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Daily Archives: February 10, 2022

Music Video: I Say A Little Prayer

Aretha Franklin

Watch video at You Tube (3:38 minutes) . . . .

Video: Robots Take Over Kitchen and Bar Work at Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

The eye-catching setup has a drawn a lot of attention, with plates of food descending from the ceiling to diners below.

A large bank of turning cylinders cook your order, before tipping it onto a plate. That’s then picked up by a pulley and taken to a robot that runs along tracks hanging from the ceiling until it reaches its target table.

And if you need a cocktail after a hard day hiking around the gigantic media centre, a robot arm is ready to shake it for you.

But a waiter is on hand for the final move of placing your drink on the counter.

Watch video at You Tube (1:13 minutes) . . . .

China’s Foreign Firms Are Running Out of a Key Resource: Foreigners

Dominic Morgan and Zhu Ruiying wrote . . . . . . . . .

After 16 years running a rail components manufacturing firm in Northeast China, Majdi Alhmah has dealt with all sorts of supply problems. He never expected that a shortage of foreign workers would be one of them.

That, however, is exactly what he’s facing two years into the pandemic. One by one, he has lost all four of the overseas executives who used to work under him at the company. Alhmah says the impact has been devastating.

Local hires lack the international experience the firm needs, he says, but recruiting foreign professionals has become impossible. The company has tried everything — attending job fairs, using a headhunting agency, posting ads “everywhere” — but they haven’t found a single qualified candidate.

“I’m already desperate because of this,” the 46-year-old tells Sixth Tone. “It cannot kill the business, but it harms your efficiency, your profitability.”

The company is one of thousands of businesses in China struggling to deal with the effects of an unusual supply crunch: a growing lack of foreign talent.

China’s foreign population has plunged during the pandemic. As the coronavirus began spreading across the country in early 2020, hundreds of thousands of overseas nationals fled to what they assumed were safer parts of the world. Many have never returned.

In March 2020, China introduced a near-total ban on foreign nationals entering the country. Nearly two years later, border restrictions remain extremely tight, as Chinese authorities pursue a “zero-COVID” strategy and focus on preventing imported infections.

Student and tourist visas are still almost entirely suspended. Work permits are much harder to obtain, as applicants now need to provide an invitation letter from the Chinese government. Traveling to China, meanwhile, remains challenging due to disruptions to international flights and mandatory centralized quarantine periods.

The strict policies have left large numbers of expats effectively stranded outside China. As many as 100,000 foreigners may be waiting for permission to return to Shanghai alone, local media outlet SmartShanghai estimates.

It’s unclear exactly how many foreigners remain in China. In 2020, a government census estimated there were around 850,000 overseas nationals living on the mainland, but this data includes an unspecified number of former Chinese citizens who have taken another nationality. Several websites serving China’s foreign community told Sixth Tone they’ve experienced steep drops in traffic since 2019.

The expat shortage is causing businesses — and multinationals especially — some serious headaches. Foreign staff often have skills that are hard to replace: from language teachers with native speaking ability to international sales executives with experience and established networks in overseas markets.

In some sectors, companies have begun offering massive wages to attract international talent. In others, hiring from overseas has become so difficult, many firms have simply given up.

Instead, companies across China are racing to localize their operations: training up Chinese employees and adjusting their operations so they can survive almost entirely without foreign staff.

But localization is often a far from ideal solution — and could be difficult to reverse in the future. Multinationals worry the trend may lead to a growing disconnect between their China businesses and operations overseas.

In a recent survey, British firms based in China named the country’s tight border controls as their number one concern. Representatives from other international chambers of commerce in China say their members share similar views.

“If it’s not the number one issue, it’s definitely in the top two,” Ioana Kraft, general manager at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, tells Sixth Tone.

Even Chinese authorities appear to be worried. In December, a senior official in Shanghai told a forum that the city “is longing for global professionals more than ever.” This month, China’s Ministry of Finance abruptly announced it would extend tax exemptions for foreign workers till the end of 2023.

Living in limbo

Though foreign workers are thin on the ground in China, there’s no lack of expats willing to move there. Online, dozens of groups each containing thousands of users have formed, where members share tips on how to get a Chinese visa. But in the age of COVID-19, this is easier said than done.

