Despite more than 40 countries recently closing their borders to travellers from the UK, cases of the new variant Covid-19 virus have been confirmed in several European countries, including Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All of the confirmed cases were linked to people who had arrived from the UK. The revelations take the total number of new countries impacted by the new variant to 15, with South Korea the latest nation to announce a confirmed case. According to Reuters, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCPA) found traces of the United Kingdom (UK) variant in three individuals from London who entered South Korea on December 22. Meanwhile, both Canada and Japan have also announced that they have found traces of the new Covid-19 strain in their countries. What is most alarming about Canada’s announcement is that the individual in which the new variant was discovered has no known travel history and exposure or high-risk contact. Scientists from the Independent Sage group have urged all regions of England to be placed under tier 4 restrictions, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues cannot operate. With evidence emerging that the new variant appears to be particularly infectious among children, teaching unions have urged for schools to remain closed. Speaking about the new variant, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “If this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big worry.”
Telehealth solutions have come into their own during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, adoption of telehealth services has increased by more than 2,000% since last year. With both physicians and patients alike reaping benefits from telehealth solutions, it’s inevitable that some ambulatory care and services will never return to being face-to-face. However, as solutions mature and become more readily adopted, healthcare providers need to realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to telehealth will not afford the best outcomes for patients. Before implementing any telehealth services at all, healthcare providers need to understand: - Who their consumers are? - Where do these consumers live? - What Internet access do they have? - And what is their level of technological literacy? These four considerations are key in helping healthcare providers develop telehealth solutions that are both intuitive and meet their patients’ varying needs. Failure to address these four considerations could lead to telehealth solutions simply not being utilized. Here at France Surgery, we pride ourselves on the transformational telehealth services we provide. It’s our goal to provide our patients with access to SMART healthcare wherever they are and whenever they need it. We understand that what works for one patient won’t necessarily work for another, which is why we never look to take a one-size-fits-all approach.
A Singaporean woman who was infected with Covid-19 while pregnant has given birth to a baby which has antibodies against the disease. The mother, Celine Ng-Chan, became mildly ill after contracting Covid-19 and spent two-and-a-half weeks in hospital as a result. Ng-Chan gave birth last month and her baby was found not to have Covid-19. However, the fact it had antibodies offers new clues as to whether the disease can be passed from mother to child in utero. Speaking to the Straits Times newspaper, Ng-Chan said: “My doctor suspects I have transferred my COVID-19 antibodies to him during my pregnancy.” Ng-Chan and her baby’s experience has prompted doctors in Singapore’s public hospitals to investigate further the impact of Covid-19 on unborn babies. This will add to research already being conducted internationally on whether the infection can be transferred during pregnancy, how babies develop antibodies in the womb and whether they offer an effective shield against the virus. One of the hospitals involved in the studies is KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Tan Hak Koon, chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology division at KK, said: "It is still unknown whether the presence of these antibodies in a newborn baby confers a degree of protection against Covid-19 infection, much less the duration of protection."
It is estimated that a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both worldwide — about one in 500-750 births. Usually, with surgery, a child born with a cleft can have a new, beautiful smile and live a normal life. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has meant that affected babies are having even greater difficulty in getting their much-needed cleft treatment. Fortunately, cleft charities are continuing their work by taking advantage of telehealth solutions. One such charity is Smile Train, whose Philippine arm has continued providing ongoing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy and psychological support to patients, despite temporarily postponing surgeries. “This year was a different year because of the Covid pandemic. The last three or four months we saw a drop in the number of cases in many hospital nationwide. Some stopped doing operations. But Smile Train is not just about surgery. What we strive to do is to be able to provide cleft comprehensive care to those who need it whether be it counseling, guidance in terms of how do you breastfeed baby with a cleft or after surgery, what does the child still need, among others,” said Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Country Director of Smile Train Philippines, during a virtual media conference. Flaviano said the charity is also providing psychosocial support to older patients via telehealth, to help boost their self-confidence. Since parents of cleft babies aren’t able to visit clinics resulting to unanswered questions, Smile Train is trying to support them through virtual consultations with their partner surgeons or doctors, or through Facebook Live discussions.
