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Show Me the Science
19 minutes | Oct 21, 2021
Remaining resilient while the pandemic drags on
Even as the numbers of COVID-19 cases around the country decline again, with cooler weather and people moving back indoors, we’re being warned about the possibility of another swing upward in cases. Such an increase would represent yet another wave of illness during this pandemic. And after all these months, the stress is getting to many people. Groups particularly vulnerable to such stress are older adults — who face the greatest risk from the virus — and young children. But as the pandemic continues, we’ve been hearing more about resilience in these groups. In this episode, we speak with a pair of experts on resilience. Psychiatrist Eric J. Lenze, MD, director of the Healthy Mind Lab at Washington University, recently was awarded a $9.1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study resilience in older adults, as well as the pandemic’s potential cognitive and emotional effects on them, such as depression, anxiety and even dementia. His team is looking in particular at the impact? of exercise and mindfulness on resilience in seniors. We also speak with Neha Navsaria Kirtane, PhD, an associate professor of child psychiatry, about resilience in children and adolescents. During the pandemic, they’ve faced changes in schooling and in how they are allowed to interact with friends. Some kids can’t get vaccinated yet, but almost all are back at school, in person. She says adult mentors who can point out to children when they are doing well and provide examples of resilience are important in helping kids remain hopeful as we head toward an uncertain future. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
21 minutes | Sep 30, 2021
Boosters? Vaccines for kids? Where do we stand heading toward winter?
Recently, the federal government decided that vaccine booster shots will be made available for Americans 65 and older, those with compromised immune systems and others in high-risk jobs. In addition, Pfizer has submitted data asserting its vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5-12. The next step could be an emergency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration, allowing younger children to be vaccinated. Despite breakthrough infections involving vaccinated people, suggesting the shots don’t prevent infection in everyone, health officials say vaccines continue to protect the vast majority of people from severe disease. Meanwhile, in the St. Louis region, sporting events, concerts, restaurants and theatrical productions are drawing crowds again. At some such events, patrons are asked to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to get in the door. But health officials in the region continue to worry that crowded events combined with high COVID-19 case numbers and the start of the flu season could make for a dangerous fall and winter. In this episode, we speak with two leaders in the field of infectious diseases: Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the John T. Milliken Department of Medicine at Washington University, and William G. Powderly, MD, the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health and co-director of the Infectious Diseases Division. Both say that despite the highly infectious delta variant, we are winning in the fight against COVID-19 at the moment. But they warn that the game isn’t over yet. And neither expects we’ll be getting rid of our masks anytime soon. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
18 minutes | Sep 17, 2021
Shutdowns in COVID-19's early days helped St. Louis area avoid thousands of deaths
In March 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the St. Louis region, and health officials in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis issued emergency orders to try to halt the virus’ spread. A new study from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis determined that those orders may have saved hundreds of lives and prevented thousands of hospitalizations. An analysis conducted by infectious diseases specialist Elvin H. Geng, MD, a professor of medicine, indicates that had the orders been delayed by as little as two weeks, the number of deaths in the city and county could have increased almost sevenfold. Geng says it’s important to be proactive and do whatever possible to stop a virus’ spread, especially in the early days of a pandemic. Over time, restrictions may become more reactive to a given scenario, in response to peaks in the spread of infection. Now confronted with the highly infectious delta variant, public health officials again have been considering stricter measures to slow the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Aug 30, 2021
Vaccines and COVID-19 infection generate protective antibodies, even against Delta
It’s been a busy summer in the laboratory of Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an associate professor of pathology & immunology and of molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Studying samples from patients with COVID-19 infections and others who have been vaccinated against the virus, he’s found hopeful signs in the immune system — even regarding the vaccine’s response to the highly infectious Delta variant. His laboratory has reported that the immune system continues to make protective antibodies for many months after both natural infection and vaccination, but he says that as long as anyone on the planet is infected with COVID-19, the rest of the world can’t be fully protected. As his research continues to show that vaccines are effective at preventing severe disease, Ellebedy says it’s important to increase access to vaccines and to encourage people to get vaccinated. The current vaccines are effective at protecting the vaccinated from severe disease in the lungs, but to eliminate most breakthrough infections, Ellebedy says it may be important to develop vaccines that better protect tissues in the nose and throat. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Aug 3, 2021