Madeleine Leewellyn, a 25-year-old from Indonesia, was offered a job at a China-based marketing consultancy in 2020. Two years later, she’s still trying to secure a work visa.

From late 2020, Leewellyn spent seven months preparing her visa application, before making the 2,000-kilometer trip from her home in northern Sumatra to the Indonesian capital Jakarta to submit her documents. But days before she was due to fly to China, a false positive COVID-19 test forced her to quarantine for several weeks.

When she was released, the Chinese embassy told her the visa documents had expired and that she’d have to start her application again from scratch. Her employer says she’s unlikely to be granted permission to travel to China until after the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics finishes in February.

Yet in some ways, Leewellyn considers herself lucky. Her employer has allowed her to work remotely from Indonesia and continues to support her visa application. But most Chinese employers aren’t as flexible, she says.

“I have a lot of foreign friends who … ended up giving up jobs in China and starting their careers again because they couldn’t get a visa,” says Leewellyn.

Some people are going to extraordinary lengths to try and get into China. After Raviv Litman found out his work visa application for a teaching job had been denied this past October, the Canadian flew to the Caribbean: not for a vacation, but to receive a course of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Litman hoped getting the vaccine would help his next visa application and allow him to finally be reunited with his wife in China. Online, he’d heard stories of several people being granted visas after getting Sinovac or Sinopharm jabs.

But the vaccines aren’t available everywhere: It’s common for people to travel to countries as far-flung as Ecuador, Serbia, and the Dominican Republic to receive shots, Litman says. He chose the latter, and booked a flight to Santo Domingo. The 20-something ended up staying in an Airbnb in the city for nearly a month, before flying back to Canada and resubmitting his documents to the Chinese embassy.

“It was kind of a lonesome vacation,” says Litman.

China’s border policies aren’t affecting everyone equally. Jacob Aldaco, commercial director at SmartShanghai, says that middle-aged expats appear to be finding it much easier to enter the country than millennials.

There are likely two reasons for this, Aldaco says. First, older expats have more work experience and so are more likely to be granted an invitation letter from the Chinese authorities. Second, they usually have the financial resources to afford eye-watering travel and quarantine costs.

“People in the younger age tiers generally don’t have these advantages,” says Aldaco.

This is making life particularly hard for employers in industries that rely on young foreign graduates, such as China’s education sector.

Chinese schools were already struggling to hire foreign teachers before the pandemic, as there simply weren’t enough qualified candidates to meet demand. Now, many appear to be getting desperate.

Frank Santana, an international guidance counselor at a private school in East China’s Shandong province, says he regularly sees job postings by Chinese schools offering “absurd” salaries these days. This is especially common among institutions based in less-fashionable Chinese cities, he says.

“They’ll offer the foreign employee a very big apartment, 35,000 yuan ($5,500) a month, and health insurance,” Santana tells Sixth Tone. “But who is going to fill those positions? Probably no one, because there are no foreigners.”

Education companies are willing to hike wages because foreign teachers have a unique value: many Chinese parents want their kids to be taught a new language by a native speaker. But in other sectors, businesses appear to have accepted that hiring overseas nationals is too much hassle.

Phased out

“Localization” has become a buzzword among China’s foreign business community in recent months, said Kraft from the EU Chamber of Commerce.

Companies across the economy are trying to work out ways to continue operating without bringing in more expats. Many are training up local staff while experimenting with new remote working practices to bring in extra support from staff based overseas.

In Changchun, an auto industry hub in China’s northeast, the localization trend is already clearly visible, says Alhmah. Car companies in the city — particularly those with foreign investment — often used to have several international managers on staff, but things have changed dramatically since 2020, he says.

“All the companies I know have hired Chinese general managers,” says Alhmah. “Many industries have adjusted themselves to hire locals.”

In many cases, companies appear to be doing just fine without the foreigners. A director at a multinational corporation in Shanghai, surnamed Li, tells Sixth Tone that many of her expat colleagues have quit, but she has barely noticed the difference.

“Because of the pandemic, we have realized that we still operate well without foreign managers,” says Li, who declined to give her full name for privacy reasons. “We don’t seem to need them much.”

