BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: AnphibIan Kim

Covid-19: It’s Time We Start Listening to the Long-Haulers

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people across the globe have contracted Covid-19, and while many have unfortunately lost their lives to the virus, millions of people have been able to recover from Covid-19. However, recovering from Covid-19 may not mean the end to all problems for patients. Many people who have recovered from the Covid-19 have expressed that they are still experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, muscle/body aches, and shortness of breath. 

What is a Long-Hauler?

These people that are showing continued symptoms of Covid-19, even after “recovering” from the virus, are being referred to as Covid-19 long-haulers. As mentioned before, long-haulers face lingering, persistent symptoms such as constant fatigue, difficulty breathing, and headaches that have prolonged to weeks or even months after defeating the virus. In a well-written article by the New York Times, the experience of Covid-19 long-haulers is examined. The article focuses on myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and how it relates to covid-19 long-haulers. 

While rather unknown by many, ME/CFS has been around and diagnosed for a decent amount of time. ME/CFS often follows viral infections, thus it is really no surprise to the people who have been researching ME/CFS, like Jamie Seltzer, a main contributor to the article, that an estimated 10% of Covid-19 patients are suffering symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and chronic pain for prolonged periods of time. The article explains that the amount of Covid-19 long-haulers that have tested positive for COVID-19 or its antibodies makes a strong case that coronavirus is turning into ME/CFS. 

While the exact cause of ME/CFS is not completely understood, findings of immune abnormalities in some ME/CFS patients, such as elevated levels of certain cytokines or poorly functioning immune cells, has enabled researchers to believe that the immune system plays a role in the development of ME/CFS. In relation to our AP Biology class, we learned about the immune system and the function of cytokines. Cytokines attract neutrophils, which digest pathogens and dead cell debris, as well as dendritic cells. Cytokines are important in regulating the body’s response to disease and infection.

Since ME/CFS is unknown to many, and the exacts of how it occurs is not completely understood, the article notes that ME/CFS is regarded as a contested illness. This means that the legitimacy of ME/CFS is questioned by some in the medical field. Many coronavirus long-haulers have noted that they have experienced doctors who were skeptical, rude, or unhelpful, if not baldly disbelieving of their condition/symptoms. Thus, the main point of the article is that the Covid-19 long-haulers should open the eyes of many in the medical field to the legitimacy of ME/CFS. It is a hope by some in the ME/CFS research field that the experience of Covid-19 long-haulers will prompt more research into ME/CFS, a condition that receives fractional amounts for research compared to more known illnesses. 

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After reading this article, I do believe I’ve gained a lot. As a rather healthy young adult, the idea that “if I got covid, I’d be fine,” sort of plagues your mind. However, now I know that it is much more complicated than that. If the estimation that 10% of Covid-19 patients experience prolonged symptoms is accurate, then it should definitely prompt more people of my age to make sure they are doing everything they can to prevent the contraction and the spread of the virus. The cure to ME/CFS is still unknown, so it is crucial we do what we can to prevent getting it. 

Trash, Crops, and Even Pets are on the Menu for these Carnivores

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of New Mexico found that some of North America’s most prominent carnivores—wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes—are relying more and more on human sources of food such as trash, crops, and even small pets. In the study, the researchers used hair, fur, and bone samples to identify the diets of seven hundred carnivore species across the upper midwest region of the United States. To identify the diets, chemical isotopes of carbon were taken from these samples to distinguish between human-grown and naturally occurring foods.

Phillip Manlick, the lead author of the study, explains that “Isotopes are relatively intuitive: You are what you eat.” Thus, Human foods, heavy in corn and sugar, have their own distinctive carbon signatures in comparison to the carbon signatures of the diets of prey species in the wild. The ratio of these two isotope fingerprints from the predator samples informs the researchers what proportion of the predator’s diet came from human sources, either directly or from their prey that ate human food first. Our AP Biology class learned that carbon is an essential element in organic compounds. Organic compounds make up all living things which include the human food waste and crops these predators are consuming. Carbon is found in all four organic compounds (Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Nucleic Acids), for carbon’s molecular structure allows for it to create multiple stable covalent bonds with different molecules. Carbon’s covalent bonds enable complex molecules, such as carbohydrates and proteins, that are found in food sources to be formed. 

According to the results of the study, foxes, coyotes, fishers, and martens were the most likely to eat from human food sources, getting about half their food by eating domesticated animals or by foraging in areas that have been disturbed by agriculture. But on average, more than “25 percent of all the carnivores’ diets came from human sources in the most human-altered habitats.”

The reliance on human food sources is not good for the ecosystem, for it increases the overlap in competition for food among these carnivores. There will be more conflicts between species for human food. Furthermore, the reliance on human food sources leaves carnivores susceptible to more human attacks or can change the way species of predators hunt. None of these effects are beneficial to the ecosystem and actually may potentially have harmful ecological consequences.

Personally, I find it a little upsetting that human action is having such interference on the ecosystem and food chain of these predators. In addition, it is even more upsetting to hear that there are very limited options to take that would reduce the reliance on human food sources for these carnivores. Other than securing garbage cans and keeping pets inside at night, there are not many more options. These carnivores are adapting to human urbanization, and this trend will continue as humans keep pushing into these carnivores territories and habitats.

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