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Tracking the genetic passport of COVID-19

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Implications of different strands of Coronavirus

In late July, scientists claimed that there were six strands of the Coronavirus that caused COVID-19, then there was talk of eight. Sudden outbreaks in the US and Europe have caused speculation that deadlier, infectious strains of the virus may be circulating, with some early studies hinting at as many as 30 kinds of the virus. Coronavirus infections surpassed the 400,000 mark in the first six months alone, exemplifying its formidability as a fast mutating virus. Since the original outbreak in Wuhan, the Coronavirus has infected over 47,428,000 claiming over 1,213,000 lives. Over 11,000 cases have been reported locally with 23 fatalities. Could genetic sequencing better prepare health authorities to deal with the pandemic?

Sequencing could also help to identify which strands are more tenacious and which are dying out. In turn health authorities could use such information to learn how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and which medical interventions work best. This is where open-source projects such as NextStrain.org comes in. NextStrain uses genetic sequences of viruses collected from patients, contributed by health authorities from around the world, to track the evolution of epidemics in global maps and phylogenetic charts, the family trees for viruses.

According to Professor Benjamin Howden at the Doherty Institute, Australia, quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, sequencing or tracking the virus’s ‘genetic passport’, in other words tracing from where a specific strand had been ‘imported’, has now revolutionised how health authorities fight pandemics, and will become critically important in countries that have recently eased out of lockdown. For example, in circumstances where clusters emerge with no clear source, looking for connections in the genetic code of the virus could make contact tracing much more efficient in a country like Sri Lanka where many have been repatriated from countries where COVID-19 is wreaking havoc.

According to health authorities the new strain of the virus, which originated in a new cluster in Minuwangoda, is far more virulent compared to the first wave between March and April. With the virus spreading fast, detected in practically all districts, several hundred patients are reported each day, according to Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera.

The latest mutation is unique in its ubiquity, leading to conflagrations in Europe, US and, now Asia. Laboratory experiments suggest that the new strain, officially designated D614G, and familiarly known among scientists as ‘G’, because it has lead to the genetic instruction for the amino acid glycine (G) to be altered, is more infectious and has a higher viral load, making people who have contracted this particular strain more likely to spread it. In fact, the new strain is thought to be as much as 10 times more infectious. The ‘G’ strain, which first appeared in January, is found in the dominant variant of the coronavirus, while the ‘L’ strain that originated in Wuhan is gradually disappearing. The ‘G’ strain, associated with outbreaks in Europe and US, is believed to have originated in Germany, according to NextStrain cofounder Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, quoted in National Geographic. But nothing is definitive when it comes to the Coronavirus, warns Bedford. Researchers are forced to strike a high-stakes balance between disseminating information quickly and assuring their accuracy.

Scripps Research virologist, Hyeryun Choe, quoted in The Washington Post article titled, ‘This Coronavirus mutation has taken over the world. Scientists are trying to understand why’, points out that, fortunately the ‘G’ strain does not make patients any sicker, despite its higher viral load and any vaccine based on the original strain would be just as effective on the new strain.

Researchers claim that different types or variants of COVID-19 maybe distinguished by a unique set of symptoms. Most pronounced symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches and of course a persistent cough. But several symptoms were later included in diagnostics, as they were increasingly reported by COVID-19 positive patients, such as a loss of sense of taste and smell, the medical terms of which are ageusia and anosmia, respectively. A study by the UK’s King’s College London has grouped these into six ‘symptom clusters’, with a spectrum of breathing difficulties.

1. Flu-like with no fever:

Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever.

2. Flu-like with fever:

Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite.

3. Gastrointestinal:

Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough.

4. Severe level one, fatigue:

Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue.

5. Severe level two, confusion:

Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain.

 

6. Severe level three, abdominal and respiratory: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, abdominal pain.

According to the King’s College research, quoted in the World Economic Forum article titled ‘COVID-19: Could your earliest symptoms predict how ill you’ll get?’, earliest symptoms might help predict how sick someone could become with the progress of the disease. According to the study 16 percent of group 1 patients were admitted to hospital, while almost half of those in group 6 were. Those of groups 4,5 and 6 were older patients with underlying health conditions ranging from diabetes to obesity.

 

As such, Charles Chiu, professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, in USA Today article, ‘8 strains of the coronavirus are circling the globe. Here’s what clues they’re giving scientists’, says that it is unlikely that the different symptoms are related to people being infected with different strains of the virus.

In more positive news, the Coronavirus mutates at a fairly steady rate, approximately 20 mutations per year, according to Professor Francois Balloux, who heads the genetics institute at University College London, quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald. It is not as prolific as influenza, a virus that mutates at such an alarming rate that it requires an updated vaccine every season to keep up with all its mutations. Moreover, research has found that no one strain of the virus is more deadly than another.

Strains are also unlikely to grow more lethal as they evolve. In fact, Australian Government agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), dangerous pathogens lab, Professor Seshadri Vasan believes that, since a virus’s main objective is to spread and not kill off its hosts, over time the Coronavirus will become milder, the way past pandemic flu strains have, as they adapted to their new host. But it could become a recurring phenomenon, much like influenza, at least until vaccination programmes stamp it out. On the bright side, a virus that mutates comparatively slow is unlikely to change to evade a vaccine, opines scientists. (SP)

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Features

Hair Growth and Thickness

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

 

* Oil:

Oiling is an old home remedy for hair growth and thickness. Oiling is also used for the strength, shine, and length of hair, from ancient times. The use of coconut oil, especially, is very effective when it comes to the amplification of hair health. Additionally, there are many essential oils for faster hair growth which you can use, too.

