Carvings January 1, 2023

In the news

The COVID variant stew: the latest ingredient.

            When this pandemic was recognized three years ago it didn’t take long for the first mutations to make themselves known. To the lay public this came as a surprise but to infectious diseases specialists it did not. Coronaviruses, like influenza viruses but even more so, undergo frequent mutations. Most of these cause the virus to self-destruct but they are extremely numerous and some have characteristics that make them more contagious or more lethal. When these two features occur simultaneously the results can be devastating. For the moment, at least, COVID-19 has not seen such a frightening combination.

            The new kid on the block is the Omicron subvariant known as XBB. Its incidence has nearly doubled since mid-December and it now accounts for more than half the cases of COVID in the northeastern United States, about 20 percent for the country as a whole. The recent massive storm frustrated many people whose travel plans were aborted but it may have blunted or at least delayed the spike in cases that has followed holiday travel in the past.

            It appears that XBB is no more dangerous than its parent, BA.2 and we still don’t know if the latest vaccine booster will protect us from it. (Saint Anthony has stated that it will provide “some protection but not the optimal protection.”) Nonetheless, if you have not yet gotten the fourth dose of the vaccine – and more than 85 percent of Americans have not – you should seriously consider it. In spite of the fact that the coronavirus vaccine does not always prevent infection, its track record of preventing death by a factor of about sixteen (!) compared with no vaccine, along with the fact that it has very few side effects, makes this a no-brainer.

Note: The COVID saga is a fascinating one that is the subject of an excellent book by Dr. David Quammen: Breathless. The scientific race to defeat a deadly virus. The audio version is very well done. He is also the author of Spillover, which describes (and predicts) how animal diseases make their way into our lives and why pandemics like COVID-19 are inevitable unless we develop entirely new strategies to intercept them.


            For a better night’s sleep – from Why we sleep, by Matthew Walker – with a few personal edits.

  1. Have a regular bedtime both at night and in the morning. This will stabilize your sleep pattern and provide consistently better sleep.
  2. Exercise is a great sleep inducer but don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime. It will have the opposite effect.
  3. Avoid caffeine after about noon. Some persons are caffeine sensitive so that even decaf (a misnomer) coffee or an ounce of chocolate will interfere with sleep.
  4. Avoid that alcohol nightcap. It interferes with the all-important REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that nature intended to refresh the brain.
  5. A large meal (solid or liquid) before bedtime will interfere with sleep.
  6. Numerous medicines, both OTC and prescription, can interfere with sleep. Of the former, cold medications are especially problematic. Blood pressure and heart medications might be better taken earlier in the day. Discuss these with your physician.
  7. Daytime naps are healthy, especially for seniors, but don’t nap late in the day.
  8. Unwind before bedtime with reading (not the scary stuff) or music.
  9. An evening warm bath helps by causing after-bath cooling, which helps to induce sleep.
  10. The ideal bedroom is cool, dark and free of gadgets such as a TV or cell phone. And don’t check your e-mail just before getting into bed!
  11. Do you really need that telephone extension on the nightstand? We removed ours after months of getting 7 a.m. telemarketing calls. What took us so long?
  12. Get as much daytime light exposure as is practical. Daylight helps to stabilize your circadian rhythm and that includes getting sunlight when you wake up. So open those blinds before you go to pee.
  13. If you don’t fall asleep in about 20 or 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. But keep the lights low and don’t indulge in a nighttime snack. Walk around, listen to soothing music.

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