New threats from highly contagious delta variant
As patients infected with the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus fill hospitals in parts of Missouri, and the virus spreads new infections around the country, Washington University data scientists and infectious diseases specialists are urging people to mask up again, regardless of vaccination status. The researchers say that although vaccination remains remarkably effective, masking and other public health practices that slowed the spread prior to the availability of vaccines are necessary again. Clay Dunagan, MD, a professor of medicine, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare and a member of the Metropolitan St. Louis Pandemic Task Force says that as case numbers rise, public health measures have become more important. Dunagan, and fellow infectious diseases specialist Hilary M. Babcock, MD, a professor of medicine and medical director of infection prevention and occupational infection prevention for BJC HealthCare, say even if more people get vaccinated, it will be weeks before they are protected, and during those weeks, people will need to turn back to the practices that protected them before vaccines became available. Meanwhile, Philip R.O. Payne, PhD, the Janet and Bernard Becker Professor and director of the Institute for Informatics, associate dean for health information and data science and the chief data scientist at the School of Medicine, says computer models his team has created continue to predict a rapid increase in infections in St. Louis and in the surrounding area. And he says those models don’t show a peak yet, meaning we could be in the current wave of infections for quite some time. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Jul 20, 2021
Pregnant women, new moms and vaccines
Pregnant patients who get COVID-19 have much worse outcomes than women who don’t get infected. They are three times as likely to end up in intensive care, three times as likely to need a ventilator to help them breathe and twice as likely to die. Ebony Boyce Carter, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology, has delivered babies throughout the pandemic while promoting health equity for high-risk pregnant women and their babies. Carter herself has three young daughters, and she says the pandemic has been challenging, not only in terms of keeping her patients safe and healthy but also because of the steps she must take to avoid exposing her children — who are too young to be vaccinated — to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While Carter has delivered babies and encouraged new moms to get vaccinated, Heather A. Jones, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology, gave birth to a baby during the pandemic. Her pregnancy was particularly stressful because she has to be physically close to patients while examining them, including times when patients unmask to receive thorough skin exams. Jones became eligible for, and received, the vaccine a couple of weeks after giving birth. Now she says her main concern is for her older child, who, unlike her infant, is not getting COVID-19 antibodies through breast milk and also is too young to get vaccinated. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
21 minutes | Jun 23, 2021
Vaccinating kids against COVID-19 likely to enhance school safety
Whether and how children can return to classrooms has been hotly debated during the past year. Requiring teachers and students to wear masks, spreading out kids in classrooms and preventing students and staff from coming to school when sick has made most schools safe. With many teachers now vaccinated and more children now eligible, it’s expected that classrooms will be even safer when school resumes in the fall, according to pediatric infectious disease specialist Jason Newland, MD, a professor of pediatrics. As Newland works to prevent infections in kids, his colleague, pediatric cardiologist William B. Orr, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics, has been treating children with COVID-19 who have become seriously ill and required hospitalization. Much of Orr’s focus has involved children with MIS-C (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children), a complication related to COVID-19. Those kids can develop issues related to the heart, the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system or other organs following COVID-19 infection. Both Newland and Orr said they believe hospitalizations will be much less common for children as more are able to be vaccinated. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
18 minutes | May 19, 2021
What to make of CDC's new masking guidelines
After recently announcing that vaccinated people could safely take off their masks outdoors and gather in small groups with other vaccinated people indoors, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) next decided that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors either. The new guidelines caught many by surprise, but William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says the new guidelines provide evidence that, for many vaccinated individuals, going without a mask indoors is safe. He says vaccines against the virus are very effective and that although they don’t provide 100% protection, they come pretty close. But Powderly, also director of the university’s Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences, says people need to remain aware that the pandemic is far from over, that the virus may fight back, and that the CDC may need to change its recommendations again at some point. For now, though, most vaccinated people are fairly safe without masks, he says. On the Washington University Medical Campus, masks still will be required in public areas in hospitals and in clinical areas. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | May 12, 2021
