Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Covid-19 FAQs: Protect yourself

This page uses the official term COVID-19 to refer to the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Many rumors related to COVID-19 circulating on social media are false or contain misinformation. People should be skeptical of rumors they hear on social media that aren’t being reported by reputable health organizations or mainstream media outlets and should not share or repost items unless they are able to confirm that they are true. False and inaccurate social media posts can cause a great deal of harm.

Source: State of Utah.gov

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms reported are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. You may also have muscle aches, a sore throat, or a decrease in your sense of smell or taste. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor and isolate right away. Your doctor will decide if you need to be tested. You can find testing locations at https://coronavirus.utah.gov/testing-locations/.

You can use the CDC coronavirus self-checker to help you decide if you need medical care. This tool can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure. This is why you will be asked to quarantine for 14 days if you are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, because it can take 14 days for you to get sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sore throat, or a decrease in your sense of smell or taste, call your doctor and isolate right away. Your doctor will decide if you need to be tested.

I was at a place where someone who tested positive for COVID-19 was. Do I need to be tested?

Not necessarily. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sore throat, or a decrease in your sense of smell or taste), you should get tested for COVID-19. Call your doctor and isolate right away.  

If you were in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms. This means you were closer than 6 feet or 2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from the person who tested positive for 15 minutes or longer. Public health workers may recommend you get tested for COVID-19 if you were in close contact with someone who has it. This will happen through the contact tracing process. 

Public health workers do contact tracing when someone tests positive for COVID-19. They will contact every person they feel may have been exposed to the virus. If they don't contact you, it means you were most likely not exposed. In the rare cases that public health feels they may not have the ability to contact all of the close contacts of the individual, they will issue a public statement so everyone will know.

What does close contact mean?

Close contact means being within 6 feet or 2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer. Close contact also means having direct contact with infectious secretions of someone who has COVID-19, such as being coughed on. 

What should I do if I am sick?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor and isolate right away. You should also get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms. 

Isolation is for people who are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19. Everyone who lives in your house should stay at home if someone in your house tests positive for COVID-19. Isolation is for people who are not sick enough to be in the hospital. Your doctor may tell you to recover at home. Isolation keeps sick people away from healthy people to stop sickness from spreading. 

If you are sick or test positive for COVID-19, you should:

  • Stay home unless you need medical care.
  • Try to stay in a different room than other people in your house. If this is not possible, stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Try to use a different bathroom than the other people who live in your house.
  • Clean surfaces that are touched often (phones, doorknobs, light switches, toilet handles, sink handles, countertops, and anything metal).
  • Do not travel if you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water right after you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose. If you do not have soap or water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wear a face mask if you have to be around other people (if you have to be in the same room or car). If you can’t wear a face mask because it makes it hard for you to breathe, stay in a different room from other people. If people come into your room, they should wear a face mask.

More information on what to do if you are sick can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html

Should I wear a face mask?

There is clear scientific evidence that wearing a face covering prevents the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends all people 2 years of age and older wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when it is hard to physical distance. 

While cloth face coverings are strongly encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it may not be possible in every situation or for some people to wear a face covering. In some situations, a cloth face covering could make a physical or mental condition worse or be a safety concern. Consider adaptations and alternatives whenever possible to help someone wear a face covering or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread if it is not possible for someone to wear one.

You can help your community if you make your own mask. There are not enough surgical masks (such as the ones used in doctors’ offices) and N-95 respirators for all of the healthcare workers to take care of patients with COVID-19. Please try to leave these masks for healthcare workers. 

The CDC has more tips and instructions for how to make a homemade mask at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Do I need to wear a mask if I have been sick?

You should wear a facemask if you are sick, showing symptoms of COVID-19, or have tested positive for COVID-19 to protect others from the risk of getting infected. 

Can the virus be spread to the children of pregnant women?

Cases have been reported where a pregnant woman with COVID-19 has passed the virus to the baby during pregnancy or delivery. Studies are continuing.

Can the virus be spread to a baby through breastmilk?

