Measuring the Emotional Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Population
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Measuring the Emotional Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Population

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The Emotional Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Population

The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through almost every country on the planet, causing devastating decay to the mental health of millions of people.

While most of us are experiencing higher levels of emotional distress than normal, the severity of stress may change based on factors such as age, race, education level, or even where you live.

This graphic uses data from the National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report to illustrate how each demographic subgroup in the U.S. is feeling.

The Methodology

The emotional upheaval of such a unique event impacts people in different ways, and is difficult to measure given the many direct and indirect factors associated with it.

For the report referenced in the graphic, researchers created a detailed methodology to measure the impact of COVID-19 across a sample of 1,500 adults. Surveys were conducted in May 2020, when the majority of people were under strict lockdown orders. Unemployment levels mirrored those seen only during the Great Depression, and of course, the death rate was rising quicker than anyone could have anticipated.

A Pandemic Distress Index Score (PDIS) was calculated based on participant’s responses, which were then divided into low (bottom 25%), moderate, and high (top 25%) quartiles of pandemic distress.

Emotional Distress Levels, by Demographic Group

Findings uncovered that almost 40% of participants have lost their jobs, or experienced a reduction in income due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the reverberations of such stressors vary by demographic subgroup.

Age

According to the report, pandemic-related emotional distress decreases by age group. People in the 18-34 year bracket reported the most pandemic-related distress overall—with respondents citing high stress at nearly double the rate of people over 50 years old. Meanwhile, respondents in the 65+ age group had reported the lowest distress scores of all.

Race

Of all ethnicities in the survey, Hispanics/Latinos and Blacks had the highest average Pandemic Distress Index Scores, and Whites had the lowest average scores.

It is also worth noting that the research concluded five days after the death of George Floyd, so the majority of responses may not include the influence of this event, and the subsequent movement against systematic racism.

Other Categories

In other subgroups, there were slight differences worth mentioning. For example, from a communities perspective, people who live in rural areas were less likely to experience high pandemic distress compared to people living in towns or cities.

When it comes to the battle of the sexes, men and women experience similar levels of distress. Moreover, the level of emotional distress related to COVID-19 did not differ much between people with children under 18 and those with older children. However, women with children under 18 reported more symptoms of anxiety compared to women with no minor children.

What Does the Data Mean?

While the research presents several important insights, understanding what it means is crucial in providing people with the support they need.

For example, participants with high pandemic-related distress are 40 times more likely to have clinically significant levels of anxiety and 20 times more likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression, compared to those on the lower end of the spectrum.

impact of COVID-19 supplemental

In fact, a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 1 in 4 people in the 18-24 age bracket have seriously considered committing suicide at some point during the month of June 2020, which is in line with the emotional distress scores for this age group.

Building Immunity

While nobody can escape the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on mental health, it is clear that some people are more at risk than others.

Unfortunately, younger adults and people of racial and ethnic minorities have carried higher psychological burdens from the pandemic so far, and we have yet to see the long-term effects that could transpire as a result.

“Even when the pandemic is brought under control, grief, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people and communities.”

—António Guterres, United Nations

Although at times the pandemic may feel inescapable, we must continue to prioritize both our physical and mental health—so we can build immunity for what’s to come.

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Science

Visualizing the Relationship Between Cancer and Lifespan

New research links mutation rates and lifespan. We visualize the data supporting this new framework for understanding cancer.

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Cancer and lifespan

A Newfound Link Between Cancer and Aging?

A new study in 2022 reveals a thought-provoking relationship between how long animals live and how quickly their genetic codes mutate.

Cancer is a product of time and mutations, and so researchers investigated its onset and impact within 16 unique mammals. A new perspective on DNA mutation broadens our understanding of aging and cancer development—and how we might be able to control it.

Mutations, Aging, and Cancer: A Primer

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. It is not a pathogen that infects the body, but a normal body process gone wrong.

Cells divide and multiply in our bodies all the time. Sometimes, during DNA replication, tiny mistakes (called mutations) appear randomly within the genetic code. Our bodies have mechanisms to correct these errors, and for much of our youth we remain strong and healthy as a result of these corrective measures.

However, these protections weaken as we age. Developing cancer becomes more likely as mutations slip past our defenses and continue to multiply. The longer we live, the more mutations we carry, and the likelihood of them manifesting into cancer increases.

A Biological Conundrum

Since mutations can occur randomly, biologists expect larger lifeforms (those with more cells) to have greater chances of developing cancer than smaller lifeforms.

Strangely, no association exists.

