From Boosters & Breakthroughs to Vaccines & Variants: Where Do We Go From Here?
The following reflects an 8/24/2021 discussion; please check the CDC website for real-time updates as the situation continues to evolve.
Their answers may not land lightly, but epidemiologist Jodie Guest, PhD, and drug development expert Michael Kinch, PhD, have been immersed in examining COVID-19 since its first stirrings in early 2020. They share an informed look at the road ahead for us all.
State of Concern
Noting more than 39 million COVID-19 cases nationwide, (as of 9/2/21) Guest projects this will continue to rise rapidly and eclipse one million a week. While “hot spots” for outbreaks clearly correspond to the country’s most lightly vaccinated locales, the impact of the delta variant is being felt in virtually every state. “There’s almost nowhere you can go in the U.S. that you don’t need to be masked indoors, even if vaccinated,” she says. The progressive increase in vaccinated patients with COVID-19 in European hospitals is also troubling, says Kinch, a potential harbinger of what is to come for the U.S.
However, what’s driving the surge is not cases among the vaccinated, known as “breakthroughs.” It’s a term Guest would like to eliminate permanently, given its negative connotation regarding vaccine efficacy. “These type of infections are still rare. More than 90% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.” She points out that while viral loads in patients with COVID-19 are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in the first few days of illness, they drop much faster and further in the vaccinated.
The vaccine, contends Kinch, was never intended to eliminate all possibility of getting COVID-19. “It’s not a suit of armor,” he says, “because no vaccine ever provides 100% protection. But we know they work incredibly well to prevent you from getting very sick or dying.”
The FDA’s recent approval of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, with Moderna approval expected to follow soon, is pivotal, says Guest, in helping launch vaccination requirements at businesses, schools and other locations. “Don’t underestimate the importance of this approval in providing support for mandates that will protect all of us,” she says. “Recognize that in the entire history of vaccines, there has never been a set more studied than the ones we have now.”
Adds Kinch, “With the enormous amount of data gathered on the vaccines’ efficacy and safety, those who think of themselves as vaccine hesitant may more accurately be described as vaccine resistant.”
Third Doses and Boosters
The recent approval of a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna for immunosuppressed patients who didn’t build sufficient immunity from the first two doses applies to just 3% of the adult population. For everyone else (with the exception of pregnant women), a booster shot six to eight months after the initial series is being considered for approval.
“Right now, that’s how long we believe we can go without significantly diminished immunity,” says Guest. Antibody tests are not proven to be an accurate measure of protection from COVID-19, says Kinch, because the antibody levels vary by individual.
If you received Pfizer or Moderna initially, choose the same for a booster. Notes Kinch: “There’s no difference between these two vaccines—one is not better than the other.” In fact, some studies show no impact on efficacy from switching brands, he says; Johnson & Johnson data is yet to come.
And where does the flu shot fit in this fall? Absolutely essential, both agree, with the only caution that a two-week separation between the two vaccines may be recommended by some healthcare providers to avoid triggering a hyperactive immune response.
Protecting our Children
The best way to keep youngsters under 12 safe is ensuring that everyone around them is vaccinated, says Guest.
“Teachers, caregivers, babysitters and others should be vaccinated, or fully masked whenever they’re with children,” she advises. A different dose is being tested for 5- to 12-year-olds, with approval possible later this year.
The Next Wave of Variants?
While not identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a “high concern,” Kinch admits that the lambda variant worries him primarily because not enough is known about its ability to resist vaccines. “One view is that the COVID-19 spike protein can only mutate to a certain point, and if that’s true, lambda could be the end of the virus. The other view is that we don’t know if it stopped mutating,” he says.
“We’re not defenseless, though,” counters Guest, “because we can keep it from getting here by having COVID-19 not circulating in communities. Greater numbers of vaccinated people will prevent us from getting whatever variant might follow delta.”
