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After more than two years dodging the Covid-19 bullet, I have been struck down.
This is particularly galling because throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to reduce my risk by avoiding packed places, such as pubs, and wearing a mask on public transport and in shops.
But the cunning virus finally got to me via my wife, Clare. Last week, she came down with classic Covid symptoms (lots of coughing and sneezing) and, a few days later, after futile attempts to avoid each other while living in the same house, I followed her and I’m now racked by frequent bursts of coughing that sound like someone trying to start an old tractor on a cold winter’s morning.
To be honest, I’m not surprised to have succumbed, because the most recent Covid variant, Omicron, is the fastest-spreading virus in human history.
Omicron is much more infectious than earlier Covid variants but, fortunately, it has also mutated into something that is less dangerous.
After more than two years dodging the Covid-19 bullet, I have been struck down. This is particularly galling because throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to reduce my risk by avoiding packed places, such as pubs, and wearing a mask on public transport and in shops
A study by Imperial College London, involving more than 1.5 million people who’d had either Omicron or Delta, found the Omicron victims were half as likely to end up in hospital or worse.
The study showed that vaccines are saving lives, with people who are fully vaccinated 85 per cent less likely to die from Omicron than someone who isn’t vaccinated.
Although Covid appears to be in retreat, the virus will continue to mutate and almost certainly has more tricks up its sleeve. So what is the next step in our fight against Covid?
Firstly, there are some promising antiviral drugs being trialled — including Paxlovid, which in an early study cut the risk of ending up in hospital by 89 per cent when given within three days of developing symptoms.
And there is a new generation of nasal spray vaccines, which is exciting because research suggests spraying a vaccine up your nose can dramatically cut the risk of transmitting the virus.
This is because the Covid virus typically enters your body via the nose, so if you bolster your nasal defences then you can nip it in the bud. This would have a big impact on how quickly it spreads and how easily it mutates.
Another advantage of nasal vaccines, as demonstrated in animal studies worldwide, is they not only generate lots of antibodies and ‘killer’ T cells, as you would expect from a vaccine, but also immune ‘memory cells’ that hang around in the nose for months.
Researchers from Lancaster University, who were the first to start developing a Covid-19 nasal vaccine in 2020, have shown that two doses of their vaccine, given to hamsters, completely protected them from lung infections and prevented them shedding viruses.
The results were so encouraging they’re planning human trials later this summer. If it works as well as hoped, the idea is that you might simply go along to a chemist and get a spray to use yourself. Because there is no needle, it would be simpler and potentially much cheaper. This should also reassure people with needle phobia.
Meanwhile, what can you do if you get hit by Covid?
If, like me, your symptoms aren’t too bad, the NHS advice is to get plenty of rest, drink water to keep hydrated and take medications such as paracetamol to help with your symptoms. I would also suggest continuing to exercise, if you can. Exercise increases blood flow to your muscles and brain and this increased blood flow, in turn, encourages blood vessels to release virus-fighting immune cells.
There’s a well-worn adage for exercising with infections: if the symptoms are ‘above the neck’ (e.g. sore throat, sneezing and nasal congestion), it should be fine to exercise. But below the neck (e.g. fever, coughing, aches and general fatigue), be more cautious. Certainly you wouldn’t want to exercise while you had a fever, as this could cause it to worsen (but it’s very unlikely you’d feel like exercising anyway).
Although I’ve been coughing, I’m not feverish, so I have continued to do my usual press-ups and squats and walk four or five miles a day.
But when you can, doing more exercise could help if you struggle to shake off the effects of Covid.
You might also consider singing. A study published last month in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine showed that an online singing programme, called ENO Breathe, designed specifically for long Covid, led to a significant reduction in breathlessness and big improvement in mood. The programme encourages you to do things such as singing lullabies, as well as breathing exercises.
If you are a terrible singer, like I am, you’ll be pleased to hear that ‘no experience or interest in singing is required’. But you do have to be referred by a specialist NHS Covid clinic, so there’s a wait.
You could also sing in the shower, something I like doing, much to my family’s joy!
U-turn on BOGOF deals will be a tragedy for generations to come
With childhood obesity rates soaring and a recent report by Cancer Research UK predicting a doubling in rates of severe obesity by 2040, I was hugely disappointed to see that the Government has largely ditched its anti-obesity strategy.
Under pressure from some MPs and members of his own cabinet, Boris Johnson announced a delay of at least a year for the bans on BOGOF — buy one, get one free — deals and curbs on advertising junk food to children.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the legal manoeuvring by food giants to try to dilute the impact of new laws intended to ban the placement of foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar in prominent places in supermarkets, such as near the tills. The reason given for ditching plans to get rid of BOGOF deals is that with food prices soaring, we can’t deprive consumers of deals that save money.
William Hague has described this U-turn as ‘weak, shallow and immoral’, pointing out — as have others — that supermarkets do BOGOF promotions to boost profits, not to save us money. Thanks to BOGOF we buy an estimated 20 per cent more sugary junk food than we would otherwise.
And it’s pretty clear that if people spend more on junk food they have less to spend on healthy stuff.
It is also worth emphasising that the legislation would only have banned promotions of junk food, not three-for-two deals on fruit and veg, or other basics.
As for abandoning the promised curbs on advertising of junk food to children, that really does make me weep.
I’m old enough to remember when half the population smoked, but today it’s just 13 per cent. Educational campaigns made little difference (most people already knew smoking was unhealthy), but one of the few things that did have an impact was the ban on advertising cigarettes.
McDonald’s alone spends £90 million a year on advertising, while total spending on fast food ads is nearly 30 times more than what the Government spends on promoting healthy eating.
The UK is one of the biggest consumers of ultra-processed foods in the world and it’s creating a huge and growing problem: obesity increases your risk of cancer, depression, type 2 diabetes, heart disease — and kills more people than smoking.
Sir Winston Churchill once said ‘healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have’. If this government capitulates to the power of the food industry, it will be a tragedy not just for this generation, but for those to come.
Hidden health benefits of giving blood
People donate blood out of the goodness of their hearts, but they may also be reaping an unexpected reward.
Research from the Environment Protection Authority in Australia has shown that giving blood reduces donors’ levels of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS), which can accumulate in our bodies over time.
Animal studies have linked high levels of PFAS to a variety of health problems, including obesity.
What about the recipients? To be honest, if I was haemorrhaging, I don’t think I would worry too much about PFAS.