Health Highlights: March 19, 2020

By on March 19, 2020

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

Younger Adults Also at Risk of Serious Illness From Coronavirus: CDC

While seniors are at greatest risk for serious illness from the coronavirus, nearly 1 in 4 hospitalized patients in the United States are young and middle-aged adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The study of nearly 2,500 cases in the U.S. found that — as in other countries — people in their 70s, 80s and 90s have the highest risk of serious illness and death, The New York Times reported.

But the CDC researchers also found that of the 508 known hospitalizations for coronavirus in the U.S., 38% of patients were between ages 20 and 54, and nearly half of the 121 sickest patients — those admitted to intensive care units were younger than 65.

The study also found that 20% of hospitalized patients and 12% of intensive care patients were between ages 20 and 44.

“I think everyone should be paying attention to this,” Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology Columbia University, told The Times. “It’s not just going to be the elderly.”

Younger adults need to stop socializing in groups and take steps to protect themselves and others, urged Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of federal government’s coronavirus task force.

“You have the potential then to spread it to someone who does have a condition that none of us knew about, and cause them to have a disastrous outcome,” Birx said, The Times reported.


Supply Shortages Hinder Coronavirus Testing in U.S.

Shortages of face masks for health care workers, swabs and other supplies are hampering efforts to increase coronavirus testing in the United States.

Testing is crucial to identifying the spread of the coronavirus, but these shortages are affecting the ability of health care workers to collect samples and for laboratories to analyze the samples, the Washington Post reported.

The face mask shortage prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suggest the use of bandannas, if necessary.

“In settings where face masks are not available, [health-care providers] might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort,” the CDC said this week, the Post reported.

“Caution should be exercised when considering this option,” the CDC added.

In response to mask shortages, some hospitals in Seattle and Washington, D.C., are asking doctors and patients to reuse masks instead of disposing of them as CDC protocol typically requires, even after contact with infected patients.

Staff at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have started using washable lab goggles for eye protection, rather than throwing away face shields, the Post reported.


Flu Drug Effective Against Coronavirus: Chinese Researchers

The flu drug favipiravir is “clearly effective” in treating coronavirus patients, Chinese researchers say.

Their trial of favipiravir included 340 coronavirus patients patients in China. Those who received the drug recovered quicker and showed greater lung improvement than those who didn’t get the drug, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.

It’s believed that favipiravir blocks the coronavirus from replicating in the body.

Favipiravir was effective in helping coronavirus patients recover, and caused no obvious side effects, Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s Science and Technology Ministry, said at a news conference Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported.

However, other clinical trials suggest favipiravir doesn’t help coronavirus patients with more severe illness, the Daily Mail reported.

Favipiravir is the active ingredient in a Japanese flu drug called Avigan, but it’s not known if that was the drug given to the Chinese patients.

Currently, there is no treatment for the coronavirus. Most people develop mild symptoms and recover at home within a week, the Daily Mail reported.


U.S. May Not Have Enough Ventilators For Coronavirus Patients

There may not be enough ventilators in the United States to cope with the number of coronavirus patients who will require them due to pneumonia and other serious respiratory problems, experts say.

About 960,000 coronavirus patients may need to be put on ventilators at some point but the United States has only about 200,000 machines, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the Associated Press reported.

The organization also said that about half of the ventilators are older models that may not be optimal for the most severely ill patients, and added that many ventilators are already in use by other patients with serious health conditions not associated with the coronavirus.

Ventilator manufacturers have boosted production, but it’s not clear if that will meet the demand in the United States and other countries.

“The real issue is how to rapidly increase ventilator production when your need exceeds the supply,” Dr. Lewis Kaplan, president of the critical care society, told the AP. “For that, I don’t have a very good answer.”

“If everyone in the country wants to order some, that will get rapidly depleted in a heartbeat,” Kaplan added.

Another problem is the lack of health care workers to operate ventilators, according to the critical care society.

It said the United States has only enough respiratory therapists, specialist nurses and doctors with the proper training for about 135,000 patients to be put on ventilators at any one time, the AP reported.

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