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UK Covid cases rising among those aged 55 and over | Coronavirus



Covid cases appear to be rising in older people as increased socialising, waning immunity and a more transmissible version of the Omicron variant threaten to fuel a resurgence of the virus.

Tests on nearly 100,000 swabs from homes across England reveal that, while infections have fallen overall since the January peak, one in 35 people tested positive between 8 February and 1 March, with cases either level or rising in those aged 55 and over.

Scientists on Imperial College’s React-1 study said the R value – the average number of people an infected person passes the virus to – remained below 1 for those aged 54 and under, meaning cases were in decline. But for those aged 55 and over, R stood at 1.04.

The suspected uptick has raised concerns as older people are more prone to severe Covid and have had more time for their immunity to wane, as many had their booster vaccines several months ago.

The findings come as the latest government figures showed a sharp 46% rise in new recorded UK cases week on week – to 346,059 over the past week – and a 12% rise in hospitalisations to 8,950.

Chart showing ‘UK Covid-19 patients in hospital’ from December 2021 to 8 March 2022

Prof Paul Elliott, director of the React study, said the rise was probably driven by factors including the lifting of all Covid legal restrictions in England on 24 February, more mixing between age groups and waning protection from booster shots.

One idea experts are investigating is whether hospitalisation rates are being driven by “unshielding”, where people who have been extremely careful for two years have emerged into a world where infections are still rife.

Another driver is thought to be the BA.2 form of Omicron, a relative of the original BA.1. While BA.2 does not seem to evade immunity any more than BA.1 or cause more severe disease, it spreads faster and increases R by 0.4 compared with BA.1, the Imperial researchers found. “From what we see, BA.2 is more transmissible and may prolong the Omicron wave of the pandemic,” Elliott said. “It’s taking over, so that could explain higher infection rates.”

Since the first BA.2 cases were discovered in December, it has steadily gained ground and now accounts for about half of all Omicron cases in England, with levels currently highest in London. It is unclear how large a wave of infections and hospitalisations BA.2 could drive given widespread immunity from vaccines and past Covid infections.

A further push on vaccinations is due in early April when over-75s and the clinically vulnerable will be offered a fourth shot, or a fifth in the case of people with severely weakened immune systems. “Additional doses of vaccine are almost certainly going to be necessary,” said Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said it was “impossible to make a sensible prediction” about the size of any BA.2 wave but the situation needed close monitoring. “The worry is that it’s hard to see anything happening in the next few weeks that will reverse the growth of BA.2 unless, that is, people decide on their own account to step up precautions.”

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, who is not on the React-1 study, said the recent rise was foreseeable. “We’ll see a great deal more of this, along the lines of recent resurgent spikes in Scotland and Hong Kong,” he said. “Caseloads were by no means low or under control as we came out of all mitigations and, when you add in waning immunity and the enhanced transmissibility of BA.2, it looks like we are in for a difficult period, especially for the elderly.”

He said a lack of measures such as mask-wearing and testing potentially left only the option of “a wider push for fourth shots, beyond the over-75s” but cautioned that very regular boosters may not be sustainable long-term.

Openshaw said the rise in cases and hospitalisations should remind people the pandemic is not over. “I think it’s a shame that the message that seems to have got out to the population is that it’s all over and we don’t need to be cautious any more,” he said.

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



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


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



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



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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