Moderna Inc. says its experimental vaccine is 94.5% effective in protecting people from Covid-19. The claims are based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial. Moderna is the second US company to announce a Covid-19 vaccine this week, following in the footsteps of Pfizer, whose own vaccine boasts a 90% efficacy rate. The Moderna announcement means that there could be at least two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States in December.As many as 60 million doses could be available by the end of 2020. Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both built using new technology known as messenger RNA or mRNA. Both represent powerful new ways to combat the ongoing pandemic, which has to date infected 54 million people and killed 1.3 million. Both vaccines also come at a time when Covid-19 cases appear to be surging – especially in the US where new cases of the virus are now totaling more than one hundred thousand per day. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute. This is particularly good news for countries like India with hot climates that would struggle to keep Pfizer’s vaccine at the required -70°C. Speaking about the firm's vaccine, Moderna President Stephen Hoge said: “Assuming we get an emergency use authorization, we'll be ready to ship through Warp Speed almost in hours. So it could start being distributed instantly.”
The impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic has been monumental. But for physicians, nurses and other healthcare practitioners, it’s been particularly difficult. In addition to carrying out their already demanding day jobs, these individuals have had the added stress of coping with social distancing and a surge in patient numbers. It is, therefore, no wonder that a significant proportion of NHS staff in England are concerned about burnout. While it’s not often considered when talking about the benefits of telehealth, such solutions can actually help reduce the risk of physician burnout. Here’s how: - Telehealth helps improve physician work-life balance - Telehealth makes for more optimized schedules - Telehealth reduces the need to commute - Telehealth can help improve physician-patient relationships - Telehealth helps address healthcare coverage gaps, meaning physicians don’t after to overstretch themselves - Telehealth solutions allow physicians more time to look after themselves Healthcare provider burnout is a serious issue. If the very people whose jobs it is to look after us fall ill themselves, how will it bode for the rest of us? You can find out more about the telehealth services provided by us here at France Surgery by contacting us today.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of patients utilizing telehealth solutions has increased significantly. But with telehealth set to remain a mainstay of healthcare going forward, it begs the questions of what are the pros and cons of telehealth? We’ve listed some of each below to help you make an informed decision. Advantages of telehealth for patients: - Patients can typically get an appointment sooner - Appointments are carried out in the safety of a patient’s home or workplace — saving time and money on gas and parking - Telehealth allows elderly patients and those with reduced mobility, as well as people in rural locations, continued access healthcare services - Telehealth services are designed to be easy to adopt - Recent Medicare rule changes in the United States mean that people in more states are covered and can take advantage of telehealth services as part of their health plans - Telehealth services can often be used via a smartphone - A great way to satisfy post-surgical follow-ups Advantages of telehealth for healthcare providers: - More free time to help the neediest patients - Less overcrowding in doctor’s practices - Easier to implement social distancing guidelines Disadvantages of telehealth: - Not suitable for emergency situations (although tele-ICUs are a thing) - Not suitable for when a clinician needs to physically interact with a patient - Unsuitable for routine vaccinations - Not as intimate as a traditional face-to-face appointment If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
Telehealth has helped patients living with chronic conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, continue their care management throughout the pandemic, new research shows. According to the global survey of patients living with type 1 diabetes, many moved to telehealth because in-person doctor visits were curtailed as a result of COVID lockdown restrictions. But even after the pandemic has passed, three-quarters say they will continue to take advantage of telehealth solutions to meet their care management needs. The information, presented this week at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), highlights the value of telehealth platforms in maintaining care management during times of unprecedented disruption to daily life. Furthermore, many patients with chronic conditions will have foregone check-ups throughout the pandemic for fear of becoming infected or adding an extra burden to healthcare providers. Telehealth has a significant role to play hear by helping these individuals re-establish their care routines and get the treatment they require. The study conducted by researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland and supported by Novo Nordisk, involving more than 7,000 people in 89 countries, is published in in the journal Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. “The results … demonstrate that a large number of people living with type 1 diabetes have rapidly adopted telemedicine or plan to in the near future and that this has generally been perceived positively,” the researchers concluded in the study.
Officials at the Ohio Department of Medicaid are seeking to make expanded telehealth coverage — which was put in place in March to address the coronavirus pandemic — permanent. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, telehealth options for more than three million people living in Ohio were expanded to help cover their healthcare needs. Prior to the expansion, Ohio’s telehealth services saw less than 1,000 claims from providers per month for physical health services, and 4,000 for mental health services. Since the pandemic hit in March, almost 630,000 members have used telehealth, resulting in around 2.6 million claims. Furthermore, more than 200,000 people have sought help via virtual care channels from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS), resulting in around 1.28 million claims. A further 1.3 million claims were filed by more than 480,000 Medicaid members using telehealth to access care from providers outside the MHAS network. Following this significant increase in telehealth usage in Ohio, the state’s Department of Medicaid has filed documents petitioning the state to add more healthcare providers to the list of those eligible to bill for telehealth services, expanding the program permanently. “This permanent expansion of clinically appropriate telehealth services allows us to increase access to quality care while maintaining the fiscal sustainability and integrity of Ohio’s Medicaid program,” said Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran in a statement.
