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Do Contact-Tracing Apps Have A Future?

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Do Contact-Tracing Apps Have A Future?


It may feel like a long time ago, but it’s only nine months since the UK was in the grips of the “pingdemic”. Back in the summer of 2021, lifting COVID restrictions saw the country’s contact-tracing apps – the NHS COVID-19 app in England and Wales, the StopCOVID NI app in Northern Ireland, and the Protect Scotland app – notify hundreds of thousands of people of their need to isolate, causing widespread disruption.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2022, and these apps today get little attention. In England in particular, now that living with COVID is the aim and isolation rules have been removed, the NHS COVID-19 app faces an uncertain future. How it fares could indicate what’s to come for the Scottish and Northern Irish apps too, as well as others around the world.

A central component of the test-and-trace strategy in England and Wales, the NHS COVID-19 app was launched in September 2020 to monitor and manage the spread of COVID. Like many contact-tracing apps, it works using Bluetooth wireless signal – if a person using the app logs a positive COVID test result, other app users who have been in proximity long enough to risk being infected are asked to isolate as a precaution. This hopefully then breaks potential chains of transmission, limiting the virus’s spread.

Did it work?

To some extent, yes. Analysis of the NHS COVID-19 app’s performance from its launch up to December 2020 revealed that it helped control the spread of the virus in these early days. During this period, the app was used on a regular basis by roughly 28% of the population, preventing approximately 600,000 cases of COVID at a time when vaccines were unavailable and treatments limited.

However, the app wasn’t enough to stop transmission altogether. Cases rose during the autumn of 2020, pushing Britain into lockdown in November and again at the beginning of 2021. Limited uptake in turn limited the app’s impact.

Researchers estimated before its launch that it would be effective in containing the virus only if 60% of the total population (80% of smartphone users) used the app and adhered to the self-isolation advice delivered by it. At best, uptake was only about half what it needed to be.

And since this analysis was conducted, the nature of the pandemic has evolved. The app was launched prior to the emergence of the more transmissible alpha variant in the winter of 2020, and since then, delta and omicron have made COVID more transmissible still. People’s patterns of face-to-face interactions have changed, as restrictions have been lifted and vaccines have lessened the threat of COVID.

 

As we saw in the summer of 2021, changes to the virus and people’s behaviour saw so many people being exposed and told to isolate by the app that many began to question the practicality of using it. The app’s sensitivity was turned down to try to lower the number of people being asked to isolate, but this will inevitably have lessened its ability to stop the virus from spreading.

As 2021 progressed, notifications sent by the app declined steadily. Cases, though, plateaued at a relatively high level – therefore possibly indicating that fewer people had the app switched on and that many had given up on using it. That said, notifications did rise sharply again before last Christmas, indicating that plenty still had it switched on.

What next?

Existing research doesn’t give a firm indication of what impact a contact-tracing app might have in a future outbreak. But what we do know from the early stages of this pandemic is that this technology can help limit the virus’s spread. It’s therefore plausible that these apps could be used again if lowering cases of COVID (or perhaps even another disease) were necessary.

But what’s also clear is that a tool like this cannot be a substitute for other efforts. It needs to be used alongside other key measures – such as face coverings, social distancing and widespread and effective testing – to work well. If these apps return to widespread use, they would need to be part of a package of controls.

And if apps were to be relied on again, several issues would need careful attention. Firstly, there’s the question of personal data. Public concern about how personal data is used is high. People want to know who has access to data about them, to have more control over how organisations use their data, and to know where data about them is stored.

Surveying shows that concerns about personal data uses were lower in the context of controlling COVID. And previous research conducted in the UK found that people generally supported their personal data being used by others if it was for the public’s benefit. But if it’s not clear that resuming using these apps is beneficial, then maintaining support for them and driving uptake could be difficult.

 

Another issue to resolve is the unevenness of these apps’ use. With the NHS COVID-19 app, uptake was significantly lower among the elderly, people from ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged areas, even though people in these groups are most at risk from the coronavirus.

If there were a pressing need to use these apps once again, it would be important to adopt strategies to increase use among these groups. Coming up with alternatives to involve those without smartphones – or who through age, disability or lack of digital literacy are otherwise excluded – would also be important.

But of course, whether the UK will reach a point where it needs to try to contain cases through high use of these apps is hard to predict. Certainly in England, for now the government’s plan seems to be to step away from trying to control viral transmission. It hasn’t, though, completely abandoned the NHS COVID-19 app. NHS Test and Trace has signed a deal for the ongoing development and support of the app until at least the end of 2022.

