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covid

US Experts Warn Of New Covid Variant, Eris

This summer in the US, a new Covid-19 variant has become the dominant strain currently spreading throughout the nation, according to infectious disease experts. Experts are warning Americans to remain diligent about their Covid-19 safety procedures and vaccine boosters to keep themselves protected from this spike. 

The technical name of this strain is EG.51, a subvariant of Omicron also referred to as Eris. The Eris variant is currently the leading strain of the virus, accounting for about 17% of Covid cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Experts state that the rise in infection and hospitalizations do not indicate a need for health and safety measures to be mandated, however, the new variant is a part of a potential evolution of the virus, so it’s important for people to protect themselves. 

​​“As this virus continues to circulate, the potential for mutations to occur remains, and so we will see new genetic variants. It’s very often the case when we see new genetic variants that they may increase in circulation. Sometimes they replace the variants that came before; sometimes they just kind of burn themselves out,”  said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health.

People should continue to take Covid-19 tests if they feel sick, and stay diligent about monitoring virus data, especially if they’re in a vulnerable immunocompromised position. 

“We do need to continue to keep our eye out and be cautious for something that is truly like a new pandemic strain, which EG.5.1 is not,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina.

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“The biggest concern that we have right now is that testing is not nearly what it was in many, many countries, including the United States,” Nuzzo said. This means it’s more difficult to track trends in the virus. 

“Even if there is a high percentage of test positivity, it’s unclear whether it’s because the only people getting tested right now are people who are really quite ill and know very well that they have Covid, versus maybe in the past people getting tested were people who needed a negative test before they could play sports or go to camp. That meant that we were sampling a larger portion of the population,” Nuzzo said

“Public health agencies rely on wastewater testing, which allows them to see the amount of Covid and what variants are in that concentration. But it’s harder for people collecting that data to determine whether that means people are getting sicker or whether a person who is infected is infecting more people on a per-person basis,” Nuzzo said.

“We can’t link the wastewater data to people. It’s totally anonymous. If the variant is a problem, we will see it, but the question is: how early will we see it? I don’t think there is this hidden severe wave,” Nuzzo added.

“Also, as the fall virus season approaches – meaning a likely uptick in Covid, flu and RSV cases – it’s important for healthcare workers to conduct tests in places with inadequate healthcare infrastructure, such as rural areas and low-income communities,” Nuzzo said.

According to the CDC, there were around 9,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations during the last week of July, marking a 28% increase from June.

Dr. Jason S. Litzinger Nurse

Breaking Barriers and Bridging Gaps: A Nurse’s Journey to the Frontlines of Rural Healthcare | Dr. Jason S. Litzinger, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC

In the bustling corridors of our healthcare institutions, amid the beeping monitors and hurried footsteps, there exists a field of dedicated professionals who possess an unwavering love for their vocation: the nurses. Standing out among these compassionate caregivers is Dr. Jason S. Litzinger, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC —a nurse who not only ardently serves the needs of patients but also holds an unshakable reverence for the nursing profession in the face of its continuing challenges and impending shortages.

Dr. Anne Louise Phelan Doctor Advocate

Silenced and Stigmatized: The Untold Story of Physicians Denied Mental Healthcare | Dr. Anne Louise Phelan

In the noble pursuit of healing others, doctors often find themselves battling an invisible adversary that silently erodes their well-being: their own mental health. However, a daunting obstacle stands in the way of seeking help—the fear that reaching out for support will jeopardize their professional careers. As a doctor and activist for medical professionals, Dr. Anne Louise Phelan passionately advocates for a better system—one that prioritizes support and understanding.

covid

New Study Reveals Details Of Lingering Covid-19 Symptoms After Infection 

A recent study published in Nature Communications has given a larger understanding over lingering Covid-19 symptoms experienced by people who contracted the virus. The study utilized electronic health records from the National Institutes of Health’s RECOVER Initiative. 

The study was led by Dr. Rainu Kaushal, the chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine and physician-in-chief of population health sciences at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The study gave a deeper insight into the reasoning behind lingering Covid-19 symptoms after one experiences an acute infection. 