A new survey from a healthcare cybersecurity firm has revealed that telehealth services are being widely accepted as the preferred alternative to face-to-face consultations. However, security remains a top concern. According to the research by CynergisTek, a leading cybersecurity firm in the healthcare space, more than 54% of patients have utilized telehealth services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those people, 73% said they will continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic has subsided. However, the security of such systems is a top concern for many people, with 48% of the 5,000 adult respondents saying they would be unlikely to use virtual care again if their own protected health information was compromised due to a security breach. Interestingly, individuals from different generations view cybersecurity with varying importance. For example, so-called Baby Boomers (generally defined as people born from 1946 to 1964) and The Silent Generation (generally defined as people born from 1925 to 1942) were most likely to abandon telehealth services following a data breach, 62% and 65%, respectively. Nevertheless, most patients s believe that telehealth services can fill pandemic-era gaps for routine care, such as chronic care check-ups (29%) or annual physical and children's wellness exams (27%). Speaking about the findings of the research, Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek, said: “The rapid growth of telehealth has accelerated to a level we wouldn't have expected to see over a 10-year timeframe.”
In a previous blog post — what is telehealth? — we wrote about telehealth services and some of the benefits they afford. Today, we are going to follow on from that post by looking at how telehealth has come into its own during the ongoing pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has meant that millions of people all over the world have had to stay at home, observe social distancing guidelines, and not make any unnecessary trips. But what do you do if you need medical advice or a check-up by your doctor in the middle of a pandemic, with such restrictions in place? Well, according to new research, many seniors are turning to telehealth services so they can keep abreast of their medical needs at this difficult time. In fact, the figures from healthinsurance.com show that overall use of telemedicine services among seniors has increased by a whopping 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 30% of survey respondents said they have used telehealth services at least once a month since the COVID-19 crisis occurred. The beauty of telehealth services, such as virtual doctor appointments, is that they are all conducted via the Internet or telephone. Therefore, the patient does not even need to leave the comfort of their home to get a medical opinion — a reality that is particularly beneficial for vulnerable seniors. Want to find out more about the various telehealth services France Surgery provides? Contact us today. We’d love to hear from you.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you will have likely heard about ‘telehealth’ and ‘telehealth services’. But what is telehealth and how can telehealth services benefit you? In a nutshell, telehealth is the term used to describe healthcare services provided remotely by video or telephone. So if you spoke with your doctor via the Internet using Skype or a similar tool, you would be taking advantage of telehealth services. Another example of telehealth could be if you used an online patient portal to send your healthcare professional some images or records. The goals of telehealth are numerous, but some of the primary desired outcomes include: To make healthcare accessible to people who live in rural or isolated communities To make healthcare accessible to people who have limited mobility, time or those who do not like venturing out of their houses To provide easier and faster access to medical professionals To help enforce social distancing requirements To allow individuals to self-manage their healthcare needs To enable more intuitive collaboration between healthcare professionals to afford better outcomes for patients Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we can expect telehealth services to remain a core part of healthcare going forward. If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
We recently wrote about how being overweight or obese increases COVID-19 risks. Now, a new study has revealed how Latinx individuals are significantly more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 —, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — than any other ethnic or racial group. The researchers who conducted the study believe crowded living conditions, plus an economic necessity to continue working outdoors throughout the pandemic have contributed to the higher infection rates among Latinx communities. Furthermore, the researchers say that members of these communities are disproportionately less likely to have health insurance than their peers from other ethnic and racial groups. This reality, the researchers say, has contributed to the disparities we see today. For the study, the researchers analyzed over 35,000 COVID-19 test results from hospitals and outpatient clinics in the Baltimore-Washington area. They found that 16.3% of the tests were positive. Of those positive results, Latinx individuals accounted for 42.6% of the total, followed by black people (17.6%), “others” (17.2%), and white people (8.8%). Another uncovered discrepancy was that Latinx patients who tested positive and were subsequently hospitalized were significantly less likely to have been previously diagnosed with a health condition, something, the researchers suggest, could be due to them having poorer access to healthcare. The research, which is published in JAMA, involved a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university’s Center for Data Science in Emergency Medicine.
Being obese or overweight increases the chances of someone with COVID-19 experiencing serious illness, complications, and death, new research suggests. Having examined existing studies, Public Health England (PHE) found that carrying excess weight put people at greater risk of requiring hospital admission or intensive care. Furthermore, that risk grew as weight increased. The findings of the PHE evidence review come ahead of an expected UK Government announcement relating to new measures to curb obesity in the country. At present, the UK has some of the highest obesity levels in Europe, with almost two-thirds of adults now either overweight or obese. Many believe that the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown have served to exacerbate many people’s weight issues, with individuals stuck at home for prolonged periods and unable to carry out their usual exercise regimes. The findings of the evidence review will be of particular concern to groups that are already at higher risk of COVID-related complications, such as older people, black and ethnic minorities, and those living in more deprived areas. Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the current evidence was clear: “Losing weight can bring huge benefits for health - and may also help protect against the health risks of Covid-19," she said. "The case for action on obesity has never been stronger.”
