Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help



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Pasi Sahlberg, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Many parents are worried the disruptions of COVID lockdowns and school closures may affect their children’s mental health and development.

In the Royal Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Poll in June 2020, more than one-third of parents reported the pandemic has had negative consequences on their children’s mental health. Almost half of parents said the pandemic had also been harmful to their own mental health.

Many parents spent at least some months this year supporting their children to learn from home (and still are, in Victoria). This already substantial challenge was complicated by children not being able to go out and play with other children. In Victoria, such restrictions are still in place, although some have been relaxed and playgrounds are open.

Still, it’s fair to say that across the country, some children are not socially engaging with their peers in the same way they did before. This is not only detrimental to children’s learning but also their physical and mental health. It is understandable if parents are worried.

What social isolation means for kids

In June 2020, in the context of COVID-19, a group of researchers in the UK reviewed 80 studies to find how social isolation and loneliness could impact the mental health of previously healthy children. They found social isolation increased the risk of depression and possibly anxiety, and these effects could last several years.




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The review also concluded loneliness puts children’s well-being at risk of these things long after the social isolation period is over.

The impact of social isolation may be particularly significant for children with special educational needs, when support provided at school to them is interrupted.

Other children – perhaps those living in medium and high-density housing with limited access to outdoor play space – may also be particularly vulnerable to the effects of social isolation.

Father and son racing a toy train on a track.
Playing with your kids can help them feel less lonely.
Shutterstock

Some parents with only one child have also voiced concerns about loneliness.

It is difficult to substitute what real human interaction with peers means to a child. Active engagement in creative play alone or physical activity with parents can be helpful for children who miss the company of their friends.

The power of play

What could possibly fix this situation? The answer is: help children play.

The benefits of regular play are many and they are well documented in research. Paediatricians say play improves children’s language skills, early maths knowledge, peer relations, social and physical development and learning how to get new skills.

When children can’t play for any reason, anxiety and toxic stress can harm the healthy development of social behaviours.




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During the pandemic, play can be an effective tonic for stress and can encourage the development of positive behaviours.

When children play together, play effects become even more powerful. Experts say social play can help children develop skills in cooperation, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution and empathy.

In social play, children can rehearse and role play real-world situations safely. Through play, they make sense of the world and process change. Parents playing with their children help children play better with their peers.

Group of kids playing
When children play together, the benefits of normal play are enhanced.
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Now is the time to stress the importance of play. A survey done by the Gonski Institute in 2019 showed four out of five Australians believe today’s children are under pressure to grow up too quickly. More than 70% think the lifelong benefits children gained from play, such as creativity and empathy, are mostly ignored today.

Research from previous pandemics shows we need well-planned and coordinated solutions to potentially long-term emotional issues. We can embrace the role of play to mitigate the losses children have experienced while living through a pandemic.

What can parents do?

Children need both guided indoor play and free play ourdoors. Playing with family members at home, or with friends at school, are good for social play.

Digital devices can provide children a way to play together with their friends when they can’t meet with them. But the benefits of play are more long-lasting through social play in person.

Parks, green spaces and quiet streets are suitable for outdoor play. Natural environments both soothe and stimulate children, while connecting them to their environment and community. So here are four things you can do to encourage play.

1. Make time for play

The most important thing you can do is to make time every day for your children to play. Take play time seriously and show your children you value it for the benefit of their well-being, health and learning.

2. Set clear guidelines to technology use at home

It is important to talk with your children about safe and responsible use of digital media and technology. This may require agreeing to put some limits to the use of screens at home, and encourage children to actively engage with friends by playing interactive games when using digital devices.




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3. Go out whenever possible

A recent review of nearly 200 studies found “green time” — time in parks, nature reserves and woods — appeared to be associated with favourable psychological outcomes, while high levels of screen time appeared to be associated with unfavourable psychological outcomes.

Parks and playgrounds are open now in Victoria, while in other states they have been for some time.

So find fun outdoor exploratory activities for your children, and where possible bring other kids along.

4. Be a role model of all of the above

Children often mimic their parents. The best way to ensure children grow up healthy and happy is to be a role model to them. More play, and enough quality time outdoors with children is good for your own health and happiness, too.


For more see the Raising Children Network and the Gonski Institute.The Conversation

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Exposure to common colds might give some people a head start in fighting COVID-19



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Larisa Labzin, The University of Queensland and Stefan Emming, The University of Queensland

Could we have some immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, without ever having been exposed to it?

Some new studies found people who were never symptomatic, exposed to, or tested positive for COVID-19 have immune cells that can recognise and possibly kill virus-infected cells.

How is this possible? And what does it mean for our fight against COVID-19?

Many common colds are coronaviruses

There are seven known coronaviruses that can infect humans. Three can cause severe respiratory symptoms: SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1 (which caused the 2002-04 SARS outbreak), and MERS-CoV (which was first identified in 2012).

The other four cause relatively mild colds, and are known as the common cold coronaviruses. It’s hard to find an exact figure, but one estimate suggests up to 30% of all common colds are caused by these coronaviruses, and up to 90% of us will have some antibodies against them in our blood. Like the other viruses that cause common colds (such as rhinoviruses), they show a strong seasonality, with a wave of coronavirus infections each winter.

Immunity to these common cold coronaviruses is not very long–lasting, so we get re-infected with them all the time. We don’t know yet if our immunity to SARS-CoV-2 will also wane over time, and whether that means we could get re-infected.

