Today's Liberal News

Sarah Zhang

Is a Common Virus Suddenly Causing Liver Failure in Kids?

Last October, a young girl with severe and unusual liver failure was admitted to a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Her symptoms were typical: skin and eyes yellow with jaundice, markers of liver damage off the charts. But she tested negative for all the usual suspects behind liver disease. Her only positive test was, surprisingly, for adenovirus—a common virus best known for causing mild colds, pink eye, or stomach flu.

Vaccinating Kids Has Never Been Easy

In September 1957—two years after church bells rang in celebration of the new polio vaccine, two years after people rejoiced in the streets, two years after Americans began lining up for their shots—the proportion of children fully vaccinated against polio remained at about 50 percent.Supply was not the problem.

The COVID Strategy America Hasn’t Really Tried

It is common knowledge that COVID risk goes up with age, but how steeply it rises is still astounding to see after two years of living and dying with this coronavirus. Compared with someone in their 20s, a person over 65 years old is not slightly more likely to die of COVID but at least 65 times more likely to die of COVID. Over age 75, they become 140 times more likely to die. Over age 85, they are 340 times more likely to die.

The Coronavirus Will Surprise Us Again

To understand how the coronavirus keeps evolving into surprising new variants with new mutations, it helps to have some context: The virus’s genome is 30,000 letters long, which means that the number of possible mutation combinations is mind-bogglingly huge. As Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told me, that number far, far exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe.

Omicron Is Forcing Us to Rethink Mild COVID

When Delta swept across the United States last year, the extremely transmissible and deadlier variant threw us into pandemic limbo. The virus remained a danger mostly to unvaccinated people, but they largely wanted to move on. Vaccinated people also largely wanted to move on. The virus did not want to move on. So we got stuck in a deadly rut, and more Americans died of COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020.

Omicron Is Pushing America Into Soft Lockdown

“I do not see a scenario for any kind of shutdown,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared this week, as parts of New York were in fact shutting down all around him. Broadway canceled show after show. Restaurants closed their kitchens. De Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams, who will take office January 1, nixed his inauguration gala. There has been no March 2020–style universal shutdown, but New York is not back anymore, baby.

You Have No Idea How Hard It Is to Get a Hamster Drunk

The heaviest drinkers in the animal kingdom are punier than you might expect. Elephants, for example, are massive, but they are relative lightweights—they lack a gene for alcohol metabolism. Humans actually rank pretty highly, thanks to our ancestors’ propensity for picking fermented fruit off the ground. But to find the real champs, you have to think smaller.Think hoarder.Think hamster.

We Know Enough About Omicron to Know That We’re in Trouble

Updated at 12:00 p.m. ET on December 17, 2021A lot has changed for Omicron in just two weeks. At December’s onset, the variant was barely present in Europe, showing up in 1 to 2 percent of COVID cases. Now it’s accounting for 72 percent of new cases in London, where everybody seems to know somebody with COVID. In the U.K. and Denmark, Omicron case numbers are doubling every other day.

Omicron’s Explosive Growth Is a Warning Sign

A lot is still unknown around Omicron, but a worrying trend has become clear: This variant sure is spreading fast. In South Africa, the U.K., and Denmark—countries with the best variant surveillance and high immunity against COVID—Omicron cases are growing exponentially. The variant has outcompeted the already highly transmissible Delta in South Africa and may soon do the same elsewhere. According to preliminary estimates, every person with Omicron is infecting 3–3.

We’re Not at Endemicity Yet

No one knows exactly what endemic COVID will look like, but whatever it looks like, this—gestures at the current situation—ain’t it. COVID is not yet endemic. There is little doubt that the coronavirus will get there eventually, when almost everyone has been vaccinated or infected or both, but right now we are still living through a messy and potentially volatile transition period. Cases are ticking up again. A new variant is afoot.

The Pandemic’s Next Turn Hinges on Three Unknowns

Winter has a way of bringing out the worst of the coronavirus. Last year, the season saw a record surge that left nearly 250,000 Americans dead and hospitals overwhelmed around the country. This year, we are much better prepared, with effective vaccines—and, soon, powerful antivirals—that defang the coronavirus, but cases seem to be on the rise again, prompting fears of another big surge.

America Has Lost the Plot on COVID

We know how this ends: The coronavirus becomes endemic, and we live with it forever. But what we don’t know—and what the U.S. seems to have no coherent plan for—is how we are supposed to get there.

The Children of Sperm Donors Want to Change the Rules of Conception

Damian Adams grew up knowing that his parents had used an anonymous sperm donor to conceive him, and as a teen, he was even proud of this identity. He considered donating to help other families have children. Becoming a father himself, however, changed everything. When his daughter was born 18 years ago, he cradled her in his arms, and he instantly saw himself in her and her in himself. He felt a biological connection so powerful that it made him reconsider his entire life up until then.

Vaccine Data for Kids Under 5 Are Coming ‘Before the End of the Year’

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our coverage of The Atlantic Festival. Learn more and watch festival sessions here. The vaccine timeline for young kids is looking a little more solid. This morning, Pfizer submitted data to the FDA showing that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective and safe for children ages 5 to 11. And this afternoon, the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, said that trial results for even younger kids, aged 2 to 4, will be available in a couple months’ time.

The Plan to Stop Every Respiratory Virus at Once

Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on September 7, 2021When London vanquished cholera in the 19th century, it took not a vaccine, or a drug, but a sewage system. The city’s drinking water was intermingling with human waste, spreading bacteria in one deadly outbreak after another. A new comprehensive network of sewers separated the two. London never experienced a major cholera outbreak after 1866.

