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Blog COVID-19 Virology

Viral Disease Emergence: Separating the Fact from the Fiction

Viral diseases have shaped human history. A sudden emergence has the power to cause huge social changes, like ones we’re currently experiencing. But how do they do this? What causes a virus to jump, or ‘spill over’ into a new species?

What is an emerging virus and how do they emerge?

An emerging virus is a virus which has entered a new population where it previously didn’t exist or is expanding its geographical range. Global disease emergence is increasing for many reasons and we’ll discuss why this is occurring and why most emerging viruses that normally infect animals are now infecting humans.

What’s important to remember is there are no singular reasons for viral disease emergence, and we might never know what occurred to cause a disease to break into new populations. But there’s many ways this can happen, ranging from the virus’s genetics all the way through to human-environment interactions. Here we’re going to focus on RNA viruses as these are the viruses which most commonly cross species barriers1. Let’s start with the genetics first.


Genetic

Enzyme Errors

RNA viruses contain an enzyme called RdRp. This enzyme replicates RNA. RNA is a form of genetic code like DNA, so it encodes genes. However, RdRp is prone to making mistakes, it might miss a base, it might use the wrong one and its common for this to happen. This means a virus can be produced with different properties, this can range from being able to target a new cell type to replicating faster. One case where this occurred was during the 1918 Spanish Flu, where a mutation allowed the virus to replicate in tissues outside the respiratory tract2.

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Figure 1: Replication of RNA with mutation highlighted in yellow.


Reassortment of segmented genomes

Reassortment is the process where genetic material might get ‘mixed up’. When a cell is infected with two different but closely related viruses there’s a chance this might occur. Think of it like mixing your favourite drinks. It could work, and you might have a new flavour, or it might not! It’s easier for segmented genomes, so the genetic code is in multiple segments and is common in viruses like influenza. H1N1 is an influenza virus which is made up of bird, pig and human influenza strains3.  

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Figure 2: Viral co-infection of two viruses (A and B). Inside cell shows 2 different genomes, with reassorted virus containing genomes of both virus A and B having egressed.



Recombination of RNA genomes

Recombination is a random event which occurs when RdRp, the enzyme which makes new RNA, falls off the genome its copying onto a different one. It ultimately will produce an RNA genome which is a combination of two different viruses. This is another common event and many virus families have evidence of this occurring, including Herpesviruses, HIV and even Coronaviruses4,5

A close up of a map

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Figure 3: Recombination of RNA genome in 5′ to 3′ directionality.


Environmental

Changes in weather

Climate change isn’t only impacting our weather, it’s also changing disease distributions through temperature but also causing changes in host territory. Ultimately this changes how we interact with hosts of viruses as well as their biology. For example, Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV). This virus is carried by mosquitoes, so a higher temperature alters host territory as well as allowing for mosquito development to occur where it didn’t previously. This is because mosquitos have a minimum temperature where development will occur, and for the mosquito which carries JEV its 22-23 °C. However, viral diseases can have a minimum transmission temperature, and JEV has one of 25-26 °C. If more countries have temperatures above this range, then the virus can be transmitted in new populations. What this all means is as global temperatures rise it’s very likely countries will experience diseases they haven’t previously6


Bush meat and live animal markets

Consumption of bush meat and live animal markets remove natural barriers in place, meaning that close contact between animals and humans now occurs. Outbreaks may occur due to consumption of an animal which died of a disease, and not of more natural causes. This is how Ebola outbreaks have started before. However, it is important to consider the socio-economic conditions found within regions where consumption of bush meat occurs. Protein sources in these regions can be expensive and the local population may not have the choices we do7. Reducing disease emergence from live animal markets can be done safely by reducing inter-species interactions, essentially handling the animals less and making the markets less crowded. However, it could also be done through limiting the days of operation8.  

Korea, Wet, Market, Meat, Seafoods, Vendor, People
Figure 4: Wet market in South Korea. Source: Stocksnap, Pixabay.



