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LSHTM’s new modeling estimates the potential impact of omicron in England

Jacob Scott

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New modeling from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggests the Omicron variant has the potential to cause a wave of transmission in England that could lead to higher levels of cases and hospitalizations than those seen during January 2021, if additional control measures are not taken.


The research is not yet peer reviewed and is set out in a pre-print paper. The team used the latest experimental data on the antibody-evading characteristics of the Omicron variant to explore plausible scenarios for the immune escape of Omicron.


The team selected the level of transmissibility and introduction time of Omicron to match with the growth of observed S gene target failure data in England, given the emerging evidence on immune escape. These scenarios were used to project the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 transmission into the first half of 2022 for England.


The results project a wave of COVID-19 transmission for all scenarios considered, with varying levels of infections, hospital admissions, and mortality depending on the assumptions made.


Under the most optimistic scenario (low immune escape of Omicron and high effectiveness of boosters), a wave of infection is projected which could lead to a peak of over 2,000 daily hospital admissions, with 175,000 (95% CI: 139,000-198,000) hospitalizations and 24,700 (19,500-28,700) deaths between 1st December 2021 and 30th April 2022, if no additional control measures are implemented over and above the current ‘Plan B’ policy in England.


In this scenario, bringing in control measures early in 2022 which are equivalent in stringency to Step 2 of the roadmap — which involved restrictions on indoor hospitality, closure of some entertainment venues, and restrictions on gathering sizes — would be sufficient to substantially control this wave, reducing hospitalizations by 53,000 and deaths by 7,600.


The most pessimistic scenario (high immune escape and lower effectiveness of boosters) projects a wave of infection which is likely to lead to a peak in hospital admissions around twice as high as the peak seen in January 2021, if no additional control measures are taken, with 492,000 (418,000-537,000) hospitalizations and 74,800 (63,500-82,900) deaths.


In this scenario, the team estimates that stronger measures may be required to keep the peak number of hospital admissions below the January 2021 peak.


Dr Rosanna Barnard from LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, who co-led the research, said: “There is a lot of uncertainty about the characteristics of Omicron, and whether Omicron in England will follow the same course as it has in South Africa. More data over the next few weeks will strengthen our knowledge on Omicron and the consequences of this on transmission in England. However, these early projections help guide our understanding about potential futures in a rapidly evolving situation.


“In our most optimistic scenario, the impact of Omicron in the early part of 2022 would be reduced with mild control measures such as working from home. However, our most pessimistic scenario suggests that we may have to endure more stringent restrictions to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed. Mask-wearing, social distancing and booster jabs are vital, but may not be enough.


“Nobody wants to endure another lockdown, but last-resort measures may be required to protect health services if Omicron has a significant level of immune escape or otherwise increased transmissibility compared to Delta. It is crucial for decision makers to consider the wider societal impact of these measures, not just the epidemiology.”


Assumptions about the levels of transmissibility and immune escape of Omicron were formulated using ‘S’ gene target failure (SGTF) data from cases in England – these are cases that are not yet confirmed with genomic sequencing to be Omicron but thought to be highly likely to be Omicron, as the Omicron variant causes this failure but the widespread Delta variant does not.


For the two immune escape scenarios considered, the team estimate the Omicron variant to be between 10% less transmissible than the Delta variant to 35% more transmissible than Delta.


The researchers account for the additional protection afforded by booster doses against Omicron in their scenarios. If a very high uptake of booster vaccines is achieved, then this is projected to further mitigate projected surges in cases, hospitaliszations and deaths.


These are early estimates, but they do suggest that overall Omicron is outcompeting Delta rapidly by evading vaccines to a substantial degree. If current trends continue then Omicron may represent half of UK cases by the end of December.


Further analysis suggests that the booster programme is vital, with a counterfactual scenario with no boosters showing a peak in hospitalizations that could be as much as five times as high as the scenario with boosters.”


Dr Nick Davies, CMMID


The research team say these projections are subject to considerable uncertainty, with limitations including the early nature of the data used to make predictions, uncertainty over policy decisions that will be made over the next several months, and a lack of information on the relative severity of Omicron.

