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Italian Study Links Mysterious Children’s Illness to COVID-19

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  • A study in Italy has provided the first cases of clear evidence linking a mysterious inflammatory illness impacting children to the coronavirus.
  • Cases have popped up throughout the United States and Europe, where doctors believed the disease was potentially related to COVID-19.
  • The disease is similar to Kawasaki disease, and the study noted a significant increase in patients with Kawasaki-like symptoms since the COVID-19 outbreak started. Most patients with this illness tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. 
  • The study stated that “SARS-CoV-2 might cause a severe form of Kawasaki-like disease.”

What is the Illness?

Doctors have been puzzled by a mysterious inflammatory illness amongst children that could potentially be related to COVID-19, and now, a study in Italy has provided the first pieces of strong evidence linking the two.

The findings were published in a medical journal called The Lancet. There have been cases of this illness in Europe and several states in America. New York alone has seen over 100 cases, as well as three deaths. 

“This is a truly disturbing situation,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a briefing on Tuesday.

“And I know parents around the state and around the country are very concerned about this, and they should be.”

Symptoms include a persistent fever, abdominal pain, organ failure, bloodshot eyes, and more. In the United States, officials are referring to the disease as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention intends to issue an alert telling doctors to report how many children they see experiencing it.

Ties to COVID-19

The Lancet’s study compared this new illness to prior cases of Kawasaki disease at the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Italy. Kawasaki is a rare disease that impacts children and has symptoms consistent with the new inflammatory disease. 

“Our study provides the first clear evidence of a link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and this inflammatory condition,” Dr. Lorenzo D’Antigo, an author of the study said in a statement, “and we hope it will help doctors around the world as we try to get to grips with this unknown virus.” 

The study followed two groups of patients, the first of which was comprised of 19 children who were diagnosed with Kawasaki over the course of five years, between January 2015 and February 17, 2020. The second group consisted of 10 patients with Kawasaki-like symptoms admitted over the course of two months, between February 18, 2020 and April 20, 2020. 

Eight of the 10 patients in group two tested positive for COVID antibodies. Doctors believe it is possible that the others could be positive as well and that the negative results may have been a result of medical treatments muddling results or faulty tests. The patients in the second group also experienced more severe symptoms and required more types of treatment to recover.

Another factor of note to doctors was the increased rate of infection among group two. Group one saw a Kawasaki patient on average once every three months. Group two saw 10 patients with Kawasaki-like symptoms in just two months. 

What Does This Mean?

As the study notes, the timing of these increased rates of illness coincides with when the virus began to spread in Italy. Since it hit the region that  Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital is located in, the hospital “found a 30-fold increased incidence of Kawasaki disease.”

“Children diagnosed after the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic began showed evidence of immune response to the virus, were older, had a higher rate of cardiac involvement, and features of MAS,” the study stated. “We therefore showed that SARS-CoV-2 might cause a severe form of Kawasaki-like disease.”

The ages of those affected with the new disease in this study line up with the ages of children with reported cases in New York, where most patients are between 5 and 14-years-old. While the Kawasaki disease patients in group one averaged at three-years-old, the patients with the new illness in group two averaged at 7 and a half. 

Doctors all over have been looking into this infection and trying to analyze its potential ties to the coronavirus. 

“If you look at the curves, COVID-19 has plateaued, but there’s an exponential rise in this secondary type of shock syndrome,” Jane Newburger, a cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital said in a statement. “It is even possible that the antibodies that children are making to SARS-CoV2 are creating an immune reaction in the body. Nobody knows.”

Boston Children’s Hospital is calling for more research to be done on the subject and is urging clinicians to enroll children in research protocols. It is also calling government agencies to invest in trials and data integration so medical leaders can learn more.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Axios) (The Guardian)

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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