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    What to know about latest strain of Covid

    By admin

    Screenshot_1.jpg Less than a week after the first case of the coronavirus omicron variant was confirmed in the U.S., about a third of states have now reported cases and health officials say it continues to spread rapidly across the country.

    Although early indications suggest the omicron variant may be less dangerous than the highly infectious delta variant, scientists say there is still much to learn.

    “We have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that (omicron) is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told CNN's “State of the Union Sunday."

    The variant was first identified in South Africa, where it's quickly becoming the dominant strain, and was designated as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.

    Here’s everything to know about omicron and why Americans should take notice.

    What is omicron?

    The World Health Organization designated the B.1.1.529 variant a “variant of concern” Nov. 26 and named it omicron after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

    WHO uses the Greek alphabet as a variant classification system to simplify understanding and avoid stigmatizing countries where they’re first identified.

    Omicron, which can be pronounced both ä-mə-ˌkrän or ō-ˈmī-(ˌ)krän, according to Merriam-Webster, was first identified in South Africa on Nov. 24. The U.S. began restricting travel from South Africa and several other countries last week but Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting those bans.

    “Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time,” he said. “We all feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only on South Africa but the other African countries.”

    Omicron:How it got its Greek name and what it means

    What are the symptoms?

    WHO says there’s no evidence to suggest that symptoms linked to omicron are different from those caused by other variants.

    Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, was one of the first doctors in South Africa to detect the new variant.

    She told Reuters symptoms of the omicron variant were "very mild" and could be treated at home. These infections were first reported in university students who were younger and tended to have milder disease.

    But like all coronavirus variants, WHO said, omicron may be capable of causing severe disease or death, particularly among vulnerable populations.

    Symptoms of COVID-19 caused by any known coronavirus variant can include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, a loss of taste or smell, sore and congestion or runny nose.

    How serious is omicron?It will take weeks to understand new COVID-19 variant, experts say.

    Where is first case of omicron in the United States?

    A person in California became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday.

    “This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant detected in the United States,” Fauci said at the White House last week. He said the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

    On a visit to the National Institutes of Health Thursday, President Joe Biden urged Americans to get behind his plan to combat COVID-19 during the winter months, which included tighter travel rules, free at-home tests and boosters shots.

    "It's a plan that I think should unite us," Biden said. It "pulls no punches in the fight against COVID-19."

    Where else has it been detected?

    At least 16 states have reported omicron cases: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.

    The World Health Organization said Friday the latest strain has been detected in at least 38 countries, including South Africa, Portugal, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.

    Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

    Should I be concerned about it?

    In a media briefing last week, President Joe Biden said omicron is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

    It’s not clear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, WHO said.

    It’s also unclear how well the virus evades immunity from previous infection or COVID-19 vaccines to cause a breakthrough infection.

    But even with so little information, health experts say people should be watchful.

    “Americans should take this variant seriously," Swann said. "Even if this one turns out to be not as bad as we fear, there will be another one that will.”

    President Biden:Omicron 'a cause for concern, not a cause for panic'

    Are there any deaths linked to omicron?

    As of Monday, no deaths were reported associated with the new variant.

    What makes omicron different from other variants?

    Omicron appears to have about 30 mutations in on the coronavirus’ spike protein.

    Out of the approximately 30 mutations, 26 are unique to omicron and don’t appear in other variants of concern, according to Dr. Venky Soundararajan, co-founder and chief medical officer at nference, a data analytics firm in Massachusetts.

    In comparison, the alpha variant has only four unique mutations, beta has six, gamma has eight and delta has seven.

    “I’m less concerned about the fact that these mutations exist and I’m more concerned about the fact that we know very little about many of them,” Soundararajan said.

    A handful of omicron’s mutations that exist in other variants have been associated with previous surges of positive COVID-19 cases, he said. Some of these mutations are believed to increase transmissibility while others may help the virus evade immunity.

    Most of these mutations are clustered at the ACE2 receptor and antibody binding sites, Soundararajan said, which are also sites targeted by the COVID-19 vaccines and antibodies.

    The most intriguing mutation is the ins214EPE insertion, he said. This addition introduces three new amino acids, corresponding to nine nucleotides, to the virus’s genetic profile.

    However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the insertion is more dangerous. A preprint study, not yet peer-reviewed, authored by Soundararajan shows this same insertion is present in seasonal coronaviruses.

    This could mean the virus transmits more easily, he said, but it could also mean it causes only mild or asymptomatic disease to evade detection.

    “In evolution, when you see a virus pick up a trait, it loses something else. You may see higher transmission but lower odds of hospitalization,” Soundararajan said. “That might be the silver lining.”

    How quickly could it spread?

    Scientists say more data is needed to determine severity of illness, but real-world evidence suggests omicron may be highly transmissible.

    Dutch health authorities said they detected more than 60 COVID-19 cases among 624 passengers who flew on two flights from South Africa to Amsterdam’s airport, Reuters reported, despite requiring a negative test or proof of vaccination.

    “The filtration on planes are better, there tend to be mask requirements and most airline companies are requiring a negative test, so I would not have expected this level of positivity so quickly on that flight,” Swann said. “I found it a bit worrisome.”