If people washed their hands regularly, social distanced, and wore face masks most COVID-19 outbreaks could be prevented, even without a vaccine or additional treatments, a new study has found. According to the research published in the journal PLoS Medicine, which created a COVID-19 prevention and spread model, the steps should work in most western countries. The research found that government-imposed social distancing measures, such as closing business establishments, cancelling in-person events, and advising people to stay at home whenever possible, can delay the peak of a COVID-19 epidemic by up to seven months on their own. However, when coupled with regular handwashing and wearing masks, the peak of the epidemic can be delayed by a further few months. Furthermore, the earlier people adopt such measures, the greater the positive impact. The researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands said in a country where 90% of the population uses multiple actions, such as hand washing and social distancing, a large outbreak of COVID-19 or a second wave could be averted. Speaking about the findings of the research, Ganna Rozhnova, an infectious disease modeler at the University Medical Center Utrecht, said: “If nearly all [the] population adopted self-imposed measures we would not have to confront the possibility of secondary lockdowns as well as the possibility that we may find our medical systems overwhelmed during the peaks of epidemics.”
A coronavirus vaccine developed by the Universality of Oxford and AstraZeneca appears safe and triggers an immune response that should protect people against infection. According to a trial of the vaccine involving 1,077 participants, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, the vaccine led to individuals making antibodies and T-cells that fight SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Within just 14 days of receiving the vaccine, participants’ T-cell levels peaked. After 28 days participants’ antibody levels peaked. Both T-cells and antibodies are crucial in the body’s immune defence of viruses, which is why any effective vaccine needs to induce both in the people who receive it. But while the findings are immensely promising, more research is needed to determine exactly how safe the vaccine is, whether it can indeed provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 and how long any protection would last. Nevertheless, the UK has already ordered 100m doses of the vaccine. Prof Andrew Pollard, from the Oxford research group, told the BBC: “We're really pleased with the results published today as we're seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells. “They're extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection. “But the key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection... and we're in a waiting game.” The next step is for more than 10,000 people to take part in the next stage of the trial to further determine how safe the vaccine is. [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
It took more than 200,000 years for the world’s population to reach one billion, but only 200 years for it to top seven billion. Today, the population of the world is estimated to be just under 7.8bn. However, new analysis predicts that the number of people in the world will peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion. Then, we will see a decline to around 8.87 billion by the end of the century. If this prediction is correct, the world’s population would be two billion below UN forecasts by 2100. The reasons behind the predicted decline include widening access to contraception and improvements in educating women and girls. According to the research led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington's School of Medicine, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, some countries, including Japan, Spain and Italy, will witness their populations halve in the next 80 years, while sub-Saharan Africa’s population will triple. Furthermore, the number of older people in the world will overtake the number of young, with estimates saying there will be 2.4 billion people over the age of 65 forecast by 2100, compared with 1.7 billion under the age of 20. Speaking about the findings of the research, IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray, who led the study, said: “Continued global population growth through the century is no longer the most likely trajectory for the world's population. This study provides governments of all countries an opportunity to start rethinking their policies on migration, workforces and economic development to address the challenges presented by demographic change.”
People who have recovered from COVID-19 and gained immunity to the disease could lose it again within months, a new study from the UK suggests. According to the research by a team from King’s College London, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could reinfect people year after year, much like common colds. Having studied the immune responses of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the researchers found that COVID-19 antibody levels peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms. [Related reading: Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest] Blood tests revealed that while 60% of COVID-19 patients displayed a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the disease, this figure fell to just 17% three months later. In some cases, antibody levels became undetectable. The findings of the study have implications when it comes to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as achieving greater herd immunity. The bottom line is that if antibody levels drop over time and people are able to be reinfected seasonally, a vaccine would not actually provide any long-term benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Katie Doores, lead author from King’s College London, said: “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around.”
More people have immunity to coronavirus than antibody tests suggest, new research shows. The study from Sweden found that for every person who tested positive for antibodies — which are usually a strong indicator of whether someone has previously had an infection — two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells. According to the research from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, even individuals who had mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 had T-cells, despite testing negative for antibodies. The research is important because it could mean that more people than first thought have immunity to COVID-19. However, it is not yet clear whether this just protects the individual, or if it also stops them from passing on the infection to others. Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough" and said it added to a growing body of evidence that "antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”. The results of the study are so new that they have not undergone peer review, nor been published in a scientific journal. Nevertheless, they can be seen as good news from a public health perspective as they indicate that public immunity to COVID-19 is likely a lot higher than first thought.
