UEFA executive committee, said after a meeting in Amsterdam.

Unlike the usual format of one or two hosts for the Euros, games in this edition of the quadrennial event are taking place in 12 stadiums in 12 countries. The logistical problems already anticipated of moving thousands of fans around the continent are now potentially accompanied by health risks.

The domestic league in Switzerland has been put on hold on government orders with games called off on Monday through March 24. UEFA is aware of the potential risk as hundreds of staff, who are based at its headquarters in Nyon, often travel across Europe and are key to the operations of matches and tournaments.

The Europa League has already been hit with Inter Milan’s home game against Bulgarian club Ludogorets last week played without fans.

UEFA will be keen to ensure there is no impact on the Euros, which is worth around $2 billion in revenue.

“There wasn’t much discussion about it because there is not much we can do about it,” Phil Townsend, UEFA’s managing director of communications, said after the executive committee meeting. “We’re in the hands of the authorities. We’re in constant contact with the World Health Organization and the authorities dealing with the matches that are being staged, and then we’ll deal with that when the situation arises.”

The stadium that will be used most at Euro 2020 is Wembley, with seven games including the semifinals and the final. No games in England have been affected yet by the virus.

“At the minute nobody is working on anything other than the Euros going ahead,” English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said. “I expect them to go ahead but if the facts change, government policy could change, then we’ll see.”

Four games are in St. Petersburg, including a quarterfinal.

“We don’t sense any panic,” Sorokin said. “None whatsoever.”

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HEALTH

U.S. death toll climbs to 6 as viral crisis eases in China

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The death toll from the coronavirus in the U.S. climbed to six Monday and the disease spread to ever more countries and world capitals, even as new cases in China dropped to their lowest level in six weeks.

A shift in the crisis appeared to be taking shape, as hundreds of patients were released from hospitals at the epicenter of the outbreak in China and the World Health Organization reported that nine times more cases were reported outside the country than inside it over the past 24 hours.

At the same time, the virus popped up for the first time in New York, Moscow and Berlin, and clusters of the disease surged around the world. In the U.S., health officials announced four more people died, bringing the total to six, all in Washington state, where researchers said the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks.

The global death toll pushed past 3,000, and the number of people infected topped 89,000, with fast-expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s chief of emergencies, pointed out that even regions that have taken less aggressive measures than the extraordinary lockdowns implemented by China have managed to keep the virus in check. Ryan said that because COVID-19 is not as easily transmitted as the flu, “it offers us a glimmer … that this virus can be suppressed and contained.”

Around the world, the virus reshaped people’s routines, both at home and at work, from the millions of Japanese schoolchildren facing four weeks without class to special voting booths for Israelis under quarantine. Mobile hospitals were planned in Iran, and the “Mona Lisa” hung in a vacant room of the shuttered Louvre in Paris.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the world economy could contract this quarter for the first time since the international financial crisis more than a decade ago.

“Global economic prospects remain subdued and very uncertain,” the agency said.

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HEALTH

France’s Louvre stays shut amid staff fears of virus spread

PARIS (AP) — Tourists trying to visit the Louvre Museum on Monday were out of luck, as the world’s most visited museum stayed closed for a second straight day because of workers’ worries about the potential spread of the new virus.

Most of the Paris landmark’s 9.6 million visitors last year came from other countries, and the museum that houses the Mona Lisa and other treasures welcomes tens of thousands of people every day.

While unions held meetings with management and the Culture Ministry on Monday, disappointed crowds huddled under umbrellas outside the Louvre’s famed pyramid.

By afternoon no compromise had been reached, and the museum remained shuttered.

The French government on Saturday banned any indoor gatherings larger than 5,000 people to prevent the spread of the virus, so on Sunday, Louvre workers said that should apply to their workplace, too, and blocked the museum from opening.

About 250 Louvre workers, mainly those who guard the treasured artworks or greet visitors, voted Monday to stay off the job until management presents a clearer plan of how it’s dealing with the virus threat, said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative for its staffers.