A TEM image of cells under the microscope of a coronavirus disease that infects birds
Coronaviruses are a family of RNA viruses that infect humans and other animals. They are named after their crown-like spikes, derived from ‘corona’ in Latin which means ‘crown’.
CDC/Unsplash



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What did new studies find?

What these new studies did was expose some people’s blood to SARS-CoV-2. These blood samples were taken specifically from “healthy donors” – people who have never been confirmed to have coronavirus, or from whom blood was collected years before SARS-CoV-2 emerged.

Depending on the study, between 20 and 50% of these people were found to have immune cells (called T cells) that could recognise SARS-CoV-2. This is unexpected, as usually specific T cells are only present after infection with the virus.

There are two possible explanations. Either those “healthy donors” were mildly infected with SARS-CoV-2 and didn’t show symptoms or develop antibodies, but they did develop a T cell response. Or, in the case of samples taken before the disease emerged, it means these T cells can recognise multiple coronaviruses, including common colds and SARS-CoV-2.

More than just antibodies

When we get infected with a virus like SARS-CoV-2, our immune system responds in a range of ways. It generates antibodies, which can neutralise the virus to stop it entering our cells. These antibodies are specific to the virus, and thus can be used to test whether we’ve had the virus before.

But besides antibodies, we have a host of other immune weapons in our arsenal for fighting off viruses.

T cells are specialised immune cells that have lots of functions (including helping us make antibodies) but are best known for being able to recognise and kill virus-infected cells. This is really important, because if the virus has evaded antibodies and managed to get into the cells, it can start replicating. Eliminating the infected cell is one of the most efficient ways to stop the infection.

A human T cell
T cells can recognise fragments of virus across different coronaviruses, which could help our body fight COVID-19 infection.
NIAID/Wikimedia Commons



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T cells are master detectives

How do T cells know which of our body’s cells are infected with a virus? Because they can recognise small but specific snippets of viral proteins that our cells “present” on their surface. These viral snippets on the infected cell surface act like a beacon for the T cells to recognise and eliminate the virus-infected cells. Like antibodies, after the infection is cleared, we keep some of those T cells around in case we get reinfected with the same virus.

The small bits of virus presented on the infected cell’s surface can come from all parts of the virus, including the ones from inside the virus, which tend to be very similar across the different coronaviruses. That means a T cell that recognises a viral protein fragment from one type of coronavirus could potentially recognise the same fragment of viral protein that comes from a different coronavirus.

For example, if a virus was like a car, the antibody might recognise and bind to the outside, and it would only recognise a certain colour, year, and type of car.

But the T cell could recognise the specific bits, like the engine. So if the same engine was in loads of different cars, even though you might have really different cars, as long as it’s a petrol engine the T cell would recognise it. So it’s possible some of our T cells that were formed during a common cold infection are recognising SARS-CoV-2 and helping our immune system have a headstart for fighting SARS-CoV-2.

So these T cells can be cross protective — they work against different coronaviruses — and they can be very longlasting. In patients who recovered from SARS-CoV-1, specific T cells were still detectable up to 11 years later. This T cell memory could protect us from developing severe COVID-19, and could possibly explain why some people get so sick with COVID-19 while other people do not.

It’s not all rosy

While T cells represent another measure of whether people have been infected or not, we can’t use them as a quick diagnostic tool because detecting virus-specific T cells is far more slow, laborious and difficult than detecting antibodies.

We also don’t know yet what this pre-existing T cell immunity means for immune protection. We don’t even know whether the specific T cells generated during SARS-CoV-2 infection will be enough to protect us from COVID-19, and how important they are compared with the antibody responses.

Therefore, the most successful vaccines will likely induce both protective antibody and T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2.




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The Conversation


Larisa Labzin, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland and Stefan Emming, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Multiple sclerosis drug may help treat COVID-19 and lead to faster recovery



Vadim Zakharishchev/Shutterstock

Nial Wheate, University of Sydney and Elise Schubert, University of Sydney

What do multiple sclerosis (MS) and the novel coronavirus have in common? Until this week, not much, but a recent clinical trial has shown a reformulation of a drug used to treat MS can potentially also be used to help patients infected with COVID-19.

SNG001 is an inhaled form of a drug called interferon-beta under development by the UK pharmaceutical company Synairgen. Interferon is normally prescribed for the treatment of symptoms relating to relapsing-remitting MS.

But the clinical trial, Synairgen found that when SNG001 was given to patients with COVID-19, it stopped the development of more severe symptoms, accelerated their recovery, and allowed them to leave hospital earlier.




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Like other clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments, the results still need to be thoroughly checked before SNG001 is included as a standard treatment for coronavirus. The drug’s key risks (potential for severe depression) also need to be weighed against the potential benefits.

How does it work?

MS is a condition of the central nervous system. The nerve impulses between the brain and spinal cord get blocked or mixed up. It happens because the body’s immune system attacks the protective layers around nerve fibres. The result is a loss of muscle control and balance.

In contrast, COVID-19 is a viral infection that affects a patient’s ability to breathe due to inflammation putting pressure on their lungs.

What both diseases have in common is the activation of the body’s immune response, so a drug that modulates the immune system for one can potentially work for the other.

Interferon-beta (interferon), a naturally occurring protein in the body, is used as an immunotherapy drug to combat relapsing-remitting MS by reducing inflammation and easing the symptoms of the disease.

Scientists at Synairgen hypothesised it could also treat COVID-19 through initiating the body’s antiviral response and potentially reducing inflammation on the lungs.

