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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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Beat the heat: how to stay cool in hot weather | UK news

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Summer has finally arrived, with daytime temperatures expected to exceed 30C across large parts of central and southern England on Friday.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a level 3 heat-health alert for London as well as east and south-east England in response, meaning action is needed to protect older people, those with chronic health conditions, young children and babies.

Health teams in the Midlands and south-west England have also been placed on level 2 alert, meaning there is an 80% chance temperatures could exceed 30C.

So what are the best strategies to stay cool when temperatures climb?

Wear loose, long-sleeved clothing

Direct sunlight heats the blood vessels in your skin, sending heat inwards towards your core and raising your body temperature. Babies are particularly vulnerable because they have a high surface area of skin relative to their volume. Wearing loose, long-sleeved clothing can help avoid this. It also guards against sunburn (see below).

Cool hands, face and feet

So-called glabrous skin, found on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and upper parts of the face, contains a special network of blood vessels devoted to rapid temperature management. Applying cold water or an ice pack to these areas hastens body cooling. Wetting the skin, with a cold flannel for example, also helps to remove body heat through evaporation, which is the same reason why we sweat.

Avoid cold showers

Counterintuitive as it may seem, a cold shower may help to conserve body heat by causing blood vessels in the skin to constrict. This undermines one of the body’s key strategies for heat loss: bringing blood closer to the skin’s surface, so the heat can radiate out (hence why we look flushed when we are hot). Longer immersion in cold water, such as going for a swim in a lake, will gradually cool the body – but cold showers tend to be swift affairs. Showering in tepid water is better because this will boost blood flow to the skin, increasing heat loss.

Stay hydrated

A significant reason heatwaves are so deadly is dehydration. When people lose too much fluid through sweating, the blood thickens, increasing the risk of clots and forcing the heart to work harder. Heavy sweating also alters the balance of sodium and potassium in body fluids. This can affect nerve and muscle cells, placing further strain on the heart. They key thing is to drink regularly through the day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which can cause you to urinate more frequently. Do not rely on thirst, which can be an unreliable indicator of hydration status.

Keep curtains and windows closed during the day

This is particularly important for south-facing rooms, where having the sun streaming through your windows will transform your surroundings into greenhouse. As a general rule, windows should be kept closed when it is cooler indoors than out, usually when the day is at its hottest, but opened once the daytime temperature drops in the evening and overnight.

Seek green spaces

People seek the shade in Brockwell Park, London.
People seek the shade in Brockwell Park, London. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Trees and plants absorb water through their roots and emit it through their leaves through a process called transpiration. This cools their immediate surroundings, as heat from the surrounding air causes this water to evaporate. Studies suggest suburban areas with mature trees are 2-3C cooler than suburbs without trees. Trees also provide much-needed shade.

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Avoid sunburn

No one wants blistered, swollen skin but sunscreen should be your last line of defence against the sun, rather than your first. Instead, making use of shade when the UV index is at its highest – generally between 11am and 3pm – cover skin with clothing, and protect your head, neck, and face with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. If sun exposure is unavoidable, opt for a sunscreen with broad protection against UVA and UVB rays. The sun protection factor (SPF) refers to UVB protection only.

“We recommend a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 and good UVA protection,” said Dr Tanya Bleiker, the president of the British Association of Dermatologists. “Sunscreen should be applied liberally, and reapplied every two hours, after swimming, exercise, or any other activity which could rub or wash it off.”

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