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It’s Official. The World Has Surpassed 50 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

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There are over 50 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

With about 10 million cases, the United States is the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases, followed immediately by India and Brazil. At least 230,000 people have died from the disease in the United States.


The World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11.

The coronavirus has killed more Americans than every war US troops have died in since 1945 combined, Business Insider’s John Haltiwanger reported. The leading cause of death for Americans, heart disease, typically kills fewer than 650,000 people a year in the US.

The pandemic has created uncertainty and instability, leading to roiled marketsshuttering many small businesses nationwide, and forcing the world to adapt to a new normal.

For nearly nine months, people have been learning to live under once unfamiliar laws and recommendations from health officials. Quarantining, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks have become the relative norm in most countries.

But as the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, health officials say practices will remain the new norm well into 2021 and possibly 2022.

Meanwhile, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have been racing to create a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

But it will take more time to release safe and effective shots – and even longer to inoculate enough of the global population to achieve herd immunity.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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One-Third of Americans Say They Wouldn’t Take a Coronavirus Vaccine, Poll Shows

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A third of Americans would not agree with taking a coronavirus vaccine, were one available, according to a multinational survey, which found the US to be one of the most vaccine-sceptical nations worldwide.


Thirty-three percent of respondents in the US said they “somewhat disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the statement “if a vaccine for COVID-19 were available, I would get it,” according to an Ipsos MORI poll for the World Economic Forum.

Just over two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, with 32 percent saying they “somewhat agreed” and 35 percent saying they “strongly agreed” with the statement.

These Ipsos MORI findings are broadly in line with previous polls conducted by Marist Poll and Gallup which both found that 35 percent of Americans would not get a vaccine for the coronavirus if it were available.

Ipsos MORI also found that vaccine intent in the US was lower than the average across 27 countries surveyed. Overall, 26 percent of respondents across the 27 nations told the pollsters that they disagreed with the statement.

Of the 27 countries surveyed, vaccine intent was lowest in Russia.

Forty-six percent of respondents in Russia indicated that they would not get a vaccine, with 24 percent saying they “somewhat disagreed” with the statement and 22 percent saying they “strongly disagreed.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin last month said the country had developed an effective coronavirus vaccine that he hoped would soon go into mass production.

Vaccine intent was highest in China, where the global coronavirus pandemic began. Just 3 percent of Chinese respondents indicated that they would not get a vaccine, with 97 percent suggesting that they would.

The UK also ranked highly for vaccine intent amid warnings that misconceptions and conspiracy theories about vaccines in Britain could undermine government efforts to persuade people to receive the treatment.

Sixteen percent of British respondents told Ipsos MORI that they disagreed with the statement, while 85 percent agreed. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously described people opposed to vaccines – or “anti-vaxxers” – as “nuts”.

The reason most cited by Americans who suggested they would not get a coronavirus vaccine was worry about potential side effects (60 percent). Over a third (37 percent) said they didn’t believe it would be effective, while a fifth (20 percent) said they were against vaccines in general. Nineteen percent said they felt they were not enough at risk to get a vaccine.

Ipsos MORI used an online survey to question 19,519 adults across 27 countries between July 24 and August 7. The margin of error for an Ipsos MORI poll of 1,000 people or more is 3.5 percent.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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New DNA Study Lays Bare The Horrific History of The Transatlantic Slave Trade

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A new DNA study published Thursday sheds fresh light on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, from the legacy of rape that can be seen in today’s genetics to how disease likely decimated some groups forced to work in deadly conditions.


For example, DNA from one African region may be under-represented in the US because so many slaves from there died of malaria on American plantations.

The grim results from a paper, which appeared in the American Journal of Human Genetics, compiled genetic data from 50,000 consenting research participants from both sides of the Atlantic.

It cross-referenced these with detailed records from slave ships that transported 12.5 million men, women and children between 1515 and 1865. Some 2 million died on the journey.

“We wanted to compare our genetic results to those actual shipping manifest to see how they agreed and how they disagreed,” Steven Micheletti, a population geneticist at 23andMe, which recruited most of the participants, told AFP.

“And in some cases, we see that they disagree, quite strikingly,” he added.

The researchers found that while the genetic contributions from major African populations largely correspond to what they expected based on historic records, there are major exceptions.

