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How Feds Decide on Remdesivir Shipments to States Remains Mysterious

August 19, 2020

(NPR) – One of the few treatment options for patients seriously ill with COVID-19 is the antiviral drug remdesivir. Authorized by the Food and Drug Administration in May for emergency use in the pandemic, remdesivir is in short supply. The federal government has taken on the responsibility for deciding where vials of the medicine should go. Between July 6 and July 19, the federal Department of Health and Human Services allocated shipments of remdesivir to 31 states.

The Antibiotic Paradox: Why Companies Can’t Afford to Create Life-Saving Drugs

August 19, 2020

(Nature) – In a bitter paradox, antibiotics fuelled the growth of the twentieth century’s most profitable pharmaceutical companies, and are one of society’s most desperately needed classes of drug. Yet the market for them is broken. For almost two decades, the large corporations that once dominated antibiotic discovery have been fleeing the business, saying that the prices they can charge for these life-saving medicines are too low to support the cost of developing them. Most of the companies now working on antibiotics are small biotechnology firms, many of them running on credit, and many are failing.

Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19

August 19, 2020

(The Atlantic) – Lauren Nichols has been sick with COVID-19 since March 10, shortly before Tom Hanks announced his diagnosis and the NBA temporarily canceled its season. She has lived through one month of hand tremors, three of fever, and four of night sweats. When we spoke on day 150, she was on her fifth month of gastrointestinal problems and severe morning nausea. She still has extreme fatigue, bulging veins, excessive bruising, an erratic heartbeat, short-term memory loss, gynecological problems, sensitivity to light and sounds, and brain fog. Even writing an email can be hard, she told me, “because the words I think I’m writing are not the words coming out.” She wakes up gasping for air twice a month. It still hurts to inhale.

Will Covid-19 Vaccines Be Safe for Children and Pregnant Women? The Data, So Far, Are Lacking

August 19, 2020

(STAT News) – As potential Covid-19 vaccines speed their way through development, manufacturers and U.S. regulators have largely delayed testing in children and women who are pregnant, raising the possibility that experts will lack critical safety and efficacy data in those populations when there’s a pressing need to inoculate them.

COVID-19 Vaccine Won’t Be Mandatory in US, Says Fauci

August 19, 2020

(Medical Xpress) – Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious diseases official, said Wednesday the government wouldn’t make any future COVID-19 vaccine obligatory for the general public—though local jurisdictions could make it mandatory for some groups, like children. 

CDC Study Finds Hispanics Hit Disproportionately Hard by Workplace Outbreaks

August 18, 2020

(NPR) – A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published on Monday is the latest to confirm that the coronavirus disproportionately impacts communities of color in the U.S. The study looked at COVID-19 cases associated with workplace outbreaks in certain industries in Utah between March and June. It found that Hispanic and nonwhite workers made up 73% of those cases — despite representing just 24% of the workforce in sectors where outbreaks occurred. 

Isolation, Disruption and Confusion: Coping with Dementia During a Pandemic

August 18, 2020

(Kaiser Health News) – The coronavirus has upended the lives of dementia patients and their caregivers. Adult day care programs, memory cafes and support groups have shut down or moved online, providing less help for caregivers and less social and mental stimulation for patients. Fear of spreading the virus limits in-person visits from friends and family. These changes have disrupted long-standing routines that millions of people with dementia rely on to help maintain health and happiness, making life harder on them and their caregivers.

How Do You Separate Scientifically Sound Stem Cell Therapies from Scams?

August 18, 2020

(STAT News) – For patients who’ve run out of other options, experimental, unproven therapies like stem cell treatments offer new hope. But how do you sort the scientifically legitimate from the dangerous? Regenerative medicine is a controversial field, still in its infancy. There are academic researchers and major biotech companies testing key treatments in high-profile, vetted clinical trials — but there are also fringe clinics promising stem cell injections that can cure everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cerebral palsy, though they have no evidence to back up those claims.

The Crushing Isolation of Nursing Homes During the Pandemic

August 17, 2020

(Texas Tribune) – The coronavirus pandemic has been a constant and precarious balancing act between limiting the spread of the virus and the need for life to go on. In few places has this balance been more delicate than in long-term care facilities, where elderly and medically fragile residents have been deprived of visits from loved ones for almost five months. For some families, that wait is ending as the state rolls out new rules to allow visitation again in certain nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but it remains unclear how many facilities can — or will — start allowing visits. And some families say the damage to their loved ones from prolonged isolation has already been done.

Scientists See Signs of Lasting Immunity to Covid-19, Even After Mild Infections

August 17, 2020

(The New York Times) – To the immune system, not all germs are equally memorable. But our body’s cells seem to be seriously studying up on the coronavirus. Scientists who have been monitoring immune responses to the virus are now starting to see encouraging signs of strong, lasting immunity, even in people who developed only mild symptoms of Covid-19, a flurry of new studies suggests. Disease-fighting antibodies, as well as immune cells called B cells and T cells that are capable of recognizing the virus, appear to persist months after infections have resolved — an encouraging echo of the body’s enduring response to other viruses.