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.
Telehealth is probably not the first thing you think of when talking about ways of assessing possible stroke patients in an emergency. But Norther Ireland has just approved exactly such a system, highlighting the traction that telehealth solutions are garnering today. The solution, provided by Health Services Limited (HSL), enables clinicians and patients to have video consultations, with the ultimate goal being to make a diagnosis. Patients still need to visit an A&E department, but when they do the emergency clinicians who receive them can use the telehealth solution to get expert treatment advice remotely from stroke consultants. The solution can be used on tablets, smartphones and laptops, making it different to other virtual stroke assessment tools in the market that rely on external systems to function, the company claims. It has everything built-in that a stroke consultant needs to make an initial diagnosis of the stroke patient. The app also has the functionality to save the patient’s results in their electronic care record. [Related reading: The benefits of electronic health records] Perhaps the biggest benefit of the telehealth solution is that it enables stroke consultants to assess a patient’s condition as soon as possible and relay timely, potentially life-saving advice to their emergency room counterparts. The stroke assessment telehealth solution is already in place in hospitals across Northern Ireland the United Kingdom.
The United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released new data that shows usage of telehealth services has jumped significantly over the past year. According to the figures, more than 34.5 million services were delivered via telehealth in Medicare and in the Children's Health Insurance Program from March through June. This represents an increase of a whopping 2,532% in services delivered via telehealth compared to March through June 2019. Furthermore, the agency also notes that there is always a "claims lag" between the time a service occurs and when the claim is reflected in its database. Taking this into account, the actual number of services delivered via telehealth is likely to be higher than reported. The CMS data reflects the relaxation of federal regulations around virtual care at the start of the pandemic, which caused usage of telehealth services to skyrocket. Speaking about the figures, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement: "This revolutionary method of improving access to care is transforming healthcare delivery in America." [Related reading: Telehealth in the ER affords better outcomes for both patients and healthcare providers – research]
The US is entering its annual cold and flu season, but this year there’s the added danger of Covid-19 to contend with. Healthcare providers often struggle to meet the needs of their patients at this time of year, mainly because of increased footfall at their facilities. Add to this the strict social distancing guidelines that are in place across the world and the difficulty of the situation becomes clear. The good news is that more and more care providers are turning to telehealth solutions to help alleviate the flu season rush, as well as adhere to social distancing rules. With telehealth, doctors and physicians can carry out consultations with patients without either having to travel. When diagnosing a patient with the flu, physicians look for the two most common symptoms: a cough and fever. At the height of the flu season, almost every patient presenting with these symptoms will have the flu, which often means an in-person consultation is not necessary in the first instance. Care providers can quickly assess a patient’s symptoms via a virtual consultation and arrange to have a prescription sent to them, saving time and money. While every patient’s case is unique, the ability of telehealth to enable physicians to carry out initial consultations for individuals with flu-like symptoms remotely means the facility’s resources are not impacted. This frees up vital appointment slots for those who need them most and reduces wait times, all the while eliminating the chances of someone contracting Covid-19 or spreading flu while out of their house. If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
Cleveland Clinic has unveiled its top 10 medical innovations for 2021, and both telemedicine initiatives and app-connected health trackers feature. In fact, four medtech developments made the Cleveland Clinic list this year, underlining the importance of technology in healthcare. All of them were chosen in the belief they will be widely adopted in the coming year and have a significant clinical impact. Announced in conjunction with its annual Medical Innovation Summit, which is now in its 18th year, Cleveland Clinic’s top 10 innovations for this year were selected by a committee of subject matter experts at the academic medical center. This year, smartphone app-connected pacemakers were named the top medtech innovation because of their ability to better connect patients with their cardiac treatment, affording greater insights into the health data they produce. Bubble CPAP, a non-invasive ventilation strategy for premature babies, is the next medtech innovation on the Cleveland list. Bubble CPAP minimizes physical trauma and stimulates lung growth when administered over a prolonged period. Third on the list of medtech innovations is telemedicine, specifically increased access to these pivotal services through the removal of barriers. The fourth and final medtech innovation on the list is vacuum-induced uterine tamponade, a minimally invasive way for clinicians to stop postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding after having a baby), which affects around one to five percent of women who give birth. The vacuum-induced device uses negative pressure created inside the uterus to collapse the bleeding cavity causing the muscle to close off the vessels. It’s a low-tech solution that could be taken advantage of in developing countries with low resource availability. [Related reading: What is telehealth?]