Changing land use and farming practices

Deforestation of land for farming and urban development is forcing disease hosts to come into closer contact with humans, one example where this is occurring is Australia. Here, horse farms are traditionally where fruit bats reside however urbanisation has resulted in loss of the natural habitat, forcing greater interactions with the human population9.  

So, there we have it. Several mechanisms on how viruses can emerge into human populations. But what about SARS-CoV-2? Well, the jury’s still out. Though early cases were linked to a seafood market many weren’t, indicating the source of the virus likely wasn’t here. In the meantime, scientists will be hard at work hoping to solve many puzzles, including this!  If you have any questions about what was discussed drop us a message below or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and we’ll get back to you.


For more information on the origins of SARS-CoV-2 read our blogpost breaking down a Nature paper by Dr Jordan Clark here

For more information on viral disease emergence check out ‘Spillover’ by David Quammen. 


References:

1.J Woolhouse, M. E., Adair, K. & Brierley, L. RNA Viruses: A Case Study of the Biology of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Microbiol. Spectr. 1, 10.1128/microbiolspec.OH-0001–2012 (2013). 

2.Taubenberger, J. K. The origin and virulence of the 1918 ‘Spanish’ influenza virus. Proc. Am. Philos. Soc. 150, 86–112 (2006). 

3.Vijaykrishna, D. et al. Reassortment of pandemic H1N1/2009 influenza A virus in swine. Science 328, 1529 (2010). 

4.Fleischmann, W. J. Medical Microbiology. (University of Texas Medical Branch, 1996). 

5.Su, S. et al. Epidemiology , Genetic Recombination , and Pathogenesis of Coronaviruses. Trends Microbiol. 24, 490–502 (2016). 

6.Wu, X., Lu, Y., Zhou, S., Chen, L. & Xu, B. Impact of climate change on human infectious diseases : Empirical evidence and human adaptation. Environ. Int. 86, 14–23 (2016). 

7.Kurpiers, L. A., Schulte-Herbrüggen, B., Ejotre, I. & Reeder, D. M. Bushmeat and Emerging Infectious Diseases: Lessons from Africa BT  – Problematic Wildlife: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach. in (ed. Angelici, F. M.) 507–551 (Springer International Publishing, 2016). doi:10.1007/978-3-319-22246-2_24 

8.Karesh, W. B., Cook, R. A., Bennett, E. L. & Newcomb, J. Wildlife trade and global disease emergence. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 11, 1000–1002 (2005). 

9.Plowright, R. K. et al. Urban habituation, ecological connectivity and epidemic dampening: the emergence of Hendra virus from flying foxes (Pteropus spp.). Proceedings. Biol. Sci. 278, 3703–3712 (2011). 


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Written by Charlotte Rigby.

Blog Virology

Bats and Viruses

The 17th of April marks International Bat Appreciation Day. This is because bats begin to emerge from hibernation at this time of year. Despite all the bad press bats get, especially in light of the coronavirus outbreak, they actually play an important roll in nature.

Bats are insectivorous creatures, and reduce the number of many annoying insects. Did you know a bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in an hour?!

Bats are fascinating mammals. Unique in several ways, including their ability to fly, they also have a harmonious relationship with many viruses that can be devastating to humans. 

https://images.theconversation.com/files/313184/original/file-20200202-41495-ndlo4u.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=1200&h=1200.0&fit=crop

Viruses such as Ebola virus, Coronaviruses (e.g. SARS), and Hendra virus are examples of Zoonotic viruses that are found in bats. Zoonotic is the term for viruses that jump species barriers or “spill over”, i.e. from bats to humans. These viruses often cause no physical symptoms in bats, and due to their lifestyle of roosting in large colonies, can spread easily through large populations. 

Wynee and Wang (2013) from CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Geelong, Australia, released an open-access article in PNAS asking whether bats are friends or foe. They remind us that bats are just as diverse as the viruses that infect them. The picture below, also found in their article shows different species of bats, and electron microscope images of the viruses that can infect them (1).

“Bats are diverse, as are the viruses that infect them.

