Health Highlights: July 30, 2020
One-shot J&J; COVID Vaccine Works in Monkeys Alzheimer's Brain Scans May Not Be Worth the Price Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized for Non-Surgical Procedure School Closings This Spring Saved Lives, Study Finds FDA Warns Companies Illegally Selling Hangover Cures Latest COVID-19 Issue: Hair Loss
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
One-shot J&J COVID Vaccine Works in Monkeys
An experiential vaccine to protect against COVID-19 developed by Johnson & Johnson appears effective in monkeys, the New York Times reported Thursday.
This is the second vaccine that had promising results in monkeys reported this week, but whether they work in humans is the real test.
A human test is now underway in Europe and the United States. More than 30 human trials have been started testing coronavirus vaccines, but not until these trials are over in several months will we know if they work in people.
"This week has been good -- now we have two vaccines that work in monkeys," Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University who was not involved in the studies, told the Times. "It's nice to be upbeat for a change."
These new results can't be used to speed trials in humans. "We just can't take shortcuts," she said.
The two vaccines work in very differently.
The one by Moderna delivers messenger RNA into cells which causes an immune response to the virus. RNA vaccines have not yet been approved for use in people, the Times noted.
Moderna began Phase 3 trials on Monday, as did Pfizer.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine activates the immune response by altering the virus.
A single shot of the vaccine was able to protect five out of six monkeys and the sixth had only low levels of the virus, the Times reports.
"The fact that we could protect with a single shot in animal models was quite a positive surprise to us," Dr. Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson, told the Times.
"It's exciting to see the number of platforms that are showing promise for a vaccine," Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis who was not involved in any of the trials, told the paper.
Alzheimer's Brain Scans May Not Be Worth the Price
A study has failed to show that brain scans to check for Alzheimer's disease save health care costs for Medicare, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The finding is from a $100 million study involving more than 25,000 Medicare patients.
Those who support Medicare coverage for the scans hope to show that they are beneficial even if they don't save money.
Diagnosing the disease can help families plan for the future even though there is no effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer's, researcher Dr. Gil Rabinovici of the University of California, San Francisco, told the AP.
A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the AP that the agency looks at all data on risks and benefits. A formal request would have to be filed for the agency to reconsider its 2013 decision to not cover the scans except for research and in special circumstances.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, which can only be diagnosed after death.
PET brain can detect signs when patients are alive, but they cost $4,000 to $5,000 and insurers won't cover them because it's not known if they benefit patients.
For the study, nearly 12,700 people with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, were given scans and compared with Medicare patients not given scans.
Results from the first 4,000 participants suggested the scans diagnosed Alzheimer's and altered counseling or care in up to 60% of cases.
The study looked at whether the scans save money by decreasing hospitalizations and emergency room visits. The theory was that if a scan identifies that someone has Alzheimer's, caregivers can help prevent problems like patients not taking their medications.
But the goal of lowering hospitalizations by 10% in the year after the scan wasn't met. Rates of hospitalizations were 24% among patients scanned and 25% among those who weren't.
Among those scanned, however, fewer hospitalizations occurred for those with Alzheimer's, the AP reports.
Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer's Association's chief science officer, told the AP that these findings suggest that caregivers "weren't panicking" when symptoms of Alzheimer's appeared and didn't rush to the hospital.
The results of the study were scheduled to be presented July 30 at the online Alzheimer's Association International Conference.
School Closings This Spring Saved Lives, Study Finds
Closing schools in the spring may have saved tens of thousands of lives by preventing coronavirus infections, the New York Times reports.
This study comes at a time when schools are set to reopen in only a few weeks, but the debate as to whether schools can be opened safely goes on.
The study looked at a six-week period in the spring. It found that school closings "may have been associated with approximately 1.37 million fewer cases of Covid-19 over a 26-day period and 40,600 fewer deaths over a 16-day period."
"At the time, there wasn't any masking in schools, there wasn't physical distancing, there wasn't an increase in hygiene and that sort of thing," researcher Dr. Katherine Auger, an associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told the Times. "The findings of our studies took place before any of those measures were in."
Dr. Auger believes that reopening schools should depend on how much COVID-19 cases are in the community. "Are there a lot of cases right now, is it a hot spot, is it an outbreak, is it a surge?" Auger said. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines "emphasize making sure that the community numbers are reasonable before trying to open schools, and I think this manuscript sort of bolsters that a bit," she said.
Some experts say, however, that the effect of concurrent stay-at-home orders, closure of restaurants and nonessential businesses, and limits on large social gatherings makes it hard to know the specific role school closures had in curbing cases.
"I think we have to be incredibly cautious when interpreting estimates from a study like this," Julie Donohue, a professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh who coauthored an editorial, told the Times. "In particular, I think it's important to emphasize that we really can't isolate the impact of school closures from other interventions."
"Even if these numbers were accurate or valid, we don't know how much of the effect would be derived from reducing contacts among kids at school, versus reducing contacts among parents who have to stay home from work because their children are out of school."
