(TMU) — As SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes CoViD-19, continues to spread around the world, scientists, medical experts, and healthcare professionals search for ways to diagnose the illness and “flatten the curve” of infection.
Since the window of time in which early testing could have helped shape effective quarantine strategies was missed, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are trying something different: a voice analyzer app that may be able to determine whether or not you’re infected.
While the app is still in an early beta stage, the researchers believe their algorithm could help alleviate the widespread shortage of testing kits. While they are quick to point out that their tool has not been approved by the FDA or the CDC and is not a medical diagnostic system, the COVID Voice Detector may be able to pick up on some of the telltale breathing, coughing, and voice patterns exhibited by infected people.
“In terms of diagnostics, of course, it’s never going to be as accurate as taking a swab and putting it on some agar and waiting for it to grow,” said Benjamin Striner, a Carnegie Mellon graduate student who worked extensively on the app. “But in terms of very easily monitoring a ton of people daily, weekly, whatever, monitoring on a very large scale, it gives you a way to handle and track health outbreaks.”
The app developers say that more data is needed to say how effective the Voice Detector is at diagnosis.
Bhiksha Raj, a professor at Carnegie Mellon who is one of the app’s co-developers, says:
“The score the app currently shows is an indicator of how much the signatures in your voice match those of other COVID patients whose voices we have tested. This is not medical advice. The primary objective of our effort/website at this point of time is to collect large numbers of voice recordings that we could use to refine the algorithm into something we—and the medical community—are confident about.”
The app is part of a long line of experimental algorithms that pinpoint micro-signatures in the human voice. Such micro-signatures, says Rita Singh, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, can be used to assess preliminary diagnostics about a patient’s psychological, physiological, and other medical info.
“The cough of a COVID patient is very distinctive,” Singh observes. “It affects the lungs so badly that breathing patterns and several other vital parameters are affected, and those are likely to have very strong signatures in voice.”
Not everyone is convinced this is the best time for such an experiment. Professor Ashwin Vasan remarked:
“Despite what could be a well-intentioned attempt by a bunch of engineers to help during this crisis, this is not exactly the messaging we want to be out there. That somehow there is a nifty new tool we can use to diagnose coronavirus, in absence of the things we really need much more of, actual test kits, serologic testing, PPE for frontline healthcare workers, and ventilators for critically ill patients.”
While the app is not yet being used in any kind of official medical capacity, it is part of a growing suite of data collection and tracking efforts by the healthcare industry, government agencies, and law enforcement.
Just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a portable artificial intelligence gadget that helps forecast pandemics by analyzing coughing sounds; a Southern California police department in Chula Vista using Chinese drones to help spotlight people breaking social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions; a supercomputer that is running simulations to try and find a CoViD-19 treatment; and, of course, government officials from the CDC and local departments using cellphone meta-data from 500 U.S. cities to surveil peoples’ movements during the pandemic.
If anyone was worried what Big Data during a second Patriot Act-style event would look like, it seems we’re about to get a frontline view.
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.