A strict COVD-19 lockdown has been reinstated near Beijing in China after a small surge in cases. The restrictions in Anxin county in Hebei province affect around 400,000 people, with only those classed as ‘essential workers’ allowed to leave their homes. One member of each household is also allowed to go out once a day to shop for necessities. In the last two weeks, there have been 18 new COVID-19 cases in Anxin. While this may sound like only a small number, China is taking the threat of a potential second coronavirus wave seriously, hence the swift lockdown. Luckily, Anxin county, which is approximately 90 miles south of Beijing, is not as densely populated as many of China’s other large urban centers and local officials believe this small spike can be contained. Up until two weeks ago when Beijing experienced a spate of new COVID-19 cases, the Chinese capital had gone 57 days without a locally-transmitted case. Despite the pockets of new cases appearing, China has, in general, successfully “flattened the curve” in recent months. While places like the United States and South America witness thousands of new cases on a daily basis, China has added only 4,700 since the start of March.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously recommended people wear cloth face coverings in public settings to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, some people have been concerned about whether face coverings, such as masks, cause carbon dioxide (CO2) poisoning. Experts have now come out saying that’s impossible. Speaking about the use of cloth face masks, Prof Keith Neal, an infectious disease expert, said wearing one will not cause hypercapnia (too much carbon dioxide in the blood). Echoing these comments, Darrell Spurlock Jr., PhD, RN, the director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University, said: “Rebreathing tiny amounts of CO2 from wearing either properly fitted N95 respirators or more loosely fitted cloth or surgical masks is of no concern for the vast, vast majority of people.” Carbon dioxide molecules are tiny and do not get trapped by the breathable material used to make cloth ace masks. When you breathe out, the carbon dioxide goes through and round the mask. Surgeons and other medical professionals regularly wear much more heavy duty face coverings all day without coming to harm. Face masks can play a potentially important role in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 because they can help limit it being transmitted by an infected individual. This is particularly true for people who are asymptomatic and do not actually know they have the virus. The only stipulation when it comes to the wearing of cloth face masks is that people with existing lung conditions should consult their physician before doing so. This is because masks do affect normal air entry and could make breathing difficult for people with severe lung diseases. [Related reading: COVID-19: Could a second wave already be here?]
With many countries now seemingly in control of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is turning to a potential ‘second wave’ of the virus. But what does this actually mean? The Spanish Flu pandemic that began in early March 1918 lasted for around two years. But it was the second wave of the virus during three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918 that proved to be the deadliest. It raises questions about whether there will be a second wave of COVID-19. Now the easiest way to picture a second wave is to think of waves on the sea. The total number of infections goes up and then down, until the next wave comes along and the process begins all over again. To say that one wave has ended, the total number of infections needs to fall substantially. If we were then to see a significant rise once more, it would be safe to say that we are experiencing a so-called second wave. Health officials in South Korea believe the country is now experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Despite being one of the success stories of the pandemic, officials are now bracing for potential restrictions for several more months. While global lockdowns have had a profound impact on economies and people’s lives, lifting them too much and too early could lead to a second wave of COVID-19. That’s why any easing will come in stages and contact tracing and wearing face masks could be the new norm for a while. Hopefully, with effective social distancing measures and frequent handwashing, a second COVID-19 wave can be averted. However, what actually happens remains to be seen. [Related reading: This cost effective, low-dose steroid could be a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19]
The World Health Organization’s Maria Van Kerkhove, MD and technical lead for the WHO’s pandemic response, caused a stir recently when she implied that transmission of the coronavirus from asymptomatic individuals appears to be “very rare.” Now, the WHO has sought to clarify her comments, saying they were based on a relatively small set of studies. Kerkhove’s comments caused confusion because they appeared to directly contradict advice from several public health organizations. While evidence suggests that individuals with symptoms are most infectious, others do not develop any symptoms at all, despite testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. What remains unknown is how many other people these asymptomatic individuals go on to infect. It’s one of the reasons why Europe-wide lockdowns have been so effective in halting the spread of the virus, saving millions of lives. Then there are people who infect others while they are pre-symptomatic, meaning before they have actually developed any symptoms but later do. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pre-symptomatic individuals account for around 40% of coronavirus transmission. Director of the WHO's health emergencies programme, Dr Michael Ryan, said he was "absolutely convinced" that asymptomatic transmission was occurring; "the question is how much". So the bottom line seems to be that we simply don’t know how big a role asymptomatic individuals play in the spread of the virus. More research is needed.
While the COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe have not been easy for most people, new research shows that they have been effective in saving countless lives. According to the study by a team at Imperial College, London, Europe-wide lockdowns to reduce the impact of SARS-CoV-2 have saved more than three million lives. The team said that if lockdown had not been implemented across the continent, the “death toll would have been huge”. However, the team also warned that Europe is still only at the beginning of the pandemic and that scores more people could be infected. Assessing the impact of lockdowns up to the beginning of May in 11 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. By that time, approximately 130,000 people had died from COVID-19 in those countries. Using disease modelling, the researchers predicted how many deaths there would have been if no lockdowns and restrictions had been enforced. They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May, the report in the journal Nature shows. In other words, lockdown measures prevented around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 630,000 in Italy and 690,000 in France. "Lockdown averted millions of deaths, those deaths would have been a tragedy," said Dr. Seth Flaxman, from Imperial College. [Related reading: Which demographic worries least about COVID-19?]