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Genetic bottlenecks could impact Wyoming toads’ ability to respond to new pathogens

Jacob Scott

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A new study from North Carolina State University examines immune system diversity in the critically endangered Wyoming toad and finds that genetic bottlenecks could impact a species’ ability to respond to new pathogens. The findings could inform captive breeding strategies for endangered animal populations.

The Wyoming toad, Anaxyrus baxteri, suffered a severe population decline throughout the latter part of the 20th century due to factors including habitat destruction and fungal infection. The toad was brought into a captive breeding program in the 1990s in order to save the species. Scientists estimate a current wild population of only 400 to 1,500 animals, meaning that the toad is considered critically endangered.

Population reduction in this species created a genetic bottleneck to begin with, meaning the level of genetic diversity is already very small. This is the first study to look specifically at genetic diversity in the immune systems of these toads and how it could impact them as a population.”

Jeff Yoder, professor of comparative immunology at NC State and co-corresponding author of paper

Yoder, with co-corresponding author Alex Dornburg of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, performed RNA sequencing on immune tissues from three healthy, retired Wyoming toad breeders. Study co-author Michael Stoskopf, who was on the Wyoming Toad Recovery Implementation Team established in 2008, obtained the samples.

“We were focused specifically on sequences encoding toll-like receptors – TLRs – and the proteins of the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC, expressed in these tissues,” says Kara Carlson, first author of the study and current Ph.D. candidate at NC State. “These sets of genes are major components of the immune system.”

TLRs are the first responders of the immune system, and are similar, or well-conserved, between species. The MHC, on the other hand, is a large and diverse group of genes that varies between species and individuals. It can determine why one group is more resistant to a particular pathogen than another.

“MHC genes are some of the most rapidly evolving sequences in the genome,” Carlson says. “So in a healthy population there’s a lot of variety that gets passed along to descendants, enabling the species at large to adapt to different pathogens. However, if disease survivors do so because of their MHC, then that group would have a similar MHC.

“The Wyoming toads that were brought into captivity to save the species were all able to resist the fungus that had decimated the population, but that could mean that their immune diversity is reduced.”

The researchers compared the TLR and MHC of the three Wyoming toads to each other, as well as to samples from a common toad and a cane toad. Both the common toad and the cane toad showed more MHC diversity than the Wyoming toad, even though the cane toad underwent a similar genetic bottleneck.

“The small sample size in this study – which was unavoidable due to the endangered status of the toad – nevertheless lays an important framework for conservation,” Carlson says.

“Amphibians in general don’t have as many genomic resources as other organisms,” Yoder says. “And captive breeding from a small population further decreases genetic diversity. But while these toads may be better protected against the fungal infection that nearly wiped them out, they may not be equipped to deal with new pathogens down the road.”

“While we weren’t necessarily surprised by the lack of immunogenic diversity in the Wyoming toad, it does spark an important question,” Dornburg says. “How equipped are other species of conservation concern for a battle with an emergent pathogen?”

“By understanding the genetic diversity of the immune system we can inform captive breeding to increase the chance of a species to resist disease in the wild,” Yoder adds. “Studies like this one are invaluable for captive breeding practices going forward.”

Source:
Journal reference:

Carlson, K.B., et al. (2022) Transcriptome annotation reveals minimal immunogenetic diversity among Wyoming toads, Anaxyrus baxteri. Conservation Genetics. doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01444-8.

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Video conferencing hinders creativity

Jacob Scott

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In-person teamwork has now transformed into virtual collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But does this affect innovation and creativity?

An interesting study on virtual communication led by Dr. Melanie S. Brucks from Columbia University and Prof. Jonathan Levav from Stanford University is published in the journal Nature. The study examines whether videoconferencing affects creative idea generation.

Study: Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Communication and collaboration

Collaboration is essential for several workplace tasks. It leads to innovation and idea generation. Historically, these collaborations have been in-person and required sharing of the same physical space. The use of traditional communication technologies like letters, emails, and phone calls hinder the smooth exchange of information and limits collaboration.

