Thursday, April 07, 2022

A doctor explains why you haven’t caught Covid yet

I haven't had it yet. I have been double vaxxed but that was relatively recently and I had plenty of exposure before that. So I think I am not going to get it in the future. I am not bothering about a booster. I do seem to have an unusually good immune system. It has even defeated some cancers -- JR

By now, it’s likely you’ve either had Covid or you’ve been a close contact of somebody who did. If you’re in the latter group and you haven’t caught it yourself, chances are you’re feeling very smug right now — but scientists are trying to work out why.

Australian National University lecturer and epidemiologist Dr Katrina Roper suggests there are three main factors that could be helping you avoid Covid.

Your immunity

Yes, of course, your immunity may just be better suited to avoiding Covid, or if you’re vaccinated and have been exposed, your vaccine may have been working more strongly at the time.

“Immunity to infection varies between people,” Dr Roper explained to “For example, compare the immune level of a younger person versus an elderly person.

“Immunity can also vary according to a person’s health status at any point in time. If a person is stressed — be that emotionally or physically — this can lead to reduced immunity and increased susceptibility to illness”.

While many scientists are talking about underlying health conditions, obesity and old age being the main factors that make a person more susceptible, Roper says that even the healthiest among us could be suffering from a weakened immune system.

“Even elite athletes, if they start over training, can stress their body and result in reduced immunity — despite being very fit for their sport”.

The circumstances of your exposure

I caught Covid at the start of this year from my boyfriend, when we were isolating in a studio apartment, but I know lots of people who avoided the virus despite being in close proximity with infected people.

We’ve all heard of boyfriends who never caught it from their girlfriend even though they live together. Or six-year-old boys who never passed it on to their sister or parents, despite them catching nearly every other cold under the sun from him.

So why are some people so lucky? Roper suggests it can have a lot to do with factors other than immunity.

“In households, there would also be other factors,” she explained, “such as how much time one person spends in close proximity to an infected person in comparison with another.

“The size of the household would also have an impact on why there is more transmission in some homes compared with another. Two people living in a one-bedroom apartment is not the same as two people living in a three-bedroom house, and their opportunities for exposure will be different”.

Prior infections

As it turns out, previous infections of any kind may have helped you escape Covid, according to research.

“Having a prior infection to another cold virus can confer some protection to Covid, or other respiratory viruses,” said Roper.

”Exposure to other respiratory viruses can prime parts of the immune system, leading to better defence against infection by the SARS CoV-2 infection”.

It’s not a foolproof system, however. Roper notes that some virus can live in your body together — like influenza and SARS CoV-2.

Of course, there’s also a good chance you did have Covid and just didn’t realise it, according to Immunologist, Professor Stuart Tangye.

“When we first started doing PCR testing, it was really done on symptomatic people … so we were obviously missing a lot of those asymptomatic people,” Tangye told the ABC.

“I’m sure we missed a lot of positive cases over December and January too, where there was a supply and demand problem in terms of getting tests”.

Or, it could just be your genetics

Earlier in 2022, UK researchers performed the first human-challenge trial of its kind for Covid.

The study found 36 young and healthy people who had no evidence of previous Covid infection or vaccination. It exposed all 36 of these people to the virus, and only about half of them actually caught it — which was defined by two positive PCR tests in a row.

Of those who didn’t catch Covid, about half of them did briefly show low levels of the virus. This suggests their immune systems shut it down pretty quickly.

“There’s probably a few people … who would have a really strong innate immune response [that] just quells the infection, without enabling the virus to get too far ahead,” said Tangye.

“There are going to be people who are less susceptible to viral infection because they have differences in their genes, such as genes that are important for viral entry into your cells”.

Although that group would be very small, Tangye also suggested this wasn’t the first time some people have been found to have a genetic resistance to diseases.

“With HIV, for example, there is a very, very small number of people who are genetically resistant to infection,” he said.

“That’s because they have naturally occurring genetic mutations in a certain gene so the virus can’t physically infect their T cells.”

So maybe you’re genetically lucky, but more likely you were just lucky at the time of your exposure to Covid — or never realised when you had it.


Labor strategist Cameron Milner fears loss over ‘Anthony Albanese void’

A key ALP strategist has warned Anthony Albanese that his small-target approach could lead the party to “the very edge of another election loss” and allow the Coalition to expose Labor over fear of the unknown.

As Scott Morrison prepares to call the election within days, veteran Labor operative and lobbyist Cameron Milner said the Opposition Leader “can’t afford to risk staying small target” in a tight race.

The election warning came as Mr Morrison blitzed western Sydney and NSW Hunter region seats and accused Labor of planning tax hikes after opposition Treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said an Albanese government would dump the Coalition’s 23.9 per cent tax-to-GDP ratio.

Mr Morrison, who is expected to call the election on Friday, said Labor was preparing to “take the speed limit off taxes”.

Campaigning in Perth on Wednesday, Mr Albanese defended his “considered and measured” policies but fell short of explaining how Labor would pay for its election promises.

Dr Chalmers said Labor had no tax changes beyond its crackdown on multinationals but could not say how much it would raise.

Writing in The Australian, Mr Milner – a former Queensland ALP secretary and Bill Shorten’s chief of staff during the 2016 election campaign – said that although national polls put Labor well ahead, “the seat-by-seat races are much closer”.

Mr Milner, who has worked on 33 election campaigns across three decades, urged Mr Albanese to avoid the same path as Kim Beazley and Julia Gillard, who were forced to run ads and conduct ­interviews telling voters what they stood for.

“The big problem for small-­target strategies advocated by some within Labor is the void of trust that is allowed to develop for voters,” Mr Milner writes.