With all the media attention it’s received, and the very real threat it poses to our health, many people are, quite rightly, worried about COVID-19. Interestingly, though, some demographics are a lot less worried about COVID-19 than others, new research has found. According to the study by a small team from Georgia State University — the findings of which are published in The Journals of Gerontology — older men are less likely to worry and make fewer behavioral changes in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The research concludes that these older men — typically aged between 65 and 81 — need more education and intervention to ensure they perceive the risks of COVID-19 accurately. This is especially important when you consider that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures show that 8 out of 10 COVID deaths in the United States have been people aged 65 and over. Furthermore, men are at greater risk of requiring intensive care interventions and have a higher likelihood of worse outcomes, including death. Speaking about the findings of the study, author Dr. Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University, said not worrying too much is actually a good thing under normal circumstances. But right now, things are anything but normal, and worrying less could ultimately lead to fewer protective COVID-19 behavior changes — a reality that could have a knock-on effect on others. [Related reading: Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much)]
Research shows warmer temperatures do slow COVID-19 transmission (but not by much) Warmer temperatures have long been associated with reduced transmission rates of some respiratory viruses. It’s one of the reasons why flu tends to have a much larger impact during winter months. Therefore, it stands to reason that the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could also be slowed or even halted as countries start to experience warmer temperatures. Now, research seems to have confirmed what many people have thought. For the study, researchers from the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts looked at the effect of temperature, precipitation, and UV index on COVID-19 case rates in the United States from January 22, 2020 through April 3, 2020. They found the rate of COVID-19 incidence does decrease as temperatures get warmer, up until 52 degrees F. After that, virus transmission does not decrease significantly. Furthermore, while the overall impact remains modest, a higher UV index also assists in slowing the growth rate of new cases. Precipitation was not found to have any impact on the spread of the virus. The findings will comes as welcome news as many states in America see warmer weather easing in. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen again in the fall and winter as temperatures drop. [Related reading: What is COVID-19 antibody testing (and why is it useful?)]
There have been numerous reports recently about how both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have now approved certain COVID-19 antibody tests. But what are these tests for and are they useful in the overall fight against the pandemic? An antibody test basically checks your blood for antibodies. These are made when your body fights an infection, like if you had COVID-19. The test isn’t actually looking for the infection itself, rather signs that your body has built a defense against it i.e. you had the infection and your body responded accordingly. One of the valuable outcomes of antibody tests is that they help us ascertain just how many people have potentially had the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This helps build a fuller picture of the virus’ spread, as well as calculate how many people there are out there who could still potentially get it. Such information could help in the development of strategies to safeguard communities and possibly allow for more freedom of movement. Antibody tests could also help identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and whose blood could be used to help those fighting the disease. [Related reading: Losing sleep over the COVID-19 outbreak? These 5 tips will help]
The widespread panic and uncertainty being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means sleep isn’t coming easy for many people right now. But good quality sleep is the bedrock of our lives, consuming about a third of our total time on this planet and dramatically influencing the other two-thirds. That’s why it’s so important that we all get enough good quality sleep on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are five tangible tips to promote better sleep at this difficult time: 1. Get into a routine By getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, you can significantly boost your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. If you get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same times each day, you’ll feel more refreshed and energized than if you follow random patterns. 2. Exercise more In addition to the physical and mental health benefits, regular exercise also helps you sleep better. And while cardiovascular exercise, strength training and yoga are all great for helping you sleep – especially if you do them during the day and not just before bed. 3. Watch your diet For the best sleep, try and eat a balanced diet that contains vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins - like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. 4. Consume less alcohol While some people rely on alcohol to help them fall asleep, studies show that alcohol does not improve sleep. In fact, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative kind. 5. Limit gadget use at night Blue light from TVs, smartphones, tablets and other gadgets plays havoc with your circadian rhythm and, as a result, the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is suppressed. For the best night’s sleep, limit your use of gadgets and other visual devices to around one to two hours before bed.
You can’t switch on the news right now without hearing the word ‘coronavirus’. But coronaviruses are actually nothing new and most people will be infected with one at some point in their life. But don’t worry, most coronaviruses cause only moderate symptoms. In fact, of the seven known coronaviruses that affect humans, four are endemic (found regularly) and rarely cause severe disease on their own. These four are called 229E, OC43, NL63, and HKU1. Coronaviruses 229E and OC43 usually result in the common cold most of us experience from time to time, particularly during the winter. However, there are also three known coronaviruses that cause more severe symptoms: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and the one we are dealing with now, SARS-CoV-2. What SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus have in common is that they are more dangerous for people with underlying medical conditions. And while SARS and MERS have significantly higher case fatality rates than COVID-19, the latter is more infectious. Finally, it is worth noting that there have been no new SARS cases for over a decade. However, MERS remains a public health concern, with a handful of cases cropping up every year. Two of the biggest challenges with the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are that many people are asymptomatic and our lust for international travel and the ease with which we can do it have allowed the virus to spread rapidly around the globe. [Related reading: Why COVID-19 hits some people harder than others]
With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now topping 4 million globally, the urgency to develop a vaccine has never been greater. Now something that’s been witnessed throughout this pandemic is the way COVID-19 seems to hit some people harder than others. Whether a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized and requires more serious medical interventions, like ventilation, often depends on several risk factors. Age In the United States, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in patients aged 65 and older. The reason for this is thought to be because elderly individuals have more chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Diabetes A recent meta-analysis of 13 separate studies found that people with diabetes were nearly 3.7 times more likely to have a critical case of COVID-19 or to die from the disease than patients without any underlying health conditions. Heart disease and hypertension The American Heart Association says people with cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and hypertension, generally tend to suffer worse COVID-19 complications than those with no pre-existing conditions. Smoking A study from China found that 12.3% of current smokers were admitted to an ICU, were placed on a ventilator or died. This compares to 4.7% of non-smokers. Obesity Being obese has been linked to an increased severity of COVID-19 in younger patients. Furthermore, a separate study from China – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found that obese individuals were more than twice as likely to develop severe pneumonia as compared with patients who were normal weight.