It is one of biology’s biggest mysteries as to why massive creatures like whales or elephants rarely seem to experience cancer. This is called Peto’s Paradox. Even stranger: some smaller creatures, like the naked mole rat, are completely resistant to cancer.

This phenomenon motivates researchers to look into the genetics of naked mole rats and whales. And while we’ve discovered that special genetic bonuses (like extra tumor-suppressing genes) benefit these creatures, a pattern for cancer rates across all other species is still poorly understood.

Cancer May Be Closely Associated with Lifespan

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute report the first study to look at how mutation rates compare with animal lifespans.

Mutation rates are simply the speed at which species beget mutations. Mammals with shorter lifespans have average mutation rates that are very fast. A mouse undergoes nearly 800 mutations in each of its four short years on Earth. Mammals with longer lifespans have average mutation rates that are much slower. In humans (average lifespan of roughly 84 years), it comes to fewer than 50 mutations per year.

The study also compares the number of mutations at time of death with other traits, like body mass and lifespan. For example, a giraffe has roughly 40,000 times more cells than a mouse. Or a human lives 90 times longer than a mouse. What surprised researchers was that the number of mutations at time of death differed only by a factor of three.

Such small differentiation suggests there may be a total number of mutations a species can collect before it dies. Since the mammals reached this number at different speeds, finding ways to control the rate of mutations may help stall cancer development, set back aging, and prolong life.

The Future of Cancer Research

The findings in this study ignite new questions for understanding cancer.

Confirming that mutation rate and lifespan are strongly correlated needs comparison to lifeforms beyond mammals, like fishes, birds, and even plants.

It will also be necessary to understand what factors control mutation rates. The answer to this likely lies within the complexities of DNA. Geneticists and oncologists are continuing to investigate genetic curiosities like tumor-suppressing genes and how they might impact mutation rates.

Aging is likely to be a confluence of many issues, like epigenetic changes or telomere shortening, but if mutations are involved then there may be hopes of slowing genetic damage—or even reversing it.

While just a first step, linking mutation rates to lifespan is a reframing of our understanding of cancer development, and it may open doors to new strategies and therapies for treating cancer or taming the number of health-related concerns that come with aging.

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Misc

Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

What is monkeypox, and what risk does it pose to the public? This infographic breaks down the symptoms, transmission, and more.

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Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of the people around the world, so it comes as no surprise that recent outbreaks of another virus are grabbing headlines.

Monkeypox outbreaks have now been reported in multiple countries, and it has scientists paying close attention. For everyone else, numerous questions come to the surface:

  • How serious is this virus?
  • How contagious is it?
  • Could monkeypox develop into a new pandemic?

Below, we answer these questions and more.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus which also includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and the cowpox virus. The primary symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a distinctive bumpy rash.

There are two major strains of the virus that pose very different risks:

  • Congo Basin strain: 1 in 10 people infected with this strain have died
  • West African strain: Approximately 1 in 100 people infected with this strain died

At the moment, health authorities in the UK have indicated they’re seeing the milder strain in patients there.

Where did Monkeypox Originate From?

The virus was originally discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in monkeys kept for research purposes (hence the name). Eventually, the virus made the jump to humans more than a decade after its discovery in 1958.

It is widely assumed that vaccination against another similar virus, smallpox, helped keep monkeypox outbreaks from occurring in human populations. Ironically, the successful eradication of smallpox, and eventual winding down of that vaccine program, has opened the door to a new viral threat. There is now a growing population of people who no longer have immunity against the virus.

Now that travel restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world, viruses are now able to hop between nations again. As of the publishing of this article, a handful of cases have now been reported in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and a number of European countries.

On the upside, contact tracing has helped authorities piece together the transmission of the virus. While cases are rare in Europe and North America, it is considered endemic in parts of West Africa. For example, the World Health Organization reports that Nigeria has experienced over 550 reported monkeypox cases from 2017 to today. The current UK outbreak originated from an individual who returned from a trip to Nigeria.

Could Monkeypox become a new pandemic?

Monkeypox, which primarily spreads through animal-to-human interaction, is not known to spread easily between humans. Most individuals infected with monkeypox pass the virus to between zero and one person, so outbreaks typically fizzle out. For this reason, the fact that outbreaks are occurring in several countries simultaneously is concerning for health authorities and organizations that monitor viral transmission. Experts are entertaining the possibility that the virus’ rate of transmission has increased.

Images of people covered in monkeypox lesions are shocking, and people are understandably concerned by this virus, but the good news is that members of the general public have little to fear at this stage.

I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.
–Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

» For up-to-date information on monkeypox cases, check out Global.Health’s tracking spreadsheet

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