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CAR T-Cell Immunotherapy Rids Woman of Tough-to-Treat Lupus

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- In a first, researchers have used genetically tweaked immune system cells to send a woman's severe lupus into remission.

The treatment -- called CAR T-cell therapy -- is already approved in the United States for fighting certain cases of blood cancer. It involves removing a patient's own immune system T-cells, genetically altering them to target the cancer, then infusing them back into the patient.

Here, researchers tested the cell therapy in a 20-year-old woman with severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease that can cause organ damage throughout the body.

They found the approach quickly sent her disease into remission, with no significant side effects at the six-week mark.

The woman is the first lupus patient in the world to be treated with CAR T-cells, said researcher Dr. Georg Schett of Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.

That means much more research lies ahead before the therapy could become widely available.

But based on this initial report, it's a promising avenue to study, according to U.S. lupus experts who were not involved in the case.

"Although this is a case report, the treatment makes theoretical sense," said Dr. Donald Thomas, a rheumatologist with Arthritis and Pain Associates of PG County in Greenbelt, Md., and author of "The Lupus Encyclopedia."

"With such a rapid, complete and safe response, this therapy should be tried in other patients with severe disease," Thomas said.

At this point, Schett noted, the patient in this report is "completely healthy," and has not needed lupus treatment for more than four months. He said his team is now treating two additional lupus patients with CAR T-cells.

The researchers detailed the new findings in the Aug. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

To perform CAR T-cell therapy, doctors take a sample of a patient's T-cells -- key players in marshaling the body's immune response. Those cells are then genetically altered in the lab to be armed with chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs.

Those CARs allow the T-cells to recognize certain markers, or antigens, on the surface of specific cells that are no good -- like cancer cells. Once the newly armed T-cells are infused back into the patient, they can launch a targeted attack on the enemy cells.

In lupus, the enemy is not a tumor, but the body's own immune system: It mistakenly creates "auto-antibodies" that attack the body's tissue. The most common form of lupus is SLE, which can damage an array of organs.

The 20-year-old in this case report had arthritis, kidney damage and inflammation of the lungs and heart. None of the standard drugs for SLE had worked for her.

So Schett and his team turned to CAR T-cells. They armed the patient's T-cells to recognize CD19, a protein on B-cells, which are another component of the immune system. Normally, those cells generate antibodies to help battle infections; but in SLE, dysfunctional B-cells churn out auto-antibodies.

Certain existing lupus drugs work by depleting B-cells, but they had not helped this patient.

Yet, Schett's team found, within 44 days of receiving the CAR T-cells, the patient's auto-antibodies disappeared and her disease went into remission.

The results are "very thought-provoking," according to Drs. Jean Lin and Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman, both rheumatologists at Northwestern University Medicine in Chicago.

Among the major remaining questions, they said, is whether this could be a "definitive/curative therapy," or would need to be repeated.

And if the therapy does move forward, Lin and Ramsey-Goldman said, it will be "critical" to know how to choose the patients most likely to do well. CAR T-cell therapy costs more than $200,000 for the infusion, they noted, not counting the cost of hospitalization.

Thomas said that with existing therapies, most SLE patients are unable to achieve and maintain remission -- so the need for new approaches is great.

A central challenge, he explained, is that the disease is "heterogeneous," meaning its characteristics are diverse.

"A key to a better treatment for our SLE patients," Thomas said, "would be to find an immune system abnormality that is universal in them, and then direct a safe, effective treatment at that shared abnormality."

Whether CAR T-cells could be a broadly effective therapy remains to be seen.

More information

The Lupus Foundation of America has more on systemic lupus erythematosus.

SOURCES: Georg Schett, MD, chairman, Department of Internal Medicine, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen–Nuremberg, Germany; Jean Lin, MD, instructor, medicine/rheumatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman, MD, professor, medicine/rheumatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Donald Thomas Jr., MD, rheumatologist, Arthritis and Pain Associates of PG County, Greenbelt, Md.; New England Journal of Medicine, Aug. 5, 2021

Two-Thirds of Mild COVID Cases Leave Long-Term Symptoms

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A little more than two out of every three people who have mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 will go on to develop long-term symptoms.