The Chinese horseshoe bat (ARhinolophus sinicus) is one of many Rhinolophus sp. that are a natural host of SARS-like coronaviruses (B; scale bar 100 nm). The spectacled flying fox (CPteropus conspicillatus) along with other Pteropus sp. are reservoirs for the Australian Bat lyssavirus (D; scale bar 100 nm). A number of African fruit bats including Hypsignathus monstrosus (E) have been found to host Ebola virus (F; Ebola Reston, scale bar 200 nm). The Malayan flying fox (GPteropus vampyrus) is the natural host of Nipah virus (H; scale bar 200 nm). All four pteropid Australian bat species including Pteropus alecto (I) have been found to carry Hendra virus (J; scale bar 200 nm).”

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003651.g001

The reasons for why bats can tolerate these viruses are not fully understood, but there are some characterised differences in their immune system response that are thought to account for this (2)

One relatively well supported hypothesis for the underlying reason is due to their flight, which puts a large amount of stress on the body. Evidence suggests that they have managed to deal with this stress by the evolution of an altered immune response, which then allows the bats to control viral replication whilst minimising any counter-productive over response (3)

All of this is great for bats, but becomes a problem for us when these viruses jump into the human population. Our immune systems respond differently to bats, and this results in the diseases we see. So, what can we do?  

To some, the obvious response may be to exterminate wild bat populations. Even without considering the obvious moral objections to this, it would also be counter-productive for many reasons. Bats are incredibly important to ecosystems, playing crucial roles in pollination, insect control, and seed dispersal (4)

In order to reduce the chances of spill over events, it is important to look at the ways that human activity brings us into more frequent contact with bats, such as deforestation and the possibility of bats passing diseases to us via animals in our food supply chains. We can then find ways to minimise these.  

In the meantime, researchers can learn a lot from the differences between the immune system response of humans and bats, in order to identify ways in which ours is not effective in tackling viruses. (2)

We should appreciate these wonderful mammals, understand the ways they can be dangerous, and learn to live alongside them whilst minimising contact. It will suit both us and them!  

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b2/e3/98/b2e3989557c230febf0b46c69c0969ab.jpg

References: 

1: Bats and Viruses: Friend or Foe? – Wynne & Wang, 2013

2: Innate Immune Responses of Bat and Human Cells to Filoviruses: Commonalities and Distinctions – Kuzmin et al, 2017 

3: Novel Insights Into Immune Systems of Bats – Banerjee et al, 2020 

4: Education to Action: Improving Public Perception of Bats – Hoffmaster et al, 2016 

Written by Ben Jones
Blog COVID-19 Mental Health

Staying Sane and Safe During the Lockdown

Connect

Humans are naturally social animals so it’s no surprise that Isolation is linked to lower mood and poor mental health. It can be hard to maintain relationships during a lockdown but they’re very important for our wellbeing.

Take time out of your day to talk to the people in your household, try using video call software to reach out to friends and colleagues or even just send a good old fashioned e-mail or text. Now could be a good time to join an online community too, if you have a hobby, chances are there are lots of other people who do too, why not join a forum or discussion group and make some new friends?

Get Active

Exercise has been shown to increase mood and feelings of wellbeing in both the short and long-term. Getting the blood flowing releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins for a natural boost. Think how great you’ll look and feel when this is all over.

You are allowed one outside exercise session per day, it can be a great chance to get out of the house and see some nature (which also boosts mental wellbeing!). If you’re self-isolating and can’t leave the house, there are plenty of workouts you can do from your bedroom, your home gym or even your armchair!

Learn

Learning a new skill is a great way to boost your self-esteem and can give a sense of direction and purpose. Learning new skills also helps to keep your brain healthy and your mind active, fighting off those lockdown blues.

There are lots of free and accessible online courses for nearly anything you could be interested in. Learn a language, an instrument, a new recipe or a DIY job. It doesn’t matter what it is you learn, that’s up to you, just that you’re interested enough to keep it up and that it’s challenging enough to keep you engaged without being so difficult you give up. Don’t worry about earning certificates unless you want to, it should be fun, not a chore!