    Do the COVID-19 vaccines protect against omicron?

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told Biden he believes “existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID,” reiterating that booster shots on top of full vaccination will provide stronger protection.

    However, other scientists say it will likely take weeks to sort out if the new variant is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it.

    COVID-19 vaccine developers with authorized shots in the U.S. – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have all pledged to reformulate their shots to protect against omicron “if needed,” which may include an omicron-specific booster.

    “It is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves,” Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said in a statement. “The mutations in the omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.”

    What precautions should I take?

    Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with omicron compared to other variants of concern, according to WHO, but more information is needed.

    Biden urged the public to get fully vaccinated, and if eligible, to get a COVID-19 booster as soon as possible. Waning immunity in people who received their first shots more than six months ago may put them at risk of breakthrough infection.

    The CDC updated its guidance, recommending that all adults 18 and older should get a booster shot either six months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine.

    “If you are 18 years and over and got fully vaccinated before June 1, go get the booster shot today,” Biden said. “They’re free and available in 80,000 locations coast to coast. Do not wait.”

    Anyone who gathered with non-household members over the holiday should consider getting tested for COVID-19, Swann said. She also urged anyone who has traveled away from their community to get tested.

    “That would allow us to get a handle on things,” she said. “It will continue to spread but slow it down to give us time to know what this is and what does it mean, and be prepared for it.”

    Americans should also consider wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status, especially around people with compromised immune systems who are more at risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

    Biden also pushed parents to get their children vaccinated now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for kids 5 to 11.

    “Most of our children across America are not fully vaccinated, yet,” Swann said. “People who are not fully protected with the full recommended dosage of vaccines should take extra care in gathering with anyone outside their household.”

    Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

    Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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    Viagra use could reduce Alzheimer ?

    By admin

    study-finds-viagra-usage-could-reduce-alzheimers-disease-risk_resize_md.jpg A recently published study from researchers at the Cleveland Clinic has found that sildenafil, an approved drug for erectile dysfunction, popularly known as Viagra, can help in treating Alzheimer's disease.

    The neurodegenerative disease that currently does not have a cure is estimated to impact 13.8 million Americans by 2050, the press release said. With new drug development being a time and cost-intensive process, researchers in the pharma industry have turned to repurpose already approved drugs. The team led by Feixiong Cheng, at Genomic Medicine Institute at Cleveland, was studying subtypes of neurodegenerative diseases to find common mechanisms that could be targeted with FDA-approved drugs.

    In the case of Alzheimer's disease, two proteins, namely beta-amyloid and tau, begin accumulating inside the brain, leading to clots and tangles. Clinical trials targeting these proteins have failed in the past decade, the press release said. Recent research has also shown that the two proteins that work together cause the disease. The researchers began investigating which of the approved drugs could act on both the proteins at the same time instead of targeting just one.

    To their surprise, sildenafil turned up to have the best scores. The database that the researchers used consisted of data of more than seven million people in the U.S. and even included drugs such as losartan or metformin, that are currently under active clinical trials to treat Alzheimer's. After six years of follow-up, sildenafil users were 69 percent less likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease, the press release said.

    "We found that sildenafil use reduced the likelihood of Alzheimer’s in individuals with coronary artery disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are comorbidities significantly associated with risk of the disease," added Dr. Cheng.

    To further verify their findings, the team created model cells of Alzheimer's disease in the lab using stem cells and treated them with sildenafil. The drug not only increased brain cell growth but also decreased hyperphosphorylation of tau proteins, a process that usually leads to tangles.

    The research team will now carry out a phase II randomized clinical trial to confirm their findings, following which the approach will be applied to other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

    "This is an example of a growing area of research in precision medicine where big data is key to connecting the dots between existing drugs and complex diseases," said Jean Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which funded the work. The study was published in Nature Aging.

    A trial for a nasal vaccine for Alzheimer's is also scheduled to begin soon.

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    Covid and loud talkers

    By admin

    Screenshot_1.jpg Men and people who speak at louder volumes more easily spread COVID-19, according to researchers at Colorado State University (CSU).

    In a November study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, a multidisciplinary team at the school examined respiratory aerosol emissions from a panel of healthy individuals of varying age and gender while talking and singing in a controlled laboratory setting.

    The group measured particle number concentrations between 0.25 and 33 micrometers from 63 participants ages 12-61 years old, and voice volume and exhaled CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels were monitored.

    Measurements were taken while subjects were both masked and unmasked inside the lab of professor and study co-author John Volckens.

    Researchers concluded that singing produced 77% more aerosol than talking, adults produced 62% more aerosol than minors and males produced 34% more aerosol than females.

    However, after accounting for participant voice volume and exhaled CO2 measurements in linear models, the age and sex differences were "attenuated and no longer statistically significant."

    Results from wind instrument-playing experiments are pending further data analysis and peer review. The study was originally developed early on during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to determine what people in performing arts can do to safely return to the stage.

    "Is singing worse than talking when it comes to how many particles are being emitted? Yes, according to the study. And, the louder one talks or sings, the worse the emissions," the university said in a news post on its website, detailing the study.