In truth, the pandemic didn’t start the localization trend, but simply accelerated it. These days, Chinese managers have many of the skills expats used to bring to the table, such as foreign language skills and an elite international education.

“The competitive advantage of foreigners is getting lower,” says Fei Yiyi, a senior manager who handles recruitment for a Fortune 500 firm in China. “Now, the general requirement for recruitment is an overseas education, rather than a foreign nationality.”

Yet foreign executives insist there are real advantages to having expats on the ground in China. Multinationals are particularly worried that localization will lead to a widening culture gap between their Chinese and global outposts, which could harm their businesses in the long term, says Kraft.

According to Alhmah, international staff also have some unique skills. This is especially true when it comes to liaising with overseas clients, he says, as Chinese managers still tend to have less “international exposure.”

Though Fei is skeptical about the competence of many expats working in China, she agrees that they remain essential to many multinationals.

“We need to hire some foreign employees because they speak better English, are good at expressing themselves, and have a talent for self-promotion,” she says. “They can say some awesome words and appear very powerful and confident. They’re suited to communicating with foreign clients.”

For foreigners in China, however, the worry is that many of the jobs that are being localized will never return.

Alhmah, who also runs one of China’s leading expat jobs platforms, has noticed a strange trend in recent months: Though many Chinese companies are struggling to hire foreign staff, the number of job postings is going down, not up.

“There are far fewer jobs than before,” he says. “I’m not talking about 10% or 20% less; I’m talking about two, three, or four times less.”

There are several reasons why this may be the case, Alhmah says. One is that many companies simply assume they can’t find the right candidate, so they don’t even bother trying. Another is that once businesses get used to operating without overseas staff, reintroducing them becomes tricky: organizational and cultural changes quickly get baked in.

“When a Chinese general manager takes over a company, the company will probably get more Sinicized,” says Alhmah. “The management documents, for example, will gradually become mostly Chinese, not bilingual.”

For now, it’s uncertain how far the localization trend will run. Aldaco, the SmartShanghai director, says the job market for foreigners in China will change significantly when China finally relaxes its visa policies, as this is likely to spark a large influx of returnees.

“But the speed at which this occurs is anyone’s guess,” says Aldaco. “We anticipate a slow and gradual opening up.”

The thousands of people anxiously trying to get their Chinese visas processed aren’t going to give up anytime soon. Litman, the Canadian, has learned the benefits of persistence.

After 16 months, three visa applications, and two Sinovac shots, he finally got the green light to fly to China in January. He expects to get out of quarantine just in time for the Spring Festival.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am right now,” says Litman. “It has been tough, but this does feel like a happy ending after a long ordeal. Home for the holidays, more or less.”


Source : Sixth Tone

Can the World’s Most Connected Doctor Cure Cancer?

Joel Stein wrote . . . . . . . . .

We all know connectors, that archetype that Malcolm Gladwell described in his 1999 New Yorker essay. They know everyone because they go out every night, throw parties, raise money for causes, and tell new friends they must absolutely meet someone they know.

Dr. David Agus doesn’t do any of those things. He doesn’t go out to dinner. He eats at home with his family. Lunches at the office.

Agus is not a connector. He’s an attractor. He’s genius Forrest Gump, a soft-spoken and menschy cancer researcher and doctor who can always be found at the most cutting-edge places. So when powerful people get cancer, he’s the doctor they often come see.

Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder and one of the ten richest people in the world, encountered Agus twice early on. Once when his nephew needed treatment and, later, when his best friend, Steve Jobs, came under his care. After that, Agus, a professor of medicine and engineering at USC, was having breakfast at Ellison’s house, when Ellison asked how much it would cost to build Agus’s dream research facility. Agus did some quick math and made up a number: $200 million. Which was fine with Ellison.

What you get for $200 million is the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, which looks nothing like the place you picture cancer might be cured. The new, 79,000-square-foot building in West L.A., designed by the architecture firm RIOS, looks less like a lab and more like a Sedona spa. It’s an airy glass-and-wood building with both a sculpture garden and a raked-gravel Zen garden. Yes, there are scientists in white coats with beakers, but they do their work in labs behind big glass windows, like EPCOT attractions. It’s far more “namaste” than “eureka.”