Stay Safe and Well
One of last year’s most popular signoff lines takes on new resonance as our experts advise on what that now means for the vaccinated in fall 2021.
Mask Up, Indoors and Out.
Masks are increasingly needed outside in crowded areas. Indoors, remember that while a soft, comfortable cloth mask protects others from you, if you need extra protection in certain settings, use a KN95 or N95 mask.
Pass on Indoor Dining, Movies, Concerts and Sporting Events.
Also reconsider full-capacity outdoor events with no masking/distancing/vaccine requirements. (As an alternative, order take-out and support virtual events offered by local venues). And avoid getting together in person with those who are not vaccinated.
Reach out to Every Unvaccinated Person you Know.
“The best action we can take is to keep encouraging every unvaccinated person we know to get the shot, now,” advises Guest. “We’re all in the race against variants and need to work together to defeat them as quickly as possible.” Adds Kinch, “It’s unfortunate that the motivations behind much of the messaging has messed up the message itself. Be completely honest about what is known and not known about the vaccine.”
The Swiss Cheese Respiratory Pandemic Defense.
“Layering prevention messages is crucial because the delta variant has made the holes in the Swiss cheese slice of the vaccine just a bit bigger,” says Guest. “Now masks are more crucial than ever before.”
Dr. Jodie Guest is professor and vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology, Emory University, Atlanta, and award-winning leader of Emory’s Outbreak Response Team for COVID-19.
Dr. Michael Kinch is associate vice chancellor and founder/director of the Center for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and the Center for Drug Discovery at Washington University, St. Louis.
Experts Expect Record Numbers of Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnoses in 2021
As we continue to weather the storm of COVID-19, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is also on our radar. More subtle than an arctic blast, SAD is just as real, with just as much potential to have a chilling effect on our mood, productivity and wellness. Unfortunately, the emotional stress and fear that come with a global pandemic create an ideal climate for SAD this winter. Not surprisingly, mental health experts are expecting to diagnose and treat more cases of SAD in 2021 than ever before.
First discovered in the 1840s, SAD was not officially recognized as a disorder until the early 1980s, when Dr. Norman Rosenthal coined the term and categorized it as a form of clinical depression. We now know that SAD affects at least 5% of Americans; is more likely to affect women than men, those with other forms of depression or family members with the condition; and is far more common in northern regions, due to reduced natural sunlight. New research has advanced several theories as to why some people develop SAD, including: sluggish transmission of serotonin (which helps regulate mood and the body’s circadian rhythms; reduced sensitivity of the eyes to environmental light; a combination of these factors; or other reasons yet to be uncovered).
Increased understanding of what triggers SAD and its impact on mental health has inspired a growing number of clinical treatments that can effectively neutralize its effects.
Chief among them:
Sitting in front of a bright light box for 30 to 45 minutes daily has been a treatment of choice for more than three decades, helping SAD patients with either 10,000 lux of white fluorescent or full spectrum light that shines 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor illumination. Dawn simulation, another form of light therapy, begins in early morning before patients awake by emitting a low level of light that gradually increases over 30 to 90 minutes to recommended room light level (approximately 250 lux). Enhancing indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures is also recommended).
Newer studies from the University of Vermont suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment aimed at providing patients with tools to change negative thoughts and behaviors, may be as effective as light therapy for treating SAD. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), CBT adapted for SAD focuses on behavioral activation, helping SAD sufferers identify and engage in enjoyable seasonal activities to combat the ennui and fatigue they typically experience in winter.
Creating a consistent light-dark, sleep-wake cycle is important for SAD patients, who often experience hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness) and insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep).
Antidepressant medications. Because SAD is associated with disturbances in serotonin activity, antidepressant medications have been effectively used to treat symptoms.
Active days. Keep moving with daily walks outside, even on cloudy days, and aerobic exercise. Both can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.
