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Pfizer Vaccine Prevents 91% of Symptomatic COVID in Young Children: FDA

SATURDAY, Oct. 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is nearly 91% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in young children and brings no unexpected safety issues, according to a study posted Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Late Friday, the agency posted its analysis of data from Pfizer's pediatric study and said that in nearly all models, the health benefits of administering kid-sized doses of the shot to America's 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds far outweighs any potential side effects, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA will have a panel of independent experts offer advice on the use of the Pfizer vaccine in elementary school-age children next Tuesday, and a decision from the agency could come soon after. If the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, experts there would offer further guidance on a vaccine rollout to children under 12 -- meaning that shots for young children could be administered as soon as early November, the AP said.

Children age 12 and older already have access to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, but uptake by younger kids could help prevent rare cases of symptomatic illness and also greatly stem transmission, since children in this age group are thought to be conduits of new infections to adults.

The pediatric data submitted to the FDA by Pfizer was largely compiled in August and September, when the highly contagious Delta variant was already the dominant form of virus within the United States, the AP noted. Two doses of the vaccine appeared to prevent 9 out of 10 cases of symptomatic illness in young kids, with no surprises in terms of side effects, which appeared limited to sore arms, fever and achiness.

The FDA noted that the study population was not large enough to assess the risk of side effects such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that has been seen in very rare cases in adults.

In four different modeling scenarios, uptake of the vaccine by young children clearly prevented many more hospitalizations than might be caused through side effects, the FDA said.

According to the AP, severe COVID is extremely rare in young children. The latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that nearly 6.2 million American children have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 so far, resulting in a total of 630 deaths in people age 18 and under.

A large supply of millions of specially labeled pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already been stockpiled by the Biden administration, and are ready for shipment throughout the country, the AP said. More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers are enlisted to administer the shots.

More information:

Find out more about COVID-19 vaccines and children at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Associated Press

The No. 1 Cause of Halloween Injuries: Carving the Pumpkin

SATURDAY, Oct. 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Your Jack-o'-Lantern may be more than scary — it could be dangerous.

Pumpkin carving is the leading cause of injuries associated with Halloween, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Between October and November 2018 in the United States, 44% of Halloween-linked injuries were connected with pumpkin-carving activities.

More than one-quarter of Halloween-related injuries included cuts, ingestions and costume, pumpkin or decoration-related injuries, and there were nearly 2,700 injuries involving trips and falls.

"There is a reason Halloween is called 'fright night' — it is, after all, the spookiest night of the year. But there is another interpretation of that term that concerns orthopedic surgeons in the emergency department: a spike in trauma injuries," said Dr. Craig Phillips. He is an orthopedic hand surgeon and an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson.

"It is important for parents to establish clear boundaries with their kids and teach them safety tips to ensure they have a positive experience, rather than having to visit the hospital," Phillips said in AAOS news release.

When carving your pumpkin, use a carving kit or knives specifically designed for the task, the AAOS advised. Carve pumpkins in a clean, dry and well-lit area, and make sure there is no moisture on the carving tools or your hands.

If someone suffers a cut, apply pressure with a clean cloth and elevate the injured area above the heart. If bleeding does not stop within 10 to 15 minutes or if the cut is deep, you may need to see a doctor, the academy noted. Make sure cuts are cleaned and covered with clean bandages.

Don't put candles in Halloween pumpkins and other decorations. Instead, use non-flammable light sources such as glow sticks or artificial pumpkin lights, the experts suggested.

Before you use a ladder to put up Halloween decorations, check it for loose screws, hinges or rungs. Never place a ladder on uneven ground or flooring. Place the ladder in well-lit areas and make sure there are no tripping hazards, such as loose electrical extension cords across walking paths.

The highest standing level on a stepladder should be two steps down from the top, the AAOS warned. To prevent slipping while on the ladder, be sure that the soles of your shoes are clean and don't wear leather-soled shoes. Always have someone spot you while you're on a ladder and move the ladder when necessary instead of overreaching.

More information

The National Safety Council offers more Halloween safety tips.

SOURCE: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, news release, Oct. 6, 2021

Pfizer Says Lower Dose of Its COVID Vaccine Protects Younger Children

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A lower dose of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children aged 5 to 11, according to new clinical trial data from the company.

The data was given to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, and the agency is expected to release its own analysis of the trial findings later in the day, The New York Times reported.

Next week, an FDA advisory panel will meet to discuss whether to recommend FDA authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. It's already available for those 12 and older.