Young people with COVID-19 who are obese are at greater risk of being hospitalised and experiencing more severe symptoms, new research has found. According to the study of 3,615 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, while being overweight didn’t appear to have any negative impact on individuals aged 60+, it did in younger patients. Compared to those with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), which is less than 30, patients with BMIs of 30-34 were twice as likely to need hospitalisation and twice as likely to need acute care. Meanwhile, while younger COVID-19 patients with BMIs of 35 or higher were also found to be twice as likely to require hospitalisation, they were three times more likely to end up in the intensive care unit. One of the study co-authors, Jennifer Lighter, MD, a hospital epidemiologist in New York City, said the findings are significant, especially in the US where 42% of the population has a BMI over 30 and is considered obese. “Our hospital was one of the first to find the association between obesity and coronavirus, but I think it will soon become very common,” Lighter said. It is important for frontline health workers to understand how being obese potentially changes a patient’s clinical outlook and consider such patients as high-risk.
We’ve written previously about a lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for. But as experts learn more about COVID-19, new symptoms of the infection are coming to light. In addition to fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, plus a sudden loss of smell or taste (as per our above-referenced post), some people with COVID-19 have also presented with less typical symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, delirium, chickenpox-like lesions, and more. Indeed, according to a study by Stanford Medicine, which analyzed the medical records of 116 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, almost a third displayed digestion related symptoms, including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Meanwhile, a study in Italy that looked at 88 patients who has tested positive for COVID-19 found that approximately 20% displayed skin symptoms, including a red rash, widespread hives, or chickenpox-like lesions. While people with atypical COVID-19 symptoms may also develop more classic symptoms too, not all will. And then there are the individuals who contract the virus and don’t have any symptoms at all i.e. are asymptomatic. This is why it is useful to spread awareness about some of the less common COVID-19 symptoms, so that people can potentially spot if they or someone they know develops the disease.
While there is a lot of focus on how infectious disease outbreaks, like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, can impact our physical health, their effect on our psychological wellbeing is often overlooked. But the current coronavirus outbreak is scary. Add this to the fact that many of us are spending more time than ever before stuck in our homes and it’s easy to understand how our mental health could be affected by what’s going on. With that in mind, we have compiled this short list of things you can do to protect your mental health during this testing time. 1. Stay informed (but avoid speculation) It’s important to stay informed about the COVID-19 outbreak and access information from high quality, reputable sources. Rumour and speculation only serve to fuel anxiety, which is why you should avoid less than trustworthy news. Also, don’t feel as though you have to constantly watch, read or listen to updates. Limit you consumption to once or twice a day to reduce overwhelm. 2. Stay connected It can be easy to feel isolated right now, especially if you are used to going out and interacting socially with other people. Overcome this feeling by staying as connected as possible with your friends and family. We’ve never had so many methods of communication available to us, so take advantage of technology and keep social conversations going. 3. Stay busy When we’re not keeping ourselves occupied, there’s a tendency for our minds to run wild – especially while there is an ongoing global pandemic. This can lead to negative thoughts, including lots of ‘what if’ scenarios. Use the extra time you’ve got right now to complete all those tasks around your house you’ve been meaning to do for ages. It’ll keep your mind occupied and give you a sense of achievement. [Related reading: 5 simple ways to stay physically active while you’re stuck at home]
When you are infected with a virus, your immune system produces very specific antibodies to try and fight it off. It’s these antibodies that then provide us with immunity from future outbreaks of the same virus. If the virus comes back, the necessary antibodies are swiftly called to action and defeat it before it can make you feel unwell. However, reports emerged in February of a lady in Japan who was apparently given the all-clear having developed COVID-19, but who then tested positive for the virus a second time. But the biggest question this scenario raises is in regards to the reliability of the tests. The bottom line is we simply don’t yet know whether people can become infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, a second time. Small animal experiments suggest reinfection is unlikely, but right now, we don’t have a definitive answer. Perhaps the most obvious place to focus is on related viruses, such as SARS. A 2017 study of SARS patients found that 89% of people who recovered had detectable antibodies two years after the infection had cleared. However, at the six-year mark, this went down to just two out of 23 patients, suggesting people have immunity, but perhaps not indefinitely. Our best hope will be if a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can be developed which will provide rapid immunity. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