Itzelle A Medina-Perea, Postdoctoral Researcher, Information School, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.





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3 Things You Can Do to Stay on Track With Your Health Journey

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Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a struggle, especially when you’re surrounded by temptations and distractions. It may be easier at first to say that you’re switching to a healthy lifestyle or diet, but it can become more difficult during the process. You need to adapt to a new lifestyle, change your diet, and follow a strict routine, which requires a lot of time and effort.

It is also normal to feel demotivated, frustrated, or hopeless at some point, but what matters the most is the progress you made, no matter how big or small it is – every step counts! Aside from getting support and helpful tips from professionals, like health and fitness specialists, it is important to stay consistent, motivated, and disciplined as well.

Starting a Life-Long Healthy Journey

Changing your diet is the most challenging part of a health journey. It is hard to resist sudden cravings, and even a single meal can make you feel like you are falling off the wellness wagon. That’s why you need to regularly track the food you consume, along with your workout routine and sleep schedule. 

The good news is there are loads of online programs that do all the hard work for you. One example would be Perfect Body which can help you stay on track during your health journey with its personalized diet plan.

Perfect Body offers a variety of delicious, easy-to-cook recipes that will keep you satisfied. Perfect Body

It offers a variety of delicious, easy-to-cook recipes that will keep you satisfied, whether you’re maintaining a healthy diet or losing weight to achieve your body goals. 

You won’t feel deprived or pressured as you devour mouthwatering meals since they are all made from healthy ingredients based on your preferences and health condition, allowing you to live a healthier lifestyle in the best way possible.

How Does It Work?

What makes Perfect Body exceptional and effective is that its diet plan changes simultaneously with your body. Once you start losing weight, your meal plan will adjust to your body to ensure you receive all the nutrients and calories you need. 

Your diet will be monitored carefully without the feeling of restricting yourself or limiting your food intake.

Perfect Body App All you have to do is answer a few questions. Perfect Body

All you have to do is answer a few questions about your preferences, weight goals, and health conditions in a short 1-minute online quiz. 

Then, your meal plan will be created based on your answers to the questionnaire for effective results. You’ll get a 28-day meal plan that includes five deliciously healthy recipes with easy-to-follow instructions. There are 10,000+ recipes to choose from in total. 

You can even adjust your meal plan according to your new needs by answering some additional questions. Aside from that, you can opt to add a workout plan that provides simple but highly effective workouts created by fitness professionals to help you achieve maximum weight loss results without going to the gym. 

Once your 28-day meal plan ends, you can recreate your new meal plan tailored to your new goals and needs.

Tips to Stay on Track on Your Healthy Journey

Whether you’re just starting to switch to a healthy lifestyle or maintaining a healthy diet for years, it is normal to encounter difficulties and discouragements. You have to continue striving until you reach your goals. After all, living a healthy lifestyle is not only about losing weight – it is for your overall well-being, too. 

These tips might help you stay on track while on your healthy journey.

Eat a balanced diet.

The first impression of most people when it comes to a healthy diet is eating pure greens or veggies every single day. While fruits and vegetables are the main sources of all the nutrients your body needs, incorporating the right amount of meat, poultry, grains, and dairy into your diet will provide you with enough protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Keep in mind to stick to a balanced diet.

Salmon Avoid eating highly-processed food. Perfect Body

Another tip would be to avoid eating highly-processed food. Make sure every food you eat distributes the nutrients your body needs equally. You may fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with grains, and another quarter with protein. 

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, too. It doesn’t only keep you hydrated; the health benefits of water include:

  • Aid in weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Constipation relief
  • Gut cleanse
  • Maintaining regular bowel movements
  • Flushing out toxins
  • Improving skin health
  • Delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body

Engage in healthy activities.

Your diet alone is not enough to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Everything contributes to your health journey, from your hobbies and activities to your daily routine. 

Although working out or exercising plays a big role in a healthy lifestyle, there are still other physical activities you can do if you can’t commit to working out on a regular basis. You don’t necessarily have to go to the gym or buy expensive gym equipment. Not everyone has the time and capability to do so.

Workout You can try sports, dancing, biking, and even walking around your neighborhood every morning. Perfect Body

You can try sports, dancing, biking, and even walking around your neighborhood every morning. Always engage with any activities you enjoy that will help exercise your mind and body, enhance your strength and flexibility, and keep you away from unhealthy habits or vices.

Perfect Body has a personalized workout program, too, where you can choose what kind of exercises you want to do. These workouts are optimized for you to achieve the best results in the shortest time possible. So go on and move your body; you will not only be living a healthy life but also a happy life.