Pandemic contributing to uptick of mental health problems in kids
Infections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are not the only cause of pandemic-related hospitalizations. Although children tend to be at lower risk of COVID-19, the number of kids with mental health and behavioral problems has exploded during the pandemic, driving an increase in pediatric hospital admissions nationwide. Stressors associated with remote schooling, fear of infection, and concern about older relatives have contributed to a tidal wave of hospital admissions for psychiatric issues, according to John N. Constantino, MD, the Blanche F. Ittelson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and director of the William Greenleaf Eliot Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Constantino, also psychiatrist-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and co-director of Washington University’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), says virtual schooling has contributed significantly to the problem. He says it’s important to get back to normal learning routines, particularly for kids with special needs. In the St. Louis area, the return to in-person schooling for such students has been made possible partly due to a COVID-19 testing program in St. Louis County’s Special School District. That testing effort is being coordinated by the other IDDRC co-director, Christina Gurnett, MD, PhD, who is also director of the Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology and neurologist-in-chief at Children’s Hospital. She says that ensuring schools are safe and getting kids back into more normal routines can help reduce the need to hospitalize kids for psychiatric and behavioral issues. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
18 minutes | Apr 21, 2021
A year later, scientists recall their efforts to jumpstart research into the mysterious new coronavirus
Even before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States, Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine, started setting the stage with Sean Whelan, PhD, the Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor of Molecular Microbiology, for scientists at the university to study the virus. Whelan had just arrived in St. Louis to begin his new role as head of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and didn’t even have an operational laboratory when the two scientists jumped into the breach and started work to equip and certify a Biosafety Level III laboratory, where researchers could study SARS-CoV-2. Since those early days of improvising to get funding and equipment in place, the researchers not only have studied the novel coronavirus; they’ve also made a less dangerous form of the virus. that has allowed a wider circle of scientists to study it. And after discovering that SARS-CoV-2 does not naturally infect mice, they used a viral vector to temporarily make the mice susceptible to the virus, enabling scientists to learn more about how it behaves in an animal model. Diamond and Whelan also have played a role in efforts to develop new vaccines, including a nasal vaccine that prevents infection in mice. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
19 minutes | Mar 24, 2021
One year into the pandemic, vaccines are making life better, but it’s not over yet
When we launched this podcast in March 2020, our first guest was a doctor who had spent years planning responses to epidemics, bioterrorism and other disasters. Last March, Steven J. Lawrence, MD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, told us what he thought might happen as the pandemic progressed. He worried about whether there would be enough ventilators, ICU beds and medical staff to care for those who would become infected with the novel coronavirus. He praised some of the restrictions and measures that prevented the pandemic from becoming even worse. But nowhere in our discussion a year ago did he consider that within 12 months, millions of people already would be vaccinated. As we check in with Lawrence again — a year and more than half a million American deaths later — he evaluates how we’ve adjusted to pandemic life and discusses where things appear to be going from here. Looking to the future, Lawrence speaks not of returning to normal but of creating a new normal to better address the medical and societal problems laid bare by the virus, such as more effective communication and better access to healthcare for all people. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Mar 10, 2021
Loss of smell, heart problems common symptoms for long-haulers
In the year since COVID-19 infections first appeared in the United States, a few things have become clear. One is that many who get sick don’t recover quickly. Even those who don’t have to be hospitalized can experience symptoms that linger. Called long-haulers, these individuals suffer from a variety of issues such as shortness of breath, abnormal heart rhythms, fatigue and loss of the ability to smell. In fact, many people first realize they may be infected with the virus when they notice they’ve lost the ability to taste and smell food. For most, these symptoms disappear quickly, but some people continue to struggle. Doctors and researchers at the School of Medicine are working with long-haulers to help them deal with these lasting effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In this episode, we’ll hear from ear, nose & throat specialist Jay F. Piccirillo, MD, a professor of otolaryngology and the department’s vice chair for research. He is conducting several studies involving long-haulers, trying to help them regain the ability to smell. We’ll also hear from Amanda K. Verma, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and a cardiologist who normally works with very sick patients whose heart disease has made them candidates for implanted heart assist devices or even transplants. Over the last year, she’s seen many long-haul COVID-19 patients who have developed problems similar to those faced by heart transplant patients. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Feb 15, 2021
