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WHO Expert Warns Coronavirus 'May Never Go Away'

Health + Wellness
WHO Expert Warns Coronavirus 'May Never Go Away'
Mike Ryan speaks at a WHO media briefing on COVID-19 on May 12, 2020. World Health Organization / YouTube

Many people are anxious to know when life will return to normal after the emergence of the new coronavirus, but a top World Health Organization (WHO) official warned that we may never be rid of the new disease.


"This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," WHO health emergencies program leader Mike Ryan said at a Wednesday news briefing reported by The New York Times. "H.I.V. has not gone away but we've come to terms with the virus and we have found the therapies and we have found the prevention methods, and people don't feel as scared as they did before."

Many people have pinned their hopes on a vaccine, and there are currently more than 100 in development, according to Reuters. But health experts have said that it can be difficult to find vaccines for coronaviruses, and Ryan described a vaccine as a "massive moonshot."

He also noted that many diseases for which vaccines exist continue to spread, such as measles.

"[W]e have some perfectly effective vaccines on this planet that we have not used effectively for diseases we could have eradicated," he said, according to The New York Times.

He also said that it could take a long time for anything approaching herd immunity to develop, since relatively few people had caught the virus.

"I think it is important we are realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear," he said, according to Reuters. "I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be."

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also spoke and urged everyone to do all they could to fight the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

"The trajectory is in our hands, and it's everybody's business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic," he said.

At the same time, the agency warned of a mental health crisis as people around the world deal with the anxiety and loneliness caused by the disease and subsequent social distancing measures.

"The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress," WHO mental health department director Devora Kestel said, as The Guardian reported.

In a report to the UN, her department warned of serious mental illness among children, young people and medical workers.

"The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently," she said.

As of Thursday morning, the new coronavirus has sickened more than 4.3 million people worldwide and killed almost 300,000, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins. The U.S. and Russia currently lead the world for infections, while the U.S. and the UK have the highest death tolls.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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