It is believed some at-risk patient groups cannot produce interferon as effectively as other people, reducing their ability to fight the virus and resulting in more severe symptoms.

So giving those patients interferon, in theory, should help them fight the virus, alleviate their symptoms, and improve survival rates.

Take a breath

For the treatment of MS, interferon is given as a weekly injection into muscle tissue.

The SNG001 drug developed by Synairgen contains the same interferon therapy used for MS, but formulated as an inhaled product.

Originally, the company was developing SNG001 as a treatment for a different type of lung condition called chronic obstructive pulomary diease (COPD), but it saw the direct potential for COVID-19 as well.

Instead of an injection, SNG001 is given to patients via a nebuliser, a machine that transforms a water solution of interferon into a fine mist that can be breathed in by patients through a face mask.

Promising results, so far

Between March and May this year, Synairgen sponsored a clinical trial at University Hospital Southampton to test SNG001 for COVID-19 patients. Those eligible for the trial only needed to have mild symptoms of COVID-19.

Other clinical trials conducted in the past for different drugs, such as remdesivir and dexamethasone, required patients to be hospitalised before they were eligible for drug treatment.

In total, 101 patients in a hospital setting were enrolled in the SNG001 trial and were given the drug daily for 14 days. Compared with a placebo, those given SNG001 had a 79% lower risk of developing severe disease.

Patients given the drug were also twice as likely to recover from their infection and were discharged earlier from hospital than those given the placebo.

Before SNG001 becomes standard care for COVID-19 treatment the results of the clinical trial need to be checked by independent scientists.

In the past, trial results for hydroxychloroquine did not stand up to scrutiny after they were announced and the results were subsequently retracted by the research team.

The risks and benefits

If the latest results are shown to be reliable, before doctors decide to make SNG001 a part of the standard treatment for hospitalised COVID-19 patients they will need to weigh its benefits against the potential risks.

One of the most important side effects of the drugs is that it can induce depression.

As a result, interferon is used with caution in patients with pre-existing depression or who have suicidal thoughts. These conditions may already be heightened by the pandemic if a potential patient for the drug has lost their job or they are not dealing well with the isolation of social distancing.

This means doctors would need to undertake a comprehensive mental health screen of all patients they consider for SNG001 treatment.




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Other side effects relevant to interferon are that it can worsen seizure disorders or heart failures. So again, it needs to be used with caution in these patient groups.

The results of the SNG001 trial are very promising and potentially give us a treatment to prevent those people mildly infected with COVID-19 from developing more severe symptoms and needing hospitalisation.

But the results need to be checked by independent scientists first, and the drug’s benefits need to be weighed against its risk, as the ability to induce severe depression could cause a wave of mental health problems that make matters worse rather than better.The Conversation

Nial Wheate, Associate Professor | Program Director, Undergraduate Pharmacy, University of Sydney and Elise Schubert, Pharmacist and PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

7 tips to help kids feeling anxious about going back to school


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Mandie Shean, Edith Cowan University

As COVID-19 lockdown measures are lifted, some children may experience social anxiety about the prospect of returning to school.

People with social anxiety may fear embarrassment or the expectation to perform in social situations, or worry exceedingly about people judging you poorly.

In certain situations, people with anxiety may find their heart beats quicker as adrenalin is released into their blood stream, more oxygen flows to the blood and brain, and even digestion may slow down.




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These are helpful responses if you need to run away or fight danger. But social situations are generally not life threatening, and these physical symptoms can interfere with socialising.

People with social anxiety may fear looking silly, being judged, laughed at or being the focus of attention. For anyone, such experiences might be unwelcome but for those with social anxiety they pose an unacceptable threat.

Social anxiety in Australian children

One Australian report found that about 6.9% of children and adolescents surveyed have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, 4.3% experience separation anxiety and 2.3% a social phobia.

Social phobia (social anxiety) is more common in adolescents, whereas separation anxiety (intense anxiety over leaving caregivers, such as parents) is more prevalent in children.

These figures only account for those who have a diagnosis of anxiety. They do not include undiagnosed young people who experience high stress in social situations.

Not all children will be happy to be back in school.
Tom Wang/Shutterstock

Any recent prolonged absence from school may have increased social anxiety, as avoiding what you fear can make your fear become greater.

This is because you do not get to learn that the thing you fear is actually safe. Your beliefs about the threat go unchallenged.

Anxiety can also increase through what pyschologists call reduced tolerance. The more children withdraw from the situations that cause them fear, the less tolerance they have for those situations.

Anxiety can affect education

The educational cost for students with anxiety is considerable.

The research shows students with poor mental health can be between seven to 11 months behind in Year 3, and 1.5 – 2.8 years behind by Year 9.




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That’s because these students experience more absences from school, poorer connection to school, lower levels of belonging and less engagement with schoolwork.

7 strategies to help overcome social anxiety

So what can children do to overcome anxiety as they return to school? Here are some useful tips.

  1. deal with some of the physical symptoms. It is hard to think if your body is stressed. Use calming strategies like mindfulness or breathing exercises. Slowing your breathing can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. Useful apps to help you control your breathing include Smiling Mind (iOS and Android) or Breathing Bubbles (Android only).

  2. anxiety increases while using avoidance techniques such as avoiding eye contact, not raising your hand to answer a question, or not attending school. So the most effective way to deal with social anxiety might be to face it. Allow your child to have small experiences of social success – give their opinion to one person, start a conversation with someone they know – so they can learn to feel safe in these social situations.