Check out Coursera, future learn and edx, for example.

Give

Acts of giving and simple kindness can increase your mood and give you a sense of purpose and self-worth. Plus, it makes someone else feel good too as an added bonus!

You can start small and reach out to help colleagues or friends who might just want someone to talk to. There are also plenty of volunteer schemes to get involved with if you’re symptom free and want to help with the crisis.

GoodSAM can help you find volunteering opportunities during the coronavirus outbreak.

Pay Attention

Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment: to your body, your thoughts, the world around you and how you’re feeling. It can boost mood and make you appreciate life more.

The lockdown will affect us all differently, pay attention to how you feel and take time each day to check in with yourself.

Some mindfulness apps to get you going: Headspace, Calm, Aura, Stop, Breath and Think, Insight Timer. Or why not try out some Yoga – be active and mindful all at once. We like Adriene and Kassandra.

Connect, Get Active, Learn, Give and Pay Attention

If you do notice your mental health suffering, don’t feel like there’s nothing you can do. There are still plenty of services that are remaining open during this lockdown because mental health is just as important as physical health. If you don’t feel right, don’t feel like you have to suffer alone.

A final note: self-care is incredibly personal, and you should take these only as suggestions alongside things you know work well for you. None of us are obligated to come out of the end of this with new skills, a summer body, or anything else. If you keep yourself feeling well and functioning, you are doing well in this stressful time.

If you need support here are some resources:

Written by Mark Platt

Blog COVID-19 Research Summaries

Coronavirus: A natural phenomenon or a man-made weapon?

Often during virus outbreaks, conspiracy theories arise which purportedly explain the emergence of the virus. These range from deliberate government release as an agent of population control to Illuminati concocted plagues designed to disrupt our way of life in order to usher in the New World Order. The Covid-19 pandemic is no exception and there has been a wave of conspiracy theories relating to SARS-COV-19, the virus behind Covid-19. Writing in NatureKristian G. AndersenAndrew Rambaut , Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes  and Robert F. Garry sought to investigate the origins of SARS-COV-2, not only in order to dispel some of these theories, but also because during a pandemic it’s important to know where the virus came from as this may inform future preventative strategies. 

Read the article yourself here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9

The authors first start by analysing the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-COV-2 spike protein. This protein is present on the outside of the SARS-COV-2 virus particle and is responsible for the binding of the virus to the receptor ACE2, which is found on the surface of cells. It’s this protein which the virus exploits to enter our cells, and it’s been shown to be very important for coronavirus host range and pathogenicity. 

Spike proteins are present on the outside of the virus particle which bind with to ACE2 receptors on the outside of our cells.

While it’s clear the SARS-COV-2 RBD is able to successfully bind the ACE2 receptor found in human, ferret and other similar species, this interaction is not exactly perfect. In fact, SARS-COV-2 binds with less efficiency than SARS. If a super plague was generated in a lab, computational studies could have been carried out to formulate better binding of ACE2, therefore improving the infectivity of the pathogen. Pretty sloppy work, Illuminati. It’s much more likely that the RBD of SARS-COV-2 evolved to bind a human-like ACE2 and has been acted upon by natural selection. What do I mean by a human-like ACE2? Remember that we share about 98.5% of our DNA with chimps and around 85% with mice, so its highly likely that SARS-COV-2 evolved to infect a similar, but different species, which provided it with some limited ability to infect humans. Once this human transmission was set up natural selection can allow the virus to adjust to humans in order to infect us more efficiently – more on that later. 

There’s also good evidence that SARS-COV-2 wasn’t generated in a lab due to the fact it doesn’t appear to have been designed according to other viral “reverse genetics” systems. Reverse genetics systems are what scientists use to produce genetically manipulated viruses in the lab. These techniques employ the use of the virus genetic material which has been probed and packaged through a variety of molecular techniques which allows infectious virus to be generated. The authors make it quite clear that SARS-COV-2 shows no evidence of being generated by the use of these existing virus reverse genetics systems. So, if SARS-COV-2 is naturally occurring, how did it infect humans in the first place and start the whole pandemic off? 