That's the troubling takeaway from a University of Arizona Health Sciences' study launched in May 2020.

"This is a real wake-up call for anyone who has not been vaccinated," said lead researcher Melanie Bell, a professor of biostatistics in the university's College of Public Health. "If you get COVID, the chances that you'll experience long-term symptoms are surprisingly high."

The CoVHORT study has followed Arizonans who had COVID-19 since May 2020, as well as those who have not been infected.

Among participants who tested positive for COVID-19, nearly 69% still had least one symptom after 30 days, and the rate rose to 77% after 60 days.

Those with long COVID tended to be less educated, to have seasonal allergies and pre-existing health conditions, and to self-report greater symptom severity, according to findings published online Aug. 4 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Thirty days after their positive test, the most common symptoms among patients with long COVID were fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, stress/anxiety, altered taste and smell, body aches and muscle pain, insomnia, headaches, joint pain and congestion.

The median number of symptoms was three, but some patients had as many as 20. (Median means half had fewer symptoms, half had more.)

The rate of long COVID among the patients in this study was just slightly less than that estimated for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, the authors noted.

Much of the research on long COVID has focused on hospitalized patients with severe infection. The CoVHORT study aims to fill in gaps by focusing on non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The researchers said their study continues to provide important data that can help identify which COVID-19 patients are most susceptible to severe infection and long-term health consequences.

"I study reproductive health," said Leslie Farland, an assistant professor of public health. "And the data from the CoVHORT longitudinal study is already providing new insights," she explained in a university news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on long COVID.

SOURCE: University of Arizona Health Sciences, news release, Aug. 4, 2021

AHA News: Are Figs Good for You? Get the Whole Sweet Story

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (American Heart Association News) -- The ancient world had a reverential affection for figs. They're celebrated in both the Bible and in Islamic texts. In Egypt, they were offered to the gods, while the Greeks considered figs a gift from them.

Today, scientists would consider the common fig, Ficus carica, to be slightly less than a miracle food. But if you're looking for a healthy treat that's divinely sweet, you could do worse.

"It's not going to be a go-to for anything," said Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford University in California. "But I think it's a great and underappreciated ingredient that could be used in multiple ways."

Plus, he said, "They're super easy to snack on."

Gardner is a nutrition scientist the Stanford Prevention Research Center, but his fig expertise comes from being a fan. He buys dried figs at his local farmers market and eats about a pound a week.

He also has a fig tree in his yard, but he prefers dried to fresh. It can be hard to catch a fig at peak ripeness, he said. Once picked, they last only five to seven days, although the California Fig Advisory board says they can be refrigerated and kept up to two weeks.

Either way, figs offer plenty of good stuff.

One raw fig has about 37 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With that you get about 2.5% of the recommended daily amount of potassium, plus magnesium (2%), iron (1%) and calcium (1%).

Six dried figs, the USDA says, gets you about 125 calories and higher amounts of magnesium (8%), potassium (7%), calcium (6%) and iron (6%).

Figs also have vitamin K, which can alter the effectiveness of the blood-thinning medication warfarin.

Dried figs also contain healthy phytochemicals (plant-based nutrients) and antioxidants (chemicals that can help prevent cell damage), although not in a way that makes them stand out, Gardner said. "I don't think you're ever going to go to a physician who says, 'Oh my God, you have fig deficiency disease – there's almost nothing else that carries this phytochemical!"

Figs are delectably sweet, and there's a reason for that: lots of natural sugar. Six dried figs have about 24 grams. That's offset by a reasonable amount of fiber, Gardner said – about 5 grams, or more that 17% of the recommended daily value.

That fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Dried figs have a glycemic index of 61 and a glycemic load of 16, putting them in the middle of the pack in terms of how they affect blood glucose.

Figs might have been the first fruit cultivated by humans. In America, they were grown by the earliest European settlers in Florida in the 1500s and were at the Jamestown settlement in Virginia by 1621. Despite such a long history, modern Americans probably know them only from a popular square cookie. Gardner himself used to devour fig bars as a young man.