For instance, most Americans of African descent have roots in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in line with the major slave route.


But Nigerian ancestry was over-represented in African Americans in the US, probably because of the intra-continental slave trade which brought them from the Caribbean.

By contrast, there were fewer genetic connections between African Americans and the Senegambia region than would be expected given the number who disembarked on slave ships in North America.

The probable reasons are grim.

“Because Senegambians were commonly rice cultivators in Africa, they were often transported to rice plantations in the US,” said Micheletti.

“These plantations were often rampant with malaria and had high mortality rates, which may have led to the reduced genetic representation of Senegambia in African Americans today.”

Racial ‘whitening’

Government and slave-owner practices had an enormous impact on African genetics too.

Despite the fact that more than 60 percent of enslaved people brought to the Americas were men, comparisons of genetics reveal a strong bias toward African female contributions in the modern gene pool of African heritage people across the region.

Much of this can be attributed to the rape of enslaved African women by white men, and other forms of sexual exploitation, like the promise of freedom if they birthed enough children.


But the imbalance is even more pronounced in Latin America, where 70 percent of the slaves who survived the ship voyages disembarked, compared to the United States, the new study showed.

In the US, slave-owners promoted marriages among slaves to ensure their children would form the next generation of the forced labor pool.

In countries like Brazil and Cuba, though, the governments implemented immigration policies in the 1900s, which involved women with African ancestry marrying whites.

These whitening or “branqueamento” policies were meant to cleanse or purify Black people toward a supposed ideal of whiteness.

“We have some regions that are essentially showing 17 African females reproducing for every one African male. We never expected the ratio to be that high,” said Micheletti.

In the British-colonized Americas, the ratio is closer to 1.5 or two African women for every African man contributing to the gene pool.

The researchers also found evidence of frequent mixing between enslaved indigenous people with enslaved Africans in Latin America, something which previous work has shown to be the case in the US.

The researchers said they hoped to not only help people of African descent find their roots, but also to understand the historic experiences that had shaped their genes today.

© Agence France-Presse


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Study Shows COVID-19 Has Unleashed a ‘Tidal Wave of Grief’ on America

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The shock of the current pandemic is rippling out across the United States, and the tragic loss of life is causing a ‘tidal wave of grief’, research has found.

Behind every COVID-19 death is an irreplaceable human and a family of loved ones. On average, experts have calculated one loss of life leaves nine surviving relatives behind, whether that be a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. 


They’ve coined this number the ‘bereavement multiplier’, and if you apply it to the nearly 138,000 lives already lost in the US, the widespread grief is stunning.

There’s no doubt many people have lost more than one family member. Tragically, some deaths leave nobody to mourn. But at the extreme end, up to 1.22 million people in the US are estimated to have lost a close relative to the pandemic in recent months.

If a million people in the US end up dying from COVID-19, then that means 8.9 million would be bereaved, roughly three of every 100 Americans.

These numbers make it clearer than ever that COVID-19 isn’t just affecting those who contract it. Even once this pandemic is over, its collective toll on our lives will no doubt persist. 

“Already, more than a million Americans will forever have a hole in their family,” says sociologist Emily Smith-Greenaway from the University of Southern California. 

“In just a few short months, over 1 million Americans have experienced an irreplaceable loss that not only leaves them grieving and possibly traumatised, but may come with long-lasting health and economic consequences for themselves and others in their family.”


Obviously, the bereavement multiplier is not a perfect predictor. Instead, it’s a simple, conservative ratio for the number of close relatives beset by grief from each COVID-19 death. And this factor remains relatively constant under various future trajectories.

This flexible multiplier approach allows scientists to help clarify what could be a future wave of health issues tied to widespread bereavement.

For instance, studies have shown the unexpected death of a loved one can raise the risk of major depression, excessive use of alcohol, and anxiety disorders, like phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Bereavement has also been tied to physical health problems, such as cardiovascular issues.

As usual, some groups of people will likely cop the brunt of this enduring pain, and this simple multiplier approach allows us to demonstrate that quite clearly.

Systemic injustices in both the health care system and social welfare have left some racial and ethnic groups facing much greater threats from COVID-19. 

Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives all have higher rates of hospitalisation and fatality from COVID-19 compared to White people. And this new research implies these groups will also suffer more in a potential second wave of grief.


“There are substantial concerns about the health impacts of COVID-19 for individuals, but one area that has received less attention is how the deaths caused by this disease will reverberate through families,” says sociologist Ashton Verdery, who studies demography and social data analytics at Penn State University. 

“Our results show that these impacts will be substantial, they’ll affect people at all ages, and they may exacerbate existing inequalities in bereavement and social support.”

While young people are not as threatened by COVID-19, that does not mean they will get through this pandemic without suffering.

COVID-19 is unlike anything anyone alive has experienced. The deaths are sudden and unanticipated, they can impact several members of a family, there’s little room for closure without traditional postmortem rituals, and the contagiousness of the disease precludes many from being at the bedside of those who are sick.

No matter what your age, these events can have real and lasting consequences.

“Together, these distinct facets of COVID-19 may mean that kin loss during this pandemic may be uniquely traumatising and bear more severe and numerous consequences for the bereaved than is the case in the recent mortality landscape,” the authors write, adding that the overall burden of bereavement will no doubt be higher than their estimates. 

After all, close family members aren’t the only ones who are grieving. Extended family, close friends, and even healthcare workers and social workers, who have come to care deeply for their patients, are in that category, too.

None of us will be the same after this is over.

The study was published in PNAS.


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Money Now Buys More Happiness Than It Used To, Huge New Analysis Finds

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Many factors determine happiness, but one has stirred considerable controversy over the years: money.

While the old adage says that money can’t buy happiness, several studies have determined that the more your income increases, the happier you are, up until US$75,000 a year. After hitting that threshold, more income doesn’t make a difference.


But in a new analysis of more than 40,000 US adults aged 30 and over, my colleague and I found an even deeper relationship between money and happiness.

Because the survey data spanned five decades, from 1972 to 2016, we were also able to see if the link between money and happiness changed over the years.

That’s where things got interesting: Today, money and happiness are more strongly related than they were in the past. It seems money buys more happiness than it used to.

How did this happen?

A striking class divide

We decided to look at happiness trends through the lens of class, specifically via income and education.

Among white Americans in the 1970s, adults with and without a college degree were equally likely to say they were “very happy” – around 40 percent.

But by the 2010s, there was an education gap in happiness: Only 29 percent of those without a degree said they were very happy, compared with 40 percent of those with a degree. The same was true for income: The difference in happiness by income level grew steadily larger from the 1970s to the 2010s.

Happiness levels decline for white people without a college degree. (The Conversation)(The Conversation)

The happiness of Black Americans with more education and income increased from the 1970s to the 2010s, while the happiness of those with less education and income stayed steady. Thus, a small happiness gap by income level in the 1970s became a larger gap by the 2010s for Black Americans.

Furthermore, unlike previous studies, there was no happiness plateau or saturation at higher levels of income. For example, adults making $160,000 or more a year in 2020 dollars were happier than those making between $115,000 and $160,000.


Less isn’t more

There are likely many reasons for these trends. For one, income inequality has grown: The rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten poorer.

Today the average company CEO makes 271 times the salary of a typical worker, up from 30 times more in 1978. While it was once possible to buy a house and support a family with a high school education, that has become increasingly difficult.

In a society with more income inequality, the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” is more stark, with fewer belonging to the middle class. That’s partially because the cost of many key needs, such as housing, education and health care, have outpaced inflation, and salaries haven’t kept up even as workers became more productive.

Marriage rates may also explain part of the trend. In the 1970s, marriage rates hardly differed by class, but now those with more income and education are more likely to be married than those with less.

Married people are happier on average than unmarried people. When we controlled for marriage rates, the trend toward a growing class divide in happiness lessened – though it still remained, suggesting several factors were at work.


The road ahead

In 2015, a widely circulated paper found that the death rate for white Americans without a college degree was increasing. Many of these deaths were what the researchers called “deaths of despair,” including suicide and drug overdoses.

If anything, the class divide in well-being has grown even larger during the COVID-19 pandemic, as lower-income Americans were more likely to lose their jobs. All of this evidence suggests that the class divide in both physical and mental health is large and growing in the US.