He acknowledged that there have been no cases traced to the Louvre thus far, but said, “If tomorrow there is a case at the Louvre, we need to know the plan” for workers and visitors.

Some workers want masks, or for visitors to undergo temperature checks.

Addressing the frustration of tourists from around the world stuck in the rain, he said, “We regret this. It’s not our wish to close the Louvre. … What we want to welcome tourists is to have measures that protect them as well as us.”

The museum’s managing director, Maxence Langlois-Berthelot, said it’s “keeping a close eye on the situation and is ready to take action as and when necessary.”

He acknowledged the “legitimate concern” of the workers, but said the number of visitors in each room of the Louvre is well below 5,000 at any given time, so that doesn’t warrant closing the museum.

The Louvre staff aren’t alone in their concern. Paris subway workers are among others who have raised safety questions, and the French transport minister held a special meeting Monday to try to calm them down. She said there was no reason to stop trains from running because of the virus.

Meanwhile, union representatives at the Chateau of Versailles held a meeting with management Monday and will hold another meeting Tuesday to decide whether to reopen to the public.

France reported 191 cases of the virus Monday, a jump of 47% from the day before. Three people have died, and nearly all of the country’s regions now have at least one case.

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HEALTH

In scramble to stop virus, testing raises tough questions

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials confronted tough questions and doubts Thursday about testing to intercept the fast-spreading virus, with scrutiny focused on a four-day delay in screening an infected California woman despite her doctors’ early calls to do so.

The questions are global: not just who, when and how to test for the illness, but how to make sure that working test kits get out to the labs that need them. All those issues apparently came in to play in the treatment of the woman in northern California, a case officials say may be the first community-spread instance of the disease in the U.S.

“This was a clear gap in our preparedness, and the virus went right through the gap,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health.

In the wake of the latest California case, U.S. health officials on Thursday expanded their criteria for who should get tested, and took steps to increase testing.

The debate over testing has taken on added urgency as the number of cases worldwide climbed past 82,000, including 2,800 reported deaths. The rapid spread pushed officials in Saudi Arabia to cut travel to Islam’s holiest sites, triggered tougher penalties in South Korea for people who break quarantines and ratcheted up pressure on investors as U.S. stock markets extended their week-long plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank nearly 1,200 points Thursday, it’s worst one-day drop since 2011.

With the illness rippling across 47 nations in every continent but Antarctica, public health officials emphasized the need for rapid intervention.

“Aggressive early measures can prevent transmission before the virus gets a foothold,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He cited a study in China of more than 320,000 test samples that enabled health officials to zero in on the 0.14 percent that screened positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

But catching the disease early will require countries to invest in rapid diagnostics, said Dr. Gagandeep Kang, a microbiologist who heads the Translational Health Science And Technology Institute in India.

Test kits used by the World Health Organization cost less than $5 each, said Michael Ryan, the group’s emergencies programs director. But that figure does not include the expense of medical staff and validation screening, and making such investments effective goes well beyond the expense involved.

“As we can see from the new sparks on Italy, Iran, Korea, is that early identification of cases is crucial. There, the first persons with infection were missed,” said Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Doctors at the University of California Davis Medical Center were mindful of the need for early identification when the hospital admitted a female patient on a ventilator and showing symptoms of a viral infection on Feb. 19. They asked federal officials to test her for the new coronavirus, but were told she did not fit federal testing criteria, according to an email hospital officials sent to their employees. The test was not done until four days later, on Feb. 23, and the results did not come back until Wednesday, a full week after she was admitted.

Part of the problem is that the number of people being tested in the U.S. has been limited to those who, in addition to showing symptoms, have a history of travel to countries affected by the disease or contact with those who have done so, said Lauren Sauer, director of operations at Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response.

“In the U.S., people are sticking pretty closely to that definition,” Sauer said. But the increasing cases on other continents “are demonstrating we need to do a better job than just where the outbreak originated.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its testing criteria on its website — a move that had been in the works for days, according to a federal official familiar with the change.

