The most recent stage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been defined by the surge of the Omicron variant, a version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is highly contagious yet seemingly not as likely to result in severe infection. Cases are now declining in most parts of the country—but yet the rate of infection is still as high as it has ever been pre-Omicron [editor’s note: host erroneously left out “pre-Omicron” in Intro to podcast]. So what is next? Is the risk now low enough to relax mask mandates and resume some sense of “normalcy”? Or should we expect more variants to emerge that will cause another surge? Is COVID-19 now endemic, and if so, what does that really mean? In this episode, hosts Bryan James and Ghassan Hamra discuss what we have learned from the Omicron surge and the transition to endemicity with Justin Lessler from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and Cecile Viboud from the Fogarty International Center at the NIH.
Category Archives: Episodes
Social media is a major part of many people’s day to day lives, including children. Social media can connect young people to other people, groups, imagery, and ideas in a way that was never imaginable two decades ago. This can be exciting but also potentially harmful to vulnerable youth with developing minds. In October of 2021, a former facebook data scientist testified to congress that their internal research showed potential harms the social media platform can inflict on youth mental health, including increasing depression, suicidal thoughts and encouraging eating disorders, especially among girls. However, there are certainly potential benefits to social media for many young people, including encouraging engagement with family and friends more easily. In this episode of Epidemiology Counts, hosts Ghassan Hamra and Bryan James discuss the impact of social media on youth mental health with Kira Riehm, postdoctoral fellow at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.
Relevant links discussed in this Episode:
In the second episode on how the built environment of our cities and towns affects our health, we discuss how living near green spaces and natural environments can provide health benefits. The feeling of serenity while immersed in nature and vegetation is a near universal human experience; modern researchers are collecting evidence that it may be protective against health outcomes such as adverse mental health, cardiovascular disease, and mortality. Green spaces can decrease stress, promote physical and social activity, and mitigate air pollution and noise. We discuss how researchers are taking advantage of modern technology and databases to measure greenness using satellite imagery and large land-use databases linked to study participants’ addresses. This episode was a treat for host Bryan James, as he got to interview an expert he knows well: his brother! Peter James is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, as well as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Also, we officially welcome Ghassan Hamra as the co-host of Epidemiology Counts!
Sports is life. Fans have a deep devotion to their preferred teams from their alma maters or home towns. Fans spend shocking amounts of time discussing things like player stats and predictions of final game scores. The players are expected to be at the top of their game at all times. Regardless of the sport, players demand a lot from their bodies. The safety of players is paramount, and findings ways to minimize injury risk is key. Epidemiologists can be key players in helping identify ways to minimize risk of injury. Understanding what aspects of training are more relevant to injury risk, including specific activities and intensity, can help players avoid short term injuries. And in the long term, there are concerns for many players of lifetime consequences as a result of their sport, notably Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in football and football, or Soccer as we call it in the USA). We talk with Drs. Christina Mack and Mackenzie Herzog of IQVIA about how epidemiologists can work with players and teams to minimize sports injury.
Our health is very much shaped by the structure of the spaces around us, what we often refer to as our built environment. The concept of the built environment was developed for fields of urban planning and architecture, and includes any aspects of our spaces that influence human activity, from density of homes and buildings, access to transportation options and community spaces, and the streets and sidewalks, or the lack thereof. The built environment is also highly relevant to public health. The structure of spaces around us will impact whether or not we elect to commute by automobile, public transit, or walking or riding a bicycle; it can impact selection of the foods we eat, proximity to health services, and, thereby, has greater impacts on equity, by driving housing prices and access to resources. Hosts Bryan James and Ghassan Hamra chat with Steve Mooney, assistant professor at University of Washington – Seattle about how our built environment shapes our transportation and pedestrian decisions.