Politicians are beginning to recognize this, with more supporting the idea of universal basic income, in which all citizens receive a set amount of money from the government each month.

Andrew Yang gained traction in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries partially through his support of universal basic income, and more mayors across the country are experimenting with guaranteed income.

As a general rule, stark divisions by class have a negative impact on the well-being of a society. One study found that people living in countries with more income inequality were less happy.

In a nation already deeply polarized, these growing class divisions will likely only make matters worse. As the 2020 election approaches, political campaigns must recognize the ramifications of these sharp class divides.

The nation’s happiness and well-being are at stake. The Conversation

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University.

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


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Native Americans Voyaged to Polynesia in Prehistoric Times, Genetics Suggests

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The birth and development of civilisation on the Polynesian islands continues to be a source of fascination for historians, and new evidence shows that Native American visitors may well have been established in the area hundreds of years before European settlers.


After a detailed DNA analysis of the genomes of more than 800 Polynesians and Native Americans, both modern and prehistoric, researchers have found evidence of contact between the two groups as far back as 1200 CE.

The team found signs of genetic admixture that they traced to a single contact event around that time, and it could mean a rethink as to how populations grew and evolved on the islands before European traders and missionaries arrived at the start of the 18th century.

“Our analyses suggest strongly that a single contact event occurred in eastern Polynesia, before the settlement of Rapa Nui, between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group most closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia,” the researchers explain in their paper.

Interestingly, this is the first genetic study to indicate that the initial point of contact for American travellers was not Easter Island (Rapa Nui) – the closest island to South America – but rather one of the eastern Polynesian archipelagos, such as the South Marquesas.

The same idea was previously put forward by Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who famously made the 8,000-kilometre (5,000-mile) journey from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands, in a traditional wooden Inca raft called the Kon-Tiki, to show it could feasibly be done.


Heyerdahl’s voyage was inspired by islander legends, which held that their ancestors came from the east.

While past studies have focussed on Easter Island as the most likely landing point for South American seafarers, due to it being the shortest distance away, the team behind the new findings says that the real story could be somewhat different.

The researchers continued to dig into the intriguing history of Easter Island too, suggesting from their analysis that Native Americans arrived separately to Europeans – something that earlier studies have been unable to agree on.

The new study doesn’t stand alone. There are certain similarities between the statues of prehistoric Colombia and the eastern Polyesian islands, links in the language (including ‘kumala’, the word for sweet potato), and research into favourable ocean currents of the time that back up this latest research.

The study authors admit that there are other possibilities – that Polynesians sailed to South America and returned with Native Americans, for example – but say that their hypothesis about initial contact around 1200 CE is the most likely explanation.

Almost every new study on the history of this part of the world is a fascinating insight into the way scientists are able to combine techniques from multiple disciplines to try and make educated guesses about what happened many centuries ago, and that’s something that’s also acknowledged in the new paper.

“Our results show the usefulness of genetic studies of modern populations, which allow for large sample sizes to unravel complex prehistoric questions, and demonstrate the importance of combining anthropological, mathematical, and biological approaches to answer these questions,” the team writes.

The research has been published in Nature.


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Ancient Tooth Fragment Reveals The Oldest DNA Link Yet to Native Americans

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It’s one of the most fascinating fields in anthropology: how and when did human beings first make it over to the Americas? Thanks to material scraped from a 14,000-year-old tooth found near Lake Baikal in Siberia, we now have more clues.


The tooth has actually been sitting in a museum drawer for decades, but after being spotted as potentially valuable, genome sequencing has revealed DNA that matches the Native Americans of today – a mix of genes from Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) and Northeast Asians (NEA).

Not only is this the oldest DNA link between Native American populations and their ancestors by some 2,500 years, its location is interesting too. It’s much further away from Beringia, the land mass that once linked Asia and North America, than previous DNA evidence.

“This study reveals the deepest link between Upper Paleolithic Siberians and First Americans,” says biological scientist He Yu, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

“We believe this could shed light on future studies about Native American population history.”

Every new finding is like adding a piece to a bigger puzzle. Researchers know that the populations around Lake Baikal now share very little of this genetic signature, for example, suggesting it got isolated and cut off somewhere around the Beringia region.