  3. fear and anxiety are normal and benefit us by helping us to respond efficiently to danger. Rather than read your body as under threat, think about the changes as helpful. Your body is preparing you for action.

  4. while avoiding your fears is not the answer, being fully exposed to them is not the answer either. Providing overwhelming social experiences may lead to overwhelming fear and failure, and may make anxiety sufferers less likely to try again – or at all. Start small and build their courage.

  5. supportive listening and counselling are less effective than facing your fears because these approaches can accommodate the fears. While you want to support your child by providing them with comfort and encouragement – ensure you also encourage them to face the fears that cause the anxiety.

  6. you cannot promise negative things won’t happen. It is possible you will be embarrassed or be judged. Rather than try to avoid these events, try reframing them. Remember that that we all experience negative social feedback, and this does not make you silly or of less value. It makes you normal. Or, rather than see it as embarrassing, maybe it can be funny.

  7. remember it is the “perception” that something is a threat – not the reality. Reasoning with your child to help them see your perspective may not change theirs. This reality only changes with positive real experiences.

Breathing Bubbles in action.

What we think is truth is often revealed as untrue when we face our fears. There is joy in social situations. Keep turning up to them.




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The Conversation


Mandie Shean, Lecturer, School of Education, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 ways nutrition could help your immune system fight off the coronavirus



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Clare Collins, University of Newcastle

The coronavirus presents many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of getting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat as healthily as possible.

If we do catch COVID-19, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research shows improving nutrition helps support optimal immune function.

Micronutrients essential to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.

Here’s what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods we can eat to get them.




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1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A maintains the structure of the cells in the skin, respiratory tract and gut. This forms a barrier and is your body’s first line of defence. If fighting infection was like a football game, vitamin A would be your forward line.

We also need vitamin A to help make antibodies which neutralise the pathogens that cause infection. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposition player who has the ball, to prevent them scoring.

Vitamin A is found in oily fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

Further, vegetables contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in leafy green vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.

2. B vitamins

B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognised a pathogen.

They do this by influencing the production and activity of “natural killer” cells. Natural killer cells work by causing infected cells to “implode”, a process called apoptosis.

At a football match, this role would be like security guards intercepting wayward spectators trying to run onto the field and disrupt play.

Fish is a good source of vitamin B6.
Shutterstock

B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.

B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour.

B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk (check the nutrition information panel).

3. Vitamins C and E

When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radicals which can pierce cell walls, causing the contents to leak into tissues and exacerbating inflammation.

Vitamin C and vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress.




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Vitamin C also helps clean up this cellular mess by producing specialised cells to mount an immune response, including neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes.

So the role of vitamin C here is a bit like cleaning up the football ground after the game.

Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.

Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.

4. Vitamin D

Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.

Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added).

Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.

People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.

5. Iron, zinc, selenium

We need iron, zinc and selenium for immune cell growth, among other functions.

Iron helps kill pathogens by increasing the number of free radicals that can destroy them. It also regulates enzyme reactions essential for immune cells to recognise and target pathogens.

Whole grain foods contain a variety of important nutrients.
Shutterstock

Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes. Zinc and selenium also act as an antioxidant, helping mop up some of the damage caused by oxidative stress.

Iron is found in meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.

Zinc is found in oysters and other seafood, meat, chicken, dried beans and nuts.

Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), meat, cereals and mushrooms are good food sources of selenium.




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Putting it all together

It’s true some supermarkets are out of certain products at the moment. But as much as possible, focus on eating a variety of foods within each of the basic food groups to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals.

While vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended for the general population, there are some exceptions.

Pregnant women, some people with chronic health conditions, and people with conditions that mean they can’t eat properly or are on very restrictive diets, may need specific supplements. Talk to your doctor, Accredited Practising Dietitian or pharmacist.




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And beyond diet, there are other measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible in the face of coronavirus.

Stop smoking to improve your lung’s ability to fight infection, perform moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking, get enough sleep, practise social distancing and wash your hands with soap regularly.The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A familiar place among the chaos: how schools can help students cope after the bushfires


Rachael Jacobs, Western Sydney University and Carol Mutch, University of Auckland

School will start on a somewhat sombre note this year. Some schools will still be shrouded in smog from the bushfires. Some students will be grieving the loss of property, animals or even family and friends. Some remain evacuated and others are part of the recovery effort.

In recent days, Australia’s education minister Dan Tehan highlighted the importance of schools supporting students in the aftermaths of the bushfires.

Announcing A$8 million for mental-health liaison officers and clinicians to work with schools and early childhood services in affected communities, Tehan said:

[…] child care centres, preschools, schools and universities are important community touchpoints that are helping families and children get back on their feet after the bushfires.

Even students not directly affected by the fires might be distressed by images they have seen or stories they have heard.

So, what can schools and teachers do to help students cope in the aftermaths of this crisis?




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A sense of control

Schools can provide a sense of familiarity, routine and security among chaos. Even if a school has been affected by fires, it’s important it still feel like school with familiar things such as books, desks and chairs, classes and lunch breaks.

But these same structures should, for a time, be more flexible than before. Time spent on activities might be shorter, the breaks a little longer and the pace a little slower. Providing options to share or respond in different ways gives students a sense of control in a world that, for a time, seemed out of control.

Schools are also supportive communities. Researchers who studied the experiences and the responses of schools in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, suggest it is important to provide opportunities for students to process their experiences in a safe and structured way.