The Coronavirus Is Here Forever. This Is How We Live With It.

In the 1980s, doctors at an English hospital deliberately tried to infect 15 volunteers with a coronavirus. COVID-19 did not yet exist—what interested those doctors was a coronavirus in the same family called 229E, which causes the common cold. 229E is both ubiquitous and obscure. Most of us have had it, probably first as children, but the resulting colds were so mild as to be unremarkable.

The Trash Parrots of Australia Are Very Annoying but Very Clever

When Barbara Klump ran into homeowners on trash-collection day, she would tell them that something very special was happening in their suburb of Sydney. She meant the birds. The big white ones?, the residents asked. The birds that are always opening trash cans and making a huge mess? Yes, those, the sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Are Wind Turbines a Danger to Wildlife? Ask the Dogs.

Kayla Fratt began preparing for her summer job in March, when a package of frozen bat carcasses arrived for her in the mail. Well, actually, the bats were for her border collies, Barley and Niffler, and it is really their summer job too. They needed to learn the scent of a dead bat, because they would be spending three months on wind farms, looking for bats killed by spinning turbines.

Doctors Might Have Been Focusing on the Wrong Asthma Triggers

Nicole Lawson spent the beginning of the pandemic incredibly worried about her daughter, who has asthma. Five-year-old Scarlett’s asthma attacks were already landing her in the ER or urgent care every few months. Now a scary new virus was spreading. Respiratory viruses are known triggers of asthma attacks, and doctors also feared at the time that asthma itself could lead to more severe coronavirus infections.

America’s Vaccine Future Is Fragmenting

Last winter, when vaccines were still incredibly scarce in the United States, Ashish Jha told The Atlantic that he was feeling optimistic about summer: By July 4, Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, expected enough people to be vaccinated that he could host a backyard barbecue. Indeed, Jha confirmed to me this week, he will be grilling burgers and hot dogs for friends this Fourth of July.

A Slimy Calamity Is Creeping Across the Sea

Divers who have seen the phenomenon firsthand describe many types of underwater sea snot. There are the “stringers,” which most resemble the sticky goo that might actually come out of your nose. But there are also floating “clouds,” white and ethereal, so delicate that they break apart in your fingers.

Expect the Unexpected From the Delta Variant

This much is clear: The coronavirus is becoming more transmissible. Ever since the virus emerged in China, it has been gaining mutations that help it spread more easily among humans. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom last year, is 50 percent more transmissible than the original version, and now the Delta variant, first detected in India, is at least 40 percent more transmissible than Alpha.

Expect the Unexpected From the Delta Variant

This much is clear: The coronavirus is becoming more transmissible. Ever since the virus emerged in China, it has been gaining mutations that help it spread more easily among humans. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom last year, is 50 percent more transmissible than the original version, and now the Delta variant, first detected in India, is at least 40 percent more transmissible than Alpha.

All the Sad, Lonely Pandemic Puppies

Bowen the goldendoodle is never home alone. When he first came home as a puppy, last June, his parents were working remotely because of the pandemic. If they try to leave their Boston apartment for even a few minutes now, he makes his unhappiness audible. “He’s whining and barking, and we just don’t want to upset the neighbors,” Jon Canario told me. So they don’t. Wherever they go, he goes. Wherever he can’t go, they don’t go.

A Clue to Why the 1918 Pandemic Came Back Stronger Than Before

The three teenagers—two boys and a girl—could not have known what clues their lungs would one day yield. All they could have known, or felt, before they died in Germany in 1918 was their flu-ravaged lungs failing them, each breath getting harder and harder. Tens of millions of people like them died in the flu pandemic of 1918; they happened to be three whose lungs were preserved by a farsighted pathologist.

The Era of Mass Vaccinations Is Ending

At its peak, in late March, the mass-vaccination site at Nashville’s Music City Center was giving out 2,100 doses a day. It was all hands on deck: Local nurses, volunteers, FEMA employees, and even U.S. Forest Service EMTs were redeployed to help give COVID-19 shots. But last week, the number of daily doses dropped to less than 1,300—about 1,100 second doses and only 190 first doses.

A Revolution Is Sweeping the Science of Ancient Diseases

When Johannes Krause was a graduate student working on the Neanderthal genome in the 2000s, so much of the DNA recovered from the ancient bone fragments came from everything else: the skin cells of excavators and scientists, the bacteria on those humans, the microbes in the soil. To get to Neanderthal DNA, you had to junk the rest.

We Are Turning COVID-19 Into a Young Person’s Disease

Like many parents, Jason Newland, a pediatrician at Washington University in St. Louis and a dad to three teens ages 19, 17, and 15, now lives in a mixed-vaccination household. His 19-year-old got vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s shot two weeks ago and the 17-year-old with Pfizer’s, which is available to teens as young as 16.The 15-year-old is still waiting for her shot, though—a bit impatiently now.

The mRNA Vaccines Are Looking Better and Better

A year ago, when the United States decided to go big on vaccines, it bet on nearly every horse, investing in a spectrum of technologies. The safest bets, in a way, repurposed the technology behind existing vaccines, such as protein-based ones for tetanus or hepatitis B. The medium bets were on vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which use adenovirus vectors, a technology that had been tested before but not deployed on a large scale.

You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now

One of the most perplexing and enduring mysteries of the pandemic is also one of the most fundamental questions about viruses. How can the same virus that kills so many go entirely unnoticed in others?The mystery is hardly unique to COVID-19. SARS, MERS, influenza, Ebola, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile, Lassa, Japanese encephalitis, Epstein-Barr, and polio can all be deadly in one person but asymptomatic in the next.