The team looked at 19 ancient human genomes in total, observing that the people who eventually settled in the Americas likely came from farther afield than was previously thought, and from a bigger region – the site where the newly analysed tooth was found is 3,200 kilometres (1,988 miles) away from an area where similar genetic material was previously discovered.


It’s not clear exactly when people first made the trip over to the Americas, but we now know more about where those people came from, and how they mixed together. Previous research has hinted that it may not have been a huge group who made the trip.

“One surprise – from a genetic standpoint, not from an archaeological one – is that Southern Siberians are a more likely source of Native Americans than Northeast Siberians,” archaeologist Ben Potter from Liaocheng University in China, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Gizmodo.

“We now have genetic data to suggest that Native American-related groups were widespread in northeast Asia after the last ice age.”

old tooth 2The Selenga River, close to the Lake Baikal archeological site. (G. Pavlenok)

Another discovery noted in the study is the presence of the Yersinia pestis bacterium in two individuals buried around 4,200 years ago. Y. pestis causes the plague in humans in its various forms, but has never been found this far east this early in history before.

That might mean we need to rethink just how mobile society was and how much pathogens moved around in the Bronze Age. The bacteria look to have spread from Europe to Siberia over the course of just 100 years or so. 

From Native American ancestry to plague spreading, there’s plenty here to prompt further research into some of the biggest mysteries of our past – not least who got to America first and how they made the journey.

“The Upper Paleolithic genome will provide a legacy to study human genetic history in the future,” says anthropological scientist Cosimo Posth, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The research has been published in Cell.


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The Latest US Coronavirus Death Predictions Are Even Worse Than Expected Before

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Coronavirus-related deaths among Americans are projected to surpass 113,000 by mid-June, a modeling average released Tuesday showed, underlining the US status as the nation worst affected by the pandemic.


The United States has recorded more than 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and 91,600 fatalities as of Tuesday, but a projection compiled from nine models from separate institutions predicted roughly 22,000 more Americans would succumb to the disease over the next 25 days.

“The new forecast for cumulative US deaths by June 13 is about 113,000, with a 10 percent chance of seeing fewer than about 107,000 and a 10 percent chance of seeing more than 121,000,” the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at the University of Massachusetts said on its website.

The specific ensemble forecast average is 113,364 deaths by that date.

The latest projections come as most US states take steps – some minor, some more substantial – to re-open their shuttered economies and communities while facing the challenge of instilling confidence among Americans that it is safe to begin returning to normal.

The US government in April released guidelines on phased re-openings that included criteria which individual states were expected to meet before they began returning to normal, including a downward trajectory of new cases over a 14-day period.

Several states have been accused of re-opening despite failing to meet the specific criteria.

Hopes of curtailing the pandemic have proven elusive.

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump said the US will lose “anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people.”

On April 10 he predicted US virus deaths would be “substantially below the 100,000” figure, and perhaps even as low as half that.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 322,000 people worldwide since it emerged in Wuhan, China late last year.

© Agence France-Presse


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The Flu Is a Way Bigger Threat to Most People in The US Than Coronavirus. Here’s Why

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On Friday morning, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a second person in the US had been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus.

The woman travelled to Wuhan, China, at the end of December and returned to Chicago on January 13. The announcement of her diagnosis came three days after a man in Washington state contracted the virus. Public-health officials in the US are monitoring at least 63 additional patients from 22 states.


Although the CDC considers this coronavirus (whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV) to be a serious public-health concern, the agency said in a statement Friday that “the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”

A graver health risk for Americans – not just right now, but every year – is the flu.

Since October, up to 20,000 people in the US have died of influenza. The coronavirus, meanwhile, has infected about 914 people worldwide and killed 26.

“When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there’s just no comparison,” William Schaffner, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, told Kaiser Health News (KHN). “Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial.”

Tens of thousands of Americans die of flu every year

At least 15 million Americans have caught the flu in the last four months; nearly a quarter million of them went to the hospital. Since flu season peaks between December and February, the worst could be still to come.

“Influenza rarely gets this sort of attention, even though it kills more Americans each year than any other virus,” Peter Hotez, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine, told KHN.


In 2018, which brought the worst flu season in about 40 years, 80,000 people in the US died of the illness.

