For big populations, rapid coronavirus tests work better than PCR – dpa international

Outdoor dining in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, where the government has been reluctant to use antigen testing as part of its coronavirus measure (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Rapid antigen tests for coronavirus likely work better for larger populations than slower but more sensitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, Indian scientists have found. A “computational analysis” comparing testing regimes and results across India, which was recently hit hard by a virus surge, suggests “the amount of testing matters more than the sensitivity of the tests.” The findings hint that lower- and middle-income countries “might be able to achieve optimal outcomes by concentrating on ramping up testing using less sensitive tests which provide immediate results.”

Coronavirus antibodies last at least 9 months after infection – dpa international

Outside a Dublin hospital (Simon Roighneen)

DUBLIN — Coronavirus antibodies last “at least” nine months after infection, according to Imperial College London and the University of Padua. Antibody levels “remain high” whether or not the infected person developed symptoms of Covid-19, the disease sometimes caused by the virus, the researchers found, after testing patients in northern Italy, one of the hardest hit regions at the outset of the pandemic. “The great majority of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) infections, irrespective of symptom onset, develop antibodies,” according to the research, which was published on Monday in the journal Nature Communications.

Humans were sheltered from ancient Toba eruption, according to scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN — It was the world’s biggest volcanic blast for at least the last 2 million years, but when Mount Toba in Indonesia exploded around 74,000 years ago, humans were not as badly affected as previously thought, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the US. While the blast “likely caused severe global climate disruption,” early humans “were sheltered from the worst effects,” according to the NAS study. Overall, the scientists said, “the impacts [of the eruption] on climate and human evolution remain unclear.” Other scientists have in the past blamed Toba for causing a decade-long volcanic winter, leading to a millennium of global cooling and then an ice age.

Chinese cyber power not a match for the US’s, according to experts – dpa international

Near the entrance of a hospital in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — Despite long-running allegations of Chinese hacking of Western governments and businesses, Beijing’s “cyber power” is “clearly inferior” to that of its chief rival, the US, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). China is “unlikely to match US cyber capabilities for the next decade at least,” according to the IISS, which regularly stages conferences involving some of the world’s most powerful defence ministries. The US is out on its own as the world’s leading cyber power, the IISS said, in a new 174-page report looking at the “cyber capabilities” of 15 countries.

Listening to Mozart could curb epilepsy, Czech neurologists say

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DUBLIN — Listening to Mozart could prevent epileptic seizures, according to research being presented over the weekend to the European Academy of Neurology. A Czech-led team, from St. Anne’s University Hospital and Masaryk University in Brno, found a 32 per cent reduction in seizure-inducing epileptiform discharges (EDs) among patients who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos K448. Exposure to Mozart “may be a possible treatment to prevent epileptic seizures,” the team suggested, after using “intracerebral electrodes” that were “implanted in the brains of epilepsy patients prior to surgery” to measure the effects of music.

‘Pervasive’ privacy breaches found on mobile phone health apps – dpa international

Jogger in Dublin's Phoenix Park in early June 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Thousands of health-related mobile phone applications have “serious problems with privacy,” according to analysis by Macquarie University in Australia. Published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the Sydney-based team’s research into more than 20,000 apps found “collection of personal user information” to be “pervasive.” Of the almost 5 million apps available on platforms operated by Apple and Google, around 100,000 are health-related, including increasingly-popular fitness monitors. However “inadequate privacy disclosures” often hinder users “from making informed choices,” said the Macquarie researchers, who compared 15,000 health apps with a sample of 8,000 others. While the health apps gathered less user data the others examined, around two-thirds of them still “could collect advert identifiers or cookies” and a quarter could “identify the mobile phone tower to which a user’s device is connected.”

Getting more sun could help against opioid “scourge,” US medics say – dpa international

Vitamin D has been touted as beneficial in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN –A lack of Vitamin D “strongly exaggerates the craving for and effects of opioids,” according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The vitamin, which has been touted for potentially reducing the effects of coronavirus, is produced naturally in the human body after exposure to sunlight. So not getting outdoors enough means “potentially increasing the risk for [opioid] dependence and addiction,” according to the research, which was published on Friday by the journal Science Advances. For those living in cloudier regions, Vitamin D supplements could help address “the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.”

Scientists claim quantum leap for secure communications – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy city landmarks quiet as people work from home and conduct meetings online.(Simon Roughneen

DUBLIN — After more than a year of easy-to-hack pandemic-induced Zoom meetings, the world could be “one step closer to ultimately secure conference calls,” according to a British-led team of scientists. The group, which includes academics from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, claim in the journal Science Advances to have discovered how to facilitate hack-proof “quantum-secure conversation” between four parties. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, what the team calls the “global reliance on remote collaborative working, including conference calls,” has led to a “significant escalation of cyberattacks on popular teleconferencing platforms in the last year.” The team said their newly published research is “a timely advance” that “could lead to conference calls with inherent unhackable security measures, underpinned by the principles of quantum physics.”

Excess TV in middle age could cause brain decline in later life, US scientists say – dpa international

With millions of people told to stay at home as part of pandemic lockdowns, TV viewing numbers have increased (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Too much television is bad for you” is more than just an adage parroted by exasperated parents at heedless, homework-shirking teenagers, going by research carried out by US-based scientists. Using information gleaned from three surveys and studies involving more than 17,000 people, academics from Columbia University, the University of Alabama and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) said they believe “moderate-to-high TV viewing in midlife” contributes to “later cognitive and brain health decline.” Watching films, shows and other TV content, the researchers warned, “is a type of sedentary behaviour that is cognitively passive or does not require much thought.”

Ireland’s hospitals hit by ‘sophisticated’ cyberattack – dpa international

Sign for a coronavirus vaccination centre in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A cyberattack on Ireland’s Health Service Executive is “having a severe impact on our health and social care services today,” according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, with hospitals across the country battling disruptions. The University of Limerick Hospitals Group warned of “long delays” at its six facilities, while the Ireland East group said staff at its 11 hospitals were asking for “the public’s patience at this time.” Although emergency departments remain open, “delays should be expected while hospitals move to manual, offline processes,” the HSE said later on Friday. The National Maternity Hospital said “a major IT issue” would mean “significant disruption,” while Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital, said the attack forced staff to “revert back to old-fashioned based record-keeping.”