In Pictures: The Art of Food Plating

Southern California COVID-19 Strain Rapidly Expands Global Reach

A new strain of the coronavirus in Southern California, first reported last month by Cedars-Sinai, is rapidly spreading across the country and around the world as travelers apparently carry the virus with them to a growing list of global destinations, according to new research published today in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The strain, known as CAL.20C, was first observed in July 2020 in a single Los Angeles County case, as Cedars-Sinai earlier reported. It reemerged in October in Southern California and then quickly began spreading in November and December, corresponding with a regional surge in coronavirus cases during the holidays.

The strain now accounts for nearly half of current COVID-19 cases in Southern California–nearly double the percentage in the region compared to just a month ago, according to the Cedars-Sinai research.

While CAL.20C has expanded quickly to the local population, it also has spread to a total of 19 U.S. state plus Washington, D.C. and six foreign countries, the Cedars-Sinai investigators report.

The new JAMA study reported that as of Jan. 22, CAL.20C had been detected in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and in Washington, D.C.. Abroad, it was found in Australia, Denmark, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Travelers from Southern California appear to be carrying CAL.20C to other states and parts of the world, according to the JAMA study’s co-senior author, Jasmine Plummer, PhD, a research scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics and associate director of the Applied Genomics, Computation & Translational Core at Cedars-Sinai.

“CAL.20C is moving, and we think it is Californians who are moving it,” Plummer said.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has long been among the busiest in the U.S., ranking #2 in total passengers boarded in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. While air traffic across the U.S. has plummeted in the last year during the pandemic, about 2 million domestic and international passengers still traveled through LAX each month in November and December 2020.

LAX is a key U.S. gateway for a number of the foreign destinations, including Australia, and New Zealand, where CAL.20C now is found. Several Western states that have the strain, including Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, are popular vacation destinations for Southern Californians.

It is not clear whether CAL.20C might be more deadly than current coronavirus strains, or whether it might resist current vaccines. Cedars-Sinai investigators are conducting new, collaborative research to find the answers.

CAL.20C is defined by five recurring variants in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, including the L452R variant that was earlier reported by the California Department of Public Health. It is distinct from other strains present in the U.S., including the United Kingdom’s B.1.1.7, and South Africa’s B.1.351.

“New variants do not always affect the behavior of a virus in the body. But we are interested in the CAL.20C strain because three of its five variants involve the so-called spike protein, which enables the SARS-CoV-2 virus to invade and infect normal cells,” said the JAMA study’s other co-senior author, Eric Vail, MD, assistant professor of Pathology and director of Molecular Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Cedars-Sinai.

Although the pace of new coronavirus cases has slowed recently, Los Angeles County remains one of the nation’s pandemic hot spots. Through Feb. 6, the county had reported more than 1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 18,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Cedars-Sinai investigators are tracking the rise and spread of CAL.20C using an advanced technique known as next-generation sequencing to analyze the genes of the viruses. Their research draws on virus samples collected from Cedars-Sinai patients who tested positive for coronavirus, along with analysis of random samples of SARS-CoV-2 viruses in publicly available databases—to which Cedars-Sinai also contributes.

Source: Cedars Sinai

Chart of the Day: Should COVID-19 Vaccination be Mandatory?

Source : Statista

Why Experts Say a Good Mood Can Lead to Good Health

Laura Williamson wrote . . . . . . . . .

It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that laughter feels good, while anger feels awful.

But it does take one to explain why one of these feelings can boost the immune system, while the other can wear it down, damage the heart and increase the risk for dementia.

Simply put: “Mood can influence your health,” said Dr. Erin Michos, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Studies show negative emotions – including anger, hostility and pessimism – are linked to a higher risk of heart disease and lower chance of recovery from events such as heart attacks, as well as poorer cognitive health. Conversely, a growing body of research shows feelings such as happiness, optimism, gratitude, a sense of purpose, well-being or satisfaction in life lead to better heart and brain health. A 2016 study in Health Psychology even found that having a happy spouse or partner could improve an individual’s overall health and increase healthy behaviors, such as being more physically active.

There are many reasons for this, said Michos, a cardiologist who co-authored a recent American Heart Association scientific statement on the ways in which psychological health impacts heart and brain health.

Strong, negative feelings, such as anger, and stress, such as from anxiety or depression, activate the amygdala, the region in the brain that handles emotion. It activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, triggering the release of cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that make the heart beat faster and blood pressure rise, she said. “This can be stressful on the heart, particularly for people who have underlying heart conditions.”

It also can cause blood platelets to form clots, and trigger plaque in the heart or brain to rupture, causing a heart attack or stroke. Prolonged stress also increases inflammation and lowers the body’s immune response.

This biological response may be compounded by harmful behaviors, Michos said. “People with poor coping mechanisms for stress may sleep poorly, engage in binge eating and exercise less.”

On the flip side, lowering stress through positive feelings also affects brain circuitry, said Jill Goldstein, founder and executive director of the Innovation Center on Sex Differences in Medicine and professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Mindfulness, humor and other mental coping skills can help people stay healthier by reducing the amount of cortisol running through their bodies, she said. In women, this can protect the production of estradiol, a type of estrogen that can be important for preserving good brain health

“We are also enhancing our immune systems when we help regulate the stress response,” she said. “The brain talks to the body and calms the body down. It slows your breathing and your heart rate. Some people are better able to do this than others.”

But it’s not just the absence or reduction of stress that gives the brain what it needs to coordinate better overall health, Michos said. “Well-being is more than the absence of mental distress,” she said. “Happiness, optimism, a sense of purpose, gratitude, mindfulness – these are all associated with favorable heart health, even independently of a lack of negative factors.”

And research shows anything good for the heart is good for the brain.

Michos said people don’t have to be naturally cheery or easygoing to reap these benefits.

“Some of this can be learned,” she said. “You can cultivate positive thinking and mindfulness and coping mechanisms to deal with adversity.”

Staying physically active also helps to boost mood, she said. So does spending time with friends and family to build strong social support.

The better someone feels, the more likely they are to maintain their health, Michos said. “Optimistic people take better care of themselves. They are more compliant with medication, more likely to get checkups, to eat healthy and exercise.”

It’s never too late to make a difference, said Goldstein. “The brain is very retrainable. The older we get, the more difficult it is to do, but it can be done.”

Source: American Heart Association

Cod with Fennel and Potatoes

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 trimmed fennel bulb (reserve fronds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 strips (1/2-inch wide) orange zest
coarse salt
4 boneless, skinless cod fillets (6 ounces each)

Method

  1. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped fennel. Cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, tomato paste, and orange zest. Season with salt. Boil for 10 minutes.
  4. Place the cod fillets on top. Reduce the heat. Cover and simmer until the fish is opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with the chopped reserved fennel fronds.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Great Food Fast


Today’s Comic