Mothers, Babies Stranded in Ukraine Surrogacy Industry

August 17, 2020

(The New York Times) – In one of the more bizarre consequences of coronavirus travel restrictions, biological parents, babies and surrogate mothers have become scattered and sometimes stranded in multiple countries for months this year. Ukraine, with its relatively permissive reproductive health laws and an abundance of willing mothers among a poor population, is a hub of the international business, executives in the industry and women’s rights advocates say.

The Dystopian Tech That Companies Are Selling to Help Schools Reopen Sooner

August 17, 2020

(Vox) – Supplying the technology is an artificial intelligence company called Remark Holdings. The company, which also sells facial recognition systems, has been providing a thermal scanning system — which also takes attendance — to more than 100 schools in China for over a year and is now repurposing its tech to assist semi-public places reopening amid the pandemic. Remark Holdings is not the only company doing so. A slew of firms, many of which already sold surveillance products, are adjusting their technology to the pandemic. The suite of products includes everything from computer programs that can identify whether or not a student is wearing a mask to artificial intelligence that measures how well people are social distancing. Sometimes, these capabilities are sold together as a package. 

Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Drugs Are Taking Longer Than Expected

August 14, 2020

(New York Times) – As coronavirus cases surge in the United States and treatments are needed more than ever, clinical trials for some of the most promising experimental drugs are taking longer than expected. Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system.

These Covid-19 Vaccine Candidates Could Change the Way We Make Vaccines–If They Work

August 14, 2020

(Vox) – As urgency mounts for a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, a key question for scientists is whether this pandemic will be the watershed moment for two new technologies that have never before seen widespread use in humans. If proven effective, these approaches could dramatically speed up the development of other new vaccines and drastically lower costs, heralding a new era in the fight against infectious disease. The main technologies gaining traction are vaccines that use an adenovirus vector and mRNA. Rather than construct a new vaccine from scratch, the idea behind these technologies is to use a standard set of parts, like a repurposed virus or a nanoparticle, to carry genetic material into a cell. That material — DNA or RNA — can then code for specific proteins from a virus.

On Native American Land, Contact Tracing Is Saving Lives

August 14, 2020

(New York Times) – The coronavirus is raging through the White Mountain Apache tribe. Spread across a large reservation in eastern Arizona, the Apaches have been infected at more than 10 times the rate of people in the state as a whole. Yet their death rate from Covid-19 is far lower, just 1.3 percent, as compared with 2.1 percent in Arizona. Epidemiologists have a hopeful theory about what led to this startling result: Intensive contact tracing on the reservation likely enabled teams that included doctors to find and treat gravely ill people before it was too late to save them.

Doctors Charged Over Kyoto ALS Patient’s Medically Assisted Suicide

August 14, 2020

(The Japan Times) – Prosecutors on Thursday indicted two doctors over the death of a terminally ill 51-year-old woman with ALS, alleging they took part in her medically assisted suicide last year with her consent. Yoshikazu Okubo, 42, and Naoki Yamamoto, 43, were arrested in July for allegedly giving Yuri Hayashi a lethal dose of a sedative drug at her home in the city of Kyoto last November. Before her death, the woman had transferred ¥1.3 million to Yamamoto’s bank account.

Dying Young: The Health Care Workers in Their 20s Killed by COVID-19

August 14, 2020

(Medscape) – In our database of 167 confirmed front-line worker deaths, 21 medical staffers, or 13% of the total, were under 40, and eight (5%) fatalities were under 30. The median age of a COVID-19 death in the general population is 78, while the median age of health care worker deaths in the database is 57. This is in part because we are, by definition, including only people of working age who were treating patients during the pandemic — but it is also because, as health workers, they are far more exposed to the virus.

In N.Y.C.’s Coronavirus Surge, a Frightening Echo of the 1918 Flu

August 13, 2020

(New York Times) – The 1918 influenza pandemic is the deadliest in modern history, claiming an estimated 50 million lives worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. By some measures, the toll of the Covid-19 surge in New York City this spring resembled that of the 1918 flu pandemic. In March and April, the overall death rate was just 30 percent lower than during the height of the pandemic in the city, despite modern medical advances, according to an analysis published on Thursday in JAMA Network Open.

Large Study Suggests Convalescent Plasma Can Help Treat Covid-19, but Experts Have Doubts

August 13, 2020

(STAT News) – Infusing hospitalized Covid-19 patients with blood plasma from people who recovered from the disease appeared to show a benefit in a nationwide study, but the study’s lack of a placebo group left several experts struggling to interpret the data. The study, which enrolled more than 35,000 patients, found that quickly administering so-called convalescent plasma had a marked effect on mortality for patients with severe cases of Covid-19.

Bereaved Families Are ‘the Secondary Victims of COVID-19’

August 13, 2020

(Kaiser Health News) – Every day, the nation is reminded of COVID-19’s ongoing impact as new death counts are published. What is not well documented is the toll on family members. New research suggests the damage is enormous. For every person who dies of COVID-19, nine close family members are affected, researchers estimate based on complex demographic calculations and data about the coronavirus. Many survivors will be shaken by the circumstances under which loved ones pass away — rapid declines, sudden deaths and an inability to be there at the end — and worrisome ripple effects may linger for years, researchers warn.

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