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Scientists Challenge Key Survival Stat Cited by U.S. Officials in Plasma Approval

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HealthDay Reporters

TUESDAY, Aug. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As the World Health Organization cautioned on Monday that using plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still an experimental therapy, American scientists challenged a key statistic cited by U.S. officials as grounds for emergency approval of the treatment.

In announcing the approval on Sunday, President Donald Trump and two of his top health officials spoke of the same stunning statistic -- that the treatment had reduced deaths by 35 percent, the New York Times reported.

Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, went so far as to say that 35 out of 100 COVID-19 patients "would have been saved because of the administration of plasma."

But many scientists, including a researcher on the Mayo Clinic study from which the statistic was supposedly gleaned, said Monday they could not ascertain where the number came from and that Hahn had appeared to overstate the treatment's benefits, the Times reported.

"Do I know where the 35 percent comes from?" said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, one of the May Clinic study's main authors who hails from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "No."

The actual data from the Mayo Clinic study shows that, among a group of more than 35,000 patients, when plasma was given within three day of diagnosis, the death rate was about 22 percent, compared with 27 percent when it was given four or more days after diagnosis, the Times reported.

But Hahn seemed to have instead mixed up absolute risk and relative risk in a small subgroup of patients in the study, the Washington Post reported.

"I'm absolutely incredulous," Peter Lurie, a former top FDA official and now the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Post.

On Monday night, Hahn acknowledged in a tweet that he had misspoken during the Sunday news briefing about the findings of the plasma study.

"I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified," Hahn wrote. "What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction, not an absolute risk reduction."

What is the actual benefit? Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said on Twitter Monday that data gathered on the use of plasma in COVID-19 patients indicates that 3 people out of 100 would be saved at seven days of treatment and 5 at 30 days not 35.

Parents overwhelmed as school year starts

Meanwhile, a new survey also shows most parents are feeling overwhelmed and abandoned as the school year starts.

Just 1 in 7 parents said their children would be returning to school full time this fall, and most children need help with remote schooling, Times survey released recently found. Yet, 4 in 5 parents said they would have no help in that endeavor, whether from relatives, neighbors, nannies or tutors. As well, more than half of parents said they will be taking on this burden while still holding down paid jobs.

Of course, when both parents are wage earners who need to work outside the home, they cannot be in two places at once. But three-fourths of these parents said they will be overseeing their children's education, and nearly half plan to handle child care, according to the survey of more than 1,000 parents polled between Aug. 4 and Aug. 8.

Of the parents who are both working remotely during the pandemic, 80 percent will also handle child care and education, the survey showed. One in five are considering hiring a private teacher or tutor to help with remote learning.

"All the choices stink," Kate Averett, a sociologist at the University at Albany in New York who has been interviewing parents since the spring, told the Times. "There is a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety. Parents tell me about not being able to sleep because they're so anxious, or tell me they've been crying a lot. There's been a lot of actual crying during interviews."

By Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 5.7 million as the death toll eclipsed 177,000, according to a Times tally.

According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Tuesday were: California with more than 676,000; Texas with more than 607,600; Florida with more than 602,800; New York with nearly 435,000; and Georgia with over 239,000.

Nations grapple with pandemic

Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.

India has passed Britain to have the fourth-highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus, after the United States, Brazil and Mexico, the Post reported.

By Tuesday, India had more than 3.1 million confirmed cases of the infection and over 58,000 deaths, a John Hopkins tally shows. Britain remains the worst-hit country in Europe, the Post reported.

Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with over 3.6 million confirmed infections by Tuesday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.

Cases are also spiking in Russia: As of Tuesday, that country reported the world's fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 963,000, the Hopkins tally showed.

Even New Zealand, a country that hadn't seen a new coronavirus case in 100 days, hasn't been spared.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended a lockdown in Auckland until Sunday night, the Times reported. The restrictions had been set to expire Wednesday, but Ardern said the extra time was necessary to ensure that a virus cluster in Auckland had been brought under control. Eight new confirmed or probable cases connected to the cluster were announced on Monday, bringing the total to 101. Arden also said masks were now mandatory on public transportation nationwide.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 23.6 million on Tuesday, with nearly 814,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: The New York Times; Washington Post

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