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

From mosquito-borne illnesses to COVID symptoms and brain fog, check out these health stories from Yahoo News partners.

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What’s new in the health space? Here are some of the most interesting, under-the-radar stories from Yahoo News partners this week.

'You absolutely don't need consent from someone who's dead'

What does the future of grief 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” that he hopes people won’t have to feel grief at all.

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 that 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 for interaction with a three-dimensional projection,” GMA reported.

Harrison, who used the technology to create “a virtual mom” after his mother died, rejected possible privacy concerns raised by the use of personal conversations to build a chatbot without the consent of the deceased.

"You absolutely don't need consent from someone who's dead," he said. "My mom could've hated the idea, but this is what I wanted and I'm alive."

WHO says cases of mosquito-borne disease could hit near-record highs, thanks to global warming

panom/Getty Images
panom/Getty Images

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

WHO warned earlier this year that dengue is the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease, representing a "pandemic threat,” with about half the world’s population now at risk.

Most cases are asymptomatic, but symptoms of dengue may include a fever accompanied by nausea, rash or achiness, which usually clear up in two to seven days. About one in 20 people sick with dengue will develop severe dengue, which can result in shock, internal bleeding and — in less than 1% of people — death.

Gene variant may be why some test positive for the virus with no COVID symptoms

Ladanifer/Getty Images
Ladanifer/Getty Images

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

The study enrolled 29,947 volunteer 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 own coronavirus infections and any symptoms over the course of nine months, including whether they had taken a COVID test each week. Over the course of the study, among patients who had 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.”

Researchers hope that this discovery could lead to more innovations in vaccines and treatments.

“As we've all learned, preventing COVID infection has proven to be more difficult than we thought it was going to be," 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'd personally be very happy with that."

Long COVID 'brain fog' may age brain by a decade, study says

The Good Brigade/Getty Images
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

The “brain fog” associated with long COVID may be the cognitive equivalent of aging 10 years, PA Media reported.

Participants in a study by King’s College London were tested on memory, attention, reasoning, processing speed and motor control. 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 a 10-year increase in age.” When a second round of testing was conducted, an average of almost two years after the participants’ initial infection, there was no significant improvement in scores.

“Our findings suggest that, for people who were living with long-term symptoms after having COVID-19, the effects of the coronavirus on mental processes such as the ability to recall words and shapes are still detectable at an average of almost two years since their initial infection,” the lead study author, Dr. Nathan Cheetham, said.

“However, the result that COVID had no effect on performance in our tests for people who felt fully recovered, even if they’d had symptoms for several months and could be considered as experiencing long COVID, was good news.”