There is no information at this time that a mother can spread COVID-19 to her baby through breastmilk. Breastfeeding should be determined by the mother and her doctor. A mother with confirmed COVID-19 should take steps to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing hands, wearing a face mask, and cleaning the breast pump.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Vaccine FAQs. Pt.1

This page uses the official term COVID-19 to refer to the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Many rumors related to COVID-19 circulating on social media are false or contain misinformation. People should be skeptical of rumors they hear on social media that aren’t being reported by reputable health organizations or mainstream media outlets and should not share or repost items unless they are able to confirm that they are true. False and inaccurate social media posts can cause a great deal of harm.

Source: State of Utah.gov

What is novel coronavirus, or COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), so people most likely have no immunity to it. It causes a respiratory illness ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to what someone may get from a seasonal illness:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • A decrease in smell or taste 

Most people with COVID-19 will have mild to moderate symptoms. However, people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. 

There is currently no vaccine or antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

What does COVID-19 mean?

This is the official name for the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) renamed 2019-nCoV to COVID-19 using a combination of the words coronavirus (CO), virus (VI), and disease (D). The number “19” is for the year the outbreak was first identified. The name was chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species, or group of people to prevent stigma.

How is the virus spread?

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet).
  • By respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat COVID-19?
Currently, there are no specific medicines or vaccines for the new virus, and antibiotics do not work either (they fight off bacteria). Most people get better on their own. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, but this will have to be tested in trials first, so it could be some time before it is ready. Scientists are also conducting studies to determine if medications already on the market could be effective in treating COVID-19. Treatment is only to manage symptoms, such as drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, etc. 

Who is most affected by COVID-19?
People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19: 

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Based on what we know now, people with the following health conditions might be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (a disease which affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV/ • AIDS, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Liver disease
  • Neurologic conditions such as dementia
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes

Children who have special health care needs or are medically complex are also at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. These children may have neurologic, genetic, or metabolic health conditions or a congenital heart disease. 

Smoking may also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For more information on who may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and what precautions these individuals should take, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html

What is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children?  

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. We do not yet know what causes MIS-C. However, we know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.

Contact your child’s doctor, nurse, or clinic right away if your child is showing symptoms of MIS-C. Seek emergency care right away if your child is showing any of these emergency warning signs of MIS-C or other concerning signs.

Does everyone with COVID-19 end up in the hospital?

No. People of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 which may include hospitalization. 

Most people will be able to recover at home under the care of a healthcare provider. It’s not known what the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are. 

Is COVID-19 more dangerous than influenza (flu)?

COVID-19 is especially dangerous because we don’t have a vaccine to prevent it or treatment for it. COVID-19 appears to be more infectious than influenza.

Everyone should get an influenza vaccine (flu shot) when they become available this fall. 

Do you have immunity once you get COVID?

There is still a lot we don't know about COVID-19 including how much immunity a person will have after being infected with the virus. 

Will warm weather stop COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new form of virus, so it is not yet known how temperature will affect transmission. COVID-19 has been spreading in areas of the world with warmer climates, but there is much to learn about the transmissibility of the disease.

Can COVID-19 be spread through water?

COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods should remove or inactivate the virus. There is also no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs.

How long does COVID-19 survive on surfaces?

Studies show the virus that causes COVID-19 may last on surfaces for up to 72 hours depending on the surface. That's why it is so important to not touch your face, clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often (such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables), and wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

There's a lot we still don't know, such as how different conditions, including exposure to sunlight, heat, or cold, can affect these survival times.

What cleaning agents work best to kill COVID-19?

Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/cleaning-disinfection.html

Can I get COVID-19 from pets or animals?

There have been a small number of pets (dogs and cats) which have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with someone who had COVID-19. Based on what we know right now, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is considered low. 

For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html

If I get a package from an area with coronavirus and open it, will I get COVID-19?

People receiving packages from areas with coronavirus are not at risk of contracting COVID-19. Coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages. These viruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets, such as coughing and sneezing. There have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. associated with imported goods.

Can I get COVID-19 from food, including food from restaurants or take-out? 

There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic may have increased mental health issues within families


Science News
from research organizations

COVID-19 pandemic may have increased mental health issues within families

April 13, 2021
Penn State
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals' and families' well-being and functioning.