The flu is not just a US problem, of course. According to the World Health Organisation, seasonal influenza viruses infects between 3 million and 5 million people worldwide annually, and kills up to 650,000 per year.

Comparing the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus

Both the flu and the coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person via coughing and other close contact.

5e289174b6d52d2cbf582203 1200(Samantha Lee/Business Insider)

So far, experts report that the median age of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus is around 75. Many of these individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

According to Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the Wuhan coronavirus’ severest complications.

“The people who are likely to die at first will be people who have other illnesses,” he told Business Insider. “But as it spreads, it will pick up more people like flu does – people in their 30s, 40s, who are otherwise good and well but unfortunately get ill,” Hyzler’s added. His firm offers risk-management solutions for global travellers.


The CDC, meanwhile, is far more concerned about protecting people in the US from the flu.

Between 5 percent and 20 percent of nearly 400 million Americans get the flu every year.

“It is currently flu and respiratory disease season, and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

The coronavirus doesn’t have a vaccine

A key difference between the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus, however, is that the former has a vaccine.

“Simply having the choice about whether or not to receive a flu shot can give people an illusion of control,” Schaffner told KHN. (The seasonal flu vaccine is never perfect, however. It was about 29 percent effective last year among Americans.)

Fewer than half of US adults got a flu shot during the 2018-19 season, according to the CDC. Only 62 percent of children received the vaccine.

Because the Wuhan virus is new, experts have not had time to develop a vaccine.

“If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer,” Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider.

Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine development plans. But vaccine development has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines to get their vaccines to market.


The coronavirus outbreak isn’t considered a pandemic

China has quarantined Wuhan and 11 other cities to stop the virus’ spread, though cases have been reported in nine other countries, including the US, France, and Japan.

The outbreak isn’t considered a pandemic, however. The World Health Organisation has so far not declared it a global public-health emergency either.

“Familiarity breeds indifference,” Schaffner said. “Because it’s new, it’s mysterious, and comes from an exotic place, the coronavirus creates anxiety.”

Aria Bendix contributed reporting for this story.

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US Life Expectancy Drops For Third Straight Year in Alarming Reality Check

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The US is the only wealthy country in the world where the life expectancy needle is moving the wrong way.

Between 1959 and 2014, the average length of time that Americans were expected to live was on the rise. Now, for the third year in a row, it’s declining, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


“Americans operate under a lot of misconceptions about how superior we are in many facets of our lives and this is not one of them,” the study’s lead author Steven Woolf told Business Insider. “We may think we have best medical care in world and highest life expectancy … but that’s not the case.”

This decline can’t be linked to just one ethnicity, gender, or geographic area, either: It originates among an entire age group. People between the ages of 25 and 64 in the US are dying at higher rates, wracked by health problems like opioid addiction, obesity, alcoholic liver disease, and suicide.

Despite having the highest per capita health care spending in the world, Americans are “more likely to die before age 65 than people in other countries,” Woolf added. “Their children, too, are less likely to live as long”.

A terrifying trend

Woolf and his co-author Heidi Schoomaker’s new study looked at more than 50 years’ worth of data on US life expectancy from the US Mortality Database and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database.

Results showed that, in the 1970s, the country experienced a rapid and significant jump in life expectancy. But by the 1990s, that increase started to level off.


In 2011, US life expectancy plateaued, and three years later it started to drop.

“We’ve reached the point where we’re going into a free fall,” Woolf said.

Medical advances, particularly in the realms of cancer treatment and heart health, prompted an almost 10-year increase in the average American’s lifespan. Between 1959 and 2013, life expectancy rose from 69.9 years to 78.9 years. Now, however, that average has dropped to 78.6 years.

The news isn’t good if you compare it to other countries, either. In 1960, Americans had the highest life expectancy of any country in the world. But in the past couple of years, the US has plummeted to the bottom of the list of countries with a similar GDP and high average income, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In fact, the US is currently ranked in the mid-40s globally in terms of life expectancy, squished between countries like Lebanon, Cuba, and Chile, which have GDPs that fall far short of our own.

That troubling dip, according to Woolf, can be linked to the fact that deaths among Americans ages 25 to 64 are increasing.