Avoiding burnout and tending to mental health as the pandemic runs into a second year
It’s been a year since the first COVID-19 cases started appearing in the United States, and during this span, many people have been living with the stress of trying to work from home while simultaneously trying to help their kids attend online school. Essential workers haven’t had the safety of home, having to continue working in grocery stores, and child-care, food-production and other such settings. Meanwhile, first responders and physicians have faced the at times overwhelming stress of dealing directly with patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Continuous stretches of stress aren’t good for mental health. In this episode, we speak to Jessica Gold, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry, about maintaining mental health during these trying times. She’s given several lectures to health-care providers about the need to remember that. Though their first instincts as caregivers may be to help others, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of self-care, too. Resident physician Mohit Harsh, MD, attended one of Gold’s lectures not long ago. After hearing her talk, he realized his feelings of hopelessness might be more than fatigue. He’s since received therapy and says he’s better able to take care of his patients now that he’s taking better care of himself. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Jan 27, 2021
Improving health messaging in fight to slow COVID-19
For the past year, we’ve heard about the importance of wearing masks, avoiding crowds, maintaining physical distance and regularly washing our hands. All of us have been asked to take simple steps to protect ourselves and those around us. But nothing is simple when you have to do it every day for months, particularly while receiving mixed messages from some friends and leaders. In this episode, we’ll hear about how focused marketing and health communication could help more people do the right thing and make better decisions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. We speak to Mary C. Politi, PhD, a health psychologist and a professor in the Division of Public Health Sciences in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; and to Robyn LeBoeuf, PhD, a professor of marketing at the university’s Olin Business School. They discuss how our biases, judgments and health behaviors might be shaped, even changed, by targeted, consistent messages from health-care providers and government leaders. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
20 minutes | Dec 28, 2020
Vaccines have arrived but COVID-19 treatments progressing much more slowly
COVID-19 vaccine development has been rapid and successful. Two vaccines that report more than 90% efficacy against the virus already are in use, with approval of more vaccines expected in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the development of treatments for those infected with the virus has been slower. Only one drug, the steroid dexamethasone, has been proven to reduce the risk of death in those hospitalized with COVID-19. In this episode, we’ll hear reasons why the development of effective treatments has progressed so slowly. Discussing this with us is William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health, co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and director of the university’s Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences. He says one reason development of therapies has been slow is because there haven’t been enough big, well-controlled studies. We’ll also hear from Eric J. Lenze, MD, the Wallace and Lucille Renard Professor of Psychiatry, and Angela M. Reiersen, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry. They led a preliminary study at the School of Medicine in which a psychiatric drug was used to keep people with COVID-19 from getting sick enough to be hospitalized. Their study was successful. Now they’re expanding the trial to include COVID-19 patients in all of the United States. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
21 minutes | Dec 9, 2020
COVID-19 vaccines around the corner
Drug companies are reporting eye-popping success rates in clinical trials of their vaccines to prevent COVID-19. It’s possible the first people in the U.S. could begin getting shots before the end of the year. In this episode, we’ll hear about the amazing pace of vaccine development, as well as Washington University’s role in vaccine research, from infectious diseases specialist Rachel Presti, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and medical director of Washington University’s Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit. Presti discusses how soon most of us can expect to get a vaccine and how safe those shots are likely to be. In addition, we visit again with Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases. She discusses how COVID-19 and the flu might interact as the pandemic continues during flu season. Hlatshwayo Davis believes it’s important for everyone to get a flu shot, and she and Presti both think that if we can double down on use of masks, hand-washing and social distancing, it will limit the spread of COVID-19 while also cutting down on the number of flu cases we will see. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
21 minutes | Nov 16, 2020