The CDC will continue to advise testing people who have traveled to certain outbreak areas and have fever and certain other symptoms. But now testing is also appropriate if such symptoms exist and flu and other respiratory illnesses have been ruled out and no source of exposure has been identified.

As part of that, CDC has expanded the list of countries that are red flags for testing to include not only China but Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan.

Last month, the CDC said it had developed a test kit that could be sent to state and big city public health labs, so they could broaden testing to more people. Early this month, the agency got authorization to begin distribution of the kit to government public health labs in the 50 states and some cities and counties.

But most of the kits proved to be faulty, providing inconclusive results to test samples that should have tested positive. The problem was blamed on one of three reagents used in the testing. CDC said it was trying to manufacture new reagents, but gave no firm timetable for when that would occur.

Only about a half dozen state and local public health labs had fully functional kits as of early this week.

As weeks passed, the problem became more and more frustrating, said Scott Becker, the chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

On Monday, Becker’s organization sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, basically asking permission for state labs to develop their own tests. On Wednesday, FDA officials responded that labs would be allowed to rely on the two other reagents, meaning that as many as 40 state and local labs could be up and running with their tests in the next few days, Becker said.

The California case, and remarks by Italian officials that they were rethinking how to classify people who test positive for the illness but show no symptoms, highlighted the questions that surround large-scale screening for the disease.

The test being used by U.S. health officials takes just four to six hours to perform once it’s in a lab. But up to now, those tests have been sent to federal testing centers, often significantly extending the time to get results.

“Testing protocols have been a point of frustration,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. He said federal officials had assured their state counterparts that capacity to test will be growing “exponentially” in the next few days, but he wasn’t more specific.

Federal official likely limited testing early on because of concerns about a deluge of false positives, which could panic communities and become counterproductive, said Khan, a former top disease investigator for the CDC.

But he suggested that a tiered testing system might be the answer, in which a positive test would have to be verified by another lab before a case is diagnosed and counted.

The challenge is complicated by a slowness to distribute test kits.

Newsom said Thursday the state had just 200 testing kits on hand and “that’s simply inadequate.” He said he spoke to CDC officials and they assured him they were working to make testing more broadly available in California.

In Italy, where an outbreak has depressed tourism and fueled panic, officials said Thursday they would change their reporting and testing practices in ways that could lower the country’s reported caseload.

Italian authorities plan from now on to distinguish between people who test positive for the virus and patients showing symptoms, since the majority of the people in Italy with confirmed infections aren’t actually sick. They said they would follow urging by the WHO and hold off on certifying cases screened only at a regional level, until they can be confirmed by national officials.

“The cases that emerge from the regions are still considered suspect and unconfirmed,” said Walter Ricciardi, a WHO adviser to the Italian government.

But U.S. experts said the crisis requires more rapid testing, and a willingness by officials to revise their criteria. Sauer pointed to a case in Canada, where officials zeroed in on a traveler from Iran with COVID-19 soon after that country announced its first cases.

“Let our really smart doctors do what they do really well,” Khan said. “If they are really suspicious that a pneumonia or influenza-like illness does not quite look like an influenza-like illness, allow them to test!”

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HEALTH

39 states investigating Juul’s marketing of vaping products

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday.

Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas said they will be leading the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products.

The state officials said they also will be investigating the company’s claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices.

“I will not prejudge where this investigation will lead,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement, “but we will follow every fact and are prepared to take strong action in conjunction with states across the nation to protect public health.”

Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.

“We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” the statement said.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said underage vaping has become an epidemic across the country.

“I cannot sit on the sidelines while this public health epidemic grows, and our next generation becomes addicted to nicotine,” Moody said.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford added, “Preying on children and those looking for help to quit smoking is the one of the most despicable examples of risking people’s lives for corporate profit.”

The brainchild of two Stanford University design students, Juul launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market.

