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The False Hope of Antibody Testing

April 28, 2020

(The Atlantic) – A pair of controversial surveys in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County found antibodies in 2.5 to 4 percent of the population—and even those numbers may be overestimates due to methodological flaws. In New York City, the country’s COVID-19 epicenter, 24.7 percent of people tested positive for antibodies. (The statewide number is 14.9 percent.) These rates do translate to many times more cases than officially documented, to be clear, but they are still a far cry from the 70 percent scientists believe is necessary to reach herd immunity and stop disease transmission. And if only a small fraction of the population can return to work without fear of getting the coronavirus, a return to something resembling normal is still a long way off.

FDA Bans Products That Help Teens Hide Vaping

April 28, 2020

(UPI) – With more American teens taking up e-cigarettes, there’s a flood of products designed to allow them to vape without getting caught by parents or teachers — and federal officials want to put a stop to it. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it was sending warning letters to 10 manufacturers to stop making these products targeting youth.

As Lockdowns Lift, New Hazards Lurk in the Water

April 28, 2020

(Nature) – The longer a building sits unused, the more potential there is for harm. That’s because the length of time between water treatment and use is one of the key factors determining bacterial regrowth, says Joan Rose, an environmental microbiologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. One of the main concerns is Legionella, a genus of bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

Widely Used Surgical Masks Are Putting Health Care Workers at Serious Risk

April 28, 2020

(Scientific American) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said lower-grade surgical masks are “an acceptable alternative” to N95 masks unless workers are performing an intubation or another procedure on a COVID patient that could unleash a high volume of virus particles. But scholars, nonprofit leaders and former regulators in the specialized field of occupational safety say relying on surgical masks—which are considerably less protective than N95 respirators—is almost certainly fueling illness among front-line health workers, who likely make up about 11% of all known COVID-19 cases.

Consumer Beware: Coronavirus Antibody Tests Are Still a Work in Progress

April 27, 2020

(Kaiser Health News) – Such high hopes, however, are running smack into the roadblocks of reality. Infectious disease experts are raising pointed questions about the reliability of the early tests and the studies that hinge on their results. And they warn that state and local governments — as well as individuals — should be wary of shaping policy or changing behavior based on any single report.

Coronavirus Alert: Rare Syndrome Seen in UK Children

April 27, 2020

(BBC) – NHS doctors have been warned to look out for a rare but dangerous reaction in children that may be linked to coronavirus infection. An urgent alert sent out to GPs said that intensive care departments in London and other parts of the UK have been treating severely sick children with unusual symptoms. This includes “multi-system inflammation” with flu-like symptoms. Some, but not all, tested positive for coronavirus.

Artificial Intelligence Won’t Save Us from Coronavirus

April 27, 2020

(Wired) – As the world confronts the outbreak of coronavirus, many have lauded AI as our omniscient secret weapon. Although corporate press releases and some media coverage sing its praises, AI will play only a marginal role in our fight against Covid-19. While there are undoubtedly ways in which it will be helpful—and even more so in future pandemics—at the current moment, technologies like data reporting, telemedicine, and conventional diagnostic tools are far more impactful. So how can you avoid falling for the AI hype? In a recent Brookings Institution report, I identified the necessary heuristics for a healthy skepticism of AI claims around Covid-19.

Silicon Valley Needs a New Approach to Studying Ethics Now More Than Ever

April 27, 2020

(TechCrunch) – Next month, Apple and Google will unveil features to enable contact tracing on iOS and Android to identify people who have had contact with someone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus. Security experts have been quick to point out the possible dangers, including privacy risks like revealing identities of COVID-19-positive users, helping advertisers track them or falling prey to false positives from trolls.These are fresh concerns in familiar debates about tech’s ethics. How should technologists think about the trade-off between the immediate need for public health surveillance and individual privacy? And misformation and free speech?

Dutch Court Allows Euthanasia in Advanced Dementia Cases

April 27, 2020

(CNN) – Doctors in the Netherlands may legally euthanize patients with severe dementia who previously provided a written request for the procedure, the country’s highest court ruled Tuesday. In the landmark decision, the court said that a physician may respond to a written request for euthanasia made before someone develops advanced dementia, provided certain legal requirements are met — even if the patient’s condition means they become unable to confirm that request.

Favouring Young Over Old in Covid-19 Treatment Justifiable, Says Ethicist

April 27, 2020

(The Guardian) – Older people should be denied treatment for the coronavirus if a younger, healthy person needs help, according to Prof Arthur Caplan, a prominent US medical ethicist. Age, he said, was a “valid criterion” to use when making the “terrible choice” of who should receive scarce resources during the pandemic. “To the extent to which data supports the risk of failure or the odds of success, age can justifiably be used to ration care if maximisation of lives saved is the overarching goal,” said Caplan – who is ethics adviser to the US government – in remarks in a debate published on Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Forcing U.S. Doctors to Ration Care for All Patients

April 27, 2020

(TIME) – Soon after public health officials identified SARS-CoV-2 virus as the cause of a previously unknown illness in the Hubei province of China, doctors realized that the novel coronavirus seemed to zero in on certain demographics: older people, as well as those with existing chronic diseases and weakened immune systems like Kraemer, 43. “From very early on, I felt vulnerable and scared,” she says. “People were saying ‘everybody don’t worry, this will only affect the sick people.’ I felt vulnerable and expendable.”