The authors provide two hypotheses:

1) The virus arose in animals and, through natural selection, acquired the necessary genetic changes needed to infect humans, whereupon it jumped the species barrier and infected people. 
 
Or 

 2) The virus jumped from an animal species into humans, whereupon it spread through the human population and, through natural selection, acquired the genetic changes needed to successfully cause a pandemic. 

By comparing the genetic material of SARS-COV-2 and other coronaviruses which have been sampled from different species, it has been shown that SARS-COV-2 shares high sequence similarity with those coronaviruses found in bats. The Huanan market in Wuhan is considered to be ground zero for this pandemic and it is known that bats were stored and sold here, in addition to a myriad of other species. It is therefore highly probable that one of these species was host to the progenitor of SARS-COV-2, which then found its way into the human population. 

Interestingly, the RBD of SARS-COV-2 is unlike those found in bats but shares high homology with those found in pangolins. Pangolins are an endangered, and very cute, little species of mammal which are the most illegally trafficked animals in the world. Coronaviruses isolated from these creatures exhibit RBDs with high similarity to those found in SARS-COV-2. Pangolins are also thought to have been present at the Huanan market in Wuhan. 

A very cute, pangolin. https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/640×360/p066n3f4.jpg

Coronaviruses are also known to undergo genetic recombination, in which they swap genetic material. This happens when two different coronaviruses find themselves infecting the same host. It’s therefore highly likely that SARS-COV-2 arose from a recombination event between two coronaviruses, possibly from bats and pangolins, which was then able to jump into humans. 

There’s one more feature of SARS-COV-2 that the authors draw attention to: the addition of a polybasic cleavage site which sits between the two subunits of the spike protein. This site is unique to SARS-COV-2 and may result in efficient cleavage by cellular proteases such as furin. This sounds quite complicated. Simply, the virus has evolved a site in the portion of the virus which is responsible for invading our cells which improves its ability to function, therefore making it more infectious. 

We see such adaptations in avian influenza all the time – they arise through natural selection when flu spreads through chicken populations. Such adaptations result in the generation of highly pathogenic bird flu strains and are a major public health concern. Mutations of this type which affect the spike protein subunit junction have also been found in nature many times before. These inserted residues also change the structure of the spike protein slightly in a way that the authors hypothesise may help the virus evade the host immune response. 

“OK, so where did this genetic change come from? Is it possible for this to happen in the lab? Can it happen in nature?” 

Simply, both are possible, but one is less likely. Looking at our two theories it’s entirely possible that this mutation, which likely allows for increased pathogenicity, arose during repeated human to human transmission, similar to what we see in birds with flu. This would mean that, after making the jump from bats/pangolins/unknown species to human, SARS-COV-2 spread through the human populace, acquiring this mutation, and then setting off the chain of events which led to the pandemic. We see this in SARS often, in which the virus jumps from camels to humans and then spreads from human to human for a short period. Crucially SARS has not yet been able to sustain its human-human transmission, whereas SARS-COV-2 has. It’s also possible that this mutation arose in the progenitor to SARS-COV-2 in an animal host. To have arisen this would require sustained transmission between hosts that are in high density and have human-like ACE2 receptors. 

Both theories are plausible…

What isn’t as likely is that the virus gained this adaptation in a laboratory setting. In labs around the world viruses are routinely grown in cell culture. Viruses are introduced to cells in culture, allowed to grow, and eventually harvested. This is known as “passage”. For this mutation to arise in cell culture the virus must have been serially passaged through cells which contain a human-like ACE2 receptor. While these passages take place, the virus is continually evolving, so much so that serial passage in cells eventually leads to viruses getting so good at infecting cells in culture they become worse at infecting whole animals. It’s theoretically possible that the virus could have been serially passaged through an animal, one which contains sufficiently human-like ACE2, however this has never been documented. 