Neither bar nor cookie, alas, is a great option for the health-conscious, he said. The standard cookie contains ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, and even in bars made with whole wheat, you're still eating a sugary processed paste wrapped in refined flour. "At the end of the day, they're just cookies," Gardner said.

Actual figs have been used in traditional medicine as a laxative, and modern research confirms that effect. Other studies have looked at figs for a variety of potential uses. A fig extract lowered blood pressure in rats. In another study of 10 adults who were given a high-sugar beverage, fig extracts seemed to moderate blood glucose levels.

Such work might be intriguing, Gardner said. But there are better reasons to reach for some figs.

Figs, he said, are part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. He adds them whole to hearty salads or dices them as an ingredient in a signature wheatberry salad that's popular with his students. A fresh fig sliced in half with a walnut on top makes a great snack.

Dried or fresh, he sees figs as a great way to get more plants in your diet while crowding out less-healthy options.

He keeps a jar of dried figs handy for when he needs a little sugar hit. So if you're tempted at such moments to reach for a candy bar, figs might be your salvation.

Gardner's bottom line is you're free to enjoy figs for some down-to-earth reasons: They're better for you than a lot of other options. And, he said, "They're tasty."

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 Michael Merschel

Father and Son Caught Up in Severe Blood Shortage Hitting U.S. Hospitals

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- As June 28 approached, David Beverley had been "psyching himself up" for major surgery, as a lifesaving liver donor for his ailing 60-year-old father, Peter.

"But then they called us, literally the day before, and told us: 'We've got to stop this. We don't have any blood.'" the 32-year-old Utah resident said.

That's the moment when both David and Peter came into the crosshairs of what's fast becoming a national health care crisis: a severe blood shortage that's jeopardizing surgeries and medical procedures.

"A blood shortage is when we have demand outpacing our supply," noted Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of donor services for the American Red Cross. "Usually it's around some challenging period of the year. The beginning of summer, end-of-year holidays. And obviously we work hard to try to plan for those times."

But this time is different, Sullivan said, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout triggering a huge spike in hospital demands for blood. The result is a critical blood shortage that's now seven weeks long and counting.

"In the initial phase of the pandemic we certainly saw a decline in blood need," he noted. "I think for all the obvious reasons. And COVID is not particularly blood-intensive."

But now the country is facing a "unique situation," said Sullivan, with large hospitals and trauma centers registering an 8% to 9% jump in demand over the spring and summer months.

Why? Prior to the vaccine rollout, "there's the aspect that some people didn't receive care or treatment to the degree they might normally have during the pandemic," he explained.

Now, patients are not only back, said Sullivan, but in addition to the usual ER demand, hospitals are starting to "see patients with more advanced disease states, [that come] with a greater demand for blood. And there's a growth in trauma, as the world opens up. We're also seeing the return of cancer patients who didn't get the care or treatment they normally would have."

The upshot is that "we are literally shipping out the blood as soon as it's safely tested and ready," said Sullivan. "But we have depleted our inventories."

No blood, no liver transplant

David and Peter knew nothing of all this until the national crisis struck home.

The transplant cancellation came with a straightforward but totally unexpected explanation: "'Well, we have no blood,'" Peter recalls being told.

"It was definitely a kind of a shock," remembers David, a delivery driver in Salt Lake City.

Peter has been diagnosed with advanced nonalcoholic liver disease about a year back. A family discussion ensued, leading to the testing of both David and one of his siblings as potential donors. His sibling was ruled out early. But David then embarked on months of work-up, involving MRIs, CT scans and "probably close to 100 lab [tests]."

"It was a very intensive process to make sure there is no underlying health problems," David explained. And that's because "as a live donor they told me from the get-go that the safety of the live donor is absolutely paramount. So basically if they perceive any kind of risk to me or my dad they immediately come to us and talk to us about it."

The blood shortage crisis posed just such a risk. The hospital told the retired father and his son that for such a procedure the average person will need about 2 liters of blood "if everything goes swimmingly," David recalled. "But if anything goes wrong that can quickly up to 12 to 14. And in an ER you can need 18 to 20 units of blood."

So using a worst-case scenario as their benchmark, the hospital said told David there wasn't enough blood.

David's reaction: "They weren't lying" when they said his safety was paramount.

