Science & Health

Nearly 1 in 5 Adults Who Had COVID Have Lingering Symptoms, US Study Finds

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults who reported having COVID-19 in the past are still having symptoms of long COVID, according to survey data collected in the first two weeks of June, U.S. health officials said Wednesday. 

Overall, 1 in 13 adults in the United States have long COVID symptoms that have lasted for three months or more after first contracting the disease and that they did not have before the infection, the data showed. 

The data was collected June 1-13 by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Long COVID symptoms include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cognitive difficulties, chronic pain, sensory abnormalities and muscle weakness. They can be debilitating and last for weeks or months after recovery from the initial infection. 

The CDC analysis also found that younger adults were more likely to have persistent symptoms than older adults. 

Women were also more likely to have long COVID than men, according to the study, with 9.4% of U.S. adult women reporting long COVID symptoms compared with 5.5% of men. 

The survey found nearly 9% of Hispanic adults have long COVID, higher than non-Hispanic white and Black adults, and more than twice the percentage of non-Hispanic Asian adults. 

There were also differences based on U.S. states, with Kentucky and Alabama reporting the highest percentage of adults with long COVID symptoms, while Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia reported the lowest, according to the survey. 

Science & Health

‘Black Death’ Likely Originated in Central Asia, Researchers Say

The Black Death, a plague that killed up to 60% of people in western Eurasia from roughly 1346 to 1353, likely originated in the Tian Shan mountains of central Asia, new research shows.

Scientists recovered two genomes of an ancient strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, from human remains buried in two 14th-century cemeteries in Kyrgyzstan. The strain is the ancestor of the microbes that caused the Black Death.

“The origin of the Black Death has been one of the most widely debated topics not only in medieval history, but I perhaps will not exaggerate if I say that it has been one of the most debated topics in history, period,” said historian and study co-author Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling.

There are many competing theories, he said, “but without ancient DNA, you wouldn’t be able actually to confirm one of those theories.”

Researchers reconstructed an ancient Y. pestis genome for the first time in 2011 using samples from a burial ground in London. Since then, a handful of additional Black Death genomes from western Eurasia and many more from modern Y. pestis strains carried by rodents and their parasites — the natural reservoirs of plague — also were sequenced.

But even with the new data, “it was still quite clear to us that this kind of research was not really telling us much about where it all started and when it all started,” said Maria Spyrou, a biologist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and first author of the new study.

Spike in deaths

The wellspring of the Black Death wouldn’t be found in a European grave. But Slavin thought that two cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan looked promising. Based on tombstone inscriptions, the area saw a spike in deaths between 1338 and 1339. Some of those deaths were blamed on an unknown “pestilence.”

The researchers extracted and sequenced genetic material from seven teeth from seven individuals buried at the cemeteries. Human teeth are crisscrossed by a dense network of blood vessels, making them one of the best places in which to look for the centuries-old DNA of blood-borne pathogens like Y. pestis. Three of the seven individuals had plague DNA in their teeth, allowing researchers to reconstruct the genome of the strain that killed them.

In a genetic family tree of the plague, the new strain sits right at base of what Spyrou called an “explosion of genetic diversity” — a dramatic radiation of new strains including the ones that caused the Black Death. The origin strain’s closest modern cousins are carried by marmots in the surrounding Tian Shan area, so it seems to have developed locally.

“It started most likely in this Tian Shan region of central Asia,” said Spyrou. “But I don’t want to claim that we have found, I don’t know, a patient zero or outbreak zero, because this is almost impossible using the archaeological record.”

Sharon DeWitte, an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina, was excited by the results, but she noted that there’s still a small chance the Black Death reached central Asia from elsewhere.

“Yersinia pestis can travel pretty far without accumulating any genetic variation,” she said. “But that being said, there’s strong evidence that that general area was the origin.”

Why, how did it spread?

Finding where the Black Death began is a major step toward understanding why and how it spilled over from animals to humans and spread so catastrophically in the 14th century. Slavin suspects trade was an important factor.

“This community was situated right at the heart of long-distance trade routes known as the Silk Road,” he said. They were “extremely cosmopolitan, very multinational, very multiethnic, and [had] lots of geographic mobility.”

Graves contained pearls from the Pacific and Indian oceans, silks from China or Uzbekistan and shells from the Mediterranean, said Slavin.

Climate could also have been involved, said Spyrou and DeWitte. Future studies of historical climate events in central Asia could help explain the pandemic’s timing and spread. More ancient plague genomes from Asia also would help, but Slavin noted that finding similar archaeological sites or collections isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

Plague still kills people every year. Because it evolves fast and jumps from animals to humans, it’s important to understand the conditions that make it dangerous and monitor it closely, according to DeWitte. And studying past pandemics can offer lessons for the present, too.