April 13, 2021

Source: Penn State

Summary: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals' and families' well-being and functioning.



When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals' and families' well-being and functioning.

The study -- led by Penn State researchers -- found that in the first months of the pandemic, parents reported that their children were experiencing much higher levels of "internalizing" problems like depression and anxiety, and "externalizing" problems such as disruptive and aggressive behavior, than before the pandemic. Parents also reported that they themselves were experiencing much higher levels of depression and lower levels of coparenting quality with their partners.

Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development at Penn State, said the results -- recently published in the journal Family Process -- give insight into just how devastating periods of family and social stress can be for parents and children, and how important a good coparenting relationship can be for family well-being.

"Stress in general -- whether daily hassles or acute, crisis-driven stress -- typically leads to greater conflict and hostility in family relationships," Feinberg said. "If parents can support each other in these situations, the evidence from past research indicates that they will be able to be more patient and more supportive with their children, rather than becoming more harsh and angry."

Feinberg added that understanding what can help parents maintain positive parenting practices, such as a positive coparenting relationship, is key for helping protect children during future crises -- whether those crises are pandemics, economic shocks or natural disasters.

While cross-sectional studies have suggested there has been a negative impact of the pandemic on families, the researchers said this study is one of the first to measure just how much these factors have changed within families before and after the pandemic hit.

According to the researchers, previous research has found that periods of financial stress, such as the Great Depression and the 2008 recession, have led to higher levels of parent stress, mental health problems and interparental conflict, which can all lead to more harsh, and even abusive, parenting.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Feinberg said it led to not only financial stress within families, but also problems related to being isolated together, issues managing work and childcare, and general fear related to the sudden health threat that was poorly understood.

"When the pandemic hit, like many people, I was very anxious and worried," Feinberg said. "I saw the tensions and difficulties my daughter and I were having being home together 24/7. So, when I realized that our existing studies and samples of families gave us an opportunity to learn something about how families would cope during the crisis, my team and I moved into action."

For the study, the researchers used data from 129 families, which included 122 mothers and 84 fathers, with an average of 2.3 children per family. The parents answered an online questionnaire that asked them about their depressive symptoms, anxiety, the quality of their relationship with their coparent, and externalizing and internalizing behavior they observed in their children, among other measures.

Because the participants were part of a longer study measuring these factors over prior years, the researchers already had data on these parents and children from before the pandemic.

Get the vaccine. Please.

The researchers found that parents were 2.4 times more likely to report "clinically significant" high levels of depression after the pandemic hit than before. They were also 2.5 times and 4 times more likely to report externalizing and internalizing problems, respectively, in their children at levels high enough that professional help might be needed.

Feinberg said that while it makes sense that families would experience these difficulties, he was shocked at the magnitude of the declines in well-being.

"The size of these changes are considered very large in our field and are rarely seen," Feinberg said. "We saw not just overall shifts, but greater numbers of parents and children who were in the clinical range for depression and behavior problems, which means they were likely struggling with a diagnosable disorder and would benefit from treatment."

Feinberg put the size of the declines in parent and child well-being in perspective by pointing out that the increase in parents' levels of depressive symptoms in the first months of the pandemic was about twice as large as the average benefit of antidepressants.

The researchers said that as the risk of future pandemics and natural disasters increases with the effects of climate change, so will the likelihood of families facing stressful conditions again in the future

"Getting ready for these types of crises could include helping families prepare -- not just by stocking up on supplies, but also by improving family resiliency and psychological coping resources," Feinberg said. "In my view, that means providing the kinds of family prevention programs we've been developing and testing at the Prevention Research Center for the past 20 years."

For example, Feinberg explained that their research shows that the Family Foundations program helps new parents develop stronger capacities for cooperation and support in their relationship with each other as coparents, which is a key dimension of family resiliency.

Feinberg said future research will examine whether families who went through Family Foundations or other programs were more resilient, maintained better family relationships, and experienced smaller declines in mental health during the pandemic.

Jacqueline Mogle, Jin-Kyung Lee, Samantha L. Tornello, Michelle L. Hostetler, Joseph A. Cifelli and Sunhye Bai, all at Penn State; and Emily Hotez, University of California, also participated in this work.