Winterize your mental health
Be proactive in safeguarding your mental wellness over the coming months. Most importantly, know the symptoms of SAD and call our office for help if you’re experiencing:
- Diminished interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Low energy or overwhelming fatigue
- Difficulty with concentration or focus
- Worthless or helpless feeling
- Sleep issues: too much sleep, or not enough
- Changes in appetite or weight; increases in carbohydrate and sugar cravings
Experts advise those who’ve previously experienced episodes of seasonal depression to try to get in front of it this year. Call our office for guidance regarding medications or CBT sessions. For many, reprogramming their mindset can help restore proper circadian rhythms and eliminate the psychological dread of winter. Try enrolling in an online class, taking up a new hobby or creating a new routine to optimize daylight exposure. Or keep it even simpler. As Dr. Rosenthal recently told the New York Times, “A 20-minute early morning walk in the sun can be as good as commercial light therapy.”
The post Pandemic Stress Likely Compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder appeared first on Specialdocs Consultants.
An Epidemiologist Separates Fact from Fiction and Offers Hope for the Future
Epidemiologists seek to learn why, how and when some people contract diseases when others don’t. Their findings are used to help monitor public health status, develop new medical treatments and disease prevention efforts, and provide an evidence base to healthcare and policy leaders.
Whether you feel the coronavirus is receding or set to surge, that testing is plentiful or inadequate, or that cases are reported as too high or too low may vary considerably based on where you live and your political leanings.
For an objective, no-spin perspective, we checked in with Jodie Guest, PhD, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Guest’s life’s work is studying the distribution, causes, prevention and control of diseases in populations.
Her answers to some of today’s most important questions about COVID-19 are below. Please note these reflect the situation mid-September…check our website for further updates.
Q: Are we seeing a slowdown in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.?
Dr. Guest: The number of new cases has, fortunately, plateaued or slowed down, but in many places the plateaus reflect substantially higher numbers than were reported in April, when everyone was still staying home. My concern is with schools and businesses reopening and less willingness to follow safety guidelines, the numbers may creep back up.
Q: What sites do you trust for accurate reporting on COVID-19?
Dr. Guest: I compare numbers from Johns Hopkins, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Worldometer to see if they match.
Q: What is the significance of the latest report from the CDC that just 6% of coronavirus deaths to date have COVID-19 as the only cause of death?
Dr. Guest: It’s not at all surprising for two reasons. One is that more than 60% of Americans have an underlying condition, such as obesity or diabetes. The risk of complications and hospitalization for people with two to three underlying conditions who contracted the virus is up to five times greater than for people with no [underlying] conditions. Second, death certificates list everything that may have contributed to mortality, including comorbid conditions and conditions caused by COVID-19 such as pneumonia. This does NOT mean that any of the more than 200,000 people who had heart disease or diabetes as an underlying condition didn’t actually die of COVID-19.
Q: Why are people of color and Latinos at greater risk of death from COVID-19?
Dr. Guest: This is not about a genetic risk of death. It’s driven by multiple factors, including a higher incidence of underlying conditions, less access to proper healthcare, greater risk of infection at the workplace and crowded living conditions that preclude social distancing.
Q: What is your take on the revised CDC guidelines that say testing for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should be limited to those with symptoms?
Dr. Guest: Many of us in the public health community feel very strongly that we need to be testing asymptomatic people. From a public health perspective, more testing of asymptomatic people, not less, must be done to control the virus. NOTE: As of 9.18.20, CDC guidelines were revised again to state: “if you have been in close contact, such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes, and do not have symptoms, you need a test.”
Q: What are the relative risks of activity as we move forward?
Dr. Guest: There’s so much variation based on how carefully an activity is done, but there are four good rules that apply to all: Outside is safer than inside, shorter time is safer than longer, small groups are safer than bigger, and distance is safer than closeness.
Q: How might COVID-19 affect the epidemic of flu we see annually?
