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Influenza vaccines might prevent COVID-19, particularly in its most severe forms. A preprint study of more than 30,000 health-care workers in Qatar found that those who got a flu shot were nearly 90% less likely to develop severe COVID-19 over the next few months, compared with those who hadn’t been recently vaccinated against flu. It’s unclear why flu vaccines — which are composed of killed influenza viruses — would also protect against COVID-19 or how long this protection lasts.
Reference: medRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)
Real-world tests confirm that short-wavelength ultraviolet light, known as far-UVC, can disinfect air without harming people. Researchers found that far-UVC lamps effectively wiped out airborne Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in a room-sized chamber. Even when the bacteria were continuously released into the room, the lamps — combined with typical ventilation of around three air changes per hour — reduced the amount in the room by 92%, equivalent to 35 air changes per hour. Far-UVC light has long shown promise against airborne pathogens — including SARS-CoV-2 — in the laboratory. And, unlike other forms of UV light, it doesn’t damage human skin or eyes, or cause cancer.
For the first time, plants have been grown in soil brought back from the Moon. Researchers grew thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in samples gathered by the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. The plants sprouted eagerly but didn’t thrive and ended up stunted.
Features & opinion
In the third of an eight-part podcast series, Science in Africa, two researchers at the University of Cape Town discuss the movement that grew around the removal of a campus statue of nineteenth-century imperialist Cecil Rhodes in April 2015. Environmental geographer Paballo Chauke, who is Black, and anthropologist Shannon Morreira, who is white, tell host Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa, that seeing the statue come down was both an anti-climax and a catalyst for change. “People must know that ‘Rhodes must fall’ was a thinking movement,” says Chauke. “There was theory and practice behind why the statue must fall.” Nevertheless, the moment itself was overwhelmingly emotional. “That day, it was ‘Oh my god.’ It was like a release, there was a cascading moment like a waterfall.”
In 2020, while all eyes were on COVID-19, tuberculosis (TB) killed 1.5 million people — the first year since 2005 that the number of deaths from the disease had risen. In her new book, The Phantom Plague, global-health reporter Vidya Krishnan reminds us that the threat of drug-resistant TB still hangs over the globe, with the poorest people bearing the heaviest burden. “Poverty is the disease,” she writes; “TB the symptom.”
Physicist and civil servant Bernard Bigot, who led the jaw-droppingly ambitious ITER project, has died aged 72. Bigot took on the experimental fusion reactor in 2015 and is widely credited with bringing soaring budget and scheduling overruns to heel. Bigot was known for his gentle charm and firm grasp of international diplomacy — essential skills at a multibillion-dollar project that involves every major world power. He was “one of the great leaders in turn-of-the-21st-century science”, says fusion physicist Steven Cowley.