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The study also analyzed the likelihood of these symptoms and how they differ throughout various populations and demographics throughout the United States. 

“Long COVID is a new disease that is very complicated and quite difficult to characterize. It affects multiple organs and presents a severe burden to society, making it urgent that we define this disease and determine how well that definition applies among different populations. This paper provides the basis for furthering research on long COVID,” said Dr. Chengxi Zang, an instructor in population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine and lead author on the paper. 

The team utilized multiple research outlets to make their conclusions, including health records from two clinical research networks within the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network. One set of data included information from 11 million New York-based patients, and another network that was utilized included 16.8 million patients from Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. 

The research conclusions the team came to showed there was a large list of diagnoses that occurred more frequently in individuals who had Covid-19 compared to those who didn’t. In New York City specifically, the researchers found that residents who had Covid experienced more types of symptoms and were at a higher risk of long Covid. 

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Between New York City and Florida, populations had specific conditions including dementia, hair loss, sores in the stomach, fatigue, and blood clots in the lung. 

“Our approach, which uses machine learning with electronic health records, provides a data-driven way to define long COVID and determine how generalizable our definition of the disease is,” Dr. Zang said. 

“Some of the differences between the results from the two populations might be explained by the fact that New York City had a more diverse patient population, endured one of the first waves of the pandemic and faced the lack of personal protective equipment such as masks, compared with Florida,” Dr. Zang said.

“In this new research, we examined a broad list of potential long COVID conditions one by one. These findings can help us better recognize the broad involvement of multiple organ systems in long COVID, and design appropriate plans for patient management and treatment development,” said Dr. Fei Wang, co-senior author of the study.

covid

60,000 People Have Died In China From Covid-19 Since December

Around 60,000 individuals in China have died from Covid-19 since early December when the country abandoned its strict “zero Covid” policy. 

flu

Americans May Face a ‘Tripledemic’ This Winter With the Spread of Influenza, RSV and Covid-19

At least three viruses—influenza, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—are threatening to overwhelm the country this holiday season. Americans will grapple with multiple respiratory pathogens, both old and new.

lockdown

China’s Zero-COVID Policy Causes Mass Food and Supply Shortages

China’s ongoing zero-Covid policy has caused a massive shortage of food and essential supplies for millions of people.

The country enacted its controversial zero-Covid policy to contain the virus’s spread, utilizing authoritarian methods for its enforcement, even in the case of a few infections within a population. Thirty regions spread across China are placed under full or partial lockdown.

Authorities have banned citizens from leaving or entering their cities to purchase essential supplies. In some regions, the government has resorted to drastic measures to prevent citizens from coming into close contact.

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People residing in Xinjiang, a subdistrict in Henan Province, have taken to social media platforms like Weibo to post about widespread food, medication and essential supply shortages. The subdistrict has been in lockdown for over a month, and posts show a grim story of being unable to access medical care or replenish supplies since supermarkets closed.

“It’s been 15 days, we are out of flour, rice, eggs. From days ago, we run out of milk for kids.”

Xinjiang has long been under scrutiny by the international community. A U.N. report accused China of mass “human rights violations” against its Muslim minority and Uyghur population.

Authorities are resorting to turning off elevators to prevent residents from leaving their buildings. According to BBC, authorities locked down 500,000 residents in the Guizhou province without warning.

In Chengdu, a city of 21 million people, residents were instructed to stay inside during a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. Videos surfaced online of people trying to exit their buildings, only to find police had locked the doors, trapping them inside. Only 156 cases of covid had been reported.

In Xi’an, a man died of a heart attack after being refused admission by hospital employees. A woman who was eight months pregnant and bleeding was turned away, resulting in a miscarriage.

A video of an Uyghur man pleading for assistance for his children, who had not eaten for three days, surfaced online. In Yining city, 300 people signed an online shared document requesting food, medicine and sanitary pads.

