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AI tackles grief and loss, with new chatbot that lets you talk to your dead loved ones

Artemis Diana/Getty Images

Artemis Diana/Getty Images

What’s new in the healthcare space? Here are some of the hottest and hidden stories from Yahoo News partners this week.

“You absolutely do not need the consent of someone who has died”

What does the future of pain and loss look like? An AI company called You, Only Virtual is creating chatbots modeled after deceased loved ones, with its founder, Justin Harrison, telling Good Morning America he hopes people don’t have to feel any grief.

You, Only Virtual scans text messages, emails, and phone calls shared between an individual and the deceased person to create a chatbot that composes original written or audio responses mimicking the deceased person’s voice and modeling the relationship and rapport the two shared in life.

The company, founded in 2020, hopes to offer a video chat option later this year and ultimately provide augmented reality that allows interaction with a three-dimensional projection, GMA reported.

Harrison, who used the technology to create a virtual mom following her mother’s death, dismissed possible privacy concerns raised by using personal conversations to build a chatbot without the consent of the deceased.

“You absolutely don’t need the consent of someone who has died,” he said. “My mother might have hated the idea, but this is what I wanted and I’m alive.”

WHO says cases of mosquito-borne diseases could reach near-record levels, thanks to global warming

panom/Getty Images

panom/Getty Images

The World Health Organization said on Friday that dengue fever cases could reach record highs this year, thanks in part to global warming, which is allowing mosquitoes and the viruses they carry to multiply faster, Reuters reported.

WHO warned earlier this year that dengue is the fastest-spreading tropical disease in the world, posing a “pandemic threat, with around half of the world’s population now at risk.

Most cases are asymptomatic, but dengue symptoms can include fever accompanied by nausea, rash, or achiness, which usually resolves in 2 to 7 days. About one in 20 people with dengue will develop severe dengue, which can lead to shock, internal bleeding and in less than 1% of people, death.

The genetic variant may be why some test positive for the virus without COVID symptoms

Ladanifer/Getty Images

Ladanifer/Getty Images

Scientists involved in a study released on Wednesday have identified a gene that could explain why some people with COVID-19 never develop symptoms.

The study enrolled 29,947 voluntary bone marrow donors because high-quality genetic data was already available for this group, the Washington Post reported, and asked them to use smartphones to track their coronavirus infections and any symptoms over the course of nine months, including whether they took a COVID test each week. During the study, among the patients who tested positive and reported no symptoms, 20% carried a variant of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene called HLA-B*15:01. Participants carrying two copies of the variant were more than eight times more likely to remain asymptomatic than those carrying other HLA variants.

The researchers hope this discovery could lead to further breakthroughs in vaccines and treatments.

As we’ve all learned, preventing COVID infection has turned out to be more difficult than we thought,” said Jill Hollenbach, an immunologist at the University of California at San Francisco and co-author of the study. “If we could design a vaccine that maybe doesn’t stop you from getting infected but can handle the infection so readily that you don’t have any symptoms, I personally would be very happy.”

COVID’s long-lasting “brain fog” can age the brain by a decade, says study

The Good Brigade/Getty Images

The Good Brigade/Getty Images

Brain fog associated with long-term COVID could be the cognitive equivalent of 10 years of aging, PA Media reported.

Participants in a Kings College London study were tested on memory, attention, reasoning, processing speed and motor control. The researchers found that those whose test scores were most affected by COVID were participants who had experienced COVID symptoms for 12 weeks or more; and in that group, the effect of the virus on test accuracy was comparable in size to the effect of increasing age by 10 years. When a second round of testing was conducted, on average nearly two years after the participants’ initial infection, there was no significant improvement in the scores.

Our findings suggest that, for people who lived with long-term symptoms after contracting COVID-19, the effects of the coronavirus on mental processes such as the ability to remember words and shapes are still detectable on average nearly two years after their initial infection, said the study’s lead author Dr Nathan Cheetham.

However, the finding that COVID had no effect on performance in our tests for people who felt fully recovered, even though they had symptoms for several months and could be considered to have long-term COVID, was welcome news.

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