The dose used in the trial that included more than 2,200 children was 10 micrograms, while the adult dose is 30 micrograms. Twice as many study participants received the vaccine as a placebo, the Times reported.

COVID-19 was diagnosed in three children who received the vaccine and 16 of those who received the placebo, indicating it was more than 90% effective. The dosage was safe, and there were only mild side effects, according to Pfizer.

FDA authorization of the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 could help protect more than 28 million people in the United States, according to the Times.

If the FDA does give the green light to the vaccine for that age group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would then recommend how the shots should be administered.

More information

Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more on COVID vaccines.

SOURCE: The New York Times

U.S. Gun Violence Rates Jumped 30% During Pandemic

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Gun violence sky-rocketed by more than 30% across the United States during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost 39,000 injuries and deaths nationwide involved a gun in the year starting in February 2019 — and that number shot up to more than 51,000 between March 2020 and March 2021, according to nationwide figures compiled by the non-profit group, Gun Violence Archive (GVA).

"We were not surprised that the gun violence rates were higher during the pandemic," said study leader Dr. Paddy Ssentongo. He is an assistant professor with the Center for Neural Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. "But we were surprised by the large magnitude of the increase."

And some states saw far steeper inclines than others.

While the rate of gun violence significantly increased in 28 states, it shot up by 100% in Minnesota, Michigan and New York.

"Although our study was not framed to explore the specific factors that caused the increased rate of gun violence, this pandemic has been associated with psychological distress caused by the shelter-in-place orders, increased rates of domestic violence, disruption of social networks, unemployment, and record increases in gun sales and access to guns during the pandemic," Ssentongo said.

He added that all of these factors are plausible explanations for the surge.

GVA compiled statistics for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from law enforcement filings, government records, media reports and commercially available sources. Once collected, the data were vetted by independent researchers.

The researchers found that almost 93,000 injuries and deaths (including suicides) resulted from gun-related violence between Jan. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2021.

But when broken down into pre-pandemic and pandemic periods, the team noted a consistent trend. Every two-month period between March 2020 and March 2021 saw increased gun violence when compared to similar two-month periods in the prior year.

Alaska was the exception, registering fewer incidents of gun violence during the pandemic than in the year before.

Yet a clear majority of states saw what Ssentongo's team characterized as a "significantly" higher risk for gun-related violence.

They included Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia.

But will gun violence rates drop again once the pandemic is fully in the rear-view mirror?

Ssentongo doubts it. While the pandemic may have driven up risk, the larger issue is longstanding and he suspects it is likely to persist without a major public health intervention.

"The pandemic simply worsened an already existing public health crisis," he said, adding: "The spike in gun violence in the era of COVID-19 pandemic comes as a stark reminder that we can't afford to ignore it any longer. The time is now to focus on this as a public health issue."

That thought was seconded by Bindu Kalesan, an assistant professor of medicine and community health science at Boston University.

Her take: It's essential to consider gun violence as a longstanding concern with deep roots in poverty, even if the pandemic made poverty far more widespread. In that light, Kalesan said, prevention is the only remedy.

"We try to 'fix' gun violence with laws alone," she noted. "[But] gun violence is a social disease as well, and largely homicides occur in poor communities."

That, Kalesan said, means any public health attempt to rein in gun violence must first tackle poverty. "The approach of fixing [gun violence] when there is a spike is akin to our general thinking about health: when I get sick we can take some meds and be well," she said.

That approach fails because it doesn't address the key underlying causes of that violence in the first place, such as the depression, anxiety and high crime rate that poverty gives rise to, Kalesan said. "This is the larger point."

The findings were published online Oct. 21 in the journal Scientific Reports.

More information

Learn more about rates of gun violence at the Gun Violence Archive.

SOURCES: Paddy Ssentongo, MD, MPH, PhD, assistant professor, Center for Neural Engineering, department of engineering science and mechanics, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Penn.; Bindu Kalesan, PhD, MPH, director, Center for Translational Epidemiology and Comparative Effectiveness Research, and assistant professor, medicine and community health science, Boston University School of Medicine; Scientific Reports, Oct. 21, 2021, online

AHA News: Eating the Right Insects Can Provide Nutrition … And Might Be Good for the Planet

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (American Heart Association News) -- The notion of biting into a bug or chewing on a cricket might make some people a bit squeamish.

Don't squash the idea until giving this food some thought.

Some 2 billion people around the world already eat insects to supplement their diet, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. The practice is known as entomophagy. Consuming the right critters can help address the pressing issues of food security with the world's population expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050, the UN says. Insects can provide nutrition, with high protein, fat and mineral contents.