The American Society of Anesthesiologists has heard at its annual Anesthesiology 2020 meeting that telehealth technology has been affording positive experiences for patients. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, patients who saw a pain medicine specialist via telehealth saved time and money and were highly satisfied with their experience, according to a study presented at the virtual event. Conducted from August 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, the study highlights how many chronic pain patients are confident they will receive good care via telehealth, while at the same time benefiting from avoiding lengthy commutes and less time spent in traffic. The results bolster the case for provider adoption of telehealth technology, which has already seen a significant rise in usage as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and patients being cautious about traveling to healthcare facilities for appointments for fear of contracting the virus. [Related reading: Older patients use telehealth almost as much as younger ones, report finds] While patients who are being evaluated for new conditions will likely be better served by an initial face-to-face consultation, follow-ups can occur efficiently once the relationship with the provider has been established. Indeed, the anesthesiologists at the conference predict up to 50% of visits could be conducted remotely.
We’ve written before about how telehealth has come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has driven the adoption of telehealth services, and it’s not just younger patients that have been taking advantage, according to a new report. Contrary to popular belief, older patients have also been embracing telehealth services, as shown in a recent report by Strata Decision Technology. Based on data collected from 43 health systems, as well as telehealth visit data from the American Medical Association and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the report shows that while telehealth visit utilization was highest for the 30–39 age cohort (27.95%), individuals in their 70s (22.52%), 80s (20.29%), and even 90s (19.04%) have been utilizing telehealth offerings. Jeffrey Gelblum, MD, a practicing neurologist at First Choice Neurology in Aventura, Florida, says telehealth is enabling older patients to access healthcare services they may otherwise have missed out on. “Historically, we had to deal with older folks who may not be able to drive and older folks who would have difficulty finding a parking space. If the weather was bad, some older folks did not want to go to a doctor appointment. Driving for older folks is problematic in terms of compliance. But now with telehealth, that situation has been resolved,” he says. Telehealth also allows older patients to see their physicians more often than if they were having to attend face-to-face appointments.
The switch to telehealth that many doctors and patients have had to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely positive, new research shows. Furthermore, the majority say some of the changes will be permanent going forward. According to the survey of 500 executives in the healthcare industry, conducted by marketing agency Boston Digital, 57% of respondents said telehealth had increased the quality of patient care. In fact, more than half of those surveyed said their organisation had created new portals or micro-sites in response to the pandemic. Only 8% of respondents said telehealth initiatives were not important to their organisation. Most survey respondents said more than 40% of the changes they had made in the face of the coronavirus pandemic would likely remain permanent. However, the findings of the survey, while positive on the whole, do highlight some challenges that the telehealth industry must overcome. The most prominent challenge, the survey found, was patients’ ability to use new technologies. Speaking to Healthcare IT News, Peter Prodromou, president at Boston Digital, said: “To overcome barriers, including a patient’s ability to understand new programs and associated technology, healthcare providers must implement a seamless user experience and a robust digital marketing strategy that effectively communicates to their diverse patient community.”
