Overweight women may be at highest risk of long COVID – new research

Rostislav_Sedlacek/Shutterstock While hundreds of thousands of people are still getting COVID every day across the globe, reassuringly, the number of people dying as a result of the infection has dropped significantly thanks to effective vaccines and treatments. Yet for many people, the consequences of COVID continue well beyond the initial infection, in the form of long COVID. We wanted to understand what factors might make people more or less susceptible to ongoing symptoms. In a new study we found that women who are overweight are at highest risk of developing long COVID. Long COVID can include symptoms such as fatigue,…

Six common COVID myths busted by a virologist and a public health expert

r.classen/Shutterstock Almost three years into the pandemic, myths and misinformation remain widespread. Here we, a virologist and a public health researcher, debunk some common misconceptions about COVID. Myth 1: The virus is becoming milder There’s a prevailing myth in the omicron era that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is becoming “milder”. It’s true that earlier omicron variants (BA.1 and BA.2) were less likely than delta to cause severe illness, partly because they were more likely to infect the upper airway than the lower airway. This means omicron infections didn’t infect the lungs as aggressively as delta did. But disease…

We were told to ‘stay home’ to stop COVID. Then our homes became disease hotspots

Lucigerma/Shutterstock The rapid rise in COVID cases and deaths in March 2020 led Boris Johnson, then prime minister, to tell the British people: “You must stay at home.” These comments marked the beginning of the first nationwide COVID lockdown, and aligned with similar pronouncements and policies being introduced around the world. Indeed, until vaccines became available, the main policy used to control COVID was for billions of people to stay home. Even when lockdowns were lifted, home remained a place for infectious people to isolate, and for vulnerable people to shield. While staying home protected many of us from catching…

The risk of seizures and epilepsy is higher after COVID than after the flu – new research

hutpaza/Shutterstock Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting roughly 50 million people around the world. It’s a condition characterised by seizures which involve episodic, abnormal activity in nerve cells in the brain. People can have convulsive seizures, where the body stiffens and shakes. There are also more subtle seizures during which people may, for example, lose awareness for short periods of time. While epilepsy always involves seizures, some people can have seizures without being diagnosed with epilepsy. Epilepsy is more common as we get older, and the main risk factor for the condition in later life is…

RSV: experts explain why rates of this virus are surging this year

RSV is most common in children under two. Aleksandra Suzi/ Shutterstock Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus, typically causing infection in children during the colder months. In most cases, RSV causes a mild illness, with symptoms similar to that of a regular cold. But it can also cause lung infections, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia, especially in infants, premature babies and children with underlying health problems. It is the most common cause of hospital admission in young children, with around 26,000 children under the age of two admitted to hospital with RSV every year in the UK…

XBB and BQ.1: what we know about these two omicron ‘cousins’

Mahir KART/Shutterstock In late October, the UK Health Security Agency assigned variant designations to two new omicron “grandchildren”: BQ.1 and XBB. This means they will be monitored by health authorities, but are not at this stage regarded as variants of concern. If we think of the omicron variant as a family tree, BA.2 (the dominant strain in the UK in spring of 2022) is the parent of BA.5 (the variant currently dominant in the UK) and the grandparent of BQ.1. In other words, BQ.1 is a sub-lineage of BA.5. XBB is a hybrid of two omicron BA.2 lineages, BA.2.10.1 and…

High blood pressure linked to 22% greater risk of severe COVID – new research

pikselstock/Shutterstock From early on in the pandemic it was apparent that older adults and those with underlying health problems were more likely to get very sick from a COVID infection compared with younger, healthier people. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common conditions in the general population, particularly in those who are middle aged and older. It also seemed to be one of the most common conditions among COVID patients, especially those who were hospitalised or died. In a new study, we’ve found that people with high blood pressure have a 22% higher risk of being…

COVID, flu, RSV – how this triple threat of respiratory viruses could collide this winter

Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock As the days get shorter and the weather colder in the northern hemisphere, health officials have warned of a perfect storm of infectious respiratory diseases over the winter months. Outbreaks of seasonal diseases like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are already putting pressure on the overburdened NHS. If surges of these illnesses collide with another large COVID wave, we could be facing a public health disaster. Some have called this threat a “tripledemic”. But how can we realistically expect the winter to play out? To try to answer this question, we can look at the recent and…

What’s it like being a young person with long COVID? You might feel like a failure (but you’re not)

Bogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock Imagine you’re young, healthy and active. Then, one day, the rug is pulled out from under you. You initially have symptoms akin to a cold, so you take a lateral flow test, which shows you have COVID. But it’s nothing that stops you from getting on with things, at least from a distance. You can listen to more articles from The Conversation, narrated by Noa, here. A few weeks later, or perhaps months, you start to have strange symptoms. You feel unwell after exercising, and you’re exhausted after a trip to the shops or meeting a friend. Your…

COVID: inhalable and nasal vaccines could offer more durable protection than regular shots

Skylines/Shutterstock As the pandemic continues, many countries are rolling out COVID booster vaccines. In the UK, the autumn booster campaign is offering a fourth dose to those at higher risk from a COVID infection, including people with certain underlying medical conditions, and those aged over 50. The autumn booster shots are bivalent vaccines, meaning they target the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) alongside the omicron variant. These vaccines are effective at topping up and broadening our immunity. But we expect that, as we’ve seen with the original COVID shots, the protection they provide, particularly against becoming…

We measured vaccine confidence pre-pandemic and in 2022 – it’s declined considerably

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock It’s one of the greatest achievements of modern science. Within only a year of SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) being identified, safe and effective vaccines were developed, tested, and had begun to be rolled out. Since the first doses were administered nearly two years ago, they’re estimated to have saved tens of millions of lives. And yet COVID vaccines attracted considerable opposition before their development was even complete. While vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon, COVID vaccines were met with particularly virulent hostility among conspiracy theorists and other anti-vaxxers. Meanwhile, the vaccines’ rapid development and approval gave…

Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 – an expert answers three key questions about these new COVID variants

Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock Two new omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, are quickly gaining traction in the US, collectively accounting for 27% of infections as of October 29. Both are descendants of BA.5, the omicron variant that has dominated around the world for some months. Although they appear to be most common in the US at this stage, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have also been identified in the UK and several countries in Europe, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) having classified BQ.1 as a variant of interest. Based on modelling estimates, the ECDC expects that by mid-November to…

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