Nurture your mental health.

Mental health has a great impact on your overall well-being. It goes without saying that it’s as important as physical health. Not having a good mental state can result in a lack of energy, focus, and determination to do things and think clearly. 

Several mental health problems can also negatively affect your eating and sleeping habits, which are significant to a healthy lifestyle. If not managed properly, there’s a risk of developing unhealthy habits that can be difficult to unlearn.

Endorphins Nurturing your mental health can help combat or prevent mental health problems. Perfect Body

Nurturing your mental health can help combat or prevent mental health problems that are sometimes associated with chronic physical illness. It will give you a positive outlook, encouraging you to live a healthy and fulfilling life. You will be able to build healthier relationships and learn to value yourself more. 

Perfect Body aims to provide you with sustainable and long-term results, so you can ensure your overall health will always be the top priority. You won’t feel any pressure or worry as you maintain your health journey here. 

Final Words

So here you have it, 3 main things that will surely help you stay on track while trying to become a better, healthier version of yourself. Besides, if you want to achieve your goals faster, Perfect Body is now offering an exclusive 60% OFF for our readers only. 

Hurry up before this great deal ends!

Click here to take a short quiz and kickstart your Perfect Body journey now!





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COVID Has Reached North Korea, Threatening A Humanitarian Emergency

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COVID Has Reached North Korea, Threatening A Humanitarian Emergency


The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. But it’s only in recent days, in May 2022, that the secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has reported its first confirmed cases of the virus.

While it may seem somewhat astounding that a country has managed to get so far into the pandemic without an outbreak, North Korea has reportedly had its borders sealed since January 2020, with no movement in or out of the country. So it is plausible that they’ve had no COVID until now.

But now, the country, which has a population of roughly 26 million people, looks to be facing a very sizeable and rapidly-spreading outbreak of the omicron variant. As of May 17, 1.4 million cases of “fever” had been reported, with 56 deaths since late April. The country is treating fever as indicative of COVID infection owing to reported shortages of testing supplies.

Of course, we don’t know how many of these cases of fever are definitely COVID, which in theory could lead to an overestimation of case numbers. At the same time, a proportion of cases are likely to be asymptomatic, and a lack of reporting coupled with limited surveillance means there’s a likelihood of under-reporting. Either way, these numbers are unlikely to be accurate.

There has been some testing taking place, with an unspecified number of omicron cases confirmed. But ultimately, there are huge gaps in our knowledge about this outbreak. This includes the index case – the case which was the source of this outbreak.

North Korea is ill-equipped for a COVID outbreak

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for national and global presentations of high-quality real-time data, along with rigorous and mass-scale testing infrastructure, to underpin surveillance and healthcare decision-making. North Korea doesn’t appear to have any of that in place.

Importantly, there’s also no known COVID vaccination programme in North Korea, despite previous offers of supplies from China and COVAX, a global initiative which aims to provide equitable access to COVID vaccines. The government has previously turned down three million Sinovac doses from China, along with shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the latter reportedly due to concerns around side effects. Now, South Korea has offered to donate vaccine doses, but North Korea is yet to accept.

To some extent, North Korea is in the same position the rest of the world was in early to mid 2020. The government has ordered a national lockdown. This will have socio-economic consequences for residents but, overall, is probably a sensible move, given the population will have little immunity against the virus, whether through prior infection or the safer route of vaccination.

Kim Jong-un has also ordered the army to distribute medicines and supplies, while criticising officials and the public health sector for what he has deemed an inadequate pandemic response.

The healthcare system in North Korea is reported to be fragile, especially away from the capital city of Pyongyang. An outbreak could easily overwhelm the health facilities in some areas. This would have a knock-on effect to other areas of healthcare, further limiting access to care for non-communicable diseases, for example. A lockdown will at least buy the country some time to implement other public health measures, such as vaccination campaigns.

It is thought that North Korea has a lower prevalence of some of the conditions which we know increase the risk of severe COVID, such as obesity, compared with many other Asia and Pacific countries. However, more than ten million people in North Korea are considered to be food insecure (where having access to sufficient safe and nutritious food isn’t guaranteed). And we know malnutrition increases the risk of severe disease with COVID.

Another factor which increases risk is older age. An estimated 10% of the population in North Korea is aged 65 or over, and roughly another 19% aged between 50 and 64. So there are a large number of people who may be vulnerable to severe illness if they contract COVID.

How will things play out?