Dr. Guest: If we take COVID-19 prevention measures seriously – masking, social distancing, handwashing – we could have a light flu season. If we don’t, COVID-19 will make it worse. The good news is that this has already spurred many people to get their flu shots.
Q: Any other silver linings you’re seeing?
Dr. Guest: For the first time, we are having a national conversation around health disparities and inequalities. We might actually come to a reckoning and take corrective action, and that would be spectacular.
Q: What is most important for people to know about getting back to normal?
Dr. Guest: Eventually we’ll have a vaccine but we’re not going to eliminate COVID-19 completely. However, there needn’t be this level of impact on our society. I can’t emphasize enough that we have control over how this virus spreads. We need strict guidelines and most importantly, a social contract with everyone in your community. This may be the first time many of us are asking “What are we willing to do for each other?” I hope we can all rise to the challenge.
When considering whether it is safe to resume an activity, there is much variation based on how carefully an activity is done. Additional details are provided in the infographic below, courtesy of www.covid19reopen.com
The post Can We Co-Exist with COVID-19? appeared first on Specialdocs Consultants.
Oh, My Aching Head
A dull pressure, a sharp pain, an uncomfortable pounding, a vise-like sensation – all can signal the start of a headache. A painful part of the human condition since the beginning of time, more than 150 different types of headaches have been identified, categorized and treated in increasingly effective ways. We take a look at how to cope with the most common headaches, as well as when your symptoms indicate immediate attention is needed in this great reference guide to headache types and remedies.
It’s the rare person who hasn’t experienced the tight feeling or band-like grip around the head that characterizes a tension headache. Stress is frequently the trigger, so staving them off with recognized stress management strategies such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation may help. For immediate relief, gentle massage and use of warmth or heat to ease tense neck and shoulder muscles often work well. Over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen may also be used judiciously.
Seen more often in men, these headaches cause intense pain on one side of the head or around one eye; are often accompanied by nasal discharge or teary eyes; and occur in bouts of frequent attacks over weeks or months, followed by long periods of remission. Treatments include inhaling pure oxygen through a face mask, which often relieves pain within 15 minutes, and injectable triptan medications used to treat migraines.
Headaches experienced after strenuous exercise may result from being dehydrated or overheated or simply from overexertion, and are usually resolved quickly with rest and adequate hydration.
The pain, pressure and fullness in cheeks, brow or forehead, often accompanied by stuffy nose, fatigue and an upper toothache, can indicate a headache from sinusitis or seasonal allergies, but be aware that in many cases it is actually a migraine. Rest, fluids, decongestants and over-the-counter pain medications help alleviate headaches caused by sinusitis; those caused by an allergy will usually be treated with a nasal spray.
Each headache has its own “flavor,” but if they occur more frequently or more severely, seem to worsen with the use of over-the-counter drugs, and interfere with your normal activities, please contact us…and consider starting a headache journal that you can bring to your appointment. Track if they are occurring at certain times of day, or after specific activities or foods; e.g., after a workout, a sleepless night or a change in diet. Also note the duration of each headache; where the pain is located; the intensity and type of pain; other accompanying symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress; and medications you used. Pre-formatted trackers can be accessed online at sites such as headaches.org.
When to seek help promptly: If your headache can be described as one of the worst you’ve ever experienced and is accompanied by trouble seeing, speaking or walking; fainting; high fever; numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body; stiff neck; or nausea or vomiting.
Inside the ‘Migraine Brain’
Despite the prevalence of migraine headaches, which affect 39 million people in the U.S. alone, their complex and multifactorial causes have made it difficult to pinpoint the most effective management of often debilitating symptoms that can include severe, pulsating pain; nausea; and visual auras. But years of research into the “migraine brain” are revealing a deeper understanding and new treatments, discussed in our Q&A with a headache expert, below.
Q: What is a migraine brain?
A: We have found it’s wired somewhat differently than the average brain, highly sensitive to light, sound and movement.
Q: Does genetics play a role?
