Lunar eclipse, La Niña climate disruption top 12 science events
The world has continued to witness series of science events that has helped shaped it, either positively or negatively, especially in the last 12 months.
Top on the list are the penumbral lunar eclipse, which the world is expected to witness on January 10 and 11 and the La Niña climate disruption in public health.
According to a report published in timeanddate.com, the maximum view of the lunar eclipse would be viable in Lagos on January 10 by 20:10 GMT, while other regions of the world that would also witness the event are, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, much of North America, East in South America, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Arctic.
The report noted that keen observers in Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa may see the Moon turn a shade darker during the maximum phase of this penumbral lunar eclipse, but most of the penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual Full Moon.
According to timeanddate.com, while the moon rises, the combination of a very low moon and the total eclipse phase will make the moon so dim that it will be extremely difficult to view until moon gets higher in the sky or the total phase ends.
However, during the penumbral lunar eclipse, the Earth’s main shadow does not cover the Moon. As the Earth’s shadow (umbra) misses the Moon during a penumbral lunar eclipse, there are no other locations on Earth where the Moon appears partially or totally eclipsed during this event. Although, a penumbral lunar eclipse can be a bit hard to see as the shadowed part is only a little bit fainter than the rest of the Moon.
The total lunar eclipse lasts for four hours and five minutes, as the magnitude of the eclipse is -0.116, while the penumbral magnitude of the eclipse is 0.895.
Meanwhile, the La Niña climate phenomenon sparked a 30 percent jump in diarrhoea cases in Africa due to the increased rainfall that flushes pathogens into water supplies.
La Niña is a weather phenomenon that triggers torrential rain, plunging temperatures and even cyclones, which could cause a spike in diarrhoea cases all over the world. La Niña occurs between every three and seven years, causing super-strong winds in the Pacific that make the ocean colder than normal.
According to study, this torrential rain may contaminate drinking water by flushing harmful bacteria from home sewage and pastures into drinking water supplies, causing diarrhoea among African children, according to study.
These weather conditions can influence pathogen exposure, especially those that are spread through water, while drought conditions can force animals carrying diarrhoea-causing pathogens into condensed spaces where the chance of transmission is higher.
Researchers at the Columbia University found the rates of the illness, which kills thousands of youngsters in Africa every year, especially children under five, soared by a third in a region worst hit by La Niña.
They analysed the effect of La Niña in Chobe, in northeastern Botswana, an area which tends to flood during the natural event, which according to them has insufficient water filtering infrastructure to deal with pathogens spilling over into drinking supplies.
According to the study published in the journal Nature Communications, which analysed nearly 11,000 cases of diarrhoea reported across 10 years in the region, the scientists found the climate cycle, which occurs every three to seven years, drove up rates by 30 per cent between December and February during a La Niña year.
However, infectious diarrhoea can be caused by many different viruses and bacteria, such as norovirus, rotavirus or E. coli and researchers hope their findings may lead to an early-warning system to allow officials to prepare for a spike in diarrhoea cases seven months ahead of time.
Meanwhile, similar extreme weather cycles have been linked to diarrhoea outbreaks in Peru, Bangladesh, China, and Japan. But until now studies of the effects on diarrhoea disease in Africa have been limited to cholera – a pathogen responsible for only a small fraction of cases.
The common illness, easily preventable and treatable in developed countries, is the second leading cause of death among children under five. It strikes down 525,000 youngsters each year globally, while one-quarter of all child deaths are caused by diarrhoea In Africa.
The Lead author, Dr. Alexandra Heaney said: ‘These findings demonstrate the potential [for a] long-lead prediction tool for childhood diarrhea in southern Africa.
“Advanced stockpiling of medical supplies, preparation of hospital beds, and organisation of healthcare workers could dramatically improve the ability of health facilities to manage high diarrhoeal disease incidence.’
The research team has, however, called for an improvement in water supplies in developing nations, particularly those in Southern Africa, which bear the brunt of La Niña, as they noted that climate change could also cause havoc in these regions.
Co-author and professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Dr. Jeffrey Shaman said: ‘In Southern Africa, precipitation [rainfall] is projected to decrease.
