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Another reason to get more active - a new study finds that being physically inactive (a couch potato) is associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and ICU admission for COVID-19, and death from COVID-19. The researchers concluded that being consistently inactive should be viewed as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, and that it is a "stronger risk factor than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant". Yikes!

On the other hand, being physically active at least 150 minutes per week, and this includes brisk walking, is linked to lower rates of all of the above. Some activity (but under 150 minutes per week) is also better than none, but 150 minutes or more is better. The researchers state that besides vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing - being physically active is the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.

The 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of physical activity per week are the recommended US Physical Activity Guidelines for adults, and include moderate and vigorous physical activity. It includes brisk walking. This can be achieved in less than 1/2 hour per day!

The researchers point out that health benefits of regular physical activity include: improved immune function, lower incidence of viral infections, as well as lower intensity and cases of death from viral infections, lowers the risk of chronic inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity, muscle strength, and improves mental health. Which is why it is not surprising that persons getting a good amount of physical activity each week also generally have fewer problems with COVID-19 infections.

From CNN: Reduce risk of severe Covid with regular activity, study says. Here's how to get in 22 minutes of exercise daily

Some excerpts from the study at British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM): Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48,440 adult patients

Abstract: Objectives To compare hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality for patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive, doing some activity or consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.  ...continue reading "Reduce Your Risk of Severe COVID-19 Infection By Being Physically Active"

The millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses (human microbiome) that live on and within us are extremely important for our health in all sorts of ways. The birth experience (as the baby travels down the birth canal) is one way that a mother's microbes get transmitted to the baby ("seeds" the baby's microbiome). But babies born by Cesarean delivery start out picking up different species of microbes - from dust in the operating room.

Thus there has been concern with the possibility that a baby born by C-section, as compared to a vaginal delivery, will have life long microbiome differences. Swedish researchers studied this issue in 471 children and determined that by 5 years of age that the microbiome differences at birth and first year of life have generally disappeared. The differences in microbial composition had decreased to less than 2% in the 2 groups. This is good news!

Over the 5 years everyone had a great increase in the number of microbial species that live in the gut. The gut microbiome became more "adult-like", but it wasn't yet like that of adults. A conclusion was that not only does it take years to develop adult microbial complexity, but there is also individual variation in how long this takes. A person's diet, especially the introduction of solid foods, and environment all have an effect on species diversity and composition.

By the way, another way mothers transmit hundreds of species of microbes to their babies is during nursing in the breast milk (this is great!), and these species change over time. This is a good reason to breast feed - it's not just the nutrition, but also the microbes.

From Science  Daily: Gut microbiota in Cesarean-born babies catches up

Infants born by cesarean section have a relatively meager array of bacteria in the gut. But by the age of three to five years they are broadly in line with their peers. This is shown by a study that also shows that it takes a remarkably long time for the mature intestinal microbiota to get established.  ...continue reading "Five Year Olds Have Similar Gut Microbes, No Matter the Type of Birth"

It turns out that people experiencing a major depression have differences in their gut microbiome (community of microbes) when compared to healthy people who are not depressed. A persistent and prolonged period of extreme sadness or depression is called a major depressive disorder (MDD).

A team of researchers (in both China and the US) analyzed stool samples from 311 people  with either MDD or healthy and not-depressed (the control group). They used modern genetic sequencing to see what microbes were in the stools. They found differences in 47 bacterial species, 3 bacteriophages (a virus that infects bacteria), and 50 fecal metabolites - which suggested to the researchers that depression is characterized by gut microbiome problems (it's imbalanced or out of whack).

There actually was a "signature composition" of gut microbes in the depressed persons, all of whom were unmedicated. They found higher levels ("increased abundance") of 18 bacterial species in people with MDD (mainly belonging to the genus Bacteroides) and 29 were less common (mainly belonging to Eubacterium and Blautia), when compared to healthy persons.