But it's not just about food scarcity. Insects are a staple in diets in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and are consumed because of their taste, according to the FAO. For example, mopane caterpillars are considered a delicacy in southern Africa, while weaver ant eggs are a treat in parts of Southeast Asia.

In Western cultures, the practice of eating insects has started to catch on a bit more over the past decade or so, especially since the release of the FAO's landmark 2013 report that caught the attention of new audiences, said Sujaya Rao, professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The report in part connected insect consumption with larger societal issues like food sustainability and security, and the impact on the environment.

"One of the many ways to address food and feed security is through insect farming. Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint over their entire life cycle," the FAO said in an information guide based on their report.

Globally more than 1,900 insect species are considered edible, with beetles the most common, followed by caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Dishes featuring bugs already are becoming more and more popular, as they appear in trendy eating spots across the country.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres' Mexico City-inspired restaurant in Washington, D.C., serves tacos with chapulines, or grasshoppers. A top-selling concession item at the home of Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners is a four-ounce cup of toasted grasshoppers served with savory chili-lime salt seasoning. A popular East Village restaurant in New York City offers, among many other insect-infused dishes, black ant guacamole that features a garnish of salt and – you guessed it – ground-up ants.

Beyond the novelty, insects can offer heart-healthy nutrition, too.

A January 2021 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science Nutrition said edible insects may have "high superior health benefits" due to high levels of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, fiber, essential amino acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Rao pointed to crickets as a source of protein through their muscle-bound hind legs used for jumping.

Crickets and some other bugs can be raised vertically, Rao noted. This means they can be raised in layers in climate-controlled facilities, offering the possibility of operating year-round and leaving less of an environmental footprint than a livestock farm. One company in London, Ontario, is building what it calls a state-of-the-art facility that will be the world's largest cricket farm.

Several products on the consumer market feature bugs, such as cricket powder and cricket protein bars.

"Due to long held stigmas, eating bugs is not common in the Western world," Rao said. But "using insects as ingredients is one strategy, such as cricket flour in cookies. It doesn't have that negative image. So a lot more people are willing then to give it a try."

Rao is an author of a 2020 study in the Journal of Insect Science in which college students took part in taste-test surveys of cricket powder brownies to evaluate attitudes related to insects as food.

Students had a taste preference for cricket flour brownies over wheat flour brownies but could not consistently differentiate between brownie types, the study found. They ranked environmental and nutritional benefits associated with insect food products over taste factors alone, and indicated they may buy insect products in the future.

"The more that you can make it look similar to what you are used to at home," Rao said, "or what your grandmother made, the better."

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email

By Genaro C. Armas

CDC Signs Off on Moderna, J&J Boosters, Backs Mix n' Match Shots

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday gave its blessing to booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines for tens of millions of Americans.

The CDC approval mirrors the one granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday and follows its own endorsement last month of Pfizer booster shots. Now, many Americans will be able to get a booster shot as early as Friday, health officials said. Importantly, the CDC also endorsed the mixing and matching of vaccines, giving state and local health officials greater flexibility in getting booster shots to Americans who need them.

"The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe -- as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given. And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement released Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, the CDC's vaccine advisory panel endorsed both booster shots and mixing and matching vaccines.

The news will be particularly reassuring for the 15 million Americans who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, many of whom have been afraid that they are vulnerable to breakthrough infections because of that shot's lower level of protection.

"I agree that those who received a [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine should receive a second dose — I would prefer that those individuals get an mRNA vaccine [Pfizer of Moderna]" rather than a second Johnson & Johnson shot, said CDC vaccine advisory panel member Pablo J. Sanchez, a pediatrician at Ohio State University, the Washington Post reported.

"I think the opportunity for these [mix and match] boosts [is] priceless," said Helen Keipp Talbot, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University and CDC vaccine advisory panel member, the Post reported.

The CDC plans to release guidance early next week about who might benefit from choosing one booster over another, as its advisory panel requested. CDC advisers and agency officials are still working out whether to recommend that some people stick to their original vaccine if possible.

In its Wednesday approval, the FDA recommended that:

  • People who received Moderna vaccine can get a booster at least six months after they have completed the two-dose series, if they are 65 or older, at high risk of severe disease, or work in jobs that regularly expose them to COVID-19.
  • Anyone over 18 who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster shot two months after they got the first jab.
  • Any person eligible for a booster dose can "mix and match" their extra jab, regardless of the vaccine they were initially given.