The National Institute of Child Health and Development and The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State helped support this research.

Monday, December 14, 2020

How did that COVID-19 vaccine happened so fast?

December 14, 2020

How did that COVID-19 vaccine happen so fast? 

Years, even decades of research brought us to yesterday, the initial rollout of a vaccine for COVID-19, the most disastrous public health calamity in modern times.

In layman's terms, the Pfizer vaccine is all about genetics, DNA, and cell biology. The vaccine utilizes our genetic processes and what they do...which is to create life in our bodies and in all living things. We lay people have known about genetics since high school, when we studied a little bit about Gregor Mendel and his experiments with peas. Mendel discovered the basic principles of heredity and laid the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics. 

What James D. Watson and Francis Crick discovered by 1953, and which revolutionized biology and medicine, was how each of our 30 trillion cells (except for mature red blood cells) is able to pack inside its nucleus the 20,000 genes that serve as the instruction manual for us and for all living things.

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material from which the 46 chromosomes in each cell's nucleus are formed. DNA contains the codes for the body's approximately 20,000 genes, which govern all aspects of cell growth and inheritance. Watson and Crick discovered that DNA has a double helix structure--two intertwined strands resembling a spiraling ladder. A gene is a distinct section of that DNA and contains the codes for producing specific proteins involved in our body function. In a very short-handed description, genes send information to single-strand structures called messenger RNA (messenger ribonucleic acid). It is the messenger RNA that leaves the cell's nucleus and begins the process of protein building, the essential work of life.

What the scientists and doctors at Pfizer accomplished was to harness the messenger RNA of the Corona-19 virus, which is the active agent of the of the corona virus. The scientists made a synthetic copy of the virus's messenger RNA instead of using a section of living, or dead, virus as has been typically done in previous vaccines. Also, it has been reported that the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are less risky to the body and easier to make in mass doses...qualities much needed in an unprecedented pandemic.

As noted scientist and Nobel laureate Leon Cooper said, our investment in basic scientific research must be generous and ongoing. Advances that led to the creation of the personal computer, for example, relied on previous research on transistors, which relied on previous research in basic physics. Had the revolution in our understanding of genes and cellular biology not stood where it is, these vaccines, providing hope to a despairing world, would not have been possible.

FYI -- There's a basic explanation of DNA, genes and cells in my book, "Healing the Brain: Stress, Trauma and Development" by David Balog.

Start reading it for free: https://a.co/9IsS8pG

Can we settle the election selection, please?

Today is the meeting of the Electoral College, the appendix of our election system. Not in one place, but in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia, the electors, for whom votes were actually cast on November 3rd, will gather in a pro-forma manner and choose our president. It appears that Joe Biden will speak after the electors cast their votes.

It all used to be so easy, before Donald Trump. He continues his dangerous game of contesting the legitimacy of president-elect Biden and for his own selfish benefit, refuses to concede the election. The next stop on Trump's train wreck is the joint meeting of the Senate in the House of Representatives on January 6th, where the electoral votes will be officially counted and certified. And there's where Trump and his anti-democracy Gunga Dins will fight the certification of the electors, a process ironically (and worse) overseen by Vice President Mike Pence. While he is certain to fail again, Trump has delivered more mayhem on democracy and distrust in the system, both now and for the foreseeable future. A final kick as he walks out the door.

By the way, one of Biden's electors meeting at the state capitol in Albany, New York, will be Hillary Clinton.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

I've got something to say

I've got something to say 12/13/20

Top news

The vaccines are coming!

A day after the US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee voted to recommend the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for immediate emergency use.

You can get the whole exciting story about the approval and the rollout at the link below. But this is such fantastic news. And it has nothing to do at all with Trump, Jared, Ivanka, Don Jr, Eric or any of the miserable Trumps. But I just want to say a word about confidence that people should have in the vaccine. I had the honor of working alongside many top scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. They are passionate, dedicated, rigorous, consummate professionals. Despite what Trump spilled out as misinformation, he will soon be gone and the adults, the highly trained, highly experienced leaders of the best health organizations in the world will take the stage. I never worked with Dr. Fauci, but I did some work with his boss Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health. I cannot of course guarantee anything. I am not medically trained but I could not have done my job as a science writer without following the same rigorous standards for honesty and safety that these world-class professionals practice every day. 