The researchers point out that other studies also find the gut microbiome to be imbalanced in MDD, and there are animal experiments showing that the gut microbiome has a role in causing MDD (e.g. transplanting gut microbes from a depressed person into a rat results in the rat exhibiting depressive behaviors).

Excerpts from The Scientist: Distinct Microbiome and Metabolites Linked with Depression

The human gut microbiome is a world in miniature, populated by a chatty community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa nestled within various gastrointestinal niches. Over the past decade, researchers have linked disturbances within this complicated microbial society to a variety of diseases. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one such condition, but the studies have been small and the findings imprecise.   ...continue reading "Gut Microbiome Is Altered In Persons With Major Depression"

Some good news for those with Rh negative blood (whether it is A, B, AB, or O), and also for those with type O blood. A large Canadian study found that both the O and Rh- blood groups are associated with a slightly lower risk of COVID-19 infection and also severe COVID-19 illness and death. In other words, both are somewhat protective from the new coronavirus, especially O-negative blood.

Among 225,556 Canadians who were tested for the virus, the risk for a COVID-19 diagnosis was 12% lower and the risk for severe COVID-19 or death was 13% lower in people with blood group O versus those with A, AB, or B, researchers reported in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers point out that some other studies had a similar finding regarding type O blood. Interestingly, the O blood group is associated with a decreased risk for venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins) - which can be a big complication of COVID-19.

How many people have O negative blood? One study of 3.1 million American blood donors found that O− was seen in 8.0% of White non-Hispanic donors, 3.9% of Hispanic donors, 3.6% of Black non-Hispanic donors, and 0.7% of Asian donors. So not that common in the US.

From Medscape: More Evidence for Lower Risk With Certain Blood Groups

A large study adds to evidence that people with type O or Rh−negative blood may be at slightly lower risk from the new coronavirus.  ...continue reading "Some Good News About Having Rh- Blood"

Holy mackerel! Currently COVID-19 kills someone in the United States every 107 seconds! And the U.S. is reporting more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases each day.

Wear a mask! Wearing a mask protects us from others exhaling the virus, protects us from inhaling the virus, and lowers how much virus we are exposed to (cloth and surgical masks protect us from most virus particles, but not all). There is evidence that wearing masks so lowers the amount of virus a person is exposed to (viral load), that if a person gets the infection, the body can deal with it much better and the infections may be asymptomatic or minor. This is huge - the possibility that up to 95% of infections could be asymptomatic!

Excerpts from Medscape: US Cases Spike as COVID Kills Every 107 Seconds

The U.S. is reporting more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases each day, and 41 states are reporting at least 10% more cases this week than the week before, according to CNN. ...continue reading "An American Dies of COVID-19 Every 107 Seconds"

To boost the immune system of young children, as well as improve their skin and gut microbiomes - send them out daily to play in a natural environment. That means outdoors in a natural park-like setting with grass, plants, soil, and trees. Yes, germs and dirt!

Finnish researchers found that replacing the gravel and pavement in urban daycare playground areas with natural forest-type vegetation (forest plants, shrubs, sod, mosses, and peat blocks for climbing) resulted in beneficial changes to young children's immune systems, and skin and gut microbiomes. This happened in just one month!

The researchers studied 75 children (3 to 5 years old) at 10 daycare centers in 2 Finnish cities (urban areas). Four of the daycare centers had their gravel/paved playgrounds turned into a forest-type natural area (where the children played), 3 daycare centers weren't changed (kept the gravel/pavement), and 3 daycare centers were already nature-oriented with children visiting forests daily. All children spent the same amount of time outside each day.

An important finding was that after 28 days the skin and gut microbiomes (microbial communities) of children playing in the transformed forest-type playgrounds had shifted to become more similar to children attending nature-oriented daycares. This change was also reflected in their immune systems: they developed a higher ratio of anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood (this is good).