Now, due to advances in audio-visual technology, face-to-face interaction is possible via videoconferencing, allowing virtual collaboration. Videoconferencing has replaced in-person interactions due to pandemic-driven social distancing. Video interaction and in-person interaction allow communication of the same information.

While videoconferencing replacing in-person interaction has been beneficial in the social scenario, does it come with a cost in the workplace scenario? For example, does it affect collaborative idea generation?

Experiments

The investigators performed a Laboratory experiment and a field experiment to test the difference between in-person interaction and videoconferencing in collaborative idea generation. First, they recruited participants and divided them into pairs: half of the pairs were assigned to an in-person setting, and the rest were assigned to a virtual setting.

Laboratory experiment

A total of 602 participants were recruited for the laboratory experiment and divided into pairs. The participants were in separate rooms in the virtual setting and communicated through videoconferencing. The pairs were allotted five minutes to generate creative uses for a frisbee (150 pairs) or bubble wrap (151 pairs) and then one minute to select their most innovative idea.

The pairs were evaluated by counting the number of creative ideas and ideas they generated. The virtual pairs generated significantly fewer total and creative ideas compared to in-person pairs.

So, virtual collaboration hampered creative ideas. This could be because the virtual space narrows the visual scope, which in turn narrows the cognitive scope. To assess the visual focus, two methods were used. Firstly, the participants had to recollect the individual props in the room and point them on a worksheet. Secondly, the participants’ eye gaze was recorded during the experiment.

The virtual pairs narrowed their focus to the screen. Compared to in-person pairs, they spent significantly more time looking directly at their partner and less time looking at the surrounding room, and remembered significantly fewer props in the surrounding room.

As a consequence, the virtual medium narrowed the visual focus and inhibited the generation of ideas.

However, these results are in the context of a controlled laboratory setting.

Field experiment

The experiment was repeated in ‘the field’ under actual work conditions within a large multinational telecommunications company to see if these results could be extrapolated to the real world. The field experiment was conducted in five country sites – in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. In this setting, the participants knew their partners and used video conferencing regularly for work. Moreover, it included domain experts highly invested in the outcome of the collaboration.

A total of 1,490 engineers were recruited to participate in an ideation workshop and randomly divided into pairs. The pairs were allotted an hour to generate product ideas and submit one idea as future product innovation for the company.

The engineer pairs who worked on the task virtually generated fewer total ideas and creative ideas than in-person pairs at all five sites.

However, the decision quality was not affected by virtual collaboration. The in-person pairs generated a significantly higher top-scoring idea, but the selected idea did not significantly differ in quality between the virtual pairs and in-person pairs.

Other reasons for reduced creativity

The could be other reasons why virtual collaboration negatively affected idea generation. Therefore, the investigators explored the alternative explanations.

More ideas

Since the in-person collaborators generated more total and creative ideas than the virtual collaborators, they could generate additional ideas similar to each other. However, upon semantic analysis, it was observed that they generated diverse and disconnected ideas.

Feelings of connection and trust

Studies have shown that feelings of connection and trust can foster team creativity. The virtual pairs may have reduced feelings of connection and trust toward their partner.

However, when assessed for subjective feelings of closeness, verbal and non-verbal behaviors, and mimicry, the virtual pairs were similar to in-person pairs in the laboratory experiment.

Thus, virtual and in-person interactions are very similar in terms of social connection or social behavior.

Communication coordination

Usually, there is a lack of coordination in a conversation in virtual interactions due to the absence of eye contact. However, it could not wholly explain the effect of virtual interaction on idea generation.

Interpersonal processes

This study also assessed the effect of interpersonal processes on idea generation. Interpersonal processes fear of evaluation, dominance, social facilitation, social loafing, social sensitivity, perceptions of performance, and production blocking were affected in virtual collaborations and these, in turn, affected idea generation.

Implications of the study

This study supports previous research suggesting that pairs perform better than large groups, both in-person and online. Therefore, this study recommends ideation in pairs and in person. Also, this study suggests that larger videoconferencing screens would not impact idea generation.