Here's the link to the CNN story.

Trump attends a football game.

Just a day after suffering what most people acknowledge was a humiliating loss for his attempted coup d'etat, Donald Trump traveled to West Point to watch the annual Army-Navy football game. Honestly, he was treated like a conquering hero, receiving a standing ovation and great acclaim from the cadets, the midshipmen in the crowd, and from the football players.

What makes this ominous? Who is going to have to escort Mr. Trump out of the White House when all of his efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden fail? In an interview earlier this year, Biden himself said that, in all seriousness, there are plenty of military personnel ready to escort Trump out of the White House. But as with all things Trump, there's no certainty about anything. Will this be another crisis from this miserable president that we will have to endure?

Barely taking a breath, or pausing from his rage tweeting, Trump is now apparently moving on to other lawsuits, concocting plans to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes in Congress on January 5th, and any mayhem that he and his embattled and belittled team can dream up.

At the suggestion of a friend, I poked my nose into a few clips of the wacky world created by One America News and Newsmax, the two cable networks fighting their way to the bottom of the pool to beat out the now too-snowflakey Fox News. If you haven't seen these media creatures, you may want to take a look at them, but be forewarned, it ain't pretty. Seeking a new personal low bar, the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz popped his head on one of the two channels and gave a surprisingly honest recount of yesterday's Supreme Court decision, only to be hushed up and quickly dismissed from his guest appearance.

I've always wondered about the phenomenon of right-wing talk. How could people listen to the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Ingraham? Very simply, said a friend years ago. Listeners don't have to think. Limbaugh said it himself early in his career: He would tell his mass audience what to think, what to do, and that was it. And conservative right-wing issues can be reduced to simple matters, black-and-white answers, no muss, no fuss. For better or worse liberal media takes time. They explain, deliberate, and ask people to think.

Which is why a video clip I'll link below very much explains the power of Trump's authoritarian narcissism. People are exhausted and if somebody can take away the thinking part, life would get much simpler. I think that's at the core of why people think Trump is the greatest president ever, the greatest thing since sliced bread, practically the incarnation of the Messiah.

I'm reminded of the most recent devastating, Constitutional crisis before the present, the Bush v Gore election of 2000. As a matter of fact today is the 20th anniversary of Al Gore's concession. It was a depressing day for those who had counted on and needed a President Gore. Ironically, now-Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, who is said to be very watchful of the Court's legacy, was stunned by the negative reaction to the Court's intervention and decision in Bush v Gore. I remember the late journalist Cokie Roberts seriously complaining on the news that she needed this to come to a conclusion because she had to arrange a holiday party at her local Crate and Barrel. Thanks, Cokie. 

Also, a couple I knew, newlyweds and avid Fox viewers, wished after 30-something days that the whole mess was over and that the Supreme Court just picked one, anyone, they didn't care. They also didn't care that somebody sitting next to them might have a non-Fox view of the world and would be greatly affected by the decision.

And here's the link to that video on authoritarianism, narcissism, and the American way right now.


Speaking of great scientists, my new book is out profiling the work of the top brain scientists who are working to treat and possibly cure some of our most devastating diseases and disorders. What's in it for you? Since brain-related diseases and disorders account for more than half of our healthcare budget, the success of brain research could make a big dent in our healthcare crisis. 

High priorities include memory loss and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and much more. They are also working on basic research to understand the magnificent resource we all possess, the brain, to optimize our health and make for a happy, fulfilling life.

Please have a look.

I think you might like this book – "Heroes of Medicine: Changing the Face of Healthcare" by David Balog.

Start reading it for free: https://a.co/bF0QfvE 

And let's end with a cute doggy picture.

Monday, November 2, 2020

I Survived Trumpworld (Barely). Will America?