"But I was definitely surprised," he added. "I've been a blood donor in the past. But I never realized how dire straits we had gotten [into]. And it's a nationwide blood shortage. It's not just Utah."

David remembers being told on the very same day that all nonessential, non-cardiac surgery in the entire state of Utah was postponed. "So it wasn't just us," he added.

Pleas for blood donors

Peter and David are now in a holding pattern, ironically, because Peter was diagnosed with COVID shortly before their newly scheduled July 27 surgery date. Currently in quarantine, Peter will be retested in August, and the two will take it from there.

Meanwhile, both are ringing the alarm.

"Please go out and donate blood," pleaded Peter. "I never thought I'd be in this situation either. But if people could go donate blood it would be, well, this whole thing wouldn't have happened."

And blood donation, said Sullivan, is "a very welcoming environment. It's easy to make an appointment, it's easy to go to a blood drive, and our staff -- who are highly trained -- would be eager to see you and help you through the process. It doesn't hurt. It's painless."

"I'm a regular blood donor," he added, "because it's a profound experience to literally physically give of yourself and to know that in a relatively short time -- a few days, a week -- someone in a hospital is going to be sustained by your blood. There's very few things that have the impact that giving blood has."

David seconds the thought.

"You always hear, 'We need blood, we need blood.' But you never hear that this kind of thing can happen," he said.

It's unlikely the same problem will befall father and son on their next surgery attempt. Their hospital has set aside enough blood to guarantee that their procedure moves forward.

"So, we're covered," David said. "We're covered and we've been able to breathe a sigh of relief. But I can only imagine for someone who actually needs blood in an ER. I can't imagine how worrisome that must be, to think that you might not be able to get all the blood that you need."

More information

There's more on the blood shortage and blood donations at the American Red Cross.

SOURCES: Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of donor services, American Red Cross; David Beverley, Salt Lake City; Peter Beverley, Salt Lake City

Biden Administration Plans to Require Vaccination for Most Foreign Visitors

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Plans are underway to require nearly all foreign travelers to the United States to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a Biden administration official confirmed Wednesday.

The policy will be put in place once the current restrictions on travel into this country are lifted, but officials haven't decided exactly when that will happen, The New York Times reported.

President Joe Biden has been under heavy pressure for months to ease restrictions on foreign travel to the United States, particularly as other countries have now relaxed their own restrictions.

Last week, the United Kingdom announced it would welcome fully vaccinated travelers from the United States and Europe. On Thursday, that country further relaxed its quarantine requirements and increased the number of countries on its travel list, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, Canada has said it will begin allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors into the country on Aug. 9. Immunized visitors from other countries can enter after Sept. 7, the Post reported.

But White House officials have said there is no plan to lift current restrictions any time soon, as the highly contagious Delta variant wreaks havoc in this country.

"Given where we are today, with the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.

That stance was reiterated on Wednesday evening by a White House official.

"The interagency working groups are working to develop a plan for a consistent and safe international travel policy, in order to have a new system ready for when we can reopen travel," the administration official, who was not authorized to detail the plan, told the Times. "This includes a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals traveling to the United States [from all countries] need to be fully vaccinated."

Most travelers from Brazil, Britain, China, India, Ireland, Iran, South Africa and Europe's Schengen area — which spans 29 countries, city-states and micro-states — are barred from entering the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only exceptions? They have to be U.S. citizens or they have to spend 14 days before arrival in a country that is not on that list, the Times reported.

Foreign travelers were first banned in January 2020, when former President Donald Trump cut off most travel from China, where COVID-19 first surfaced.

During the first surge of the pandemic in spring 2020, health officials pressed the Trump administration to expand travel bans to much of Europe, and more countries have been added to the ban as the original virus and several variants have spread, the Times reported.