It is very unlikely that SARS-COV-2 originated in a laboratory setting

…and it doesn’t exhibit the genetic fingerprints we’d expect a genetically modified super plague to exhibit. Unfortunately, at the moment all we can do is theorise about its origins until the exact host, or progenitor virus, is found. There are a staggering number of viruses present in nature which we simply haven’t discovered yet (think of a tip of the iceberg kind of thing) which are currently quietly circulating in animals, and possibly humans, throughout the world. The conditions which we saw at the Huanan market in Wuhan in which various different exotic animals are stacked, live and dead, in cages in close proximity to each other, and humans, makes the perfect melting pot for these pandemics to arise. Furthermore, as humans clear more habitat, and as global temperature rise allowing vector species such as mosquitos and midges to extend into higher latitudes, it’s a matter of time until this happens again. While this pandemic is ongoing, the next one in line is lurking out there and it’s vitally important that we learn what we can from SARS-COV-2 so that we are prepared when it finally emerges. 

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Coronavirus: A natural phenomenon or a man-made weapon? Read a lay summary of @NatureMedicine article: The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 by @K_G_Andersen, @arambaut and @edwardcholmes and co. Written by @jordandoesflu with @thescisocial #covid19 #sarscov2 #mythbusters https://thesciencesocial694680041.wordpress.com/?p=104

Written by Dr Jordan Clark

Blog

Misinformation: Believe, Share, Avoid?

Misinformation and fake news are a modern day problem driven by the powers of social media. However, as we live in a world experiencing a pandemic, misinformation could put people at risk. Scientists have come together to discuss the public health implications of misinformation 1, 2. These scientists highlighted that reputable information provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers of Disease Control Prevention (CDC) had engagement values in the hundreds of thousands. Compare that to clicks on conspiracy sites and hoax information which had a whopping 52 million engagements. Clearly, there is a problem with the uptake of unverified information.

During the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic which emerged in the 1980s, the information available to the public was plagued with conspiracy theories, rumours and misinformation. Occasionally you will still hear that “HIV does not exist”, despite much evidence confirming the contrary. Mian & Khan remind us how these false arguments influenced government policy during the South African HIV epidemic in early 2000. Governmental denial of the HIV and the effectiveness of its treatment, resulted in the refusal of medication for pregnant women. This ultimately led to unnecessary mother-to-child virus transmission, costing over 300,000 lives 3, 4.

This is not the only time misinformation has swayed our views during an outbreak, throughout the ebola virus outbreak in 2014, social media influenced the social views of healthcare workers and created additional challenges in the effort to control the epidemic 5,6.

American scientists designed a study to determine how twitter bots and “trolls” contributed to online health content. They found that misinformation disseminated by twitter bots masquerading as legitimate users created false equivalency, which in turn eroded public consensus on vaccination 7. As a consequence, the vaccination programme was stunted. Thus demonstrating how misinformation can have detrimental effects on population health. A concern… I think so.

So, have we learnt from the past?

It appears not. Did you know that the “coronavirus was artificially created in a lab by a rogue government with an agenda” originated from social media accounts and websites, where no evidence for the statement was supplied. Please read our breakdown on the Nature article supporting why the coronavirus was not created in a lab, or… read the article yourself!

We want to give you the skills to call information out, and keep that finger far, far away from the share button, except for ours of course. It is our social responsibility to make sure erroneous and dangerous information is not propagated. Especially when we live in a world where the wrong information is shared more than that which will benefit us. Will you join us in ending this misinformation crisis?

How to avoid it?

In short – you can’t. Unfortunately, misinformation will continue to be an entity that exists for as long a social media does. What you can do is learn how to identify misinformation, question it, and challenge it. This all starts by understanding what good quality information really is.

1. If you’re not sure – don’t share

The unknown drives fear and stress which can impact our decision making. In this unprecedented time, it is easy to click, read and share without considering how accurate the information really is. Fake news is often interesting to read and framed to look credible with a name drop from a ‘reliable’ source or institution. It is likely that by the time you come across the post, it has been shared tens or hundreds of times, lending credence to its faux authenticity. Always consider the source of this material. If there’s a reputable name drop, fact check and search the original website or article for yourself. If you can’t find the source material or you’re not sure, don’t share. 