In a previous blog — What is telehealth?— we introduced you to telehealth and explained how it has revolutionized healthcare across the world, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while telehealth has proven itself as a very worthy asset for enabling rural communities and those who cannot easily travel to access healthcare, what about when a patient is in a more critical condition and requires intensive care? Well, believe it or not, there are actually telehealth-ICU solutions out there for this very purpose. In a nutshell, a tele-ICU enables remote clinicians to interact with bedside staff to consult on a patient’s care. One centralized care team can manage a large number of ICU locations across many different locations to exchange health information in real time. Using a host of technologies, including A/V conferencing and real-time data streams of patient information from multiple sensors and interfaces, a clinician working from a care center hundreds of miles away can effectively and rapidly care for a patient no matter what time of day or night it is. As highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, anything that minimizes infection risk and the need for PPE, while still allowing clinicians to care for patients is extremely advantageous. While a tele-ICU is a supplement, not a replacement, to the on-site care team, when remote and bedside teams are able to collaborate seamlessly, the partnership elevates bot care and outcomes.
Medical specialists, including cardiologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, and respiratory physicians, significantly increased their use of telehealth technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows. According to the survey by data and analytics company GlobalData, 79% of US medical specialists said their use of telemedicine technology had increased since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. One in five (20%) said their usage had stayed the same. Of the medical professionals who said their use of telehealth services had increased, almost 30% reported an increase of 81% to 100%. Prior to the outbreak, less than half of the medical professionals surveyed were using telehealth services. But their experiences must have been positive, as more than three-quarters said they will continue to take advantage of telehealth once the pandemic is over. Interestingly, while 24% of medical professionals reported that they would not continue to use telehealth technology going forward, most said it was because they needed to see their patients in person to conduct examinations. Speaking about the findings of the survey, Kathryn Whitney, director of thematic analysis at GlobalData, said: “Telemedicine has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus and to reduce the burden on overwhelmed healthcare systems.”
Residents of Milam County, Texas, who saw the only two hospitals in their county close in 2018, will soon be able to take advantage of an unattended telehealth station. The $200,000 OnMed station is part of a $10 million grant from Blue Shield of Texas to A&M University to address the rural area's healthcare needs. With a large touchscreen, thermal camera, weight scale, stethoscope, and handheld camera, the telehealth station is capable of checking several aspects of a patient’s health. Furthermore, with a quick press of the touchscreen, patients are connected to a healthcare professional more than a thousand miles away, at the Tampa headquarters of OnMed. The professional, usually either a nursing assistant or nurse practitioner, is able to talk the patient through undertaking some basic checks, including blood pressure, respiratory readings, and blood oxygen saturation. There is even a dispensary attached to the booth which enables patients to get meds like common antibiotics, blood pressure, and diabetes medication instantly. At the end of each teleconsultation, an ultraviolet sanitizes all of the surfaces and equipment inside the booth ready for the next patient. Residents of Milam County will initially be able to use the telehealth station for two years, after which time a decision will be made on its future. Patients with or without insurance can take advantage of the telehealth station for as little as $45 to $65 per consultation. OnMed is also working with Auburn and Tuskegee with a view to placing stations in rural Alabama. CEO Austin White expects as many as 15 stations to be in operation across the country by the end of the year. *Main image credit: OnMed
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.
A new 90-minute test that can distinguish if someone has COVID-19 or another seasonal illness will be highly beneficial come the flu season (December to March) in the UK, the government there has said. The “on-the-spot” swab and DNA tests can detect coronavirus and flu. They will be rolled out in hospitals and care homes across the UK starting next week. At present, a third of COVID-19 tests in the UK take at least 24 hours to process. The UK Government has said that almost half a million of the new rapid tests, called LamPORE, will be available from next week in hospitals and care homes. The investment will help the UK Government work towards hitting its target of testing all care home staff and residents — a move that’s designed to identify so-called ‘silent spreaders’ individuals who are infected but asymptomatic. In addition, thousands of DNA test machines that can analyse nose swabs will be deployed to UK NHS hospitals from September, following successful rollouts across eight London hospitals. The c. 5,000 machines will provide around 5.8m test over the coming months. While the accuracy of the new swab and DNA tests has not yet been determined, Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said they are on a par with current lab-based tests.