The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavors, including mango, mint and creme. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with one in four teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures. Juul is the most popular brand, preferred by 60% of high schoolers.

Juul’s meteoric rise has been followed by a hasty retreat in recent months, amid a nationwide political backlash over vaping. Although Juul remains the dominant player in the U.S. vaping market, the company has made several concessions, including halting its advertising and pulling all its flavors except menthol and tobacco from the market. The Food and Drug Administration recently put in place flavor restrictions designed to curb use of small, pod-based e-cigarettes like Juul.

The FDA and a congressional panel have ongoing investigations into whether the company’s early marketing efforts — which included online influencers and product giveaways — deliberately targeted minors.

Nine attorneys general have previously announced lawsuits against the company, most alleging that the company adopted the playbook of Big Tobacco by luring teens with youth-oriented marketing while failing to stop underage sales.

Earlier this month Massachusetts’ Maura Healey sued the company, citing company records to allege that Juul bought advertisements on websites designed for teens and children, including Seventeen.com, Nickjr.com and Cartoonnetwork.com.

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G24 HEALTH HND_Disease INSTA Research SCI

Sleeping five hours or less connected to doubled risk of heart disease, study says

A new study suggests that men in middle age who sleep five hours or less each night have twice the risk of developing a major cardiovascular event in the two decades following compared to men who sleep seven to eight hours a night.

“For people with busy lives, sleeping may feel like a waste of time but our study suggests that short sleep could be linked with future cardiovascular disease,” said study author Moa Bengtsson, of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Previous data provide conflicting evidence as to whether short sleep is connected to a great chance of a future cardiovascular event. The new study appears to solidify the connection.

Not only that, the new data suggests that men who sleep five or fewer hours per night are more likely to have diabetes, obesity, low physical activity, high blood pressure, and poor sleep quality compared to those who get seven to eight hours per night.

“Men with the shortest sleep duration at the age of 50 were twice as likely to have had a cardiovascular event by age 71 than those who slept a normal amount, even when other risk factors were taken into account,” Bengtsson said.

“In our study, the magnitude of increased cardiovascular risk associated with insufficient sleep is similar to that of smoking or having diabetes at age 50,” she added. “This was an observational study so based on our findings we cannot conclude that short sleep causes cardiovascular disease, or say definitively that sleeping more will reduce risk. However, the findings do suggest that sleep is important—and that should be a wake-up call to all of us.”

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HEALTH NONE SCI Science

A first: Micromotors used to treat stomach infection

For the first time, nanoengineers have successfully used micromotors — tiny magnesium-based engines no bigger than half the width of a human hair — to treat a bacterial infection in the stomach, according to a statement by the University of California at San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.

The findings are published in the Aug. 16 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

The micromotors are released into the stomach where they swim about rapidly neutralizing gastric acid and releasing antibiotics. Each micromotor has a round magnesium core and is fueled by the reaction of gastric acid with the magnesium, which produces a blast of tiny hydrogen bubbles that propels the micromotor around inside the stomach.

The micromotors are biodegradable and the magnesium cores along with their binding polymer layers are dissolved by the stomach’s gastric acid without harmful effects.

Delivery of drugs to neutralize gastric acid and treat bacterial infections, such as ulcers, by micromotors avoids the use of proton pump inhibitors, which currently are employed to suppress gastric acid production but have several unwanted side effects, including diarrhea, headaches, and depression.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralization with therapeutic action,” said co-first author Berta Esteban-Fernández de Avila, a postdoctoral scholar at UC-San Diego.

The researchers tested the micromotors — loaded with a dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin — in mice infected with Heliobacter pylori. They gave the mice one antibiotic-filled micromotor once daily for five consecutive days.

Once the treatment regimen was complete, analysis of the bacterial count in each mouse’s stomach showed that treatment with micromotors was slightly more effective than conventional treatment using proton pump inhibitors.

While the work is still at an early stage, the results look promising, according to the researchers, who say their work opens the door to the use of micromotors as delivery vehicles for the treatment of diseases.