Based on these findings, some people may worry that schools can't be safely opened.
"I do worry that these large estimates of the effect of school closures will lead people to give up because it is going to be challenging to open schools," Donohue said. "I do worry that some districts will look at these numbers and say, well, it's just too hard and it's not safe to reopen."
Researcher Dr. Samir Shah, a professor of pediatrics and director of the division of hospital medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told the Times that "It's not simply a decision of, what is the risk of COVID. It also has to factor in what are the benefits versus harms of not having children in school in person."
The report was published July 29 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized for Non-Surgical Procedure
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized again for a "minimally invasive" procedure, the Washington Post. reported Wednesday night.
Last year, Ginsburg, 87, received a bile duct stent, and the new procedure is a small "revision," her physicians said.
"According to her doctors, stent revisions are common occurrences and the procedure, performed using endoscopy and medical imaging guidance, was done to minimize the risk of future infection," court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said in a statement. "The justice is resting comfortably and expects to be released from the hospital by the end of the week."
It's been a tough month, health-wise, for Ginsburg. On July 17 she announced that she underwent chemotherapy to help fight a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, CNN reported.
The cancer has arisen once more, this time in her liver, according to a report from the court. Cutting-edge immunotherapy had been tried to shrink the tumor, but it wasn't effective. Standard chemotherapy does appear to be working, however.
Standard chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer is a drug called gemcitabine, CNN said.
Immunotherapy "proved unsuccessful," Ginsburg said in the court statement. "The chemotherapy course, however, is yielding positive results. Satisfied that my treatment course is now clear, I am providing this information."
Ginsburg said that she feels "fully able" to continue in her post on the court.
"I have often said I would remain a member of the court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that," she said.
As to her health, Ginsburg elaborated that, "My most recent scan on July 7 indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease. I am tolerating chemotherapy well and am encouraged by the success of my current treatment. I will continue bi-weekly chemotherapy to keep my cancer at bay, and am able to maintain an active daily routine. Throughout, I have kept up with opinion writing and all other court work."
Ginsburg had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung in late 2018, and was first treated for pancreatic cancer in August 2019. She had colon cancer in 1999.
Besides her more recent medical issues, on May 6 Ginsburg returned after nonsurgical treatment in hospital for an infection caused by a gallstone. Tests at a hospital in Washington, D.C., had "confirmed that she was suffering from a gallstone that had migrated to her cystic duct, blocking it and causing an infection," according to the court.
According to CNN, at the time, Ginsburg participated in oral arguments from her hospital bed on a case concerning Obamacare that had been brought before the court.
The Supreme Court ended its term earlier this month following a number of major decisions.
FDA Warns Companies Illegally Selling Hangover Cures
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to seven companies for illegally selling products they claim will cure, treat, mitigate or prevent hangovers.
"Dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent hangovers could potentially harm consumers, especially young adults," Steven Tave, director of the FDA's Office of Dietary Supplement Programs, said in an FDA statement. "Consumers may get the false impression that using these products can prevent or mitigate health problems caused by excessive drinking. Dietary supplements are not a substitute for responsibly limiting one's alcohol consumption."
People should be wary of products that claim to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure diseases, the agency says.
The FDA has asked the companies to respond within 15 working days as to how they will correct the violations. Failure to correct the violations can result in legal action, including product seizure and/or injunction.
Latest COVID-19 Issue: Hair Loss
Patients recovering from COVID-19 may be susceptible to losing their hair, USA Today reported Wednesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't list hair loss as a consequence of COVID-19, but more than 27% of 1,100 people who responded to a Survivor Corps Facebook poll said they lost hair.
Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, has seen an influx of COVID-19 patients who lost their hair.
"Patients have literally come in with bags of hair looking like a full head of hair was in the bag," she told USA Today. "They all have similar stories. That they were extremely sick with high fevers and have never been that sick in their entire lives."
Hair loss may not be due to the virus, but rather by shock to the body of having a high fever and other symptoms.
Hair loss can occur after surgery, major trauma, psychological stress, high, infection, or other illness. It can also result from weight loss, change in diet, hormonal changes, or iron deficiency, according to the Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, told USA Today that when the body experiences a shock to the system it forces hair to go from growing to resting to shedding.
That's why COVID-19 patients lose hair a couple of weeks to months after they recover from the infection, she said.
Patients' can temporally lose as much as 50% of their hair. Shedding decreases during the following six months and returns to normal.
It's not known why some patients lose hair and others don't. It may be genetic, Khetarpal told USA Today.
Although over-the-counter remedies might make hair grow faster, patients should instead eat a well-balanced diet and take vitamins that help hair grow, she said.
Patients with hair loss will also benefit by manage stress because stress and make the problem worse, Khetarpal said.
"Hair is our identity, it's a huge part of our culture and the shedding itself can cause a lot of stress," she said. "That can contribute to the problem and make things worse."