It is definitely the only cancer research center to throw an opening party where Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher were interviewed by Entertainment Tonight on the red carpet while Judd Apatow and Eric Garcetti stood nearby. It’s also the only one that will soon host a pop-up restaurant from Copenhagen’s Noma.

“This is a lot nicer and more grand than what we pictured,” says Agus, sitting in an office under a Picasso painting, not far from sculptures by Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, and Robert Indiana. “When Larry does things, he gets intimately involved. So the color white on the wall? Larry chose that. It’s much more relaxing to the human brain than other shades of white.” (In case you’re wondering, it’s Dunn-Edwards Suprema Eggshell, and it’s a damn nice white.)

Agus, 56, is perhaps the only top research doctor who is also something of a pop-culture bon vivant—imagine if Dr. Phil had written Civilization and Its Discontents. He’s penned best-selling books (such as A Short Guide to a Long Life), has been a contributor to CBS Mornings since 2013, and appears on Howard Stern so regularly, he has his own theme song (his name sung to the tune of “Rock Me Amadeus”).

He has, improbably, turned himself into a brand. He was taught by Jobs, who insisted he wear the same nondescript, serious-but-nonthreatening outfit every time he appeared in public. So Agus has found a way to make a thin, black V-neck sweater over a white button-down shirt look iconic. “If I wear a gray or white sweater, people don’t recognize me. It’s an amazing thing to be able to turn on and turn off,” he says.

Agus’s talent for communicating with the public didn’t come naturally. He was a studious kid from a studious family. His grandfather, Jacob Agus, was a writer and rabbi with a Ph.D. from Harvard. “We would read Charles Darwin. He would teach me Arabic and Latin and Greek. Most kids are out playing baseball, so I didn’t really appreciate it,” he says.

At 10 or 11, Agus left his Philadelphia home to spend the summer at a science program at the University of Florida. By high school, he had designed an experiment with rodents that went on the Space Shuttle. (It didn’t go well. The mice died.) Though his father was a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Agus preferred the molecular biology program at Princeton. He paid for part of school by cofounding a company called the Munchie Agency, which delivered soda and snacks to college kids too stoned to leave the dorm.

Agus did eventually end up at the University of Pennsylvania for medical school, and then John Hopkins for his residency. Though he was a cancer researcher, he took a job as a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to learn firsthand from patients. That’s when the attracting began. He was working in a lab at Sloan Kettering when someone knocked on his door. “I look up, and it was the Time Man of the Year, Andy Grove. I was like, ‘Holy shit!” Agus recalls.

The Intel CEO had prostate cancer and was getting a tour of the hospital’s labs. After they talked, Grove decided that Agus was a genius but sucked at conversation. Over the next year, Grove took it upon himself to teach Agus how to present his ideas, setting up more than 150 presentations to force him to improve. Then Grove decided Agus needed to move to California.

“He said, ‘You stay on the East Coast, you hit singles. You go to the West Coast, you swing for the fences. If you strike out, you start again.”

Agus got a job at Cedars-Sinai, with Grove acting as his unofficial agent. “You know what a hospital is like when Andy Grove is negotiating your contract? They thought I was psychotic. They couldn’t understand who or what I was,” Agus says.

One of the reasons Agus attracts tech moguls and other industry titans is that he specializes in prostate cancer, which is a disease that attacks older men. This affords more access to powerful people than treating cleft palates. Among his famous patients: Lance Armstrong, Ted Kennedy, Neil Young, Sumner Redstone, Eli Broad, Dennis Hopper, Johnny Ramone, and former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Shera.

For six years, Agus took care of Paramount CEO Brad Grey, who, despite Grove’s boot camp, thought Agus could still use some help on talk shows. Grey got two focus groups to watch Agus’s presentations as if they were TV pilots. One thing Agus learned from them was that most people were actually turned off by his long list of celebrity patients, assuming that the doctor treated only VIPs, not folks like them. “So now I’m very conscious to say, ‘Everything I say is achievable by everybody,” Agus notes. “This is not just care for the rich.’” He adds that most patients at the clinic pay via Medicare.

Agus also includes a phone number on his Twitter account where just about anybody can text medical questions. He pulls out his phone to show me about 100 messages waiting for his reply, including one from a woman asking Agus to make a video announcing to her fiancé that she’s pregnant.

