COVID Booster

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Schizophrenia and risk factor for COVID-19 death

A new study has shown that schizophrenia is the second biggest risk factor after age for COVID-19 death.

The researchers, led by a team from New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine, US, say the risk cannot be explained by other factors that often accompany mental health disorders, such as higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and smoking.

“Our findings illustrate that people with schizophrenia are extremely vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19,” says NYU’s Katlyn Nemani, the study lead author.

The study also found that people with other mental health problems such as mood or anxiety disorders were not at increased risk of death from COVID-19.

The study of 7,348 patient records provided a unique opportunity to study the underlying effects of schizophrenia as the large sample were all infected with the same virus. 

“Now that we have a better understanding of the disease, we can more deeply examine what, if any, immune system problems might contribute to the high death rates seen in these patients with schizophrenia,” says study senior author Donald Goff.

Previously, researchers believed that other issues such as heart disease, depression and barriers to care were behind the low life expectancy seen in schizophrenia patients. However, they suggest that there may be something about the biology of schizophrenia itself that is increasing vulnerability to COVID-19 and other viral infections.

One explanation is an immune system disturbance, possibly tied to the genetics of the disorder, Nemani says.

The study is published in the journal Jama Psychiatry.

COVID-19 and pregnancy complications

Pregnant women who contract SARS-CoV-2 are at greater risk of dying and experiencing serious complications compared to a non-pregnant woman who contract the disease, according to a new US study.

The researchers presented their findings from medical records of 1,219 pregnant women at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s (SMFM) annual meeting.

They suggest pregnant women who become severely or critically ill due to COVID-19 are at greater risk of dying and experiencing serious pregnancy complications than pregnant women who were asymptomatic, or without symptoms.

In contrast, pregnant women with mild or moderate illness were not at higher risk of pregnancy complications than those without symptoms.

The findings also found that pregnant women who became severely or critically ill due to COVID-19 were older, had a higher body mass index (BMI) and were more likely to have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“This information helps us to counsel our patients more effectively,” says lead author Torri D Metz, from the University of Utah Health. “For pregnant women who have contracted a mild or moderate case of COVID-19, these findings can help to alleviate their fears that they are at an increased risk of having serious pregnancy complications due to the disease.”

Better if you’re “normal”

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a mighty task that relies on accurate and reliable information. Ensuring that information is accessible is crucial to inform communities on how they can assist in stopping the spread.

However, a global survey of national health authority websites in nearly 200 countries revealed the majority of the websites contain errors that may make navigation difficult for people who are disabled.

“This pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible timely information to [all] people in the world, regardless of mental or functional disabilities,” says corresponding author Amiel Dror from Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

Only a few countries – including South Korea, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Poland, the UK and the US – fully adhered to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) criteria; 189 countries continued to have accessibility errors. Additionally, 89% of the countries also had mobile websites that weren’t accessible to people with disabilities.

“If we want to defeat this pandemic, we can’t ignore billions of people with disabilities,” Dror says. “We cannot expect adherence to the rules of mask-wearing, hygiene and social distancing in the fight against the pandemic if information is not accessible to everyone.”

Going forward, the researchers urge that the growth and expansion of the internet must be accompanied by equal development of technologies that expand the usability of the web to individuals with disabilities.

The work is published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. 

COVID-19 and PTSD 

A global survey of 1040 participants from five Western countries has shed insight on the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s mental health.

The study, published in PLOS ONEexplored people’s responses to the stresses of the escalating pandemic, finding 13% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related symptoms, consistent with levels that would qualify them for a clinical diagnosis.

“While the global pandemic does not fit into prevailing PTSD models, or diagnostic criteria, our research shows this ongoing global stressor can trigger traumatic stress symptoms,” says lead researcher Melanie Takarangi, from Flinders University, Australia.

“We found that traumatic stress was related to future events, such as worry about oneself or a family member contracting COVID-19, to direct contact with the virus, as well as indirect contact such as via the news and government lockdown – a non-life-threatening event,” explains co-author Victoria Bridgland, also from Flinders.

The online survey examined a range of responses to common PTSD symptoms, such as repeated disturbing and unwanted images, memories or thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

No fans, no fights

Fan exclusion at sports matches may have led to fewer arguments and emotional exchanges between players and referees, according to an Austrian study.

Michael Leitner and Fabio Richlan from the University of Salzburg analysed 20 games played by FC Red Bull Salzburg (RBS). Ten of the games were regular games (with supporters present); ten were ghost games (without crowds).

Overall, they report 19.5% fewer emotional situations, such as arguments or discussions with opposing players or referees, in ghost games than in regular matches.

In regular games, referees were actively involved in 39.4% of all documented emotional situations. In ghost games, that rate dropped to 25.2%. The time players, staff, and officials engaged in emotional behaviour also dropped from 41:42 minutes during regular matches to 27:09 mins in ghost games.

“Our evidence indicates that – from a sport psychological perspective – the absence of supporters has a substantial influence on the behaviour of players, staff and officials. Without the external factor of supporters, players and staff stayed calm more often and got less carried away with arguments and discussions, which decreased by 4.7% and 5.1%, respectively,” says Leitner. 

The authors recognise their case study concentrated on matches of one football club, with further analysis of other teams, and even other sports, to determine whether the impact of the absence of supporters is representative of other clubs and whole championship groups. 

The research is published in the journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. 

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