Traveling in the time of COVID-19

A month ago I was preparing the poster for the conference in London

Next week I should have attended the Food Integrity 2020 congress in London. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak I will not fly to the UK. I live in Italy and since the 10th of March, all Italy is considered “red zone”. Almost all flights from and to Italy has been cancelled.

But how did that happen?

First of all, I want to say that I am not a virologist, nor an immunologist. I only took an Immunology exam during my BSc in Biotech more than 10 years ago.

Everything I will report in this paper is a collection of scientific paper, news from newspaper and tweets of people with more qualifications than me.

Let’s start with the beginning.

Things in Italy evolved very quickly: on the 20th of February a couple of friends was flying from Venice to Mauritius. As soon as they landed, they couldn’t enter the island and after 7 hours in the airport, they took a flight back to Italy. They couldn’t understand why, but when they were flying an increasing number of patients were admitted to hospitals because of COVID-19.

On February the 18th, patient 1 (a 38-year-old man) was diagnosed with a sever infection and tested positive to the SARS-COV-2.

On the 22nd of February, 79 people tested positive to the disease. 2 of them died and 1 fully recovered.

On February 23rd the government declared some cities “red zones”. Nobody can enter or exit these cities for 14 days.

Newspaper reported that the SARS-COV-2 was dangerous only for old people and already sick people. The population started acting weird: on one side the underestimated the high contagious potential of COVID-19, on the other side they cleaned up supermarkets and hand sanitizers became unobtainable.

Newspapers’ title on February 25th

By March the 2nd, Italy counted 2036 cases (1835 still positive, 149 recovered and 52 died).

Three days later, on the 5th, the cases were 3858 (3296 still positive, 414 recovered and 148 died).

Two days later, the 7th, the cases were 5883 (5061 still positive, 589 recovered and 233 died). Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna were the three most affected regions, with 3420, 1010 and 543 total cases, respectively.

On the evening of the 7th of March online newspaper reported that the government was about to sign a decree to extend to “red zones” including in them the whole Lombardy and other 14 provinces in Veneto and Emilia Romagna. People freaked out. In the night between the 7th and the 8th thousands took a train to go back to their home town. The 8th Lombardy and other 14 provinces became indeed “red zones”.

People still didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Many escaped the “red zones” to go out and have a drink, or to take a flight.

On the 9th of March 9172 total cases were reported. 7985 individuals were still positive to the diseases, 724 recovered and 463 died.

The next day, whole Italy became “red zone”. Nobody is allowed to leave their house, with some exceptions:

  • to go to work, if smart working is not possible,
  • to go to the supermarket,
  • for urgent matter.

If a person leaves his/her house, he/she have to bring an auto-declaration in which explains the reason(s) of being out.

Still, people couldn’t accept this situation. On March 11th 12462 total cases were recorded (10590 individuals were still positive to the diseases, 1045 recovered and 827 died).

From the 12th (today) almost all shops are closed. Exceptions are granted for supermarkets and pharmacies, but they have to carry out everything to guarantee safety for their costumers.

The very basic and simple idea is to “slow down” the number of new cases. Beds in hospitals are limited. In the whole Italy we only have 5000 beds in the UCI units. If we are no able to slow down (“flatten the curve”) the number of infected and sick people, we will reach the healthcare system capacity and we will not be able to assist patients and to give them proper care.

@siouxsiew and @thespinofftv

In the meantime A LOT of congresses, conferences and events have been cancelled or postponed all over the world (the Food Integrity 2020 conference was postponed to autumn today).

What worries me, is that some countries (which don’t have so many cases yet) are not acting responsibly nor taking action. An that people in governments are fueling Internet with fake news.

Example of fake news

Numbers don’t lie and numbers show that the trend of infected people is similar in every country. You must act now! The expected mortality in your country depends on the actions you take now.

@Mark Handley

Please, even if you live in a country which has not been heavily affected by the COVID-19 yet, start taking action. The WHO declared COVID-19 “pandemic“. That means that the entire world will suffer from the disease. Many will not be affected, many will be asymptomatic, but too many will suffer deeply and die.

Check the “myth and fact” section of the WHO website. And remember to:

  • wash your hands frequently,
  • maintaining social distance (1 m at least),
  • stay home as much as possible,
  • try to work remotely.

I want to conclude by quoting Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte:

“Let’s stay distant today, to hug stronger tomorrow.”


Online map:

Interactive map:

Conferences and events cancelled or postponed: list 1, list 2, list 3.

Latest news on COVID-19 on the WHO website:

Chinazzi et al., “The effect of travel restrictions on the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”, (2020), 10.1126/science.aba9757

Dong et al., “An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time”, (2020),

Maraolo, “COVID-19:Italia in prima linea contro il nuovo virus”, (2020),

Brain development in children


The majority of human brain’s structure is shaped in the first 3 years of life. In details, when a child is born, his/her brain size and architecture is only 25% of the adult size. At age 1 is about 70%, and at age 3 is around 85%.

The first 1000 days are, thus, quite important for children’s brain’s development.

This process is very complex and is mediated by both genetic and environmental factors.

The most important changes happening in the first 3 years of life are the following:

  • increase of cortical thickness,
  • myelination of white-matter tracts,
  • 3-fold increase of oligodendrocytes and astrocytes,
  • emerging of functional networks.

Three are the most important factors that influence the brain’s development:

  1. reduction of toxic stress,
  2. presence of social support,
  3. provision of ideal nutrition.

The first two variables are more or less easy to achieve: parents, family and friends can and should create a good, calm and supporting environment to allow the child to develop and explore the world.

Regarding the third factor, it is interesting to have a deeper look into macro- and micro-nutrients and their role in the brain’s development.

Proteins play a fundamental role in the development both of neurons (myelination and synaptogenesis) and neurotransmitters. Carbohydrates and glucose are essential for the development of neurons and the electrical efficiency of neuron oligodendrocytes. LC-PUFA (or long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) are essential for the ideal development of neurons. Among them, arachidonic acid in particular, has been associated with improved cognition and attention. The most important micro-nutrients involved in the development of the brain are iron, iodine, zinc, choline, copper, vitamin B6, B12, C and D.

While, we don’t have any power on the genetic component of brain’s development, we can improve and “control” the environmental one. Creating an ideal environment and paying attention to nutrition can promote the ideal brain’s development of our children, especially during their first 1000 days of life.


Cusick and Georgieff, “The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days””, (2016),

Gilmore et al., “Imaging structural and functional brain development in early childhood”, (2018),

Kjaer et al., “Neocortical Development in Brain of Young Children—A Stereological Study”, (2017),

Child brain development figure:

Stress and white hair

Me and my partner chilling and avoiding stress

It is been said that stress turns hair white. Zang and collaborators published on Nature the research, which gives us the confirmation of this popular saying.

Long story short: stress triggers the fight-or-flight response, which has an impact on the cells producing hair pigments.

Going into details of the experiment, researchers stressed mice by injecting them some stimulating molecules and waited. After five days, mice turned white. At the beginning, the scientists thought that the immune system or cortisol could be responsible for the color changing. But after eliminating these two possible causes, they found the real culprit: the nervous system.

Follicles contain some special stem cells which are responsible for the hair color. In a stressful situation, the fight-or-flight response is activated, the nervous system releases noradrenaline and the body needs uses most of his stem cells, including the one responsible for hair color. Since these cells are used, hair turns white.

The next questions the researchers want to ask is whether the grayness of hair correlated with age follows the same mechanism they just discovered.


Zang et al., “Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells”, (2020),

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