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Gene study on depression’s origins

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HUNDREDS of genes have been newly linked to depression, shedding light on the origins of the condition and highlighting personality types that could be at risk.

The international study, involving more than two million people, is the largest of its kind. It could inform treatments for the condition, which affects one in five people in the UK and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Scientists led by the University of Edinburgh studied information pooled from three large datasets of anonymised health and DNA records and pinpointed 269 genes that were linked to depression.

They also used an innovative statistical method to identify sections of DNA that were common in people with depression and in those who adopted lifestyle behaviours such as smoking.

The findings suggest that depression could be a driving factor leading some people to smoke, but more research is needed to explain why, the team says.

Results also show that neuroticism – a tendency to be worried or fearful – could lead people to become depressed, which could shed light on personality factors that put people at risk. The statistical approach – known as Mendelian randomisation – allows scientists to look at how a condition impacts on behaviour, while ruling out other influences such as age or income.

Anonymised data, used with donor consent, is held by UK Biobank, the personal genetics and research company 23andMe and the Psychiatry Genomics Consortium.

Experts say that the study reflects the importance of data science in understanding mental health.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, was funded by the MRC and Wellcome.

Professor Andrew McIntosh, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, who led the research, said: “These findings are further evidence that depression is partly down to our genetics.

“We hope the findings will help us understand why some people are more at risk of depression than others, and how we might help people living with depression and anxiety more effectively in future.”

Sophie Dix, Director of Research at mental health charity MQ, who was not involved in the research, said: “This study adds to the weight of evidence that genes are one of the key risk factors in depression, which is also impacted by life events such as social environment and trauma. The value of this could really be seen when looking into the development of personalised treatments – a welcome step, given the dearth of innovation in identifying new approaches. We have seen very little advancement in nearly 50 years for people living with depression and right now the avenues available are not working for everyone.

“The power of this big genetic study is that it can point to systems in the brain which adds to our currently limited understanding in this area. By increasing our understanding of these systems, and how the social environment affects biological risk factors, we can begin to identify new targets for treatments that could help the millions of people worldwide affected by depression.”

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Health inspectors praise for local field hospitals

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TWO of the field hospitals across Hywel Dda University Health Board have been highly praised by Health Inspectorate Wales in a recently published report.

The two extra capacity sites – Ysbyty Enfys Carreg Las at the Bluestone resort near Canaston Bridge in Pembrokeshire, and Ysbyty Enfys Selwyn Samuel in Llanelli – were visited by a team in late October and was the first time HIW has inspected such settings.

The inspection examined how the risks to patients’ health, safety and well-being are being managed in these temporary sites. Inspectors found appropriate processes were in place to provide safe and effective care to patients.

The report’s summary stated: ‘We found evidence of extensive planning by the service in preparation for the provision of safe and effective care to patients within unique environments. The transformation of both sites into clinical wards was well considered. We saw evidence of good leadership and staff who were engaged and passionate in their roles.’

Dr Meinir Jones, Hywel Dda UHB’s Associate Medical Director & Clinical Lead for the field Hospitals, said: “This is excellent news and more importantly, a testament to the incredible work of our team. I’m very proud of what has been achieved at both sites, which are receiving patients to help relieve pressure on the acute hospitals. The field hospitals give us the flexibility to move patients out of hospitals after they have been assessed as no longer needing medical input, but still require some care before being discharged home or to a community care facility.”

HIW’s Interim Chief Executive, Alun Jones said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic we have adapted our approach to inspection and assurance in recognition of the pressure that healthcare settings have working under and the administrative burden that inspection can place on a settings that is being inspected. I’m pleased that we have been able to safely inspect two field hospitals ahead of the winter period and quickly provide reflections on what we found to those managing these settings.”

The inspection report for the two field hospitals is available here: www.hiw.org.uk/hywel-dda-university-health-board

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Schools to remain open for now as Wales moves to ‘delay’ phase

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SCHOOLS will remain open as Wales moves into the “delay” phase in containing the coronavirus, the Welsh Government has announced.