The researchers point out that getting exposed to all the microbes in a natural forest-type setting (environmental microbial diversity) is beneficial. On the other hand, playing outside on man-made landscaping materials does not result in beneficial changes. Translation: playing outside in the dirt and plants is good for you.

From Medical Xpress: Replacing asphalt with forest-type plants at daycare centers found to strengthen immune defenses in children

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in Finland and one in the Czech Republic found that replacing asphalt in play areas at daycare centers with natural vegetation can lead to stronger immune defenses in the children at the centers. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes removing asphalt from play areas at several daycare centers and replacing it with forest floor vegetation, and what they found when they tested the children who attended the centers.  ...continue reading "Playing Outside In Nature Is Healthy For Young Children"

A study looked at how long the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19 lives on human skin. Researchers in Japan used human cadaver skin (because they didn't want to infect living humans) to compare influenza and the new coronavirus. They found that coronavirus lives up to 9 hours on undisturbed skin! And influenza A virus (a flu strain) less than 2 hours.

They also found that both viruses are easily washed away with soap and water or a hand sanitizer containing 80% alcohol.

Yes, it is thought that aerosol and droplets are the main ways to get the new coronavirus. But you do want to wash it off your hands after exposure. Proper hand hygiene!

From Medscape: New Coronavirus Survives Nine Hours on Human Skin

Left undisturbed, the new coronavirus can survive many hours on human skin, a new study has found.  ...continue reading "Wash Your Hands!"

Today while waiting in a line at the store, everyone wearing the required masks, the woman in front of me told me that the masks are useless and that there isn't good evidence that the coronavirus is spread through the air. Huh? Where did she get that idea? Of course there is airborne transmission of the virus!

It's true that some government agencies are hedging about airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which leads to COVID-19 infection) , but the scientific evidence for aerosol and droplet transmission of the virus is growing and very clear. [Aerosols are smaller than droplets, and both carry the virus.] Fortunately, the evidence just isn't there for getting this particular virus from touching surfaces (such as doorknobs or faucets) - which originally was a big worry.

The following are some articles that discuss how airborne transmission occurs, why wearing a mask protects us from others exhaling the virus, and also protects us from inhaling the virus and lowers how much virus we are exposed to (cloth and surgical masks protect us from most virus particles, but not all). In fact, some scientists are wondering whether wearing masks so lowers the amount of virus a person is exposed to (viral load), that if a person gets the infection, the body can deal with it much better and the infections may be asymptomatic or minor.

In case you're wondering: being outdoors dilutes and disperses the virus. If you are concerned about the virus spreading indoors - then open a window (to dilute and disperse the virus).

This is a really big deal - the possibility that up to 95% of infections could be asymptomatic! Excerpts from an interesting article by Dr. Monica Gandhi (Prof. of Medicine at Univ. of California) at The Conversation: Cloth masks do protect the wearer – breathing in less coronavirus means you get less sick

It seems people get less sick if they wear a mask.   ...continue reading "Masks Protect Us Several Ways From the Coronavirus"

The relationship between mold and sinuses is something I've been thinking about lately. Why do so many people after prolonged exposure to ordinary mold eventually develop sinusitis? What is going on?

This is a really interesting question because we are exposed to mold (which is actually fungi) every single day just from ordinary breathing. Fungi are all around us - in the wind, in the air, in the soil, and we always have a little in our homes. For example, in the bathroom tub or shower area, in moldy food, or around the kitchen sink. These are common molds. And we're normally just fine.

In addition, we all have some fungal species living in and on our bodies, and they are part of the normal human microbiome (the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living on and in us). In fact, different species of fungi live in different parts of our body, even some species that we tend to think of as harmful, such as yeast and aspergillis. In a healthy person, any potentially harmful microbes are kept in check by the other microbes in the microbiome so that they are living there harmlessly.