“I’m out of money to buy supplies. My wife is pregnant and we have two kids. We are running out of gas. My wife needs a medical check.”

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Chinese media outlets are accusing authorities of flooding social media with benign posts about Xinjiang in a campaign to drown out posts about living conditions.

The Independent reports that one media outlet published a leaked document from the government instructing censors to “open a campaign of comment flooding.” The order asks enforcers to post content about domestic life, parenting, cooking and personal status updates.

 “All internet commentary organizational work units must carry out comment flooding work at the relevant times … the time period in question is from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. tonight.”

Users on the platform quickly recognized the propaganda comments and spoke out, ridiculing them, prompting the accounts to go private.

In May, the World Health Organization advised China to change its containment policy, warning that the policy was unsustainable knowing the virus’s behavior. The organization urged the country to consider such a stringent policy’s human rights concerns and economic cost.

patient

Mysterious Disease Plagues Argentina And Claims Third Victim

An unknown form of pneumonia has been found in Argentina and killed three people and sickened at least six other individuals. 

The individuals who have come down with the new illness have been tested for other pneumonia-causing bugs, including COVID-19 and have all come back as negative.

All the most recent cases have been reported right around the small region of Tucumán, roughly 800 miles from the capital of Buenos Aires.

“It’s obviously concerning but we still need key information on transmission and hopefully [ the] underlying cause,” said Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at Edinburgh University.

Reports from Ministry of Public Health of Tucmán Province stated that the first six cases all had similar symptoms including fevers, muscle pain, abdominal pain and had difficulty breathing.

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“What these patients have in common is the severe respiratory condition with bilateral pneumonia and compromise in [Z-ray] images very similar to COVID, but that is ruled out,” said Tucmán health minister Luis Medina Ruiz. 

The European Centre for Disease Control’s epidemic intelligence team has been looking at and monitoring the rising cases since Tuesday and scientists at the World Health Organization started tracking as well.

Since Tucmán is the only place known to be the origin of the infection, local officials have also been testing the water and air conditioning units to see if there are any factors there as well.

Currently there has been no proof that this mysterious pneumonia has been contagious from person-to-person transmission.

Professor Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the BBC in an interview that it is pretty impossible at this stage to say what the impact of the disease might since it is still so new.

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“These things happen from time to time. Often they just fizzle out, but not always. Sometimes they cause a substantial local outbreak or something even bigger,” said Hunter.

He hopes that within the next few days that the experts who are working on the new disease will have even more answers due to the rapid speed that the tests can give results too. 

Dr. Ruiz has also stated that given the current situation, it would be hard to predict an origin with it only being 11 days since the first case was announced.

Moreover, every person who has come in contact with the disease has has a difference response with the outbreak. 

There is nothing that health officials can do at this point besides wait only because there is still many unknowns that are linked to the disease. 

 

mrna

Success Of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccines Is ‘Just A Glimpse Of Their Full Potential’

According to a new Perspective published in the Medical Journal Of Australia, the success of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 shows “just a glimpse of their full potential.” 

Isabella Overmars is a research coordinator at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and her and her colleagues are responsible for the published Perspective in which they explained why mRNA vaccines are so successful. The mRNA contains a code for a specific antigen that is transferred into a host cell where it is then translated into a coded protein. 

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“This typically leads to the host cell displaying the protein on its surface to promote cell-mediated immunity, and the host cell releases proteins outside of the cell which are taken up and presented by other antigen-presenting cells to promote antibody-mediated immunity,” they wrote.

mRNA vaccines are being held in such high regard for a multitude of reasons, including their low toxicity, and the fact that “there is no possibility for an infection to occur from the vaccine itself”.

“mRNA vaccines do not rely on non or mildly pathogenic viral vectors as a delivery method, which in some cases can cause issues of immune-based clotting disorders, such as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), and antivector immunity,” Overmars wrote.

“The manufacturing process also has several benefits, including in vitro development and use of synthetic materials, which improves manufacturing consistency. Moreover, mRNA vaccines can be rapidly synthesized after the required sequence is known, and modifications can be expedited, which is advantageous in responding to emerging immune-evasive variants.”