* How to Use: Generally, hair oiling works best when applied overnight. You could use this therapy every night, or after each night, then wash your hair, in the morning, before heading for studies, or work.

 

* Aloe Vera:

Aloe vera has long been used as a home remedy for hair growth, thickness, and treating hair loss problems It contains vitamins A, C, and E. All three of these vitamins are known to contribute to cell turnover, supporting healthy cell growth and shiny hair. Plus, vitamin B-12 and folic acid are also included in aloe vera gel. Both of these elements can keep your hair from falling out. Aloe vera plants can be easily grown indoors. A leaf can be plucked, occasionally, and cut open to reveal its gel. This gel needs to be applied on the scalp, basically, to provide nourishment to the roots.

*  How to Use:

Rub this gel on your head properly, leaving no area dry; wash after half an hour or so. Keeping this massage as a part of your weekly routine will eventually make your hair thick and long.

 

*  Green Tea:

Green tea is often consumed as a home remedy for weight loss. Surprisingly, it has many other benefits, including hair-related benefits.

* How to Use:

Consuming green tea once every day can add to the strength and length of your hair. If your body is extremely comfortable with green tea, then you may even consume it twice every day.

 

* Onion Juice:

A bi-weekly application of onion juice can relieve you of your tension, regarding hair health. The smell can really torture you, but divert your attention in doing something else for a while, like making a puzzle or washing the dishes. From an early age, onion juice has been used as a home remedy to control hair fall. Research has shown that onion juice has been successful in treating patchy alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss condition) by promoting hair growth .

* How to Use:

Take half onion and blend it. Apply the mixture on every nook and corner of your scalp and let it sit for some 60 minutes, or so. Shampoo it off when it’s time for the hair-wash.

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Fun-loving, but… sensitive

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This week, my chat is with Nilu Vithanage. She is quite active, as a teledrama actress – having done four, already; her first was ‘Pavela Will Come In The Cloud, Mom’ (playing the role of a nurse). Then Came ‘Heavenly Palaces’ (student), ‘Black Town’ (a village character Kenkaiya), and ‘Wings Of Fire,’ currently being shown, with Nilu as a policewoman. You could checkout ‘Wings Of Fire,’ weekdays, on Swarnavahini, at 7.30 pm. Nilu is also active as a stage drama artiste, dancer…and has also been featured in musical videos.

And, this is how our chit-chat went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

Let’s say, I’m a bit on the playful side, and I like to have a lot of fun. But, I do find the time to relax, and, at home, it’s dancing to music! Yeah, I love dancing. Oh, I need to add that I’m a bit sensitive.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I get angry quickly. Fortunately, that anger doesn’t last long – just five to 10 minutes. But I wish I could get rid of anger, totally from my system!

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Nope, can’t think of anything, in particular. Everything is fine with us, and I’m proud of my only brother, and I feel safe when he is around. Or, come to think of it, if I did have another brother, I would feel doubly safe…when going out, in particular!

4. School?

I did my studies at two schools – C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, and Panadura Sumangala Girls’ School for my higher studies. Representing my school, I won first place in a speech competition and dance competition, as well.

5. Happiest moment?

When my husband comes home, or talks to me on the phone. He is stationed in Hatton and those calls and home visits are my happiest moments

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I really find a lot of happiness feeding the fish, in ponds. I love to see them rush to pick up the tidbits I throw into the pond. That’s my kind of happiness – being close to nature.

7. Are you religious?

I would say ‘yes’ to that question. I like to go to the temple, listen to sermons, participate in meditation programmes, and I do not miss out on observing sil, whenever possible. I also find solace in visiting churches.

8. Are you superstitious?

A big ‘no.’ Not bothered about all those superstitious things that generally affect a lot of people.

9. Your ideal guy?

My husband, of course, and that’s the reason I’m married to him! He has been a great support to me, in my acting career, as well in all other activities. He understands me and he loves me. And, I love him, too.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say my Dad. I truly appreciate the mentorship he gave me, from a young age, and the things we received from him

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

My family.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

A camel would be ideal as that would make it easier for me to find a way out from a desert island!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

One day, recently, with the greatest of difficulty, I managed to join a one meter distance queue, to withdraw money from an ATM. And, then I realised I didn’t bring the card along!

14. Done anything daring?

I would say…yes, when I ventured out to get involved in teledramas. It was a kind of a daring decision and I’m glad it’s now working out for me – beautifully.

15. Your ideal vacation?

I would say Thailand, after reading your articles, and talking to you about Amazing Thailand – the shopping, things to see and do, etc. When the scene improves, it will be…Thailand here I come!

16. What kind of music are you into?

The fast, rhythmic stuff because I have a kind of rhythm in my body, and I love to dance…to music.

17. Favourite radio station:

I don’t fancy any particular station. It all depends on the music they play. If it’s my kind of music, then I’m locked-on to that particular station.

18. Favourtie TV station:

Whenever I have some free time, I search the TV channels for a good programme. So it’s the programme that attracts me.

19. What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Maybe a bird so that I would be free to fly anywhere I want to.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m currently giving lessons to schoolchildren, in dancing, and I plan to have my own dancing institute in the future.

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Features

Snail-napping sets the stage for CGI road trip

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The SpongeBob Movie:Sponge on the Run

By Tharishi hewaviThanagamage

Based on the famous and one of the longest-running American animated series that made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ is the latest addition to the SpongeBob movie franchise, coming in as the third installment after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ (2004) and ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

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