    "If there were significant differences after accounting for CO2 between males and females and kids, then you’d have to know how many males, females, and minors were in a room to estimate transmission risks," Volckens said in a statement. "Our data suggest that you don’t need to know that if you just measure CO2 and noise levels, because those measures are an equalizer for these demographic differences."

    Limitations include that controlled study designs – including the laboratory environment – may "lack generalizability" to real-world situations, other types of vocal activities were not considered, the group did not quantify respiratory disease transmission risk and that additional observation and research is necessary to characterize respiratory aerosol emissions during early childhood development.

    Dan Goble, director of the CSU School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and colleagues raised nearly $100,000 in support of the study.

    Goble said that working with the CSU engineers helped his team to better understand how visual and performing arts could reimplement their programming.

    After going virtual in spring 2020, current performing arts protocols at CSU include the use of masks, restrictions on occupancy venue times, physical distancing of at least six feet for voice lessons and extra time between classes for performance rooms to undergo sufficient air exchanges between rehearsals.

    The availability of COVID-19 vaccines – CSU has a 90% vaccination rate – has "changed the game," according to Goble.

    "We are so fortunate to have experts like (Volckens) who gave us some really wonderful information to help us make decisions about what we can and can’t do in the (University Center for the Arts)," he said.

    These results, study authors noted, support further investigation of voice volume and CO2 as indicators of infection risk indoors.

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    Pregnancy Health Risks don’t necessarily jump after age 35

    By admin

    Screenshot_1.jpg It’s well established more people are having babies later in life than at any other time in U.S. history.

    This increase in the number of people giving birth after the age of 35 – designated as “advanced maternal age” in clinical obstetrics – started in the mid-1970s and hascontinued to climb, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    A federal report shows 18% of pregnancies were in people 35 and older in 2018, up from 15% in 2013 and 11% in 2002 and 8% in 1990.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnant people in this age group are at higher risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. They’re also more likely to have a low birth weight baby and premature birth, and need a C-section.

    Despite these risks, a study published Friday in JAMA Health Forum shows patients just over the age of 35 had better prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes compared to those who were a few months shy of the cutoff age.

    “There’s so many of these arbitrary guidelines and cutoffs in medicine," said study senior author Jessica Cohen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan. School of Public Health. "The label of ‘advanced maternal age’ makes you feel really old when you’re just 35.”

    Cohen's personal experience inspired the study. She had her first child at 34, and while she said she received amazing care, there was a difference during her second pregnancy at 36.

    “When I had the second and I noticed how carefully I was being watched, I was like, ‘Wow, I wish I had this the first time,’” Cohen said.

    The authors studied more than 50,000 deliveries from 2008 to 2019. About half of the people giving birth were between 34.7 and 34.9 years old, and the other half were between 35 and 35.3.

    Prenatal care including ultrasounds, visits with maternal-fetal medicine specialists and special monitoring of the fetus all increased in those over 35 years old. Authors also found stillbirths and early newborn deaths dropped.

    “Definitely, for sure, risks increase with the mom’s age,” Cohen said. “But there’s no risk that jumps right as you become age 35."

    'Obstetric deserts' threaten lives of pregnant people, amplifying maternal mortality in rural Indiana

    COVID during pregnancy:Babies born to moms with COVID-19 when pregnant should be watched for long-term impacts, researchers say

    After controlling for underlying conditions like pre-gestational diabetes, chronic hypertension and obesity, researchers found a stronger association between older age, more prenatal care services, and lower perinatal mortality.

    Prenatal services may partially affect stillbirth and infant mortality rates after birth, but the study left out key information that impacts pregnancy outcome, said Dr. Priya Rajan, associate professor of maternal fetal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and chief of diagnostic ultrasound at Northwestern Medicine.

    “Timing of delivery and the number of pregnancies you had play a big part of it, too,” she said. “They tried to control a little bit for the ethnic variation and race data, but not to have any of that is really limiting.”

    Additionally, the study’s data came from a large, nationwide commercial insurer so didn't include people on Medicaid or Medicare or those with no insurance at all, Rajan said.

    The study also showed increased prenatal care didn't appear to reduce maternal deaths among pregnant patients over 35.

    “That’s something that we really want to make sure we’re paying attention to,” Rajan said.

    Despite its limitations, she said the study raises awareness for people of advanced maternal age and the care they receive during pregnancy. More data is needed to understand what aspects of prenatal care are making the biggest difference among pregnant people with traditional risk factors.

    “We really need to rethink how we’re taking care of pregnant women,” Rajan said. “All pregnant people – regardless of age, regardless of race, regardless of socioeconomic status – we need to universally improve care.”

    Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

    Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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    Covid variant tied to heart inflammation in cats, dogs

    By admin

    This past spring our 4 year old Massif was in cardiac arrest . We rushed him to the vet. He had an enlarged heart. If was diagnosed as food related. Now I'm wondering if he might have had Covid. Good news is that he is much better and is getting the medication he needs to heal. We hope he can ween off the meds by next summer.

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