The advice will change from today (Mar 13), with people who become unwell being asked to self-isolate for seven days.

Chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said the trajectory of the virus was now “quite clear” and the challenge remained preparing for a significant number of cases in Wales.

Dr Atherton said: “Wales was now really in the delay phase of the virus and it would lead to some inconvenience for people not going to work or school.

“We need to reduce the demand on the health and social care system so it can prepare for peak which may be May or June.”

SCHOOLS OPEN FOR NOW

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said closing schools was not an appropriate option for now.

He told a press conference at 3.30pm Thursday (Mar 112): “Ministers have had clear advice that closing schools now is not an appropriate step to take. For now, the advice and guidance is very clear. Schools should stay open.  

“To be effective measure schools would have to be closed for a significant amount of time.

“If we close schools, what impact does that have on parents?  Parents could be nurses, doctors or the police. We need to keep key workers in work.

“Another point is, if parents can’t look after them then it’s likely that older members of the family or grandparents will be. Older people are the people we want to protect now and in the future.

“Furthermore, in the Easter break, lots of children will be with each other anyway. The value in closing schools is low.

“Ministers are making choices guided by the best possible evidence and scientific advice.

“Members of governments around the UK need to take a responsible approach and take steps where there is no medical advice to do so within the four nations of the UK.”

LATEST FIGURES

Six new cases of coronavirus have been identified in Wales, bringing the total to 25 at the time of going to press. (7pm, March 12)

785 people in Wales have been tested for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).  760 results were negative, and 25 results were positive.

CONCERT CANCELLED

Milford Haven School postponed the concert due to take place yesterday (Mar 12). The school stated on social media: “We have regrettably made the decision to cancel the scheduled Milford Haven Cluster Welsh Concert here at Milford Haven School tonight.

“The decision is owing to us taking a proactive approach to prioritising the health and safety of not only our own pupils, but also their families and the wider community. Please note, this is not due to any specific health concern within the school. We will announce rescheduling of this event in due course.”

ROBUST MEASURES IN PLACE

Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales told The Herald that he was certain that “robust infection control measures in place.”

“The public can be assured that Wales and the whole of the UK is prepared for these types of incidents.  Working with our partners in Wales and the UK, we have implemented our planned response, with robust infection control measures in place to protect the health of the public.

“We would encourage people to check the advice for returning travellers, which includes guidance for those returning from Italy, China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Iran.

“Members of the public can help protect themselves and others by always carrying tissues, and using them to catch coughs or sneezes.  They should bin the tissue, and to kill the germs, wash their hands with soap and water, or use a sanitiser gel.  This is the best way to slow the spread of most germs, including Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Public Health Wales’ trained scientists are now conducting the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnostic test in Wales.  Over 90 per cent of the individuals who have been tested in Wales have been offered testing in their own home, making it as convenient as possible for them, as well as protecting our ambulance and hospital resources for those who need it most.  We are not able to comment on individual cases for reasons of patient confidentiality.”

Official updates on the virus in Wales will now be given at 11:00 daily.

There are now 596 confirmed cases in the UK, up from 456 on Wednesday, and two more deaths, of people with underlying health conditions in London and Essex, taking the total to 10.

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Wales confirms second positive case of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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THE CHIEF Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, has confirmed that a second patient in Wales has tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The patient is a resident in the Cardiff local authority area and has recently returned from Northern Italy, where the virus was contracted. The patient is being treated in a clinically appropriate setting.

Dr Atherton said: “I can confirm that a second patient in Wales has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

“All appropriate measures to provide care for the individual and to reduce the risk of transmission to others are being taken.

“I can also confirm that like the first case in Wales, this patient had travelled back to Wales from Northern Italy, where the virus was contracted.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to assure the public that Wales and the whole of the UK is well prepared for these types of incidents. Working with our partners in Wales and the UK, we have implemented our planned response, with robust infection control measures in place to protect the health of the public.”

To protect patient confidentiality, no further details regarding the individual will be released.

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