“A void that is all too easily ­exploited by a Liberal campaign machine adept at opening up Labor with the fear of the unknown.

“Albo is one of the most genuine leaders Labor has had the fortune to present to the electorate, but just like Kim Beazley and Julia Gillard before, the small targeters with low ambitions for Australia, short on political vision, could still lead Labor to the very edge of another election loss.


Better discipline in schools begins outside the classroom

That is probably true but it is no substitute for better discipline IN the classroom

One of the hot button topics in education at the moment is the issue of classroom discipline and student behaviour.

Because everyone has been to school, everyone also has an opinion on the issue, often ill-informed and, at times, extremely unhelpful.

As is commonly the case when we seek global responses to problems we face, the reality of the solutions required are more complex than they first seem. For example, there is a tendency to assume the solution always lies with the individual teacher and their capacity to maintain order in class. While there is certainly some truth in that view, consider a scenario that commonly occurs in schools.

Teacher A, in one classroom is valiantly seeking to implement the school’s expectation that students do not use their mobile phones in class. On telling the students she requires them to put their phones away, she is told by one of her more voluble charges that Teacher B, a little further down the corridor, doesn’t care if they do. Teacher A is immediately undermined and, despite her willingness and capacity to follow the rule, is somewhat less able to make it work.

This, rather than headline-grabbing stories about violence in schools, is really the main game as far as improving discipline is concerned, since it is low-level disruption that really impedes quality teaching in class, rather than periodic outbursts that are fleeting, and by comparison rare.

The point is, that regardless of any individual teacher’s efforts to maintain discipline in class, it can only really happen on the back of a whole-school approach.

In research conducted in 2009 on why some schools perform much better than their peers, my colleagues and I found it depended, to a significant degree, on the leadership, their expectations for the school, and the extent to which an orderly learning environment exists where students are well-known by the staff.

The key in this regard is consistency. Put simply, the greater the consistency of practice, the better the school. It reflects the fact that Teacher A can request the phone be put away, secure in the knowledge that Teacher B will do the same and the school’s leaders will back them on this.

Leadership, we found, is the difference between the pockets of improvement that exist in any school, and whole-school improvement. Schools do not get better unless their leaders are leading improvement. The principal is at the centre of this. That said, the principal cannot do it on their own, and hence needs to weld a team of leaders together who can then work to drive improvement through their school.

This applies as much to classroom discipline as to any other strategy for improvement the school adopts. It in turn suggests that if all we do is try to improve teachers’ individual disciplinary skills, then all we will get is the variability that already exists. It is only when the whole of the school unites around a common approach that things can begin to change.

Some years ago, for example, a large school that I worked with in outer-eastern Melbourne, tackled a breakdown in implementing its uniform policy through a mix of improved documentation, procedures and a simple red bag. Although the school attempted to ban the wearing of hoodies and facial piercings, inconsistent implementation by teachers meant they remained rife in the school.

By giving each teacher a red shopping bag to collect the offending items, the school’s leaders answered the question of how to store them through the day and provided a highly visible means to monitor the implementation of the rule. Through persistent hard work led by the principal and his team, uniform-wearing skyrocketed in the school which then considered where it should seek to be more consistent next.

There is always a need to improve teacher preparation and a broad range of their skills. But unless it is matched by a focus on leaders and supporting them to develop and implement a culture of high expectations where positive behaviour is demanded and required, then the outcome will be less than we intend.

There are many examples of schools which punch above their weight, not least because they have a dynamic leadership team with a clear sense of what’s needed if their school is to improve. We could do much worse than learn from these exemplars so that more schools can work like the best.

After all, don’t we all want to see students and staff alike on time, in class and ready to learn each and every day.


Staggering moment Australia's top health expert fails to define what a 'woman' is - sparking a scathing reaction: 'If I asked my kids they would know the answer'

Australia's top health bureaucrat was left stumbling over his words when asked to define what a woman is.

Liberal Senator Alex Antic posed the question to the Department of Health bosses, including chief Dr Brendan Murphy, during Senate Estimates on Wednesday, and the room fell silent.

'Can someone please provide me with what a definition of a woman is?' he asked. 'Department of Health - (what is the) definition of a man, definition of a woman, anyone? Basic stuff.' He then directed the question to Professor Murphy who laughed as he struggled to find the right words.

'I think there are a variety of definitions,' he said.

Mr Antic then requested a simple answer.

'Perhaps to give a more fulsome answer we should take that on notice.'

Mr Antic then questioned why the health secretary needed to take notice on such a simple question.

'It's a very ... uh ... it's a very contested space at the moment,' Dr Murphy continued.

'There are definitions in how people identify themselves so we are happy to provide our working definitions on those.'

The Senator labelled his response 'hilarious' and said it was 'the best thing I've seen thus far' in the hearings.

Speaking about the incident with 2GB's Ben Fordham, Mr Antic said he'd been asking departments around the country if they could give a simple definition of a woman but so far hadn't had any luck. 'I think this problem is endemic in the bureaucracy,' he said.

'It is utterly ludicrous to suggest there isn't a single definition and that that definition isn't an adult female, why can't they say it?'

The senator speculated whether authorities were afraid to provide a definition in fear they may offend some people and cop backlash.

'People who five years ago would have been quite comfortable answering a simple question now seem to almost look over their shoulder and wonder who's coming for them, it's extraordinary,' he added.

Mr Antic said he was looking forward to hearing back what the health department's definition was, while host Fordham said his primary school aged children could have easily answered the question.

'I've got kids in primary school I'm pretty sure if I asked them tonight they'd know the answer but anyway, apparently our health secretary needs a month to come up with an answer,' the radio presenter said.




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