“Sure,” he says.

Even Agus’s house is an attractor. A 1959 midcentury modern in Beverly Hills, it was first owned by Armand Deutsch, the grandson of the CEO of Sears. Frank Sinatra used to sing in Deutch’s living room, and Ronald Reagan threw his L.A. presidential inauguration party there when he owned it.

“When we bought it, I was taking care of Merv Griffin,” Agus tells me in his backyard. “So Merv told Nancy Reagan, and she goes, ‘The house is going to fall down. Don’t tell your doctor.’ Griffin told Agus anyway. “And literally, as I got this note from Merv, I saw a squirrel go right through the roof.” Agus put a tin roof on the house because he was house poor and tin roofs were cheap. A few weeks later, a fire burned down both of the other houses at the top of his driveway. The tin roof saved his home.

Until two years ago, when she died at 101, his next-door neighbor was Sinatra’s former wife, Nancy, who acted as an extra grandmother to Agus’s two kids with his wife, Amy Povich, Maury Povich’s daughter.

Being an attractor has its challenges in politically polarized times. Agus has worked with both Joe Biden, when he was vice president, and Donald Trump, when he was president, doubling his chances of pissing people off. Like some other doctors in March 2020, Agus publicly expressed interest in hydroxychloroquine. It was subsequently proven ineffective. And a month before that, he guessed on TV that COVID-19 wouldn’t be a major problem for America—which Trump later edited into an anti-media video he showed at a press briefing. “It got really scary,” Agus remembers. “I mean, the president of the United States put a video of a cancer doc with five words of a long sentence taken out of context.” Still, despite the video and the criticism it understandably generated, Agus continued advising the Trump administration. “It’s hard to swallow. But my job is to help. You rise above that. We work with all kinds of governments.”

The Ellison Institute is designed to be a catalyst for the kind of serendipity that’s propelled Agus’s career. Those scientists are in full view of patients so they can ask each other questions. The halls are also walked by people with no connection to cancer: an astrophysicist, an artist, a statistician. That’s Agus’s big idea—to cross-pollinate brains from wildly different fields—which he came up with after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann suggested he study rougher-grain data to find the big theories that cancer research lacks. Ellison recently bought five houses nearby to put up visiting experts from fields other than cancer research. “You call a mathematician from Ukraine and say, ‘Listen, I’m going to give you three months in L.A. and a car. And they’re here,’ ” Agus says. And, yes, that car will be a Tesla. Because Agus knows Elon Musk through Ellison.

“We haven’t cured this disease at all. So by definition, my people—cancer docs—have failed. That’s why we need to bring in other people,” Agus says. “We brought in a cryptographer, and he gets all these crazy ideas of how to look at the data differently and compress it into an algorithm. It was this gold mine of a conversation.”

Because the institute is built with Silicon Valley money, all of that interaction gets tracked. Location-tagged badges tell the institute who stopped to talk to whom, allowing Agus to determine if everyone is being interdisciplinary enough.

But it’s also purposely un-Silicon Valley. A permanent display on the fourth-floor walls was built to show visiting high schoolers the history of cancer treatments through the ages. In another room, huge wood doors part to reveal a collection of John Hopkins Medical School cofounder William Osler’s old medical books, his original wood stethoscopes, and a tin of cocaine candies he liked to suck on.

“I want to say we’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” Agus says of the mini cancer museum. “The Silicon Valley attitude of ‘We’re reinventing the future’? We’re not that.”

In addition to treating patients, the building has a wellness component on the fifth floor, complete with an outdoor deck with amazing views of the city. “We have people from across the globe. Some fly in with their doctors, and we give them a plan for the year,” Agus says. The program filled up before it officially opened.

Because he deals with both patients and scientists and because he ran the Munchie Agency, Agus focuses as much on implementation as discovery. And that’s an approach that he and his team believe will spread to other treatment centers in L.A.

“I think L.A. is the next big biotechnology hub. It’s really fertile,” says Dr. Anna Barker, the former principal deputy director of the National Cancer Institute and now the Ellison Institute’s chief strategy officer. “We’re on our way to bringing all these disciplines together and rewriting how medicine should be done and how patients should be viewed as whole organisms.”