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.
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.”
Following an open letter from more than 200 scientists to the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body is rethinking its stance on how COVID-19 spreads through the air. “We wanted them to acknowledge the evidence,” Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the paper, told the Reuters news agency. “This is definitely not an attack on the WHO. It's a scientific debate, but we felt we needed to go public because they were refusing to hear the evidence after many conversations with them,” he said. The WHO has acknowledged that emerging evidence shows how the coronavirus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air. It’s a reality that makes transmission of the virus in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated spaces much more likely. Outdoors, the aerosols evaporate and disperse much more quickly, reducing the risk of infection. Until now, WHO guidance does not address the fact that COVID-19 can be transmitted through minuscule droplets that hang in the air for potentially hours. All the evidence will now be thoroughly evaluated to determine its reliability, which could lead to new advice and guidelines from the WHO. As a result, compulsory face mask rules and even stricter social distancing measures could be implemented in places like bars, restaurants and public transport.
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.
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?]
Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]
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.
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.
In our Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public post we talked about the importance of frequent hand washing in significantly reducing the spread of the virus. Now, a new study by UK researchers shows that washing your hands between six and 10 times a day provides the greatest protection. For the study, the researchers looked at data from 2006-2009 relating to viruses similar to the one responsible for the current pandemic. They found that washing hands with soap and water was effective at killing such viruses. In fact, of the 1,663 study participants, those who washed their hands at least six times a day were significantly less likely to be infected by a virus. Interestingly, hand-washing more than 10 times a day resulted in no additional benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, its author, Dr Sarah Beale, from University College London, said: “Good hand hygiene should be practised at all times regardless of whether you show symptoms or not. “This will help protect yourself and prevent unwittingly spreading the virus to others around you.” The study is published in Wellcome Open Research and is awaiting peer review.
As we continue to tackle the virus outbreak and take steps to reduce its momentum, widespread sharing of health advice has become commonplace. But if there is one thing the current coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, it is that there is so much misinformation out there. Let’s look at a few examples and see why they aren’t just false, but also potentially dangerous: Bogus health claim 1: Drinking alcohol kills coronavirus While alcohol-based hand gels and sprays can remove the new coronavirus from hands, drinking alcohol (any kind) will have no positive impact, and could actually cause serious damage to your health. Whenever you hear any advice about alcohol and coronavirus, it is referring to the kind that helps clean your hands. Bogus health claim 2: There are licensed drugs for treating COVID-19 Just because President Trump has spoken on several occasions about hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, it doesn’t make it a licensed or even recommended treatment. In fact, there is still no proof that hydroxychloroquine helps prevent or cure COVID-19, and misusing it could cause serious side effects. Bogus health claim 3: You can check if you have COVID-19 by holding your breath The only way to determine if you have COVID-19 is to undergo a laboratory test. Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds or more without coughing or feeling discomfort will not prove anything. You can read about more coronavirus myths on the World Health Organization website.
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.