Students should not be forced to share their feelings but can be guided in a calm manner that avoids further trauma. A teacher who provided help after Hurricane Sandy suggested teachers model calm and optimistic behaviour, acknowledging students’ distress but demonstrating constructive actions that provide hope for the future.

For example, creating a photoboard of communities coming together in recovery can be a powerful civics lesson. Or students could write letters of thanks to volunteers in a literacy lesson.




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Creative activities are helpful for students to express their experience. This could be done through writing, drawing, painting, making things with their hands, moving to or creating music, singing, drama or photography.

Some older students may have controversial questions or opinions about climate change or the funding of emergency services. Teachers can lean into difficult conversations and allow for respectful debate.

Perhaps collate a reputable series of articles for students who want to know more.

‘A teaspoon of light’ project helped students deal with the trauma of earthquakes using drama.

Distracting children from going over things they find distressing is important too. There comes a time when teachers can gently move on from acknowledging students’ fears or sadness to another activity – especially calming ones such as relaxation exercises, listening to a story or quiet music.

Following the 2010 Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand, researchers suggested teachers help students regulate their emotions with relaxation exercises or using play, and re-frame their thoughts more positively such as by thinking of happy things like their pets.

Traumatised children

Young people who have been injured, or have suffered a major loss (a loved one or a home) might have difficulty adjusting to returning to school. Those who have experienced prior trauma or have a history of mental illness are more at risk of adjustment difficulties.

It helps if schools can brief teachers on signs of trauma and ways to notice unusual behaviours, such as becoming quiet and withdrawn or appearing nervous and fidgety. Some students might cry, some might get angry and some might even laugh inappropriately. Some might be frightened by sudden noises.

There is no blueprint for how or when people might respond to their experiences. Students might appear fine initially but later display unusual behaviours. With younger children, this might be nighttime (or even daytime wetting), clinginess, restlessness or tiredness.

Older children might display hyperactivity, aggression, withdrawal, lethargy or panic. Teenagers could also have poor impulse control or show a loss of interest in friends and activities. Students might have arrived at school distressed, but over time gain control of their feelings, or they might take it all in their stride.

Research shows most students who have experienced trauma as a result of natural disaster adjust in a year or two but might have ups and downs depending on other factors in their lives, such as family relocation or financial difficulties. But up to 20% of these young people might have prolonged symptoms that stop them engaging in or enjoying everyday activities.

These students will need professional help beyond what teachers can provide. This is why keeping in touch with parents is essential. If necessary, teachers and parents should agree on strategies that will support students at home and school.




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Eventually, a school in recovery will settle into the routine of a new normal, in which students become a little more used to their changed lives and continually changing world – although they may have occasional emotional or behavioural wobbles.

And it is still OK to have fun. Playing games, re-reading a favourite story or watching a video can help lift the mood. Dancing or getting outdoors can release energy and tension. Talking about the future and discussing what has been learned from the experience is also part of healing and moving forward.The Conversation

Rachael Jacobs, Lecturer in Arts Education, Western Sydney University and Carol Mutch, Professor in Education, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Celebrity concern about bushfires could do more harm than good. To help they need to put boots on the ground


Gabrielle Walters, The University of Queensland; Judith Mair, The University of Queensland, and Monica Chien, The University of Queensland

From Australian superstars such as Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Chris Hemsworth and Nicole Kidman to Hollywood heavyweights including Ellen DeGeneres and Bette Midler, a lengthening list of celebrities are helping to shine a spotlight on Australia’s bushfires.

Some have donated large sums of money and used social media to publicise their donations, encouraging fans to follow suit. Some have used their profile and platforms such as the Golden Globes awards to draw attention to the fires. Others are donating items for auction or appearing in charity events.




Read more:
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For attracting attention and money to a cause, celebrity-driven attention is hard to beat. But there’s also a downside. If that interest is superficial and fleeting, it may actually hinder recovery efforts in disaster-ravaged regions.

Our research into disaster recovery efforts for Victoria’s Gippsland region after the deadly “Black Saturday” fires in 2009 suggests celebrities’ best contribution needs to be in the weeks and months to come – and requires them putting “boots on the ground”.

Negative implications

Studies confirm the influence of messages from celebrities, be it brand choice, political opinion or charitable giving.

It’s great that celebrities want to use their influence for good causes. Not all celebrity advocacy, though, should be applauded uncritically. One study has suggested it is less effective than sometimes supposed for development causes, and can simplify a complex issue to a single outcome – usually giving money. This fails to address how people can make an ongoing difference in other ways.

In terms of natural disasters, a very practical way to help communities recover is the resumption of tourism. Perceptions play a big part in this, and celebrities can play a big part in forming images. It’s why they have long featured in tourism campaigns, from Paul Hogan in the 1980s to Kylie Minogue and others in the humorously idealised imagery presented by Tourism Australia to Britons a few weeks ago.

Tourism Australia’s ‘Matesong’ campaign fronted by Kyle Minogue has now been suspended.

Now these images are being replaced by the message globally that Australia is “on fire, literally”, and that much of the country is an “apocalyptic nightmare”.

Tourism effects

Even if celebrities have the best of intentions, their emotional appeals and shared of images of red skies and smoke-filled cities along with heartbreaking images of devastation and loss can contribute to fans cancelling holidays plans, even while they’re donating to bushfire appeals.