Preparing for winter and the holidays under the shadow of COVID-19
Winter is coming, and the pandemic is intensifying in most of the country, with numbers of COVID-19 cases setting records almost daily, cold weather approaching and people moving activities indoors. In addition, college students who have been away at school for the last few months will return home soon, and extended families are trying to figure out whether it will be safe to gather for holiday meals and other celebrations. Staying safe during the current spike in cases is a major challenge, and infectious disease experts at Washington University School of Medicine say it’s essential that families and friends have some difficult conversations about how they plan to confront the challenges of the next several weeks. In this episode, Andrew B. Janowski, MD, an instructor in pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases, discusses the risks now associated with cold weather, family gatherings and holiday traditions. We also hear from Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases. She works with COVID-19 patients, but she also had a baby during the pandemic. That’s meant pandemic-related upheaval in her personal and professional life, as well as some very challenging conversations with grandparents. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
16 minutes | Oct 22, 2020
Preventing COVID-19 among unhoused people
Testing, social distancing, wearing masks and regular hand washing are among the tools recommended to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. But achieving such practices can be challenging for people who don’t have homes and often must eat and sleep in places with other people. Experts from Washington University School of Medicine, the Brown School, the St. Louis County and city health departments, and several other healthcare organizations have been assessing challenges faced by those without adequate housing. They propose certain practices to limit the spread of infection in such populations. In this episode, Stephen Y. Liang, MD, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Nathanial S. Nolan, MD, a fellow in the same division, discuss what they’ve learned about the risks faced by unhoused people in the St. Louis region. They also discuss recommendations and changes being implemented at various shelters and meal centers in the region to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 in this potentially vulnerable population. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
17 minutes | Sep 30, 2020
The making of a fast, accurate saliva test for COVID-19
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have talked about the need for better, faster and more frequent testing. Recently, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis developed a saliva test that can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus without inserting a nasopharyngeal swab into the nose or throat. The saliva test also doesn’t require chemical reagents to extract RNA from the sample. Such reagents have been in short supply, often resulting in delays in reporting test results. The test can be run in a few hours and, ideally, can return results the next day. Further, it can test for more than one virus at a time, making it particularly useful as the COVID-19 outbreak stretches into flu season. The new test was developed by a team from the School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics and the McDonnell Genome Institute, in collaboration with the biotechnology company Fluidigm. The test has attracted the attention of state officials in Missouri, who are planning to use the test to screen populations known to be at risk for the virus. In this episode, scientists Jeffrey Milbrandt, MD, PhD, and Richard Head discuss why they believe the saliva test will be important in detecting the virus’s presence even before people begin having symptoms, including in individuals who remain asymptomatic. Milbrandt is the James S. McDonnell Professor and head of the Department of Genetics and the McDonnell Genome Institute, and Head is a professor of genetics and director of the Genome Technology Access Center at the McDonnell Genome Institute. The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
17 minutes | Sep 16, 2020
COVID-19, social media and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities
The pandemic is affecting everyone, but the stresses it causes are particularly rough for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Providing effective education to such children and getting services to those who need help in their homes is typically complex, but those issues are even more difficult in the face of COVID-19. Child psychiatrist John N. Constantino, MD, is the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, director of the William Greenleaf Eliot Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and co-director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. As debates continue over whether children should be in classrooms or involved in online learning from home, Constantino says little has been said about kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities, many of whom have a great deal of trouble trying to learn online. Meanwhile, information available online and over social media may be adding to the stress and anxiety many people are experiencing during the pandemic. Another team of psychiatry researchers is studying that issue. Led by Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, a professor of psychiatry, the team is analyzing the effects of social media on anxiety and depression, and working to use messages delivered over social media to lower stress and anxiety levels. The podcast “Show Me the Science” is produced by the Office of Medical Public Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
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