For 12 years I worked as an editor at the Charles A. Dana Foundation in New York City. My office was at 745 Fifth Avenue which is significant because next door was 725 Fifth -- Trump Tower. I saw Trump himself from time to time while walking around on my lunch hour. He was always surrounded by a team of men in dark suits and dark personas being lectured by their leader. They'd gather at the nearby GM Plaza, where the men would cower and Trump would bloviate. (I hid nearby twice to get a flavor of his tone.)

I did not know then that my boss at the Dana Foundation, William Safire, had close ties to Trump and was part of the infamous "favor bank" of city power brokers. In this club, no money was  exchanged -- just deeds that advanced the interests of members. I've read that Safire's original, big favor to Trump was to help get his marginally qualified sister appointed to a federal judgeship. In the process, Safire held the young Donald's hand as he gained entry into the New York and DC Republican power elite.

Having now witnessed and experienced Trump and Trumpism for four years, I can say they mirror the experiences I had under Safire. My emotions sunk on Trump's inauguration day and fell therafter.

Through cronyism, William Safire came to be chairman of the influential Dana Foundation in 2000. Dana had a large commitment to the cause of brain research. I began work there in 1995.

Safire, who died in 2009, described himself as "the vituperative right-wing scandal monger" for the New York Times. He was probably more well-known as the Sunday language columnist for the Times Magazine. Former speech writer for President Richard Nixon (Safire was responsible for the term "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- actually delivered by Vice President Spiro Agnew), he traded in slash-and-burn, transactional relationships, just like Trump. (If you doubted Safire's loyalty to Richard Nixon, you need only stroll by the life-sized, autographed picture of the disgraced ex-president hung outside Safire's office. To Safire, Nixon did nothing wrong in the litany of scandals and crimes called Watergate. Nothing.)

Safire was hired by the Times when the paper realized it needed a right winger to counter the enlightened voices of Anthony Lewis, Russell Baker, Tom Wicker, Howell Raines, and others. 

Like Trump, Safire fabricated and inflated his public image. At the Times, by 1978 Safire was about to be fired for lack of reader interest when he reinvented himself as a "journalist" (for which he had no training…his biography said only that he "attended Syracuse University"). As a marketing pitch man for Maytag Appliances, Safire met then-Vice President Nixon at the "Kitchen Summit" with Khrushchev in the Soviet Union. 

The first victim of his "hatchet journalism" was Bert Lance, President Jimmy Carter's first budget director. Having helped push Lance out the door, as was his pattern, Safire later claimed that the two had become friends and colleagues. Safire also had a direct line to the office of the Israeli prime minister to feed and receive political dirt on world leaders. In the run up to the Iraqi War, Safire was stirring the pot of lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons program in his column. He also advocated for the discredited Times reporter Judy Miller, who promoted the theory of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, later found to be based on inaccurate information from the intelligence community.

In one memorable meeting at Dana, Safire recounted how on Meet the Press, in his avuncular tone, he tried with the help of host Tim Russert, to patch things up with Bill Clinton after having called Hillary Clinton a congenital liar. On the air, Russert offered Safire a pair of oversized boxing gloves, which if he signed, Russert said he would get Bill Clinton to sign as well, as a symbol that, again all was well. The president, an enraged Safire told us, "refused to sign the gloves and returned them unsigned to my office." Red with anger, Safire indicated that this was all you needed to know about Bill Clinton.

Like Trump, Safire was penurious and a deadbeat. My freelance writers and designers had routinely been paid upon submitting a bill when he decided to "stretch them out," needlessly, to 30-days payment. The move strained freelancers' ability to budget their finances and added extra stress on me and my fellow Dana editors. And it was needless pain because Dana was a wealthy non-profit: Safire controlled an endowment just short of $400 million.

Donald Trump has shown astonishing indifference to the deaths and suffering of Americans in the pandemic, to the massive numbers of families without jobs and income, and to the children and families at our borders, emotionally scarred for life. Similarly, his patron, Safire, was called by his own treasurer "the cheapest man in the world." In the aftermath of 9/11, Safire authorized a paltry one-time contribution of $50,000 to the Times Fund for the Neediest New Yorkers. This at a time when New York corporations and individuals were making much larger contributions, financially and in-kind, to a devastated city.