There are already reports, for example, of tourists aborting plans for visits months away. The Australian Tourism Industry Council says cancelled bookings in towns unaffected by the bushfires are up to 60%. The Australian Tourism Export Council estimates the loss of international bookings will cost the nation at least A$4.5 billion in 2020, hurting regional areas the most.

US singer Rihanna shared this graphic representation of the Australian bushfires, which was widely mistaken to be an image taken by a satellite.
Twitter

It doesn’t help when misleading information is spread, as the American singer Rihanna inadvertently did when she shared an image on Twitter that exaggerated the size of the bushfires. This image suggested huge swathes of Australia were no-go zones.

Ellen Degeneres did something similar in telling her audience “nearly a third of their habitat has been destroyed”. This was an exaggerated misstatement of Australia’s environment minister saying a third of koala habitat in New South Wales had been destroyed.

Our research confirms the further someone is from a destination in crisis, the more likely they are to be confused about the location and think a greater area is affected.




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Fires in the Blue Mountains area of New South Wales, for example, were called “the “Sydney fires” elsewhere in Australia. Overseas they were referred to as the “Australian bushfires”, confusing domestic and international tourists.

Where celebrities can really help

So while celebrities might have the very best of motivations, their contribution in generating donations in the short term might be offset by the longer-term effect of amplifying the misconception that Australia is not safe for tourists.

Affected areas and number of casualties from the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Gippsland covers all of Victoria east of Melbourne.
Nick Carson/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

This is demonstrated by past experience. After Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday fires, the the Gippsland region experienced a major tourism downturn, despite just 5% of the region being directly affected.

But celebrites can also use their mass-pull to aid tourism recovery.

Our research suggests their star power is unmatched as a means to encourage tourists back to regions recovering from disaster.

In the case of Gippsland, we surveyed 691 people with nine different advertising messages. Themes included solidarity, community readiness and even short-term discounts. We found celebrity endorsement made the greatest impression, with test subjects indicating it made them more likely to visit the region.

In the months after the Black Saturday bushfires, former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins and legendary cricketer Shane Warne visited affected towns. These highly publicised events sent the message these towns were ready to welcome visitors again.

So celebrities can definitely help in the coming weeks and months.

They can share positive stories about local communities’ resilience, and maybe even visit.

This is likely to do more for recovery efforts in the long term than helping to spruik for donations.The Conversation

Gabrielle Walters, Associate Professor, School of Business, The University of Queensland; Judith Mair, Associate professor, The University of Queensland, and Monica Chien, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hand sanitisers in public won’t wipe out the flu but they might help reduce its spread



It’s quicker to use hand sanitiser than soap and water, which means people might be more likely to use it.
Shutterstock

Trent Yarwood, The University of Queensland

This year’s flu season is off to an early start, with 144,000 confirmed cases so far in 2019. That’s more than twice as many confirmed cases of the flu than for all of 2018 (58,000), and almost as many as the 2017 horror flu season (251,000).

The number of cases so far this year, including more than 231 deaths nationwide, led the NSW opposition health spokesperson to call for hand sanitisers in public spaces to help slow the spread.




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Influenza spreads via droplets from coughing and sneezing, which is why it’s a good idea to catch your cough. But coughing into your hand can leave flu virus on your hands, which is why we recommend coughing into your elbow or sleeve and washing your hands afterwards.

Along with getting vaccinated and staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands is the best defence against getting the flu.

If the government can make this easier by providing hand sanitisers in public places, it may be worth the investment. It won’t solve our flu problem but it might be an important tool in the toolbox of measures to reduce its spread.

What does the research say?

The scientific literature on hand sanitisers isn’t so clear-cut.

A 2019 study in university colleges showed the use of hand hygiene and face masks didn’t protect against flu any better than mask use alone. But unlike some other countries, Australia doesn’t have a strong habit of mask use when people are unwell, so this may not be very helpful to us.

A 2014 study in New Zealand schools showed that providing sanitiser didn’t reduce the rate of absenteeism from school either.

While these studies make it sound like hand sanitiser is not very effective, that’s not the end of the story.

Other studies show a positive effect – a 16% reduction in respiratory illness in one and a 21% reduction in another. For some infections, the evidence is even stronger – for example, gastroenteritis, most of which is also viral.

However, few of these studies showing the benefits of hand sanitisers were done during a large disease outbreak, which means the potential benefit may be even greater.

Not all influenza-like illness is caused by the flu – it can be other viruses as well, so the estimates are a bit rubbery at best. Hand sanitiser trials which look at influenza-like illness or respiratory infections generally are more likely to show benefits than those that just look for influenza – meaning good hand hygiene prevents other infections as well.

If you have the flu, the best place to be is at home.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Lessons from hospitals

Although preventing infection in hospitals is not the same as doing it in the community, there are two important lessons from hospital infection control.

First, in hospital hand-hygiene programs, hand sanitiser is more effective than soap-and-water hand-washing, provided your hands aren’t visibly dirty.

This is partly because of the rapid effect of the alcohol, but mostly because it’s much quicker and therefore more likely that staff will use it.




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The second important point from hand hygiene and other areas of hospital infection control is that introducing a “bundle” of strategies usually reduces healthcare-associated infection rates – even when the individual parts of these bundles don’t show benefits alone.

This could be because the individual effect sizes are too small, or that change in practice highlights a “safety culture”.

Sanitisers can be one of many strategies

Installing hand rub in public areas won’t solve this year’s flu outbreak by itself. But it can be part of a bundle of strategies – as long as the dispensers are kept topped up.