A: Absolutely, as more than 70% of migraine sufferers have at least one close relative with the problem.
Q: What triggers a migraine?
A: Among the multiple factors are stress, hormonal shifts, time and travel changes, certain foods, inadequate nutrition, alcohol, and too much or too little caffeine. Anyone of these, or more likely, a combination, can trigger an episode. But the number one cause is the overuse of migraine medications, which triggers rebound headaches and starts a cycle of needing increasing quantities for relief.
Q: What medications are used to manage or prevent symptoms?
A: In addition to over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, a class of drugs called triptans that block pain signals in the brain have been used effectively for years. There are many other options, such as new biologic drugs to prevent or minimize the pain of migraines, including calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors and serotonin-receptor agonists.
Q: Will lifestyle adjustments make a difference?
A: There is no question that migraine patients benefit most from a set routine of healthy eating (avoiding alcohol and foods with nitrites or preservatives) and regular exercise; getting adequate sleep each night; and learning to manage stress with techniques such as biofeedback training, relaxation training and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The post Headaches – Types and Remedies appeared first on Specialdocs Consultants.
The Female Factor: Alcohol is Not Gender-Neutral
Given the growing popularity of the cocktail culture and wine time, it’s important to know that alcohol affects women differently than men – physiologically, psychologically and socially. It’s worth asking: For women, is the wine glass half full or half empty when considering the risk-versus-benefit ratio?
First, there is the difference in women’s body composition. Women have more total body fat and less total body water than men. As a result, alcohol is less dispersed, resulting in a higher blood alcohol level, drink for drink, than in men.
Metabolism also plays a role
Women produce less of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme that controls the rate at which alcohol is broken down in the body. This means a blood alcohol level that rises more quickly in women and stays elevated longer. Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol’s effects on other levels too: more likely to black out from drinking, to suffer from mood and behavioral changes and to more rapidly develop an addiction. Women may also experience higher rates of depression and anxiety, often drinking in response to negative emotions and problems with loved ones versus men’s tendency to drink for positive reinforcement and pleasure.
High Drinking Rates in Women: A Cause for Concern
All these factors make the record high drinking rates for women a real cause for concern. Problem drinking rose by 83% among women from 2002 to 2013, rapidly closing – in a most unfortunate way – a gender gap that has existed for decades. Current statistics show that 5.4 million women over 18 may be considered as having alcohol use disorder (AUD) and need treatment. However, gender plays a role here too, as women who consistently seek treatment for almost every other physical and mental health problem at higher rates than men are far less likely to do so for alcohol-related problems. Less than 1 in 10 women get formal help, hindered by the stigma of addiction and feelings of guilt or shame in not being able to function as caregiver for their family.
Alcohol’s impact on other disease is mixed. There is evidence that one drink a day may reduce women’s risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease and the most common type of stroke. The risk of breast cancer, however, increases by 5 – 9% and rises with each additional drink per day. It’s worth noting that taking a multivitamin fortified with 400 mcg of folic acid daily may lower some of women’s elevated risk from alcohol, according to recent studies.
Alcohol in Moderation is Key
The best advice, as with most of life’s issues, is moderation. Avoid alcohol if pregnant or if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, liver disease or alcohol abuse. Otherwise, consuming one drink a day is generally healthy, so be knowledgeable about how to measure that (see below) and enjoy a glass with friends or at special events. Don’t try to match the pace of male celebrants, especially if they’re over-imbibing. In fact, gently steering them away from the bar and onto the dance floor may be the healthiest move for all.
Heavy drinking for women = more than one drink per day or seven-plus drinks per week
Did You Know?
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by symptoms such as:
· excessive time spent drinking
· needing to drink more to get the same effect
· wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else
· inability to stop drinking despite the impact on work and family
*Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
The post Alcohol Affects Women Differently than Men appeared first on Specialdocs Consultants.
