Health Highlights: June 4, 2020

Two Studies Dispelling Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 Retracted by Researchers George Floyd Had Coronavirus, Autopsy Confirms Daily Aspirin Not A Good Choice for Healthy People Certain Genes Linked With Severe COVID-19 Fauci Says Any COVID-19 Vaccine Would Be in Plentiful Supply By 2021

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

Two Studies Dispelling Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 Retracted by Researchers

Two studies that tossed cold water on a malaria drug that has been touted by President Donald Trump as a potential COVID-19 treatment were both retracted by researchers on Thursday.

One report was published May 22 in The Lancet, while the other was published on May 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Both concluded that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were of no use in treating COVID-19 and might even cause heart harms.

More rigorous research, culled from the first large, controlled clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine and published June 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found no prevention benefit from the drug. In that randomized study of more than 800 people, researchers found the drug didn't prevent infection among people exposed to the virus, according to the The New York Times.

The Lancet paper prompted the World Health Organization to pause on using the drug in ongoing COVID-19 treatment trials recently, but the WHO went back to the using the drug in its trials this week, the Times reported.

Despite a lack of evidence for efficacy, Trump took the drug to try to prevent infection after possible exposure to two White House staffers who were infected. That decision was made even after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned of serious abnormal heart rhythms among COVID-19 patients.

The huge database used in both of the retracted studies came from Surgisphere, a company owned by Dr. Sapan Desai, one of the researchers, the Times said.

The other researchers tried to verify the data, but were stonewalled by Desai, the Times reported.

"We launched an independent third-party peer review of Surgisphere with the consent of Sapan Desai to evaluate the origination of the database elements, to confirm the completeness of the database, and to replicate the analyses presented in the paper," the researchers said in their retraction.

"Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements," the researchers added.


George Floyd Had Coronavirus, Autopsy Confirms

Although it had nothing to do with his brutal death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, George Floyd had been infected with the pandemic coronavirus, CNN reported Thursday.

He had a positive test in April and his autopsy last week also found the virus. But it's doubtful that he was contagious, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

"Since ... positivity for (COVID-19) can persist for weeks after the onset and resolution of clinical disease, the autopsy result most likely reflects asymptomatic but persistent ... positivity from previous infection," the medical examiner's report said.

Floyd wasn't brought down by the pandemic that has killed more U.S. blacks than whites or any other group, CNN says.

Blacks make up about 13% of Americans, but counties with a high number of blacks account for more than 50% of all coronavirus cases and nearly 60% of deaths, a study found.

Protests calling out police brutality have increased the risks of being infected as people gather closely, despite the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, CNN noted.


Daily Aspirin Not A Good Choice for Healthy People

Taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart disease has more risks than benefits in healthy people, a new study finds.

The researchers reviewed published evidence on the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin, CNN reported. The study was published Wednesday in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Researchers concluded that the risk of bleeding caused by aspirin's blood-thinning effect far outweighed any benefit the drug might have.

Both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association say that only people who have had a heart attack, stroke or open-heart surgery should be taking a daily aspirin.

Researchers found that while a daily aspirin lowered the risk of heart attack or stroke by 17%, the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding was increased by 47% and by 34% for brain bleeding.

"Our paper confirms that there is no evidence for taking aspirin in primary prevention, i.e. in healthy people," researcher Dr. Lee Smith, a reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K., told CNN.

"The take-home message of our paper is that low dose aspirin is [only] good when you already have a cardiovascular condition," Smith added.


Certain Genes Linked With Severe COVID-19

Scientists reported Wednesday that they have found links between certain genes and severe COVID-19.

For example, people with type A blood may have higher odds of getting sick, The New York Times reported.

In patients with COVID-19, variations in one stretch of the human genome is tied to a risk of respiratory failure and another with blood type, the scientists discovered.

Type A blood increases the odds of a patient needing oxygen or being put on a ventilator by 50%, the Times reported.

Oddly, genetic changes in the protein the virus needs to infect cells didn't make a difference in the risk for severe infection.

These findings suggest that unknown factors may play a part in the risk for deadly COVID-19.

"There are new kids on the block now," researcher Andre Franke, a molecular geneticist at the University of Kiel in Germany, explained to the Times.


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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