‘This change, in a hydrologically dynamic region where both wildlife and humans exploit the same surface water resources, may amplify the public health threat of waterborne illness.
“For this reason, there is an urgent need to develop the water sector in ways that can withstand the extremes of climate change.’
Other science events that shaped the last 12 months include clinical research aimed towards advancing therapeutic practices for cure and management of illness in people.
Researchers continue to look for ways of eradicating diseases and improving our well-being and quality of life, as each year, specialists in all areas of medical research conduct new studies and clinical trials that bring a better understanding of what keeps people happy and in good health, as well as what factors have the opposite effect. These include:
Drugs and its implications
Drugs are meant for treatment and management of different disease and illnesses.
Moreover, most drugs can sometimes cause side effects, as more studies are now suggesting a link between common medication and a higher risk of developing different health conditions.
In March this 2019, for instance, experts affiliated with the European Resuscitation Council — whose goal is to find the best ways to prevent and respond to cardiac arrest — found that a conventional drug doctors use to treat hypertension and angina could actually increase a person’s risk of cardiac arrest.
The researchers, who analysed the data of more than 60,000 people, saw that a drug called nifedipine, which doctors often prescribe for cardiovascular problems, appeared to increase the risk of “sudden cardiac arrest.”
The Project leader, Dr. Hanno Tan notes that, so far, healthcare practitioners have considered nifedipine to be perfectly safe, adding that he current findings, however, suggest that doctors may want to consider offering people an alternative.
Also in another study, appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine in June, researchers found that anticholinergic drugs — which work by regulating muscle contraction and relaxation — may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.
People may have to take anticholinergics if some of their muscles are not working correctly, usually as part of health issues, such as bladder or gastrointestinal conditions, and Parkinson’s disease.
But, while common drugs that doctors have prescribed for years may come with hidden dangers, they are, at least, subject to trials and drug review initiatives. The same is not true for many other so-called health products that are readily available to consumers.
Such findings, the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Carol Coupland, said, “highlight the importance of carrying out regular medication reviews.”
Also, in August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning against an allegedly therapeutic product that was available online, and which appeared to be very popular.
The product, which was variously sold under the names Master Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, Chlorine Dioxide Protocol, or Water Purification Solution — was supposed to be a kind of panacea, treating almost anything and everything, from cancer and HIV to the flu, but was discovered to contain no less than 28 percent sodium.
The heart and its tributaries
Many studies in the last 12 months have also been concerned with cardiovascular health, revisiting long held notions and holding them up to further scrutiny.
For instance, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in July, which involved around 1.3 million people, suggested that, when it comes to predicting the state of a person’s heart health, both blood pressure numbers are equally important.
So far, doctors have primarily taken only elevated systolic blood pressure into account as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, the new study concluded that elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressures are both indicators of cardiovascular problems.
The study’s first author, Dr. Antonio Douros, argues that “We should move away from the blanket approach of applying the recommendations of professional associations to all groups of patients.”
Dr. Douros and team analyzed the data of 1,628 participants with a mean age of 81 years. The researchers found that older individuals with lower systolic blood pressures actually faced a 40 percent higher risk of death than peers with elevated blood pressure values.
Diets and healthy living
According to study, people who ate plant-based foods also had a 25 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality.
A study from April in the journal Nutrients warned that people who follow a ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and low in carbohydrates, and who decide to take a “day off” from this commitment every now and again, may experience blood vessel damage.
Ketogenic or keto diets work by triggering ketosis, a process in which the body starts burning fat instead of sugar (glucose) for energy. But “cheat days” mean that, for a brief interval, the body switches back to relying on glucose.
Meanwhile, according to Google Trends, some of the top searches in the United States in the last 12 months included intermittent fasting diets, the Noom diet, and the 1,200-calorie diet.
One intriguing study in Nature Metabolism in May pointed out that protein shakes, which are popular among individuals who want to build muscle mass, might be a threat to health.
While some of the studies that made the headlines in the last 12 months were conclusive, many researchers encourage further research to confirm their findings or further investigate the underlying mechanisms.
However stepping into the next decade, scientists say the wheels of medical research will keep on turning for better health across the globe.