"Today, the currently available data suggest waning immunity in some populations of fully vaccinated people, and the availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease," acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said during a Wednesday media briefing on the agency's booster approvals.

The guidelines for Moderna vaccine recipients eligible for a booster shot echo those set late last month for people who got the Pfizer vaccine.

One difference -- the Moderna booster will be a half-dose of the original vaccine, while the Pfizer booster is a full dose, the FDA said.

The agency also authorized "mix-and-match" booster doses after reviewing clinical trial data showing that an extra shot of any vaccine will provide added protection to anyone who's developed vaccine immunity, the FDA said.

"In many ways, as we move to deal with this as an infectious disease that we have to deal with, being able to interchange these vaccines is a good thing," Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during the Wednesday media briefing. "It's like what we do with flu vaccine. Most people don't know what brand flu vaccine they receive."

"If people have concerns, they should ask their providers and there might be reasons why an individual provider might decide to recommend a different booster based on side effects that were seen" during their initial series of shots, he added.

In the National Institutes of Health study on "mix-and-match" COVID-19 boosters, researchers looked at nine groups of roughly 50 people each. Each group received one of the three authorized vaccines, followed by a booster. In three groups, volunteers received the same vaccine for a boost. In the other six, they got a different vaccine.

The differences were startling: Those who got a J&J shot followed by a Moderna booster saw their antibody levels rise 76-fold within 15 days, while those who got a second dose of the J&J vaccine saw only a fourfold rise during the same period. A Pfizer booster shot raised antibody levels in Johnson & Johnson recipients 35-fold.

Nirav Shah, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Post that the approval of the mix-and-match approach would make outreach efforts for boosters a simpler task.

The ability to mix and match boosters means that "when our teams are going into a community or a nursing facility to provide boosters, being able to carry one vaccine and give it to all who are eligible speeds up the process," Shah explained.

Meanwhile, regulators are seriously considering authorizing booster shots for people as young as 40, according to two officials familiar with the plans, the Post reported. That would not happen until the pediatric vaccine is authorized, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

About 105 million fully vaccinated people have received the two-shot Pfizer series, according to the CDC. About 70 million fully vaccinated people have received the Moderna shots. Only 15 million Americans were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson shots, which arrived later and were delayed by an investigation of a rare adverse event, as well as a manufacturing problem. More than 11 million people have received a booster or an additional dose of a vaccine to date.

More information

Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more on COVID vaccines.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Oct. 21, 2021; Oct. 20, 2021, media briefing with: Janet Woodcock, MD, acting commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director, FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, Oct. 20, 2021; Washington Post

Deadly Liver Disease Tied to Obesity Is on the Rise

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Liver disease is usually associated with alcoholism or hepatitis, but obesity and diabetes are becoming an even more dire threat for potentially fatal liver damage, a new study reveals.

In fact, advanced fatty liver disease increases a person's risk of death by nearly sevenfold, according to a new report.

But it's a silent killer — by the time you develop symptoms related to fatty liver damage, you're in deep trouble, warned co-researcher Dr. Jeanne Clark, director of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Md.

"Once you got this advanced liver disease, which can take years and decades to develop, then people who had that scarring that got so advanced were more likely to die," Clark said.

The condition occurs when excess fat begins to be stored in the liver, causing inflammation and eventually scarring, Clark said.

"It is akin to foie gras or pate, which is caused by overfeeding ducks or geese," Clark said. "They feed them a lot of carbohydrates, grains, pretty quickly. It overruns the metabolic system in the liver, and they put the fat down right in the liver."

About one in four people in the world suffer from fatty liver disease, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. An editorial accompanying the new study noted that advanced fatty liver disease has overtaken hepatitis C as the main cause of liver scarring and the main reason for liver transplantation.

In humans, fatty liver disease is tied to metabolic syndrome, said Dr. Scott Friedman, dean for therapeutic discovery and chief of liver disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health problems that have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. They include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat and abnormal cholesterol levels.

"The average person, and even many doctors, don't appreciate there's a growing risk of advanced liver disease among patients who are obese, have type 2 diabetes and have the so-called metabolic syndrome," Friedman said. "Many of them can be harboring silent but progressive liver disease that can be lethal eventually."

For their study, Clark and her colleagues tracked nearly 1,800 people suffering from fatty liver disease for four years, to see how the condition affected their health.

The researchers found that as fat-related scarring progressed in the liver, people were more likely to suffer from liver-related complications like internal bleeding, excess fluid, and mental confusion caused by an accumulation of toxins in the body and brain, Clark said.