And it’s certainly a safe intervention – despite some desperate hysteria about the safety of hand gels, or the risk of people drinking them, there is little evidence this actually occurs in reality.

Hand sanitiser is also likely to be easier to implement than fixing the much larger social problem of Australians going to work when they’re sick. This may be because of inadequate sick leave, concerns about “letting the team down”, or other logistical problems such as child-care.

Get your flu vaccine – even now it’s still not too late – and get it for your kids as well, for their sake as well as your own.

Remember to stay home if you’re unwell, and always to cough into your sleeve. And don’t forget to clean your hands – even if the government doesn’t end up making it easier for you.




Read more:
The 2019 flu shot isn’t perfect – but it’s still our best defence against influenza


The Conversation


Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Online tools can help people in disasters, but do they represent everyone?



Social media helped some people cope with the Townsville floods earlier this year.
AAP Image/Andrew Rankin

Billy Tusker Haworth, University of Manchester; Christine Eriksen, University of Wollongong, and Scott McKinnon, University of Wollongong

With natural hazard and climate-related disasters on the rise, online tools such as crowdsourced mapping and social media can help people understand and respond to a crisis. They enable people to share their location and contribute information.

But are these tools useful for everyone, or are some people marginalised? It is vital these tools include information provided from all sections of a community at risk.

Current evidence suggests that is not always the case.




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Online tools let people help in disasters

Social media played an important role in coordinating response to the 2019 Queensland floods and the 2013 Tasmania bushfires. Community members used Facebook to coordinate sharing of resources such as food and water.

Crowdsourced mapping helped in response to the humanitarian crisis after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Some of the most useful information came from public contributions.

Twitter provided similar critical insights during Hurricane Irma in South Florida in 2017.

Research shows these public contributions can help in disaster risk reduction, but they also have limitations.

In the rush to develop new disaster mitigation tools, it is important to consider whether they will help or harm the people most vulnerable in a disaster.

Who is vulnerable?

Extreme natural events, such as earthquakes and bushfires, are not considered disasters until vulnerable people are exposed to the hazard.




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To determine people’s level of vulnerability we need to know:

  1. the level of individual and community exposure to a physical threat
  2. their access to resources that affect their capacity to cope when threats materialise.

Some groups in society will be more vulnerable to disaster than others. This includes people with immobility issues, caring roles, or limited access to resources such as money, information or support networks.

When disaster strikes, the pressure on some groups is often magnified.

The devastating scenes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 revealed the vulnerability of children in such disasters.

Unfortunately, emergency management can exacerbate the vulnerability of marginalised groups. For example, a US study last year showed that in the years after disasters, wealth increased for white people and declined for people of colour. The authors suggest this is linked to inequitable distribution of emergency and redevelopment aid.

Policies and practice have until recently mainly been written by, and for, the most predominant groups in our society, especially heterosexual white men.

Research shows how this can create gender inequities or exclude the needs of LGBTIQ communities, former refugees and migrants or domestic violence victims.




Read more:
More men die in bushfires: how gender affects how we plan and respond


We need to ask: do new forms of disaster response help everyone in a community, or do they reproduce existing power imbalances?

Unequal access to digital technologies

Research has assessed the “techno-optimism” – a belief that technologies will solve our problems – associated with people using online tools to share information for disaster management.

These technologies inherently discriminate if access to them discriminates.

In Australia, the digital divide remains largely unchanged in recent years. In 2016-17 nearly 1.3 million households had no internet connection.

Lower digital inclusion is seen in already vulnerable groups, including the unemployed, migrants and the elderly.

Global internet penetration rates show uneven access between economically poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, and wealthier Western regions.

Representations of communities are skewed on the internet. Particular groups participate with varying degrees on social media and in crowdsourcing activities. For example, some ethnic minorities have poorer internet access than other groups even in the same country.

For crowdsourced mapping on platforms such as OpenStreetMap, studies find participation biases relating to gender. Men map far more than women at local and global scales.

Research shows participation biases in community mapping activities towards older, more affluent men.

Protect the vulnerable

Persecuted minorities, including LGBTIQ communities and religious minorities, are often more vulnerable in disasters. Digital technologies, which expose people’s identities and fail to protect privacy, might increase that vulnerability.

Unequal participation means those who can participate may become further empowered, with more access to information and resources. As a result, gaps between privileged and marginalised people grow wider.

For example, local Kreyòl-speaking Haitians from poorer neighbourhoods contributed information via SMS for use on crowdsourced maps during the 2010 Haiti earthquake response.

But the information was translated and mapped in English for Western humanitarians. As they didn’t speak English, vulnerable Haitians were further marginalised by being unable to directly use and benefit from maps resulting from their own contributions.

Participation patterns in mapping do not reflect the true makeup of our diverse societies. But they do reflect where power lies – usually with dominant groups.

Any power imbalances that come from unequal online participation are pertinent to disaster risk reduction. They can amplify community tensions, social divides and marginalisation, and exacerbate vulnerability and risk.

With greater access to the benefits of online tools, and improved representation of diverse and marginalised people, we can better understand societies and reduce disaster impacts.

We must remain acutely aware of digital divides and participation biases. We must continually consider how these technologies can better include, value and elevate marginalised groups.The Conversation

Billy Tusker Haworth, Lecturer in GIS and Disaster Management, University of Manchester; Christine Eriksen, Senior Lecturer in Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong, and Scott McKinnon, Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The problems with small satellites – and what Australia’s Space Agency can do to help


Duncan Blake, University of Adelaide

Australia is part of the global explosion in space industries – including the design and engineering of satellites smaller than a loaf of bread.