The Hunt for a Coronavirus Vaccine–a Perilous and Uncertain Path

April 27, 2020

(The Guardian) – The stakes could hardly be higher; the prize still tantalisingly out of reach. It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of many millions of people rests on the discovery of a vaccine for Covid-19 – the only sure escape route from the pandemic. Yet the optimism that accompanied the launch of Oxford University’s human trials this week has to be put in context, and the hurdles facing the scientists need to be understood. The vaccine hunters are trying to outwit an invisible enemy so small that a million viral particles could fit inside a human cell, but whose biological ingenuity has brought everyday life to a standstill. So what is the path to success?

Hospitals Are Using AI to Predict the Decline of Covid-19 Patients–Before Knowing It Works

April 24, 2020

(STAT News) – Dozens of hospitals across the country are using an artificial intelligence system created by Epic, the big electronic health record vendor, to predict which Covid-19 patients will become critically ill, even as many are struggling to validate the tool’s effectiveness on those with the new disease. The rapid uptake of Epic’s deterioration index is a sign of the challenges imposed by the pandemic: Normally hospitals would take time to test the tool on hundreds of patients, refine the algorithm underlying it, and then adjust care practices to implement it in their clinics.

Do You Want to Die in an I.C.U.? Pandemic Makes Question All Too Real

April 24, 2020

(New York Times) – To date, there’s no clear evidence that older people are more apt to contract the new coronavirus, said Dr. Douglas White, a critical care specialist and the director of the Program on Ethics and Decision Making at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “What we do know is that older individuals are more likely to experience very severe disease if they do become infected,” he said. “The data are sobering.”

World Must Ensure Equal Access for All to COVID-19 Vaccines, Drugs: WHO

April 24, 2020

(Reuters) – All new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments against the new coronavirus must be made equally available to everyone worldwide, the World Health Organization said on Friday as it outlined a plan to accelerate work to fight COVID-19. Launching what he called a “landmark collaboration” to speed the development of effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent and treat COVID-19, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the lung disease was a “common threat which we can only defeat with a common approach”.

Polio, Measles Outbreaks ‘Inevitable’, Say Vaccine Experts

April 24, 2020

(SciDevNet) – Interruptions to vaccination programmes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could result in new waves of measles or polio outbreaks, health experts warn. A growing number of one-off immunisation campaigns and national routine vaccine introductions are being delayed amid social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, leaving millions unprotected.

Shortcuts in COVID-19 Drug Research Could Do Long-Term Harm, Bioethicists Worry

April 24, 2020

(Scientific American) – Does a widespread medical emergency justify speedier, and sometimes less rigorous, ways to test treatments and evaluate results? Doctors and patients urgently need to get their hands on drugs for the COVID-19 pandemic. But bioethicists Jonathan Kimmelman of McGill University and Alex John London of Carnegie Mellon University argue in an April 23 Science article that hurried trials and tests can do more harm than good. They highlight hastily published case reports that, they contend, can lead doctors to believe some drugs offer more of a benefit than has been proved.

FDA Issues Warning on Side Effects of Malaria Drug for Covid-19

April 24, 2020

(UPI) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued a warning about serious and potentially life-threatening side effects of chloroquine and it’s sister drug hydroxychloroquine, including heart rhythm problems that have been seen in clinical trials. The drugs, which were granted an emergency use authorization by the FDA on March 28, have been shown to cause serious heart problems in patients with severe COVID-19, as evidenced by a new analysis published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Israel Is Using AI to Flag High-Risk Covid-19 Patients

April 24, 2020

(MIT Technology Review) – One of Israel’s largest health maintenance organizations is using artificial intelligence to help identify which of the 2.4 million people it covers are most at risk of severe covid-19 complications. Maccabi Healthcare Services says the system—which it developed with AI company Medial EarlySign—has already flagged 2% of its members, amounting to around 40,000 people. Once identified, individuals are put on a fast track for testing.

Trauma on the Pandemic’s Front Line Leaves Health Workers Reeling

April 23, 2020

(NPR) – Hospital workers around the world face similar, sustained trauma, and it’s taking an emotional toll. A recent study underscored the severity of those risks: Half of Chinese health care workers studied who treated COVID-19 patients earlier this year now suffer from depression. Nearly as many — 44.6% — have anxiety, and a third have insomnia.

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