What’s new in the health space? Here are some of the most interesting and low-key stories from Yahoo News partners this week.
“You absolutely do not need the consent of someone who is dead”
What does the future of grief and loss look like? An AI company called You, Only Virtual is creating chatbots inspired by deceased loved ones, with its founder, Justin Harrison, telling “Good Morning America” that he hopes people don’t have to feel any grief at all.
You, Only Virtual analyzes text messages, emails and phone calls shared between an individual and the deceased to create a chatbot that composes original written or audio responses mimicking the voice of the deceased and modeling the relationship and rapport the two shared in life.
The company, founded in 2020, hopes to offer a video chat option later this year, “and ultimately provide augmented reality that allows interaction with three-dimensional projection,” GMA reported.
Harrison, who used technology to create “a virtual mom” after her mother passed away, dismissed potential privacy concerns raised by using personal conversations to create a chatbot without the consent of the deceased.
“You absolutely don’t need the consent of someone who is dead,” he said. “My mom might have hated the idea, but that’s what I wanted and I’m alive.”
WHO says cases of mosquito-borne diseases could reach record levels thanks to global warming
The World Health Organization said on Friday that dengue fever cases could reach record highs this year, thanks in part to global warming, which allows mosquitoes and the viruses they carry to multiply faster, Reuters reported.
The WHO warned earlier this year that dengue fever is the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease, posing a “pandemic threat”, with around half of the world’s population currently at risk.
Most cases are asymptomatic, but dengue fever symptoms can include fever with nausea, rash, or body aches, which usually resolves within two to seven days. About one in 20 people with dengue will develop severe dengue, which can lead to shock, internal bleeding and, in less than 1% of people, death.
Genetic variant may be why some test positive for virus without any COVID symptoms
Scientists involved in a study published Wednesday have identified a gene that may explain why some COVID-positive people never develop symptoms.
The study recruited 29,947 volunteer bone marrow donors — “because high-quality genetic data was already available for this group,” The Washington Post reported — and asked them to use smartphones to track their own coronavirus infections and any symptoms over the course of nine months, including whether they had taken a weekly COVID test. During the study, of the patients who tested positive and reported no symptoms, 20% carried a variant of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene called HLA-B*15:01. Participants carrying two copies of the variant “were more than eight times more likely to remain asymptomatic than those carrying other HLA variants.”
The researchers hope that this discovery could lead to more innovations in vaccines and treatments.
“As we’ve all learned, preventing COVID infection has proven to be more difficult than we thought,” said Jill Hollenbach, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of the study. “If we could design a vaccine that maybe doesn’t prevent you from getting infected but can manage the infection so easily that you don’t have any symptoms, I personally would be very happy.”
Long COVID ‘brain fog’ could age the brain by a decade, study finds
The “brain fog” associated with long COVID may be the cognitive equivalent of aging 10 years, PA Media reported.
Participants in a King’s College London study were tested on memory, attention, reasoning, processing speed and motor control. The researchers found that those whose test scores were most affected by COVID were participants who had exhibited COVID symptoms for 12 weeks or more; and in this group, the effect of the virus on test accuracy “was comparable in size to the effect of increasing age by 10 years”. When a second round of testing was done, on average almost two years after participants were initially infected, there was no significant improvement in scores.
“Our results suggest that, for people who were living with long-term symptoms after having COVID-19, the effects of the coronavirus on mental processes such as the ability to remember words and shapes are still detectable on average almost two years since their initial infection,” said study lead author Dr Nathan Cheetham.
“However, the finding that COVID had no effect on our test performance for people who felt fully recovered, even though they had had symptoms for several months and could be considered to have long COVID, was welcome news.”