But we’re at a point now where we need to take the next step.

The growing number of small satellites orbiting Earth presents some unique challenges, such as interference with communication networks, the buildup of space junk, and the legal questions that arise if something goes wrong.

Australia’s new Space Agency can play a vital role in coordinating our government policy around these issues.




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Acceleration in small sats

Since Sputnik 1 in 1957, there have been 8,303 registered space objects. Only 20 of those, so far, have been registered to Australia, but five satellites have been launched for Australia in just the past four weeks (although not all of them have been registered yet).

Fleet Space in Adelaide had two satellites launched from New Zealand, one from India and one from the United States. The University of New South Wales in Canberra had the M1 satellite launched on the same rocket as the Fleet Space satellite from the US.

Globally, there are almost 1,900 active satellites in orbit. That number is set to increase rapidly in the near future – regulators in the US alone have recently approved more than 12,000 new satellites to be launched into space over the next decade.

In Australia, Fleet Space plans to launch 100 satellites over the next decade.

The volume is growing, but the satellites are shrinking. We’ve moved from satellites the size of buses, to those similar in size to a washing machine, to cubesats (10x10x10cm), and even smaller still.




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Australia has committed itself to secure a large proportion of a global space market worth more than A$400 billion, tripling the Australian space industry from A$4 billion to A$12 billion and growing many thousands of jobs in the many new space start-ups in Australia.

That’s great news for the Australian economy, and the new Australian Space Agency has the mandate to make that happen.

Here’s where we need new policy around satellites to meet the challenges involved.

1. Congestion in signalling networks

Communication with your satellite is essential, even if communication is not its main purpose – to get data from remote sensing satellites, navigational satellites, experimental satellites, or just to track it, control it and monitor its status. But the use of radio frequency by small satellites has been hotly contested.

Big satellite manufacturers and operators, and others, oppose the allocation of frequency to small satellites through the international regulator – the International Telecommunications Union and its domestic equivalent – the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA).

Notwithstanding that big satellite manufacturers and operators have a commercial incentive to oppose the disruptive upstarts, they have a point.

Small satellites don’t use less bandwidth in proportion to their small size (although they may transmit with less power). So, by their sheer number, they represent a significant risk of congestion and interference in the electromagnetic spectrum – leading to mobile phones not working properly, WiFi networks being degraded, and maybe even failure of your Netflix account.

The ACMA is seeking solutions to those potential problems, but if the solutions involve imposing significant technical and financial burdens on new space start-ups, these companies may go offshore to find better solutions – a loss for Australia.

2. The problem of space junk

Small satellites add to the space debris problem in outer space – because a significant proportion of them fail and not all of them follow international best practice (such as it is) on the operation of small satellites.

For example, US company Swarm Technologies went ahead with the launch of several very small satellites known as “Space Bees” via a launch on an Indian rocket even though the US Federal Communications Commission had previously declined to grant them a licence, on the basis that they were too small to be tracked, thereby making collision avoidance impossible.

SpaceFlight, a company that finds and facilitates launch opportunities for satellite operators, facilitated this opportunity for Swarm Technologies, and it was SpaceFlight that facilitated launch opportunities for the five Australian satellites launched in the last four weeks.

To be fair, Swarm Technologies and SpaceFlight have taken good steps to earn back the confidence of regulators in the US and globally, but it does demonstrate the need for clear and enforced best practice standards.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of consensus internationally on what those standards should be.

In Australia, our Space Agency has yet to decide on the content of subordinate legislation (Rules) under the new Space Activities (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 that may commit Australia to best practice standards for small satellites.

Again, there is a difficult balancing act – if the standards are too lax, there is a greater possibility of something going wrong and we lose reputation, influence, bargaining power and the opportunity to optimise international conditions for Australian commercial and other national interests.

If they are too strict, new space start-ups may find them unpalatable, and move their operations offshore – and the prospect of new jobs and economic growth in the industry dissipates.

3. Mistakes can happen

What happens if something does go wrong? Who bears the liability?

Under international law, in the first instance, liability rests with any state that launches, procures the launch or whose facility or territory is used for launch. Ultimately, that means the taxpayer.

A small satellite could conceivably be responsible for a failure at launch, or a collision in orbit, where there is infrastructure worth many hundreds of billions of dollars (not least, the International Space Station). Thankfully, the probability of any such failure or collision is generally extremely small.

But who accepts that risk of liability on behalf of the Australian taxpayer? For non-governmental operators, it is the Australian Space Agency.

Government operators are largely exempt from the legislation. Australia’s Department of Defence has been involved in the recent Buccaneer cubesat and the M1 cubesat, and CSIRO has recently initiated a project to acquire its own cubesat.

An artist’s impression of CSIROSat-1 CubeSat.
Inovor Technologies

There is the possibility of different standards within government and relative to the private sector. Australia’s Space Agency does not currently have a strong mandate to coordinate across all space activities in which our nation participates.

In the case of the Buccaneer cubesat and the M1 cubesat, the University of New South Wales in Canberra – which built and arranged the launch of the satellites – is subject to control by the Space Agency under legislation.

In other cases, the Space Agency will have to engage and influence others through excellent communication and soft influence. So far, the staff and leadership of the agency have managed that with great skill.

But there’s more work to be done.




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The Conversation


Duncan Blake, PhD candidate, law and military uses of outer space, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.