Safire and Trump created desultory, mean environments where women were objects to be used in sexual relationships. Aside from being morally objectionable, these arrangements (in Safire's case with women on staff) created favoritism and distrust among the staff as we tried to figure who was in favor and who wasn't. I was ordered to spy on one such woman by another who had become my boss.

Finally, Trump and Safire shared a total lack of pathos, or empathy. Instead they valued loyalty, especially blind loyalty. Safire told us directly that we were to be available to him at any time. He asked for and received our cell phone numbers. He threatened to fire staff not willing to sacrifice themselves and their family life to his irrational, erratic needs. One colleague, the intensely smart and capable Barbara Rich, saw no other option but to surrender to monstrously long hours and work demands. Each year, I watched as she managed to get only four days away of her four-weeks of vacation time (which usually included a three-day holiday weekend). A proud liberal and one-time campaigner for Robert F. Kennedy, she felt it necessary to accede to Safire's views by reading far right-wing Web sites such as the dreadful Drudge Report. Barbara was the only experienced journalist at the Foundation and she admitted she felt debased as Safire called her his chief "flak."

A breast cancer survivor, Barbara resumed smoking to deal with the stress. I winced as she kept adding projects and travel to her workload. One day, I watched her, ashen, break up with her partner by phone. She died of a stroke far too young a few years ago.

I resisted his work demands as long as I could, but when asked to write and edit a book on an insanely short schedule of six weeks, I knew I couldn't pull all-nighters and give up my personal life. My partner, Fred, and I had just built a weekend house and I couldn't bear the thought of him there alone while I stayed in the city indefinitely.

The worlds that Trump and Safire created were harsh and heartless. When I quit the Dana Foundation in 2006, it was very painful and career-damaging. I left a job that as a gay man I felt comfortable in because of the access I had to smart, intellectually, and sociably able colleagues. My work, despite the stresses, had a high "psychic reward" I never was able to replace.

The consequences of Trumpism, so similar to "Safireism," cut deep. They derailed lives, and ruined the health of workers. We used to joke that we wrote about the stress hormone cortisol as oceans of it flowed past our offices. If you wanted to maintain your relationship with him, or your job, the key was being able to call him "Bill." It signaled an obeisance, a surrender to his views and world, at least superficially. I could and would not do it.

How did Safire ultimately gain and maintain his power and influence? Much in the same way that Trump does it. Safire exploited a very basic principal of human behavior, something I learned from the brain scientists at the Dana Foundation: Fear is our most powerful emotion. Anybody in the advertising world knows this basic fact and exploits it to the maximum extent. Those who abhorred Safire's right-wing views, nevertheless glommed on to him to avoid his wrath, which could be terrifying. He could offer a word of slight praise and then five minutes later be in your face physically shaking with rage, irrationally and often misguidedly. Much like other men on the high-end of the corporate ladder, Safire had an imposing physical presence: he was quite tall and physically intimidating. He was another arrogant CEO, who in the words of my colleague Barbara Rich,  was "looking for redemption from this world and not going to get it."

The "boss," as one especially maltreated secretary called him, also exploited another biological principle, phototropism, the basic tendency of plants...and humans...to bend toward a light source. He preyed on anyone's desire to be near power. He name-dropped his celebrity connections, (one being Monica Lewinsky) to remind you of the access he had created and to those who wanted to get that access (or a gift from the money he controlled) he readily offered a carrot. Oblivious to his audience, he once announced in a meeting that he was going to tell us everything we were dying to know about Monica. He had no clue that he was speaking to New York liberals and we did not want to hear his tawdry details, including information about the blue dress. I began to hate Amtrak trips to his office in Washington and I literally got depressed from the city and the atmosphere I experienced there.

Under Donald Trump, our country has gone down the same life-draining path. Particularly during the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by Trump's incompetence and indifference, rates of depression, isolation and despair are now sky-high across America. 

We won't fully realize how bad it's been until it ends -- both Trump's rule and the pandemic.

It took me years to recover from my traumatic experience on the periphery of America's power center. It eroded my self-confidence and self-image. It ended a writing career in which I took great pride.