2. Consider the source

Before you believe the words you read, question them. In academia, it is gold standard to reference where you got your information from, this must always be from a credible or peer-reviewed source. To write a sentence without referencing it would imply that; it is common knowledge, you are the first person to say this, or it is your idea. Referencing is a way to acknowledge the work of others in your work, argument or ponderings. It provides integrity to your discussion and crucial evidence to support your point. It is commonplace to reference papers or articles that have been published by a scientific journal. In order for a paper to be published, it must be peer-reviewed by other experts in the field. This process ensures the work is necessary and relevant, robust in design and most importantly, offers reliable data.

The next time you read something, think about who wrote it and ask; what are the author’s credentials and what is the evidence?

3. For the geeks… be cautious of preprint

The way research is published is forever changing. Researchers now have a platform where they can publish their findings without peer review. If you’re into science, you may have come across research yourself on platforms such as BioRxiv and MedRxiv. This is great for researchers, scientists and hobbyists to browse the most recent work, but preprint is a double edged sword. It is important to bear in mind that the article has not yet been assessed for its publication suitability. Remember, the peer review process ensures reliability and prevents poorly conducted research from being published. This is not to say that research available in a preprint journal is not reliable, but the reader should remain cautious when drawing conclusions from the evidence.

4. We are forever learning

We are learning new things every single day. The pursuit of science and research works to prove and disprove our current understanding and so guide our thinking. Whilst this dynamic is exciting for the field, the result may be a surge of ever-changing information. This is especially obvious in a pandemic situation, as governance and policy are rapidly adapting to keep up. Although the growing wealth of knowledge may be vital to how we move forward as a nation, it can be extremely frustrating and stressful for individuals. We understand that it is difficult to filter through what is and isn’t useful, what to read and what to do next.

The internet is a minefield of information, it is important that we provide the people around us with the skills to read information, digest it and make an informed decision on whether it is reliable or not. Like the virus itself, we must stop the spread of misinformation.

The Science Social would like to help you remain aware of what’s current, challenge your sources and give you the opportunity to engage in the conversation.

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To guide you in your quest for trustworthy information:

The Conversation

The Conversation provides news and views sourced from the academic and research community. If you want to keep up with what’s going on, this is a great place to be. https://theconversation.com/uk/covid-19

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation is perhaps the most trustworthy and up-to-date site. As an organisation responsible for international public health, there are links and features covering all manner of public health issues. The link below will take you directly to a COVID-19 dashboard covering issues and questions as they arise.

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

NHS (or equivalent healthcare service)

The NHS website provides guidance on symptoms and action to take if you are concerned you may have COVID-19. Always check with your national healthcare provider and follow the recommended advice.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Government

The government website has a comprehensive repository of information relevant to the UK. It details current guidelines and government actions which are, at present, updated daily. 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

References:

  1. Mian, A., Khan, S. Coronavirus: the spread of misinformation. BMC Med 18, 89 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01556-3
  2. The Lancet, Emerging understandings of 2019-nCoV, The Lancet, Volume 395, Issue 10221, 2020, Page 311, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30186-0. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620301860)
  3. Bateman C. Paying the price for AIDS denialism. S Afr Med J. 2007;97(10):912
  4. Nlooto M, Naidoo P. Traditional, complementary and alternative medicine use by HIV patients a decade after public sector antiretroviral therapy roll out in South Africa: a cross sectional study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16:128.
  5. https://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/20/world/africa/ebola-myths/index.html
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  7. David A. Broniatowski, Amelia M. Jamison, SiHua Qi, Lulwah AlKulaib, Tao Chen, Adrian Benton, Sandra C. Quinn, and Mark Dredze, 2018: Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate American Journal of Public Health 108, 1378_1384, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304567

Misinformation: Believe, Share, Avoid? Written by @reebola95 with @thescisocial #nofakenews #notsuredontshare

Written by Rebee Penrice-Randal

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