This Too Shall Pass: Treating and Preventing Kidney Stones
More common, frequently less painful and far more preventable than reputed, kidney stones have, entered a new era of highly effective, noninvasive procedures. We bring you up to date on kidney stone treatment & prevention
Q: Why do kidney stones happen?
A: They form when substances such as calcium, oxalate, cystine or uric acid are present at high levels in urine, becoming crystals that gradually increase in size to a stone. According to the Urology Care Foundation, Calcium stones are the most common (80%), with Uric Acid and Struvite / Infection stones making up the other 20%.
Q: How likely am I to experience kidney stones?
A: One in 10 people deal with kidney stones in their lifetime, more frequently men, but in recent years, women are rapidly closing the gap. Genetic factors also play a role: if kidney stones are prevalent among your family members, you are at higher risk of developing them.
Q: Are kidney stones very painful?
A: Over the years, the pain associated with kidney stones has taken on an almost mystical aura, sometimes described as “worse than childbirth.” However, the truth is that not every kidney stone causes intense pain. Some are small enough to pass unnoticed, and many are asymptomatic and only discovered when blood is found in the urine during routine testing. Others are large but can stay in the kidney forever without incident. It is only the stones that become “stuck” on their way out of the body that cause renal colic, or waves of severe pain, which can be promptly treated with pain medication.
Q: Does back pain mean I have kidney stones?
A: This is frequently asked by patients concerned about pain felt in the flank area near the kidney. A careful history will be taken to help determine the location of the pain, but a fairly simple way to distinguish the cause is to change positions. If the pain worsens, it is more likely to be a musculoskeletal type of strain. Kidney stone pain is less likely to be positional.
Q: How do you determine if treatment is needed?
A: A noninvasive, less expensive ultrasound is used for screening, but a spiral computed tomography (CT) scan provides superior imagery used to more accurately pinpoint the stone’s location. If only a partial obstruction is seen and not much pain is involved, time is on your side and we can wait to see if the stone passes naturally. At that point, many patients can rest comfortably at home and may be given antispasmodics (such as Flomax) to relax the ureter, pain medications to manage pain and instructed to drink plenty of water to aid the stone’s passage.
Q: What if it doesn’t pass on its own?
A: It’s reassuring to realize there is no urgency to remove the stone unless the kidney is obstructed or infected or the patient is experiencing intractable pain. And when removal is indicated, urologists (specialists in diseases of the urinary tract) have a number of options available, many of them noninvasive or minimally invasive. Open surgical procedures are a rare event. Instead, an outpatient ureteroscopy can be done, using an endoscope to break up or remove the stone. Even less invasive is lithotripsy, good for small stones, which directs high-energy shock waves toward the stone and breaks it into fragments to more easily pass out of the body. For extremely large or resistant stones, a minimally invasive percutaneous nephrolithotomy is conducted to remove the stone via an endoscope inserted through a small incision in the skin.
Q: What is the best way to prevent kidney stones from forming again?
A: We can take the time to develop an individualized approach, based on your stone’s composition. First, your stone will be tested and categorized as calcium oxalate (the most common type), calcium phosphate, a mix or a non-calcium type. Also recommended is a 24-hour urine collection to form a clear picture of how the crystals form in your body, as well as blood tests for further analysis. While those who have formed stones before are at higher risk for forming a subsequent one, we know that dietary modifications tailored to stone type and – if needed – drug therapy can substantially reduce that risk. If you form calcium oxalate stones, we’ll work on a plan to avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, beets and rhubarb, and keep sodium consumption at a minimum. Also important to know is that despite its role in the stone’s composition, there is no need to restrict calcium. In fact, increasing your calcium intake with higher-calcium foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese can help lower oxalate levels in the urine. Finally, keep in mind that the single best preventive measure is to simply fill a bottle with water and drink often.
The post Kidney Stones: Treatment & Prevention appeared first on Specialdocs Consultants.