As fatty liver disease progresses, patients become more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and impaired kidney function, the study authors said.

People who suffered those sort of liver-related complications were about seven times more likely to die, the researchers found.

These results indicate a need to be on guard when one is obese and has diabetes, Friedman said.

"Both patients and providers need to be aware that, especially in patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity and these features of the metabolic syndrome, that they need to investigate whether there's also underlying liver damage or disease," Friedman said.

However, not everyone with a fatty liver will progress to liver disease, he noted.

"It turns out that most people who have fat will never get inflammation and scarring, but a subset — probably somewhere around 20% to 30% — will actually develop scarring," Friedman said. "We don't know why some patients will always have just fat and nothing more, and others will go on to injury, inflammation and scarring."

Weight loss is currently one of the best treatments available for fatty liver disease, Clark and Friedman said.

"There are good data to show if there's fat in the liver, losing weight can make that fat disappear," Clark said.

Unfortunately, the type of weight loss required isn't easy to achieve.

"For most people it's hard to lose a lot of weight and keep it off," Clark said. "You probably need to lose 10% of your body weight and keep it off, and we know that's hard to do."

No medications are currently approved to treat fatty liver disease, but "there is a flurry of interest in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to develop new drugs," Friedman said.

"There are literally dozens of treatments that are being tested in clinical trials," he said.

In the same Oct. 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, another study reported stage 2 clinical trial results for one such drug.

Liver scarring was halted and even somewhat reversed in about 35% of fatty liver patients given a high dose of the drug, lanifibranor, Pierre Broqua from the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and colleagues reported.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about fatty liver disease.

SOURCES: Jeanne Clark, MD, MPH, director, general internal medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.; Scott Friedman, MD, dean for therapeutic discovery, chief, liver disease, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 21, 2021

Scientists Develop Quick Test for Marijuana Use

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers may be one step closer to developing the equivalent of a Breathalyzer for detecting marijuana use.

In an early study, scientists found that their rapid test was able to reliably detect THC in people's saliva in under 5 minutes. THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active ingredient in marijuana.

Right now, the "gold standard" for detecting marijuana use is to measure THC in the blood or urine. But those tests can take days to process. The other drawback is that unlike alcohol, THC can linger in the bloodstream for days or even weeks -- so a "positive" blood test does not necessarily reflect recent use.

Those facts have made it hard to develop a roadside test for marijuana use, akin to the Breathalyzer used to measure drivers' alcohol levels.

THC in saliva, however, reflects marijuana use within the past 12 hours, said Hakho Lee, the senior researcher on the new study.

There are some existing saliva tests for THC, but they are hampered by issues like slow processing time or giving "binary" results -- similar to a yes/no on a pregnancy test.

Lee said his team was able to develop a test that not only quickly detects THC in saliva, but quantifies the amount.

In initial testing with 43 marijuana users and 43 non-users, it accurately picked up THC in saliva samples from all users of the drug.

It took about 3 minutes from "sample in, result out," according to Lee, who is based at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Systems Biology in Boston.

The researchers also used the test to monitor how marijuana users' THC levels changed over time. Overall, THC in saliva declined fairly quickly after people smoked the drug -- though 6 hours later those levels remained above 1 ng/ml. That's the cutoff recommended by the European Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, Alcohol and Medicines project.

A broader issue is that unlike the case with alcohol, there is no one THC level that defines "intoxication." That's complicated, Lee explained, because the level of impairment associated with a given THC concentration varies -- based on, for example, how the marijuana is ingested and whether the person is a regular user.

Still, with further refinement, Lee said his team's rapid test could prove useful for roadside testing of drivers suspected of being impaired. And there are even potential applications for the public, he noted. One is to check breast milk, so that babies are not inadvertently exposed to THC.

The initial performance of the test is "very encouraging," said Dr. Guohua Li, a professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Li, who was not involved in the research, studies the role of drugs in traffic accidents and other injuries.

"The evidence is overwhelming and consistent in showing a relationship between [marijuana] use and an increased risk of being involved in a fatal crash," Li said.

The risk associated with marijuana use alone is not as great as that of drunk driving, Li noted. But on average, he said, drivers who've used marijuana have about double the risk of being involved in a fatal crash as non-users do.

Plus, Li pointed out, there's the rising prevalence of marijuana use. In the past couple decades, he said, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of fatally injured drivers who are found to have THC in their systems.

