Medical Notes this week…

Even though the nation’s opening up rapidly, officials are warning that the pandemic isn’t over yet. They’re worried we may start seeing a spike in cases soon, and it could become serious by fall… All due to the so-called “Delta variant” of the COVID virus. The Delta variant is more dangerous and more contagious than any we’ve seen yet… and it now accounts for one in five cases in the US. Experts say the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to provide good protection… but more than half of the American population is still not vaccinated.

Have you lost your sense of smell? COVID may not be to blame–it could be air pollution. Research in JAMA Network Open finds that 20 percent of a random population suffer from some degree of anosmia, a loss of smell… and that you’re at nearly twice the risk if exposed to particulate air pollution long-term. That means people living in densely populated areas are more likely not to smell their surroundings.

Doctors can now use smartphone cameras to detect bacteria on the skin and in the mouth. A team at the University of Washington has created a device that enables cameras to pick up porphyrins on the skin that grow from bacteria. The device makes the porphyrins glow red… and if your skin does that, you may need to consult a doctor. Eventually, the technology could also help identify harmful bacteria in other medical situations.

And finally…for people suffering from hard-to-treat depression, new research suggests a non-traditional treatment method – laughing gas. A study in Science Translational Medicine finds that an inhalation session with 25 percent nitrous oxide eases depression symptoms for a period of two weeks… even among those who don’t respond to standard treatments. Researchers hope that for people struggling to find the right form of therapy, laughing gas will live up to its name.

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