Agus has been an L.A. pros-elytizer since Grove first sent him here. He seems fully immersed in it even if he never goes out. Sitting in his yard, the world’s calmest dog greets him. Povich comes outside with a wood tray of cappuccino she’s made with a new machine from Café Lux, which provides coffee at the Ellison Institute. An old Porsche convertible and a Vespa sit
in the driveway.

“Here, the elite are the artists, the actors, the writers,” he says. “They value creativity in a scientist. In New York, it’s bankers. We just didn’t fit in as well as we do here.”

Inside their house, which is decorated with an impressive photography collection, he shows me his latest acquisition. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff sent him five of physicist Murray Gell-Mann’s medals, though not his Nobel, which Benioff stopped bidding on after it more than doubled its Sotheby estimate amount and sold for $625,000.

Benioff FaceTimed last night and asked why Agus wasn’t wearing Gell-Mann’s engraved 1993 Lindbergh Award Longines Hour Angle watch. “He said, ‘It’s meant to inspire you when you’re having a bad day,’ ” Agus says.

It’s still in its case.


Source : Los Angeles Magazine

Omicron Amps Up Concerns About Long COVID and Its Causes

Laura Ungar and Lindsey Tanner wrote . . . . . . . . .

More than a year after a bout with COVID-19, Rebekah Hogan still suffers from severe brain fog, pain and fatigue that leave her unable to do her nursing job or handle household activities.

Long COVID has her questioning her worth as a wife and mother.

“Is this permanent? Is this the new norm?” said the 41-year-old Latham, New York, woman, whose three children and husband also have signs of the condition. “I want my life back.’’

More than a third of COVID-19 survivors by some estimates will develop such lingering problems. Now, with omicron sweeping across the globe, scientists are racing to pinpoint the cause of the bedeviling condition and find treatments before a potential explosion in long COVID cases.

Could it be an autoimmune disorder? That could help explain why long COVID-19 disproportionately affects women, who are more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases. Could microclots be the cause of symptoms ranging from memory lapses to discolored toes? That could make sense, since abnormal blood clotting can occur in COVID-19.

As these theories and others are tested, there is fresh evidence that vaccination may reduce the chances of developing long COVID.

It’s too soon to know whether people infected with the highly contagious omicron variant will develop the mysterious constellation of symptoms, usually diagnosed many weeks after the initial illness. But some experts think a wave of long COVID is likely and say doctors need to be prepared for it.

With $1 billion from Congress, the National Institutes of Health is funding a vast array of research on the condition. And clinics devoted to studying and treating it are popping up around the world, affiliated with places such as Stanford University in California and University College London.

WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?

Momentum is building around a few key theories.

One is that the infection or remnants of the virus persist past the initial illness, triggering inflammation that leads to long COVID.

Another is that latent viruses in the body, such as the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis, are reactivated. A recent study in the journal Cell pointed to Epstein-Barr in the blood as one of four possible risk factors, which also include pre-existing Type 2 diabetes and the levels of coronavirus RNA and certain antibodies in the blood. Those findings must be confirmed with more research.

A third theory is that autoimmune responses develop after acute COVID-19.

In a normal immune response, viral infections activate antibodies that fight invading virus proteins. But sometimes in the aftermath, antibodies remain revved up and mistakenly attack normal cells. That phenomenon is thought to play a role in autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Justyna Fert-Bober and Dr. Susan Cheng were among researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who found that some people who have had COVID-19, including cases without symptoms, have a variety of these elevated “autoantibodies” up to six months after recovering. Some are the same ones found in people with autoimmune diseases.

Another possibility is that tiny clots play a role in long COVID. Many COVID-19 patients develop elevated levels of inflammatory molecules that promote abnormal clotting. That can lead to blood clots throughout the body that can cause strokes, heart attacks and dangerous blockages in the legs and arms.

In her lab at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, scientist Resia Pretorius has found microclots in blood samples from patients with COVID-19 and in those who later developed long COVID. She also found elevated levels of proteins in blood plasma that prevented the normal breakdown of these clots.

She believes that these clotting abnormalities persist in many patients after an initial coronavirus infection and that they reduce oxygen distribution to cells and tissue throughout the body, leading to most if not all symptoms that have been linked to long COVID.