The latest findings, Li said, offer a "proof of concept" that a rapid roadside test for THC is possible. But, "much more work is needed before it can be used in the field," he added.

The findings were published Oct. 20 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Lee and several co-researchers are listed as inventors on a patent application that covers the test.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on drugged driving.

SOURCES: Hakho Lee, PhD, director, biomedical engineering program, Center for Systems Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Guohua Li, DPh, MD, professor, epidemiology, and founding director, Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City; Science Translational Medicine, Oct. 20, 2021, online

Delta Variant Subtype on Rise in U.K.

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A subtype of the Delta variant is causing a growing number of infections in the United Kingdom and is being closely monitored there and in other countries.

During the week of Sept. 27, the AY.4.2 variant accounted for about 6% of cases in the U.K. and is "on an increasing trajectory," according to the U.K. Health Security Agency, CNN reported.

Despite its spread in the U.K., officials there have not yet classified it as a variant of concern.

While some experts have suggested that AY.4.2 may be somewhat more transmissible than the original Delta variant, that has yet to be confirmed.

"As AY.4.2 is still at fairly low frequency, a 10% increase in its transmissibility could have caused only a small number of additional cases. As such, it hasn't been driving the recent increase in case numbers in the U.K.," expert Francois Balloux, director at the UCL Genetics Institute in the U.K., told the Science Media Center earlier this week, CNN reported.

A small number of AY.4.2 cases have also been reported in Denmark and the United States.

While new variants have repeatedly competed to become the dominant strain globally in the past year, experts say it is too soon to know whether AY.4.2 will become significant.

In the UK, "Delta [spread] very rapidly in a matter of weeks" outpacing the Alpha variant by the summer, Deepti Gurdasani, a senior epidemiology lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, told CNN.

"That's not what we're seeing here, we're seeing sort of a slow increase in proportion that suggests that it's not hugely more transmissible, it might be slightly more transmissible," Gurdasani added.

Balloux agreed, saying that "this [is] not a situation comparable to the emergence of Alpha and Delta that were far more transmissible [50% or more] than any strain in circulation at the time. Here we are dealing with a potential small increase in transmissibility that would not have a comparable impact on the pandemic."

Still, the new Delta subtype warrants "urgent research" and is a "reminder that we need robust systems to identify, characterize new variants," former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has said in recent tweets, CNN reported.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the coronavirus.


Health Highlights: Oct. 22, 2021

CDC backs booster shots for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The agency on Thursday gave a thumbs up to decisions made earlier this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, clearing the way for boosters to be administered to millions of Americans. Read more

Fatty liver disease is a silent killer, and it's on the rise. Obese people are at high risk of excess fat deposits in their livers, and cases of the disease are ticking upwards as more Americans pile on far too many pounds, experts warn. Read more

Is a 5-minute test for marijuana use on the way? Because urine- or blood-based tests for pot use take days to process, 'drugged' driving is tougher to spot and confirm compared to drunk driving. But researchers believe they're close to a saliva-based test for marijuana use that produces accurate results in about 5 minutes. Read more

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Leveraging HealthDay’s core competence in content creation, our custom content division is the ideal solution for those who need material for a unique purpose, and for those who prefer to own the copyright to the content. Our clients turn to the HealthDay Custom Content Solutions for everything from simple newsletters to evidence-based, clinically accurate content, which is medically reviewed by our board-certified staff of physicians.

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What our clients are saying about HealthDay

The New York Times chose HealthDay as a premier daily health news service. Each day, we issue five HealthDay articles for newspapers and magazines. Clients of The New York Times Licensing Group rely on HealthDay for coverage of the world health - from breaking news to study reports to wellness and consumer service information. The quality, accessibility and journalistic credibility is in line with our standards.

John Stickney

Senior editor

New York Times Syndicate

Research indicates over half of U.S. adults watch videos online and health topics are widely searched.

Our discerning audience expects timely and relevant health news while visiting, and HealthDay TV is the perfect complement to our health news section.

Tim Smart

Senior editor

US News and World Report

The American College of Physicians has had a long and successful relationship with HealthDay, in producing our ACP Advocate newsletters. Thanks to HealthDay we are able to provide our members with professionally written and meaningful content.

HealthDay's willingness to collaborate has been invaluable to us.

Laura Baldwin

Director, Public Relations

American College of Physicians

"For over a decade Healthday has helped publish timely medical news, providing unparalleled coverage, accuracy, and depth. We have the utmost respect for Healthday's ethics, commitment, customer service, and vast knowledge of U.S. HCP and consumer audiences."

Paul Wager


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