It’s impossible to turn on the news at the moment and not be greeted with updates about the coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The problem, however, with so much news coverage is that it can be difficult to discern which pieces of information are true and which are simply myths. To help provide some clarity, we have compiled this list of coronavirus myths: Myth 1. Children cannot catch the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) While the majority of coronavirus cases have been in adults, people of any age can become infected with SARS-CoV-2. What is true is that adults with several pre-existing health conditions are more likely to become severely ill. Myth 2. COVID-19 is just like the flu While COVID-19 causes many symptoms that could be described as ‘flu-like’ and both illnesses can lead to pneumonia, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious than ordinary flu. While the actual mortality rate of COVID-19 remains unclear, it is expected to be many times higher than that of seasonal flu. Myth 3. Antibiotics kill coronavirus COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, so they are all but useless against the new coronavirus. Myth 4. Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus The only thing that thermal scanners can detect is an elevated body temperature (a fever). While this is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, it cannot be used to diagnose the disease alone. Myth 5. Face masks protect against coronavirus Wearing a face mask is not guaranteed to protect you from SARS-CoV-2 – especially if the face mask is ill-fitting. Where face masks can make a real difference is when they are worn by people with the virus, as they can help prevent others from becoming infected. [Related reading: A lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for]
While fever, tiredness and a dry cough are the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, evidence is beginning to show that a sudden loss of smell or taste could also be a sign. The latest researchers to report that a loss of smell and taste could be associated with COVID-19 are a team from King’s College London. They looked at responses from more than 400,000 people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who entered how they were feeling into an app. Of the people who had tested positive for COVID-19 (579 individuals), three-fifths (59%) reported a loss of smell or taste. While a loss of smell or taste have not yet been added to the official list of COVID-19 symptoms published by the NHS or Public Health England, it is important to note that the current situation is rapidly evolving and this could change at any time. The King’s College researchers say that a loss of smell or taste should not be used on their own, but could be useful when considered alongside other important symptoms such as a dry cough and fever. Speaking about their findings, lead researcher Professor Tim Spector said: “When combined with other symptoms, people with loss of smell and taste appear to be three times more likely to have contracted Covid-19 according to our data, and should therefore self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of the disease.” [Related reading: Why social distancing is crucial for reducing the spread of COVID-19]
The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19 has meant that many people are staying at home as much as possible, only venturing out to exercise, seek medical assistance and buy essential grocery items. But while you can reduce your risk of infection while you are out of your house by regularly washing your hands, observing social distancing and remembering to clean your cellphone, something many people forget to clean is the groceries they return home with. Now there’s a good chance that the products you have bought have been handled by other people before you put them in your basket or trolley. They may have even been sneezed or coughed on. And when you consider that the new coronavirus is stable for anything from several hours to a few days in aerosols and on certain surfaces, there is a risk every time you bring groceries home. So what can you do to minimize the risk that your groceries pose? Here are a few pointers: Touch only the items you intend to buy Wipe down the basket or trolley you’re going to use with disinfectant wipes Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you’re done shopping Wipe cans and food boxes before storing them Throw away any disposable packaging Thoroughly wash any tables or countertops that came into contact with your groceries Wash your hands again [Related reading: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public]
With SARS-CoV-2 spreading rapidly across the globe and causing more and more cases of COVID-19, governments everywhere are urging their citizens to observe social distancing. But why is this simple measure so effective in halting the spread of the virus? One of the biggest problems with the new coronavirus is that some people are completely asymptomatic i.e. they exhibit no obvious symptoms, or have very mild symptoms only. However, these individuals can still pass the virus on to other people, further fuelling its spread. That’s why social distancing – even for people who aren’t exhibiting symptoms – is so important. Just look at the image that accompanies this post (Credit: Dr Robin Thompson/ University of Oxford). By staying at least 2 metres away from other people, a carrier of the virus can reduce the number of people affected in total by 33%. So instead of over 1,000 new cases after six weeks, the number is just 127. With social distancing, the transmission of the virus is significantly reduced, which in turn reduces the burden on already overstretched healthcare services. The bottom line is that by keeping our distance from each other, we can break the chain of the virus. In simple terms, avoid any mass gatherings, such as weddings, concerts or even a busy train/bus. You should also try and maintain at least 2 metres distance from the people around you when out in public. Finally, reduce your social activities as much as possible. It’s not going to be forever, but your cooperation now could make a monumental difference in the long run.
The current coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy and has totally consumed all media outlets. But with so much information being shared about this deadly virus, it can be difficult to discern what precautions you and your loved ones should be taking at this difficult time. The advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) right now is simple: Wash your hands frequently - For at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. In the absence of soap and warm water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Maintain social distancing – Stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away from other people, especially anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth – If contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus into your body via your eyes, nose and mouth. Practice respiratory hygiene – Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue whenever you sneeze, and dispose of the tissue immediately afterwards. If you develop any symptoms associated with COVID-19, seek medical care ASAP – If you develop a fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. Stay informed and up to date – Keep abreast of the latest coronavirus developments to ensure you are always up to date with the latest information and precautions to take. Finally, please follow any quarantine or lock down guidelines issued by your government. Breaking the virus’ chain will be one of the biggest keys to defeating it. Stay safe, everyone...
