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DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Why I Banned a No-Pick Friend From My Festive Party


My stomach turned when I first heard about Omicron, a new, highly mutated strain of Covid-19 that this week sparked the reintroduction of masks and fears of more restrictions. So how concerned should we be?

Well, after getting in touch with one of the UK’s leading experts, I think while there is reason to remain cautious as it is currently a worrying variant, the most important thing we can all do is get the booster jab, providing the reassurance of real protection.

Robin Shattock, professor of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London, has spent decades working on vaccines against a range of infectious diseases, including, most recently, Covid-19.

He told me that while he thinks Omicron may indeed prove to be highly contagious, the key question for him is: what impact will the new strain have on hospitalizations and deaths?

I recently had to tell a friend who has chosen not to get vaccinated that he is no longer welcome at a small social gathering I’m hosting next week

While data coming from South Africa, where it was first discovered, suggests that Omicron is highly contagious, so far it doesn’t appear to be any more deadly than other variants, although we won’t know for sure for a few weeks.

The other big question is whether our current vaccines will continue to protect us.

Although Omicron is very different from the Alpha variant and the original strain that came out of Wuhan two years ago, Professor Shattock thinks vaccination will still give our immune system an edge.

As he explains, “If your immune system has seen a similar variant, it already has a head start in responding to a new one.”

If it turns out that Omicron is better at evading our immune system, Professor Shattock says manufacturers can tweak their vaccines. Since this could take a few months and probably won’t roll out much before April, he says, ‘If you need a booster, don’t wait for an updated version of the vaccine; your best option is to get what’s available now.”

I had my booster last week and the rest of my family are queuing up to get theirs ASAP. I was happy that after having two AstraZeneca shots before, this time I had the Pfizer.

The two vaccines work in slightly different ways, with studies suggesting that the AstraZeneca produces a larger and longer-lasting T-cell response (these are the immune cells that target and destroy viruses), while the Pfizer vaccine produces a slightly more potent antibody response. (antibodies are proteins that attach to the virus to tag it for destruction).

I had my booster last week and the rest of my family are queuing up to get theirs ASAP.  I was happy that, having had two AstraZeneca shots before, this time I had the Pfizer

I had my booster last week and the rest of my family are queuing up to get theirs ASAP. I was happy that, having had two AstraZeneca shots before, this time I had the Pfizer

This means that the Pfizer vaccine is more likely to protect you against infection, while the AstraZeneca “may provide longer-term protection against hospitalization and death,” says Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh.

She and other experts have also suggested that because the vaccines mobilize T cells, which are less “sensitive” than antibodies to simple virus mutations, the injections should continue to protect against serious infections.

Professor Shattock certainly agrees that a mix seems to be the best option, although the good news is that when it comes to protecting you from ending up in the hospital, both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots so far have been surprisingly effective. May that go on long.

Besides a booster, what else can you do to ensure a merry, Covid-free Christmas? One thing that’s clear, what wasn’t clear at the start of the pandemic, is that this is almost entirely an airborne disease, so washing your hands or surfaces won’t make much of a difference.

What we now know is that you are most likely to become infected in a closed, poorly ventilated area, surrounded by many people, none of whom are wearing masks and many of whom are talking animatedly.

This may mean cutting back on socializing in the run up to Christmas, especially with people who haven’t been vaccinated.

Recently, I had to tell a friend who has chosen not to get vaccinated that he is no longer welcome at a small social gathering I’m hosting next week.

As I’ve explained, that’s because recent studies suggest that an unvaccinated person is up to 20 times more likely to infect you than someone who has been vaccinated — and none of the rest of the people invited to my party want to. risk of becoming infected and passing it on to more vulnerable, older relatives. It was a difficult conversation.

As for wearing masks, a recent review of research by scientists at the University of Oxford concluded that wearing a simple mask will halve the number of virus particles you exhale, meaning you’re significantly less likely to infect others ( a visor, however, has almost no effect).

What this means in practice was highlighted by a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compared schools where masks are required to schools where they are not.

Researchers found that schools wearing masks were three and a half times less likely to have Covid-19 outbreaks.

The bottom line: This new variant shows that the Covid-19 virus is not done with us, and few of us could face a lockdown again.

So be careful.

At least a dozen different kinds of people have walked the earth, and now there is only us, homo sapiens.

No doubt it was the invention of language and the ability to create and use tools that made us top dogs. If it was the latter, it’s a good thing I wasn’t an early man as I’m terrible at DIY (take the double pane windows I installed, which fell out). But if I worked on my DIY skills, would that also improve my language skills?

That was the surprising conclusion of a Swedish study, which found that these two abilities depend on neural pathways in the same part of the brain and reinforce each other.

Researchers found that when people performed tasks with pliers, their results on language tests improved, and vice versa. This also shows how these two skills are really intertwined.

Fasting is good for your pets too!

I’m a big fan of some kind of extended, overnight fast called time-restricted eating – where you try to go longer without eating by extending your regular nighttime fast.

The easiest way to do this is to stop eating a few hours before bed and then delay your breakfast for an hour or so.

There is some evidence that a night without food, for 12 hours or more, leads to modest weight loss and improvement in blood pressure, blood sugar and blood fat levels.

And what’s good for people can also be good for our pets. Our family dog, a King Charles Spaniel named Tari, is fed once a day. But I must confess that I also give her leftovers from our dinner.

Maybe I shouldn’t. A recent study by the University of Washington in the US, based on the eating habits of more than 24,000 dogs, found that feeding pets just once a day may be the key to keeping them healthier as they get older.

Not only did the dogs fed once daily show fewer signs of dementia, they also had fewer ‘gastrointestinal, dental, orthopedic, renal/urinary and liver/pancreatic disorders’.

In other words, dogs that fasted for much of the day enjoyed a healthier old age. Presumably, they also cost significantly less vet bills.

This follows another study, published last year by the University of Guelph, in Canada, which found that feeding cats one meal a day makes them leaner and healthier. In the study, eight healthy cats were fed one large meal per day, or four small ones (with the same total amount of food in both cases).

After three weeks they switched to the other diet. Research showed that when the cats were fed once a day, they were less hungry and demanding; they also burned more fat and built more lean muscle. This is important because, like humans, cats tend to lose muscle mass with age.

So while it may seem harsh, a timed eating plan may be just what your pet needs.


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