‘Working-age’ Americans are dying

These deaths can’t be traced back to a single cause, either. Woolf’s research revealed that mortality among members of this age group has increased from 35 different causes. However, drug overdose, alcohol abuse, and suicide – referred to by some as “deaths of despair” – appear to be the primary culprits.

This age group experienced a nearly four-fold increase in fatal drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017.

Suicide rates went up by nearly 40 percent for people between the ages of 25 and 64, and by 56 percent for people ages 55 to 64 during the same time frame. For Americans between the ages of 25 and 34, the rate of alcohol-related disease deaths spiked almost 160 percent, as well.

Obesity-related mortality rates among this age group also went up by 114 percent, and deaths linked to high blood increased by about 80 percent.

“Working-age Americans are more likely to die in the prime of their lives,” Woolf said. Between 2010 and 2017, midlife US adults experienced a 6 percent total increase in mortality rate.

The largest increases in death rates occurred among people living in New England states (middle-aged New Hampshirites saw a 23.3 percent uptick; Maine residents, 20.7 percent; Vermont dwellers, 19.9 percent) and residents of the Ohio Valley (West Virginians experienced a 23 percent increase and Ohioans, 21.6 percent).


Not all parts of the US experienced the same trend, however. Life expectancy between 2010 and 2017 increased for Americans living in Hawaii, California, and parts of the Pacific Northwest.

All told, men are dying in overall higher numbers than women. However, Woolf’s research reveals that women experienced an greater increased risk of drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver disease compared to previous decades.

“There’s an obvious implication of this for employers,” Woolf said. “If this trend continues, they’re going to have a less healthy, less productive workforce that’s more likely to die prematurely compared to employees in other countries.”

Why is this happening when the US spends so much on healthcare?

This counterintuitive trend – of an affluent, first-world country that spends billions on privatised healthcare losing swaths of their middle-aged working class – could be traced back to one massive elephant in the room.

“It’s a quandary of why this is happening when we spend so much on healthcare,” Woolf said, adding: “But my betting money is on the economy.”

The “Rust Belt,” the Midwestern US states nearest to the Great Lakes like Ohio, were among the hardest hit by changes to the economy and related loss of factory jobs, the researcher said. “Steel mills and coal mines have been closing, while in contrast, California has done well in terms of its economics.”

Upticks in suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related diseases “are all symptoms of people struggling in a poor economy who can’t afford housing, find consistent jobs,” and despair because of it, according to Woolf.

“We are seeing social determinants of health shaping well-being and outcomes,” Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of public health who was not involved in the study, told Business Insider.

“Forces like income inequality and unstable employment cause psychological distress and drive conditions by which diseases and deaths occur,” he added.

In countries around the world, research has shown that people with lower incomes die sooner than their wealthier counterparts. A 2017 study linked low socioeconomic status to significant reductions in life expectancy.

But what makes the US unique, according to Woolf, is that “poor people in other countries live longer than poor people in our country”.

The gap between America’s rich and poor has widened not only from a socioeconomic standpoint but also in terms of health inequality.

“The price you pay in terms of your health for not being on the top rung of the economic ladder is getting more dire,” Woolf said.

According to Koh’s editorial commentary on the new study, the difference in life expectancy between America’s top and bottom 1 percent can be up to 14 years for men and 10 years for women.

‘A troubling new norm’

“Everyone assumed life expectancy would continue to rise, but the nation now risks declining life expectancy to be a very troubling new norm,” Koh said.

The only way to find out whether Koh’s prediction is true is by analysing the most recent life expectancy data from 2018. Those numbers will be released by the CDC in the next few months, Woolf said. “But all signs from research we’ve done indicate it’s not going to be good news.”

And neither Woolf nor Koh think that the life expectancy situation will improve over time unless the underlying social and socioeconomic issues are adequately addressed. Woolf said state governments need to invest in marginalised communities and work to alleviate financial burdens on middle-class families.

The Harvard researcher added that US policy-makers need to pay more attention to what he calls “leading causes of life,” like building stronger communities that precipitate more vibrant social connections and help Americans rebuild a sense of purpose in the face of financial despair.

“The public health world is rapidly understanding that health is much more than what happens to you in a doctor’s office,” Koh said. “It happens where people live, learn, play, and pray.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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