Yes, sometimes fungi can multiply to the point of doing harm (such as during a fungal skin infection, e.g. athlete's foot) or in an immunocompromised person, but normally fungal species live in a complex ecosystem in harmony with all our other millions of microbes.

Ordinary common molds can sometimes cause problems

But sometimes people get exposed to a lot of ordinary or common molds over a prolonged period of time. And this is where problems can develop if they breathe in a lot of the fungi.

The most important thing to know is that fungi (mold) grow in wet or moist conditions. Especially where it is not well ventilated. For example, when air conditioning systems that are not draining properly result in mold growing in the unit and the ducts. Or a water leak from the roof causes mold to grow on a wall or ceiling right in your bedroom. In both cases people are breathing it in for prolonged periods.

What kind of health problems can result? The health problems from common molds are generally of an inflammatory  or allergic nature, such as respiratory symptoms, respiratory illnesses (sinus infections), asthma, allergic responses, immunological, and other inflammatory responses. [This is according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO, and other major associations.]

But here's another thing - responses to large mold exposure vary, with some people having big responses (respiratory infections or asthma), some minor (perhaps drippy nose), and some no effects at all.

The good news is that more extreme health effects from mold exposure are very rare according to the CDC, the World Health organization, and some other health groups, with only some individual cases reported. Whew.

Looking back on my own history of sinus infections, it all makes perfect sense! After developing non-stop sinus infections years ago, I went to an ENT specialist who, after careful examination of my nasal passages, said that I was showing a massive inflammatory response, an allergic response. And only when I figure out what was causing the allergic response would I start to improve. Which turned out to be true.

[NOTE: This post is not going into the issue of mycotoxins (of fungi that release toxins), and of molds that take over houses making them uninhabitable, for example after floods.]

Deal With A Mold Problem As Soon As Possible

The CDC says don't bother with blood tests for mold - there aren't any. There are only tests that look at allergic responses to mold. And don't worry about what type of mold is in the house. Just clean it up, replace what needs replacing, make repairs, fix whatever needs fixing, etc. as soon as possible.

Once the mold problem is fixed and mold removed, the mold exposure is gone. And any health symptoms related to too much mold exposure health can finally improve.

Final thoughts about mold and sinusitis: For a while in the 1990s it was thought that people with sinusitis all had fungal problems in the sinuses and sinusitis should be treated with antifungals. Nope. When genetic sequencing tests were developed, researchers discovered hundreds of microbial species in healthy and sick people - and they realized that we all had fungi as part of our microbiome.

Which is why physicians now generally view sinusitis as an "inflammatory process", maybe due to an allergic response. Fungal sinusitis is considered one type of sinusitis, and only in a small minority of sinusitis cases.

Indoor mold by window Credit: Wikipedia

Are human papilloma viruses (HPV) causing some prostate cancers? And could getting the HPV vaccine help in preventing some cases of prostate cancer? Sure sounds like it according to a recent study published by Australian researchers.

The researchers reviewed 26 studies and came to the conclusion that while prostate cancer likely has many causes, it appears to also have an infectious viral cause - specifically certain human papilloma viruses (HPVs). They point out that HPV vaccines protect against the high risk HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cervical cancers, and also appear to be implicated in some prostate cancers.

From Medical Xpress: Potential causal role of human papilloma viruses (HPVs) in prostate cancers

Human papilloma viruses (HPVs) - a common group of viruses known to cause cervical cancers—may also have a causal role in prostate cancer, according to a literature review published in the open access journal Infectious Agents and Cancer, supporting the case for universal HPV vaccination. 

James Lawson and Wendy Glenn, at the University of New South Wales, Australia reviewed results from 26 previous studies on HPVs and their links to prostate cancer. They assessed the existing evidence using a common set of nine causal criteria, including the strength and consistency with which HPVs were associated with prostate cancers and whether HPVs were detected in prostate tissues that later went on to develop cancer.  ...continue reading "Prostate Cancer and Human Papilloma Viruses"