With more evidence emerging that COVID-19 can cause dangerous blood clots in some patients, new research shows that blood thinners could help improve survival rates. According to the study by a team from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which looked at nearly 2,800 COVID-19 patients admitted to five hospitals across the Mount Sinai Health System, blood thinners were seen to have a positive impact on patient outcomes. The blood thinners were found to be especially helpful for patients who were put on ventilators to help them breathe. The study found that 63% of patients on ventilators who were not given blood thinners died, compared to 23% of patients on ventilators who were given blood thinners. Furthermore, of the patients who died, those who were given anticoagulants did so after spending an average of 21 days in the hospital. In contrasts, those who didn't receive anticoagulants died after an average of just 14 days in the hospital. Finally, the study also revealed that patients who were given blood thinners were not significantly more likely to develop bleeding problems -- one of the risks of taking such drugs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study senior author Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief at the Mount Sinai Hospital, said: “Using anticoagulants should be considered when patients get admitted to the ER and have tested positive for COVID-19, to possibly improve outcomes.” [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
As the number of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) cases globally passes 3.5 million, world leaders have pledged more than $8bn (€7.3bn) to help with the development of a coronavirus vaccine and fund research into diagnosing and treating the disease. The donations came from more than 30 countries, as well as numerous UN and philanthropic bodies and research institutes. Pop singer Madonna was one of the donors, pledging $1.1m (€1m), while Norway matched the European Commission’s contribution of $1bn (€920m) and France, Saudi Arabia and Germany all pledged $500m (€458m). Japan promised to give more than $800m (€733). Russia and the United States, which has suspended funding to the World Health Organization, were notably absent from the online summit hosted by the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, China, where SARS-CoV-2 originated in December, was represented by its ambassador to the EU. The EU said that $4.4bn of the money raised will go towards developing a vaccine, $2bn on the search for a treatment and $1.6bn for producing tests. In an open letter published in newspapers over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pledged funds would “kickstart an unprecedented global co-operation between scientists and regulators, industry and governments, international organizations, foundations and healthcare professionals”. “If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole world, this will be a unique global public good of the 21st Century,” they added. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
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.
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak means many of us are spending a lot more time at home than we usually do. If you’re someone who enjoys regular trips to the gym, or jogs around your local park, you might be feeling decidedly antsy right now. But while social distancing measures and self-isolation means fewer opportunities to stay fit and active outdoors, there are ways you can maintain your physical and mental health while at home. Fortunately, there are a number of activities you can do at home that will satisfy the global recommendations for adults to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Here are 5 ways to stay physically active in your own home: 1. Online yoga Yoga is great for both physical health and general wellness. It can also help relieve lower back and neck pain. The best part of all is you can practice it very easily and affordably at home. Just put some comfy clothes on and find a yoga channel you like on YouTube. 2. Simple resistance exercises If you haven’t got proper weights at home, no problem. Just be a little creative instead. Use a can of soup in each hand in place of dumbbells and do repetitions while sat comfortably on a chair. Find heavier objects if you want more resistance. 3. Basic calisthenics Calisthenics are exercises that require nothing more than your own body weight. So things like sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups are all classed as calisthenics. If you want some additional encouragement, pull up a YouTube video and workout while watching it. 4. Home cardio Cardiovascular exercises work by increasing your heart rate for a short period of time. Examples of cardio exercises include running on the spot, jumping jacks, lunge jumps, and skipping in place. 5. Household chores Believe it or not, your household chores are a great way to get some exercise. Vacuuming and mopping floors is a great way to burn some calories, while removing laundry from the washing machine and hanging it out to dry gives your muscles a workout.
Several studies have revealed that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting men and the potential reasons include everything from biology to bad habits. According to the World Health Organization, men have accounted for 69% of COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. Meanwhile, reports suggest that in New York City men have been dying from COVID-19 at almost twice the rate of women. It is thought that both genetics and lifestyle choices play a part when it comes to COVID-19 outcomes in men. First and foremost, because of their extra X chromosome, women have stronger immune systems and respond better to infections than men. Then there is the fact that more elderly men suffer from heart disease than elderly women and that high blood pressure and liver disease are more prevalent in men too. All of these conditions are factors that are associated with more negative COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, men are statistically more likely to smoke than women. In fact, according to Our World in Data figures, more than one-third (35%) of men in the world smoke, compared to just over 6% of women. With smoking one of the biggest risk factors for chronic lung disease, men are at a much greater disadvantage should they get COVID-19. [Related reading: Can you catch the new coronavirus twice?]
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?]