New variants of concern may emerge from this outbreak, though given the lack of contact with the rest of the world, they may not be easily exported.

There have been several humanitarian catastrophes related to uncontrolled COVID outbreaks, perhaps most notably in India, where it’s likely that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, died in just a few months. With uncontrolled outbreaks on such a large scale, the true death tolls can only ever be estimated.

The situation in North Korea threatens a similar humanitarian catastrophe. We know infection numbers can get very large very quickly, particularly with omicron being even more infectious that previous variants.

Routine datasets, such as death registers and certificates indicating cause of death, are likely to be limited and of low quality. Public reporting may be non-existent, and if surveillance data is revealed, the accuracy of the findings should be given very careful consideration.

This COVID outbreak is likely to create a high burden of disease in North Korea, putting huge pressures on the health system. The population will undoubtedly suffer greatly, whether or not public reporting of health outcomes shows the full fallout.

There is an urgent need for widespread COVID vaccination, particularly of older and vulnerable people. Now would be a very good time for North Korea to overcome its usual suspicion of the outside world, and accept international offers of help.

Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.





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Why Is The FDA Seeking To Ban Menthol Cigarettes?

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Why Is The FDA Seeking To Ban Menthol Cigarettes?


The FDA has opened the public comment period for the agency’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes. Epidemiology and global health professor Rafael Meza studies data modeling in disease prevention and cancer risk. David Mendez, who studies smoking cessation and tobacco control policies, is an associate professor of health management and policy. These University of Michigan researchers found that, in a 38-year period, African Americans suffered most of the harmful effects of menthol cigarettes. Now the researchers have developed a model to simulate the possible benefits of the menthol ban, based on studies of population trends in tobacco use. As experts on the behavioral and public health aspects of smoking, they explain the role of menthol in smoking-related illness and death.

What are menthol cigarettes?

Menthol is a chemical compound, obtained naturally from peppermint oil or produced synthetically using thymol, a compound in the herb thyme. When added to tobacco cigarettes, menthol produces a cooling sensation in the mouth and throat. Menthol cigarettes have enough of the compound added to give them that characteristic sensation and minty flavor. Instead of tasting like burning tobacco, menthol cigarettes might bring to mind cough drops or strong breath mints.

Why are menthol cigarettes particularly harmful?

Menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoking, making it more palatable for those new to smoking. Most of the experimenters are teens and young adults, who are vulnerable to long-term effects of nicotine on still-developing brains. Among youths who are smokers, about 60% smoke menthols, with even higher rates among Black adolescents. Every year, menthol cigarettes increase the number of individuals who become regular smokers. Those who start with menthols often continue with them.

Our research shows that the harm of tobacco use continues as well. In addition to providing youths a more palatable introduction to smoking, the menthol flavor appears to keep them smoking. People who smoke menthol cigarettes smoke longer over their lifetimes and are less likely to quit. That translates into hundreds of thousands of additional premature deaths from lung cancer, emphysema and diseases made worse by smoking, like heart disease. In our study, we estimated that menthol cigarettes were responsible for 377,000 premature deaths among the U.S. population during the past 40 years.

 

Why has there been a backlash to the FDA’s proposed ban?

Some critics have raised concerns about potential unintended consequences of the proposed ban, particularly for African American menthol smokers. One worry is that banning menthol cigarettes could make Black people subject to arrest for buying or smoking them. Another concern is that a ban might create an illicit market for the cigarettes, particularly in African American neighborhoods.

But the FDA ban is on distributing the cigarettes, not buying, possessing or smoking them. The agency has been clear that it cannot and will not enforce the ban on individual consumers of menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars. And Canada’s experience with a similar ban suggests that it is unlikely an illegal market would emerge.

Most importantly, any negative consequences would be outweighed by considerable health gains.

How would a menthol cigarette ban help?

Cigarette smoking prevalence has decreased drastically since the 1960s, thanks to tobacco control interventions like cigarette taxes, smoke-free air laws, marketing restrictions and education campaigns. The prevalence of menthol cigarette smoking, however, has remained relatively constant since 2000, which highlights the need for interventions specifically targeting menthol cigarettes.

We recently estimated that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would translate into a 15% reduction in menthol smoking prevalence and prevent 650,000 premature deaths by 2060. The gains among the Black population would be particularly considerable, with an estimated 255,000 premature deaths averted.

Under a menthol cigarette ban, it’s important that menthol cigarette smokers have help to quit smoking, and not just switch to nonmenthol cigarettes.

David Mendez, Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan and Rafael Meza, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.





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