I hope America fares better after Trump and recovers much more quickly. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I'm pulling for you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

New hope for Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injury, more


August 27, 2020


DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases


Researchers have developed a neurologically acting protein and tested it in laboratory studies. In mice, the experimental compound ameliorated symptoms of certain neurological injuries and diseases, while on the microscopic level it was able to establish and repair connections between neurons. This proof-of-principle study suggests that biologics, which act on neuronal connectivity, could be of clinical use in the long term.



Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), UK and Japan have developed a neurologically acting protein and tested it in laboratory studies. In mice, the experimental compound ameliorated symptoms of certain neurological injuries and diseases, while on the microscopic level it was able to establish and repair connections between neurons. This proof-of-principle study suggests that biologics, which act on neuronal connectivity, could be of clinical use in the long term. The results are published in the journal Science.

Brain essentials in plain language. Click here.

The human brain's neuronal network undergoes life-long changes in order to be able to assimilate information and store it in a suitable manner. This applies in particular to the generation and recalling of memories. So-called synapses play a central role in the brain's ability to adapt. They are junctions through which nerve signals are passed from one cell to the next. A number of specific molecules -- known as "synaptic organizing proteins" -- make sure that synapses are formed and reconfigured whenever necessary.

An artificial protein

An international team of researchers has now combined various structural elements of such naturally occurring molecules into an artificial protein called CPTX and tested its effect in different disease models. To this end, the compound was administered to mice with neurological deficits that occur in similar fashion in humans. Specifically, the tests focused on Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injury and cerebellar ataxia -- a disease that is characterized primarily by a failure of muscle coordination. All these conditions are associated with damage to the synapses or their loss. The study was a collaborative effort by experts from several research institutions, including the DZNE's Magdeburg site, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in UK, Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, and, also in Japan, Aichi Medical University.

Easing symptoms of disease

"In our lab we studied the effect of CPTX on mice that exhibited certain symptoms of Alzheimer's disease," said Prof. Alexander Dityatev, a senior researcher at the DZNE, who has been investigating synaptic proteins for many years. "We found that application of CPTX improved the mice's memory performance." The researchers also observed normalization of several important neuronal parameters that are compromised in Alzheimer's disease, as well as in the studied animal model. Namely, CPTX increased the ability of synapses to change, which is considered as a cellular process associated with memory formation. Furthermore, CPTX was shown to elevate what is called "excitatory transmission." This is to say that the protein acted specifically on synapses that promoted activity of the contacted cell. And finally, CPTX increased the density of so-called dendritic spines. These are tiny bulges in the cell's membrane that are essential for establishing excitatory synaptic connections.

Brain essentials in plain language. Click here.

Further research by the study partners in the UK and Japan revealed that application of CPTX to mice with motor dysfunction -- caused either by spinal cord injury or pathological conditions similar to cerebellar ataxia -- improved the rodent's mobility. And at the cellular level, the drug was shown to repair and promote excitatory synaptic connections.

A molecular connector

CPTX combines functional domains present in natural synaptic organizing proteins in a unique way. The compound was designed to act as a universal bridge builder for excitatory connections between nerve cells. Where two neurons meet, either in adhesive contact or actually in synaptic connection, CPTX links to specific molecules on the surfaces of both involved cells, and thereby either triggers the formation of new synapses or strengthens already existing ones.

"At present, this drug is experimental and its synthesis, the credit for which goes to our UK partners, is quite demanding. We are far off from application in humans," Dityatev emphasized, who in addition to his research at the DZNE is also a member of the Medical Faculty of the University Magdeburg. "However, our study suggests that CPTX can even do better than some of its natural analogs in building and strengthening nerve connections. Thus, CPTX could be the prototype for a new class of drugs with clinical potential." Application would be in disorders that are associated with impaired neuronal connectivity. "Much of the current therapeutic effort against neurodegeneration focuses on stopping disease progression and offers little prospect of restoring lost cognitive abilities. Our approach could help to change this and possibly lead to treatments that actually regenerate neurological functions. Based on the principles we have used in designing CPTX, we thus intend to develop further compounds. In future studies, we want to refine their properties and explore possible therapeutic applications."

Brain essentials in plain language. Click here.