The biggest “limitation” to mRNA technology is the fact that it can be easily destroyed, which is why the vaccines need to be stored at cold temperatures.

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“mRNA vaccine development will continue to accelerate, spurred on by the success of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and further improvements to the technology may mitigate some of the current limitations and facilitate broader reach.”

“For example, strategies to make the mRNA vaccines self-amplify, meaning the mRNA delivered in the vaccine encodes not only the antigen of interest but also the replication machinery that amplifies the mRNA, will reduce the amount of mRNA needed in each vaccine. Moderna is already in phase 1 with a seasonal influenza quadrivalent product, and is developing other combination vaccines, including one for human metapneumovirus and parainfluenza virus,” wrote Overmars and colleagues.

“Existing challenges need to be addressed to ensure equitable access and expansion. To do this, manufacturing facilities with advanced mRNA technology may be required in multiple locations globally,” they explained. 

“Testing of different additives, adjuvants and delivery mechanisms will be important to increase the stability of mRNA vaccines at higher temperatures and to therefore facilitate equitable access.”

“mRNA technology has progressed rapidly over the past 2 years in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, revealing new and exciting avenues for prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine development,” they concluded.

New Data Reveals How The End Of Covid-19 Pandemic Protocols Could Negatively Impact US Healthcare 

Whenever the Covid-19 pandemic ends, the US healthcare system may be disrupted greatly due to the amount of hospital systems who have been able to acquire new technology and resources to keep up with temporary emergency measures throughout the pandemic.  

When the many temporary emergency measures that have been implemented throughout the US’s healthcare system end, an estimated 15 million Medicaid recipients will likely need to find new coverage. Congress will need to take action in order to preserve the broad telehealth access that many Medicare users have been able to use throughout the pandemic. 

Beyond just patients, payment policies are also likely to change for doctors, hospitals, and insurers. Many are raising concerns over these issues because of their tie to the coronavirus public health emergency declaration that was made more than two years ago and needs to be periodically renewed in order to keep these protective policies in place. 

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The state of emergency is set to end on April 16th, and it’s expected that Biden will likely extend it through July, but many healthcare workers are hoping for a more secure extension that will last longer. Juliette Cubanski is a Medicare expert working with the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently spoke on the potential consequences of stepping back from the state of emergency. 

“The flexibilities granted through the public health emergency have helped people stay covered and get access to care, so moving forward the key question is how to build on what has been a success and not lose ground.”

Medicaid currently covers 79 million people through its state-federal health insurance program which is designed to assist low income individuals. The amount of people covered by Medicaid has increased at record rates throughout the pandemic. 

The Urban Institute revealed research that estimates about 15 million people could lose their Medicaid coverage when the public health emergency ends, at a rate of 1 million individuals per month. Matthew Buettgens of the Urban Institute stated that almost all of the people losing Medicaid will likely be eligible for “another source of coverage through employers, the Affordable Care Act or, for kids, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

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“But that’s not going to happen automatically. Cost and lack of awareness about options could get in the way. This is an unprecedented situation. The uncertainty is real,” said Buettgens. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure is an administrator at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, and she advises states to take it slow when it comes to rolling back on policies so that they have time to connect with Medicaid recipients who will be disenrolled to provide them with additional coverage. 

“We are focused on making sure we hold on to the gains in coverage we have made under the Biden-Harris administration. We are at the strongest point in our history and we are going to make sure that we hold on to the coverage gains,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. 

The end of the public health emergency could impact telehealth access for millions enrolled in traditional Medicare and other insurers. 

“Congress has given itself 151 days after the end of the public health emergency to come up with new rules. If there are no changes to the law after that, most Medicare beneficiaries will lose access to coverage for telehealth,” the Kaiser Foundation’s Cubanski said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra recently told The Associated Press that his department is “committed to giving ample notice when it ends the public health emergency. We want to make sure we’re not putting in a detrimental position Americans who still need our help. The one that people are really worried about is Medicaid.”