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Health Highlights: June 3, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Trump Obese But Healthy, His Doctor Says

Despite being obese, President Donald Trump is in good health, White House physician Sean Conley said Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported.

"Based on my history, examination and consultations, the data indicates the president remains healthy," Conley said in a memo released to reporters.

According to Conley, Trump weighs 244 pounds. At 6 feet, three inches tall that puts him over the threshold for obesity set by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Bloomberg noted.

Conley also confirmed that Trump took a two-week course of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which the President has long touted as a potential means of warding off COVID-19.

Trump took zinc and vitamin D supplements along with the drug, Conley said.

However, a randomized clinical trial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hydroxychloroquine had no effect in preventing coronavirus infection or COVID-19.

Prior trials of the drug as a COVID-19 treatment found it was linked to a higher risk of potentially dangerous heart issues.

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Fauci Says Any COVID-19 Vaccine Would Be in Plentiful Supply By 2021

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be available by year's end, CNN reported.

"Then, by the beginning of 2021, we hope to have a couple hundred million doses," Fauci said during a conference with the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It's still not clear which vaccine will be effective. One vaccine candidate, developed by drug company Moderna and NIAID, will start phase 3 trials by mid-summer, Fauci said.

"The real business end of this all will be the Phase 3 that starts in the first week of July, hopefully," Fauci said. "We want to get as many data points as we can."

The phase 3 will include about 30,000 people. A Phase 2 trial started a few days ago, CNN said.

The plan, according to Fauci is to make doses of the vaccine before it's known if it will work, so if it does work it can be distributed quickly.

Another vaccine from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is on a similar schedule, CNN said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that with the multiple candidates we have with different platforms, that we are going to have a vaccine that will make it deployable," Fauci said.

He is optimistic, because infected people do develop immune system antibodies against the new coronavirus.

"Which tells us, that if the body is capable of making an immune response to clear the virus of natural infection, that's a pretty good proof of concept," Fauci said. "Having said that, there is never a guarantee."

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Test of 10 Million in Wuhan Finds Few Infections

Few new COVID-19 infections were found in the 10 million residents of Wuhan, China after testing, the Associated Press reports.

Only 300 cases were found and all of these were asymptomatic and these people did not appear to be infecting others as tests of their more than 1,100 contacts showed.

"It not only makes the people of Wuhan feel at ease, but it also increases people's confidence in all of China," Feng Zijian, vice director of China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state broadcaster CCTV, the AP notes.

It's not yet clear what risk posed by asymptomatic patients, because anecdotal evidence and studies have had conflicting findings, the AP says.

"The city of Wuhan is safe," Li Lanjuan, a member of a National Health Commission said at a news conference with city officials, the AP reported.

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U.S. Cancer Deaths Dropped Over 20 Years

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 1999 to 2018 the U.S. rate of cancer deaths has significantly declined.

According to the report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics:

  • Death rates from cancer dropped 26% largely because of declines in cigarette smoking.
  • Cancer death rates dropped every year from 1999 to 2018.
  • Death rates remain higher among men than women, but the gap has narrowed.
  • Death rates decreased for 16 common cancers including cancers of the lung, breast, prostate and colon.
  • Death rates ticked upwards for 3 common cancers: pancreas, liver and uterus.
  • Lung cancer still kills more people than any other cancer, but death rates for lung cancer have dropped by 20%.
  • Since 1964, the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped from 42% of adults to about 14% in 2018.

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COVID-19 Drug Studies Questioned

Two premiere medical journals are questioning the validity of the data in two studies: One that said the use of blood pressure drugs was safe; and the other that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine was dangerous, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

A study published May 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed that certain blood pressure drugs were not raising the risk of death for COVID-19 patients.

The journal's editors have now questioned the quality of the data and asked the researchers for more evidence.

The British journal The Lancet has also questioned the validity of data in a study that said that use of malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine was linked to an increased risk of death for COVID-19 patients.

President Donald Trump has long touted the usefulness of the drugs against COVID-19, even claiming to have recently taken a 2-week course of hydroxychloroquine to help prevent the disease. However, studies conducted so far have shown the medicines to be ineffective and even potentially harmful.

The Lancet research caused the World Health Organization to halt an ongoing French hydroxychloroquine study, and France has stopped using the drug in its hospitals.

However, both studies now being questioned by The Lancet relied on the same data, which was provided by the Chicago-based company Surgisphere Corp, the AP noted.

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said the authors of the New England Journal of Medicine paper have started an audit of their data, and data from The Lancet paper would be reevaluated too, the AP reported.

Surgisphere said it stands behind the findings of both studies.

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Coronavirus Pandemic Creates Shortage of Antidepressant Zoloft

The coronavirus pandemic has made the popular antidepressant Zoloft harder to come by as fear of COVID-19 increased demand, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday. Zoloft is used to treat depression, OCD and PTSD, and is sold under the generic name sertraline

Since Friday, the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration has put Zoloft on its list of drugs in short supply.

Prescriptions for Zoloft rose 12% in March compared to last year, reaching nearly 5 million -- the greatest number ever, Bloomberg said. Prescriptions did drop a bit in April, to 4.5 million.

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