Health in America is closely tied to where we live. Higher rates of preventable health conditions are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods that are more likely to be home to a higher proportion of Americans of color. Despite modern anti-discrimination laws that make people legally free to move wherever they like, the reality is that our cities and communities remain largely racially segregated. This segregation is not a result of chance, but rather the direct result of business practices and government housing policy that date back to almost a century ago. One notorious example is redlining, in which services such as home loans or insurance were denied to Black and Brown Americans by characterizing the communities that the lived in as “too risky”. In this episode of Epidemiology Counts, we discuss the legacy of racial segregation and practices such as redlining that have shaped our communities, and the lasting effect of segregation on health disparities in America. Host Bryan James and Ghassan Hamra, assistant professor in Epidemiology and Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talk to Dr. Sharrelle Barber a social epidemiologist at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Heath and leader of the new Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity.
The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines that are highly effective against infection and severe disease in late 2020 appeared to be the silver bullet that would end the pandemic and bring life back to the way it was in pre-pandemic times. But the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus, coupled with large portions of the eligible public remaining unvaccinated, has dampened much of this initial hope and led to what is being called the Fourth Wave of the pandemic. The surge in infections and hospitalizations in this latest wave is primarily in the unvaccinated; however, many vaccinated persons are experiencing “breakthrough infections” in which the virus evades the protection afforded by the vaccine. How can we interpret what these breakthrough infections mean regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine and the need for continuation of masking and other behaviors? In this episode, we aim to provide tools to prepare you to interpret the many reports on breakthrough infections encountered on the news and other media. Host Bryan James talks to Justin Lessler, now a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, assistant professor of statistics at Wake Forest University, about breakthrough COVID-19 infections and the Delta variant. They also talk about unvaccinated kids returning to school amongst all of this and the potential for booster shots.
What happens in pregnancy and the early stages of infancy can have a profound impact on child and adolescent development, and may even affect the health of individuals as adults. A growing understanding of which events may be most harmful for a growing fetus or newborn can lead to improvements in the health of babies, but it can also create quite a bit of fear and anxiety in expecting mothers and new parents. How do new parents sift through the many “dos and don’ts” that are thrown at them during pregnancy? What does the evidence base actually support? In previous podcast episodes, we discussed infertility (how to get pregnant) and maternal mortality (how to keep mothers safe during delivery); on this episode we focus on the health of the fetus and newborn baby. Bryan James and Hailey Banack chat with Robert Platt from McGill University about the latest in perinatal epidemiology, and why it is so hard to find answers to these questions using observational studies!
Can a positive outlook on life actually have a direct effect on our health? Optimism appears to be linked to better health and the ability to cope with and bounce back from disease and surgery, while pessimistic people are more likely to develop hypertension, heart disease and die prematurely than their optimistic peers. So what is behind these relationships? Can we really just will good health into existence by just thinking about it? Or are optimistic persons more likely to engage in healthy behaviors? Or could a skeptic (those pessimists!) argue that healthier people can just afford to be more optimistic, or that socioeconomic status or some other life condition allows certain people to be healthier and more optimistic? In this episode we dive deep into the link between optimism and health as host Bryan James chats with Eric Kim, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and Research Scholar at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health, and Bill Chopik , assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University.
By nearly any metric, Black and brown Americans are disproportionately policed, arrested, convicted, and incarcerated compared to white Americans. One in 3 Black boys born in America in 2001 can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Furthermore, Black Americans are more likely to be physically injured and killed at the hands of the police—a reality that manifested in the dramatic response to the killing of George Floyd and other high profile cases, leading to Black Lives Matter protests around the nation and the world. Racialized policing is rooted in our country’s history and legacy of systemic racism, and has substantial negative effects on the health and well being of communities of color. Living under constant threat of surveillance takes a toll on mental and physical health and can lead to and exacerbate racial health disparities. In this episode, Bryan James is joined by John Pamplin, a Provost’s postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Urban Science & Progress at New York University, as well as the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, as well as Roland Thorpe, professor in the department of health, behavior, and society at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. They discuss the historical and structural causes of racialized policing, its effect on health, the “myths” used to justify it, and end with some ideas on what we can do about it.