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Infectious Diseases

03 October 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: Blocked pain signals, and upsetting pandemic-induced dreams

The effect of the virus on pain receptors; and the pandemic is causing anxious, upsetting dreams in many people, especially women.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Can the new coronavirus block pain signals?

It's hard to think that anything good can come out of Covid-19 infection, but some scientists have become very interested in the virus's ability to block pain. It could signal a new approach to pain research and medication.

In a pre-print study to be published soon, scientists looked at the effect SARS-CoV-2 has on pain receptors. Studies have found that it can bind with sensory neurons expressing ACE2 receptors – its favourite gateway – like neuropilin-1, which can inflict pain when interacting with the protein vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A).

Normally, it encourages the growth of new blood cells, but in this instance, it instead sends pain signals via the spinal cord to the brain.

The latest research found that during the binding of the coronavirus's spike protein to a nerve cell, it also blocks signalling from VEGF-A. This led the researchers to hypothesise that the spike protein of the virus could completely block pain.

They tested this on pathogen-free rats and tested their pain tolerance with nerve injuries through various surgeries. They found the coronavirus spike protein was actually interfering with the endothelial protein.

"Based on the reported increase in VEGF-A levels in Covid-19 patients, one would expect to observe increased pain-related symptoms," write the scientists.

READ | The Covid-19 pandemic is causing anxious, upsetting dreams in many people, especially women

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing trauma in millions of people worldwide, and if that weren’t enough, it’s also reportedly infusing anxiety and negative emotions into our dreams.

This is according to researchers from the American Psychological Association, whose work was published in the journal Dreaming. The researchers noted that these kinds of dreams are affecting particularly women.

Their paper is based on the results of four global studies about people's dreams during the pandemic.

"All of these studies support the continuity hypothesis of dreaming: That dreams are consistent with our waking concerns rather than being some outlet for compensation, as some older psychoanalytic theories had hypothesised," said Dr Deirdre Barrett, editor of Dreaming and an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Barrett added: "The higher levels of anxiety, dreams about illness and death in general, and Covid-19 specifically, are in line with that."

Barrett’s study, titled "Dreams about Covid-19 vs. Normative Dreams: Trends by Gender" drew its conclusions from an international study involving over 2 800 participants who were asked, in an online survey, to recount their dreams about the pandemic. Their responses were then compared to a database of responses to dreams from before the pandemic.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 677 833.

According to the latest update, 16 909 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 611 044 recoveries.

So far, nearly 4.23 million tests have been conducted, with 20 660 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Saturday morning, positive cases worldwide were nearly 34.5 million, while deaths were more than 1.02 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 7.33 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 208 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

READ | Covid-19 corruption: Gauteng health HOD resigns after precautionary suspension letter

The head of the Gauteng health department, Professor Mkhululi Lukhele, has resigned after being placed on precautionary suspension.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said on Friday that the precautionary suspension was related to the recommendations of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

The Deputy Director General of Human Resources and Corporate Services Andile Gwabeni was served with a letter of suspension on Thursday.

This followed an updated report by the SIU to Premier David Makhura in the investigation into alleged Covid-19-related procurement irregularities.

Announcing Lukhele's precautionary suspension in a statement on Wednesday, the Gauteng government said the SIU found that the head of department had allegedly failed to exercise responsibility in awarding contracts during procurement of goods and services related to the pandemic.

It said the actions or alleged omissions may have led to wasted and fruitless expenditure.

Latest news:

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Shock, sympathy, mockery: World reacts to Trump's coronavirus infection

News of the infection of the most powerful man in the world with the most notorious disease has drawn instant reactions of shock, sympathy, undisguised glee and, of course, the ever-present outrage and curiosity that follow much of what Donald Trump does.

Trump’s announcement on Twitter on Friday that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, and the deep uncertainty that accompanies it, permeated the global news cycle, upended countless plans and sparked comment everywhere from presidential offices to the thousands looking to weigh in on social media.

The positive test result for the leader of the world’s largest economy added more uncertainty to investors’ worries, including over how the infection might affect the 3 November election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

World leaders and officials were quick to weigh in with both sympathy and schadenfreude.

“Wishing my friend @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS a quick recovery and good health,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

US-India ties have prospered under Trump, and India is seen as a partner to balance China’s growing weight in Asia.

“Our best wishes go to the president and the first lady, but it demonstrates that no one is immune from Covid-19 and catching it. So it shows that no matter the precautions, we are all susceptible to this,” Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, deputy leader of the conservative National party, said on ABC TV.

READ | Risk of Covid-19 was highest in window seats in economy class on one Qantas flight, study reveals

Passengers sat in window seats in the middle of an economy class cabin on a Qantas Airways flight in March were most at risk from contracting coronavirus, according to research by Australian scientists into that particular trip.

As many as 11 travelers caught Covid-19 onboard the five-hour flight from Sydney to Perth on March 19, the survey said. They were all sat in economy class in the middle of the aircraft, with seven of them sat in the window seat. This contradicts the belief supported by data from American scientists in March that window seats offer a lower chance of infection on account of having less contact with other people.

Most of those who contracted the deadly virus on the flight were also sat two rows away from infected passengers, although one was as many as six rows away, the study showed.

Scientists from Western Australia, who recorded their results in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, reported that 11 passengers had symptoms of the virus during the flight - nine of whom had recently disembarked the cruise ship Ruby Princess in Sydney which identified a coronavirus outbreak.

There were 243 passengers on board flight QF577, an Airbus A330, headed for Perth.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed over a million people worldwide this year, with one in five deaths occuring in the United States. After the easing of weeks-long lockdowns that confined billions to their homes in the early part of the year, cases of Covid-19 have jumped in the past few weeks, triggering new restrictions on movemen

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

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