In-person collaborations offer a cognitive advantage. Now several workplaces are moving towards a hybrid setup. This study indicates that the creative idea generation should be reserved for in-person meetings.

Journal reference:
Brucks, M.S., Levav, J. (2022) Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04643-y, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04643-y

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Gum Health Day 2022 calls for prevention, early detection, and effective treatment of gum diseases

Jacob Scott

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“Treat your gums” is the slogan for Gum Health Day 2022, a worldwide awareness campaign organized by the European Federation of Periodontology (EFP). The event aims to inform the public of the detrimental effects of gum diseases – gingivitis, periodontitis, peri-implant mucositis, and peri-implantitis – on both oral and overall health. The campaign calls for the prevention, early detection, and – where necessary – effective treatment of gum diseases.

Although still poorly acknowledged by the public, gum diseases are chronic inflammatory conditions affecting a high proportion of adults worldwide, causing tooth loss and other problems in the mouth. Crucially, gum diseases are also linked to major systemic health issues including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, certain forms of cancer, and more severe Covid-19 outcomes. This means that gum diseases and their prevention and treatment are of major importance not only for oral health, but also for the whole body.

This year’s campaign focuses heavily on the treatment part – we know that millions of people suffer from gum diseases that can be treated effectively. ‘Treat your gums’ calls for this treatment – with all the documented positive effects for the mouth and whole body – to actually happen.”

Moritz Kebschull, coordinator of Gum Health Day 2022

That is why the hashtag for the campaign is #TreatYourGums, and why the recent EFP-produced clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of periodontitis are a major part of the Gum Health Day 2022 initiative.

“The new EFP-produced clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of all four stages of periodontitis are a crucial development, as they are the first high-quality international guidelines to outline a structured and easily implemented pathway for the efficient and effective treatment of gum disease,” Prof. Kebschull says. “In a nutshell, gum disease treatment that works!”

He adds: “It is important to underline that gum disease is one of the most widespread chronic diseases in the worldwide adult population, and that it is usually painless, so its early detection and successful treatment depends heavily on how fast the patient takes action.”

A major innovation of Gum Health Day 2022 is an EFP-designed “customized content generator”, a feature that allows the federation’s 37 affiliated national societies of periodontology, their individual members – as well as practices, hospitals, and members of the public – to customise their own Gum Health Day 2022 materials, based on a series of graphic templates and catchphrases.

In the framework of Gum Health Day 2022, the EFP encourages periodontists, dentists, researchers, and other health-related professionals to sign and disseminate the EFP Manifesto: Perio and General Health, an international call to action for the prevention, early detection, and treatment of gum disease. Individuals and organisations are invited to endorse it and join the 1,200+ professionals, dental practices, companies, and universities that have so far supported it.


The European Federation of Periodontology (EFP, ww.efp.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of periodontal science and the importance of gum health. Its guiding vision is “periodontal health for a better life.”

Founded in 1991, the EFP is a federation of 37 national periodontal societies that represents more than 16,000 periodontists, dentists, researchers, and oral-health professionals from Europe and around the world. It supports evidence-based science in periodontal and oral health, and it promotes events and campaigns aimed at both professionals and the public.

The EFP organizes EuroPerio, the world’s leading congress in periodontology and implant dentistry, as well as other important professional and expert events such as Perio Master Clinic and Perio Workshop. The annual Gum Health Day on May 12, organized by the EFP and its member societies, brings key messages on gum health to millions of people across the world.

The EFP also organizes workshops and outreach campaigns with its partners: projects to date have covered the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and caries, as well as women’s oral health during pregnancy.

The EFP’s Journal of Clinical Periodontology is the most authoritative scientific publication in this field. The federation also publishes JCP Digest, a monthly digest of research, and the Perio Insight magazine, which features experts’ views and debates.

The EFP’s work in education is also highly significant, notably its accreditation programme for postgraduate education in periodontology and implant dentistry.

The EFP has no professional or commercial agenda.

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