“The Black Death is basically a natural experiment where we are gathering a huge amount of data about the human populations affected, the animals that might have been involved, the bacterium that was involved, and climate conditions,” said DeWitte. “And I think all that’s really important in terms of building resilience for populations moving forward so that we don’t actually suffer from the worst possible outcomes of pandemic disease.”

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Microsoft: Russian Cyber Spying Targets 42 Ukraine Allies

Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.

“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting [of Ukraine’s allies] has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions.

“As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.

Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting.

A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.

Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.

Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 distinct Ukrainian agencies and enterprises.” Moscow’s military hackers have been cautious not to unleash destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted.

“During the past month, as the Russian military moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has fallen,” according to the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War.” The Redmond, Washington, company has unique insight in the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams.

Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example in data safeguarding. Ukraine went from storing its data locally on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion — making them vulnerable to aerial attack — to dispersing that data in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.

The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and wooing people in nonaligned countries.

Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”

Science & Health

US Considering Limiting Nicotine in Cigarettes 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing a limit on the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes with an aim to make it easier for people to quit using them and to prevent young people who experiment with cigarettes from becoming addicted. 

The proposed limit appeared Tuesday among a number of actions the Biden administration is considering. 

The FDA said more than half of adults who smoke cigarettes make a serious attempt at quitting each year, but that most fail because of the addictiveness of cigarettes. 

“The goal of the potential rule would be to reduce youth use, addiction and death,” the agency said. 

“Nicotine is powerfully addictive,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement. “Making cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products minimally addictive or non-addictive would help save lives.” 

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Civil Jury Finds Bill Cosby Sexually Abused Teenager in 1975

Jurors at a civil trial found Tuesday that Bill Cosby sexually abused a 16-year-old girl at the Playboy Mansion in 1975.

The Los Angeles County jury delivered the verdict in favor of Judy Huth, who is now 64, and awarded her $500,000.

Jurors found that Cosby intentionally caused harmful sexual contact with Huth, that he reasonably believed she was under 18, and that his conduct was driven by unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in a minor.

The jurors’ decision is a major legal defeat for the 84-year-old entertainer once hailed as “America’s Dad.” It comes nearly a year after his Pennsylvania criminal conviction for sexual assault was thrown out, and he was freed from prison. Huth’s lawsuit was one of the last remaining legal claims against him after his insurer settled many others against his will.

Cosby did not attend the trial or testify in person, but short clips from a 2015 video deposition were played for jurors in which he denied any sexual contact with Huth. He continues to deny the allegation through his attorney and publicist.

Jurors had already reached conclusions on nearly every question on their verdict form, including whether Cosby abused Huth and whether she deserved damages, after two days of deliberations on Friday. But the jury foreperson could not serve further because of a personal commitment, and the panel had to start deliberating from scratch with an alternate juror on Monday.

Cosby’s attorneys agreed that Cosby met Huth and her high school friend on a Southern California film set in April of 1975, then took them to the Playboy Mansion a few days later.

Huth’s friend Donna Samuelson, a key witness, took photos at the mansion of Huth and Cosby, which loomed large at the trial.

Huth testified that in a bedroom adjacent to a game room where the three had been hanging out, Cosby attempted to put his hand down her pants, then exposed himself and forced her to perform a sex act.

Huth filed her lawsuit in 2014, saying that her son turning 15 — the age she initially remembered being when she went to the mansion — and a wave of other women accusing Cosby of similar acts brought fresh trauma over what she had been through as a teenager.

Huth’s attorney, Nathan Goldberg, told the jury of nine women and three men during closing arguments Wednesday that “my client deserves to have Mr. Cosby held accountable for what he did.”

“Each of you knows in your heart that Mr. Cosby sexually assaulted Miss Huth,” Goldberg said.

A majority of jurors apparently agreed, giving Huth a victory in a suit that took eight years and overcame many hurdles just to get to trial.

During their testimony, Cosby attorney Jennifer Bonjean consistently challenged Huth and Samuelson over errors in detail in their stories, and a similarity in the accounts that the lawyer said represented coordination between the two women.

This included the women saying in pre-trial depositions and police interviews that Samuelson had played Donkey Kong that day, a game not released until six years later.

Bonjean made much of this, in what both sides came to call the “Donkey Kong defense.”

Goldberg asked jurors to look past the small errors in detail that he said were inevitable in stories that were 45 years old and focus on the major issues behind the allegations. He pointed out to jurors that Samuelson said “games like Donkey Kong” when she first mentioned it in her deposition.

The Cosby lawyer began her closing arguments by saying, “It’s on like Donkey Kong,” and finished by declaring, “Game over.”

Huth’s attorney reacted with outrage during his rebuttal.