The current COVID-19 pandemic has triggered many people to start doing something they should have already been doing on a regular basis: washing their hands. But while keeping your hands clean and observing social distancing rules are two of the best ways to protect yourself from this horrible virus, there is another fundamental part of your daily life that could be leaving you vulnerable and that’s your cellphone. Cellphones – particularly their touchscreens – can be a haven for bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most worrying of all, though, is the fact that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – is detectable for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Now, obviously you can’t wash your cellphone under the tap with soap, so what’s the answer? First and foremost, before you attempt to clean your cellphone, consult the manufacturer’s website. It should contain directions on how to safely clean your phone. Apple, for example, has cleaning recommendations and guidelines on its website [here]. How often should you clean your phone? If you’re diligent about washing your hands regularly, you can probably get away with cleaning your cellphone once or twice a day. But if it’s frequently placed down on potentially dirty surfaces, you should probably be doing so more often. However, according to Dr. David Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology, you should clean your cellphone immediately if you have been near someone who was coughing and sneezing.
We often hear about the health risks of second-hand smoke, or passive smoking, but now a new study reveals that third-hand smoke can be dangerous too. Third-hand smoke is the term used to describe tobacco contaminants that stick to walls, carpet, bedding and other surfaces, leading to a room smelling like an ashtray. However, research by Yale University has revealed that third-hand smoke actually clings to a smoker’s body and clothes as well, allowing it to be released into environments where smoking has never occurred. While this might not sound like too big a deal, the worrying revelation from the study is that non-smokers in such environments can be impacted. In fact, the study says chemical exposure in a movie theatre could be the equivalent of being exposed to between one and 10 cigarettes of second-hand smoke by the end of the movie. Speaking about the findings of the research, Drew Gentner, study authord and an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, said: “People are substantial carriers of third-hand smoke contaminants to other environments. So, the idea that someone is protected from the potential health effects of cigarette smoke because they're not directly exposed to second-hand smoke is not the case.”
Gaining weight in later years has a detrimental impact on lung health, a new study suggests. People’s lungs naturally deteriorate as they age and lose functionality as the years go by. But now new research has linked moderate or significant weight gain to an even sharper decline in lung health. According to the study of 3,700 individuals in Europe and Australia, who were recruited between the ages of 20 and 44, and were studied for 20 years, people who gained weight throughout the course of the study – regardless of whether they were a healthy weight or overweight/obese to begin with – had accelerated lung function decline. Furthermore, overweight/obese individuals who lost weight during the study saw their lung functionality decline slow. Publishing their findings in the journal Thorax, the researchers said large amounts of fat in the abdomen and chest can limit the space lungs have when people inhale. It was also suggested that fat produces inflammatory chemicals that can reduce the diameter of airways and damage lungs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study leader Judith Garcia Aymerich, head of the non-communicable diseases and environment program at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), said: “Although previous research has shown that weight gain is linked to lung function decline, ours is the first study to analyze such a varied population sample over a longer period of time.”
We recently wrote about how avoiding five specific bad habits can significantly extend your life. Now, a new meta-analysis published in The BMJ adds further weight to the argument for eating less salt and being healthier. According to the meta-analysis of 133 clinically randomised trials, lowering salt intake reduces blood pressure – even in individuals who are not yet at risk of hypertension-related conditions. This is important because heart disease is the number one global killer and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease. Furthermore, hypertension is also the leading cause of stroke, heart failure and kidney disease, highlighting how potentially beneficial a low slat diet could be for many people. Interestingly, the research found that the greater the reduction in salt intake, the greater the benefit to blood pressure. At present, U.S. government guidelines advise Americans to not consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, the vast majority of U.S. adults are eating more sodium than they should -- average of more than 3,400 mg each day. One of the biggest problems is the amount of salt that is contained in manufactured foods, which is usually added to enhance flavour, texture and colour, as well as improve longevity. So even if you don’t reach for the salt shaker at every mealtime, you could still be consuming too much. It’s good to get into the habit of checking the foods you buy to see how much they all contain. After all, just a small reduction could significantly improve your health and reduce your risk of early mortality. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Feng He, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The totality of evidence in the JACC review and this latest BMJ research shows that reducing our salt intake will be immensely beneficial.”
A new study has revealed five bad health habits which, if avoided, could help you live significantly longer. While the habits themselves are nothing we haven’t heard before, the findings of the study are important as they highlight just how much of an impact the five factors can have on lifespan. So if you want to live years longer, avoid these five behaviours: smoking, not exercising, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and eating an unhealthy diet. Specifically, the study found that women aged 50 who avoided all five risk factors lived 14 years longer than women who did not. Among men, the difference in lifespan was 12 years. Publishing the study findings in the BMJ, senior author Dr. Frank Hu, who chairs the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “We found that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.” Importantly, the results held true even after adjusting the data for age, ethnicity, family medical history and other potentially influential factors – emphasising that everyone stands to benefit from avoiding these five unhealthy habits. Finally, the research also revealed that the five habits had a positive impact for people diagnosed with a disease during the study period. For example, individuals who developed cancer lived an additional 23 years if they adopted four of the five healthy practices. In contrast, among those who didn't change, half only survived an additional 11 years. The same patterns were witnessed for both heart disease and diabetes.