IT CAN HIT NEARLY ANYONE

While there’s no firm list of symptoms that define the condition, the most common include fatigue, problems with memory and thinking, loss of taste and smell, shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Some of these symptoms may first appear during an initial infection but linger or recur a month or more later. Or new ones may develop, lasting for weeks, months or over a year.

Because so many of the symptoms occur with other illnesses, some scientists question whether the coronavirus is always the trigger. Researchers hope their work will provide definitive answers.

Long COVID affects adults of all ages as well as children. Research shows it is more prevalent among those who were hospitalized, but also strikes a significant portion who weren’t.

Retired flight attendant Jacki Graham’s bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic wasn’t bad enough to put her in the hospital. But months later, she experienced breathlessness and a racing heart. She couldn’t taste or smell. Her blood pressure shot up.

In the fall of 2020, she became so fatigued that her morning yoga would send her back to bed.

“I’m an early riser, so I’d get up and push myself, but then I was done for the day,” said Graham, 64, of Studio City, California. “Six months ago, I would have told you COVID has ruined my life.”

Hogan, the New York nurse, also wasn’t hospitalized with COVID-19 but has been debilitated since her diagnosis. Her husband, a disabled veteran, and children ages 9, 13 and 15 fell ill soon after and were sick with fever, stomach pains and weakness for about a month. Then all seemed to get a little better until new symptoms appeared.

Hogan’s doctors think autoimmune abnormalities and a pre-existing connective tissue disorder that causes joint pain may have made her prone to developing the condition.

POTENTIAL ANSWERS

There are no treatments specifically approved for long COVID, though some patients get relief from painkillers, drugs used for other conditions, and physical therapy. But more help may be on the horizon.

Immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki is studying the tantalizing possibility that COVID-19 vaccination might reduce long COVID symptoms. Her team at Yale University is collaborating with a patient group called Survivor Corps on a study that involves vaccinating previously unvaccinated long COVID patients as a possible treatment.

Iwasaki, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which supports The Associated Press’ Health and Science Department, said she is doing this study because patient groups have reported improvement in some people’s long COVID symptoms after they got their shots.

Study participant Nancy Rose, 67, of Port Jefferson, New York, said many of her symptoms waned after she got vaccinated, though she still has bouts of fatigue and memory loss.

Two recently released studies, one from the U.S. and one from Israel, offer preliminary evidence that being vaccinated before getting COVID-19 could help prevent the lingering illness or at least reduce its severity. Both were done before omicron emerged.

Neither has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but outside experts say the results are encouraging.

In the Israeli study, about two-thirds of participants received one or two Pfizer shots; the others were unvaccinated. Those who had received two shots were at least half as likely to report fatigue, headache, muscle weakness or pain and other common long COVID symptoms as the unvaccinated group.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

With few clear answers yet, the future is murky for patients.

Many, like Graham, see improvement over time. She sought help through a long COVID program at Cedars-Sinai, enrolled in a study there in April 2021, and was vaccinated and boosted.

Today, she said, her blood pressure is normal, and her sense of smell and energy level are getting closer to pre-COVID levels. Still, she wound up retiring early because of her ordeal.

Hogan still struggles with symptoms that include agonizing nerve pain and “spaghetti legs,” or limbs that suddenly become limp and unable to bear weight, a condition that also affects her 13-year-old son.

Some scientists worry that long COVID in certain patients might become a form of chronic fatigue syndrome, a poorly understood, long-lasting condition that has no cure or approved treatment.

One thing’s for sure, some experts say: Long COVID will have a huge effect on individuals, health care systems and economies around the world, costing many billions of dollars.

Even with insurance, patients can be out thousands of dollars at a time when they’re too sick to work. Graham, for example, said she paid about $6,000 out of pocket for things like scans, labs, doctor visits and chiropractic care.

Pretorius, the scientist in South Africa, said there is real worry things could get worse.

“So many people are losing their livelihoods, their homes. They can’t work anymore,” she said. “Long COVID will probably have a more severe impact on our economy than acute COVID.”

Source: AP


Read also:

Can you get long COVID after an infection with omicron? . . . . .