More information

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

SOURCES: The New York Times; Washington Post

Health Highlights: Aug. 5, 2021

Here's some of HealthDay's top stories for Thursday, Aug. 5:

Moderna says its vaccine still strong after six months. A new report that is short on details says efficacy barely budged in that period, although it is unclear whether that data included the time since the Delta variant has dominated. Read more

Many U.S. hospitals facing blood shortages, jeopardizing patients' lives. The American Red Cross is warning that pandemic pressures are pushing the supply of donated blood to dangerously low levels. Patients like David Beverley and his father, Peter, are caught in the crosshairs. Read more

A century-old TB vaccine might help treat severe COVID-19. The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine has helped fight tuberculosis since 1921. New research suggests its ability to dampen runaway immune responses might prove valuable against COVID-19. Read more

'Long COVID' rare in children. There's welcome news for parents: The months-long struggle with fatigue, 'brain fog' and other symptoms experienced by some adults who survive COVID-19 is very rare in children who've been infected, researchers say. Read more

Two PrEP regimens work equally well, but price tags differ. Many people at high risk of contracting HIV take preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug formulations to ward off infection. There are now two versions -- one much cheaper than the other. Which is the better choice? Read more

Moderna Vaccine's Protection Does Not Wane After 6 Months: Report

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Moderna Inc. announced on Thursday that the potency of its vaccine does not dim in the first six months after the second dose.

The news came in a statement that contained little actual data, but the findings may comfort the 63 million Americans who have received two doses of the Moderna vaccine as the highly contagious Delta variant rips through swaths of the country where vaccination rates are low.

Moderna's report came from a new analysis of its ongoing clinical trial, which started in late July 2020 and recruited 30,000 volunteers. Last November, the company announced that the vaccine had an impressive efficacy of 94.1 percent. That effectiveness didn't drop much after six months, the company reported Thursday.

"We are pleased that our COVID-19 vaccine is showing durable efficacy of 93 percent through six months, but recognize that the Delta variant is a significant new threat so we must remain vigilant," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the statement.

However, it wasn't clear whether the trial data extended into more recent months when the Delta variant became dominant, the Times reported.

In June, Moderna detailed an experiment in which its researchers tested antibodies from people who received their vaccine against the Delta variant. They found the antibodies were moderately less effective at blocking the variant from infecting cells.

Last week, Pfizer reported that its vaccine's durability also held up after six months. The vaccine's efficacy started at 96.2% for the first two months after the second dose, and dropped to 83.7 percent at six months.

The FDA is expected to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine in September. Moderna filed for final approval of its vaccine on June 1, and expects to complete its submission in August, the Times reported.

Moderna said in its statement Thursday that in lab experiments of human blood cells, booster shots increased the number of coronavirus antibodies, suggesting that if its vaccine does weaken in future months, a booster would shore up protection. Moderna's clinical trials have also shown robust antibody responses after booster shots, the company added.

Full approval of Pfizer vaccine could come in September

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is speeding up its timetable for full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, hoping to complete the process by early September.

President Joe Biden said last week that he expected a fully approved vaccine in early fall, but the FDA's unofficial deadline is Labor Day or sooner, according to multiple people familiar with the plan, The New York Times reported. The agency said in a statement that its leaders recognized that full approval might counter vaccine hesitancy and had "taken an all-hands-on-deck approach" to completing full approval.

The move could help boost vaccination rates at a moment when the highly transmissible Delta variant is driving up the number of new cases across the country.

A number of universities and hospitals, the Defense Department and at least one major city, San Francisco, are expected to mandate vaccines once one is fully approved. Final approval could help clarify legal issues about mandates, the Times reported.

Federal regulators have been under growing public pressure to fully approve Pfizer's vaccine ever since the company filed its application on May 7.

"I just have not sensed a sense of urgency from the FDA on full approval," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island, told the Times on Tuesday. "And I find it baffling, given where we are as a country in terms of infections, hospitalizations and deaths."

Moderna, the second most widely used vaccine in the United States, filed for final approval of its vaccine on June 1. But the company is still submitting data and has not said when it will finish, the Times reported. Johnson & Johnson, the third vaccine authorized for emergency use, has not yet applied for full approval, but plans to do so later this year.

Although 192 million Americans — 58 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the nation's adults — have received at least one shot, many Americans remain vulnerable, data from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. The country is averaging nearly 86,000 new infections a day, an increase of 142 percent in just two weeks, according to a Times database.

Full approval for a vaccine typically requires the FDA to review hundreds of thousands of pages of documents — roughly 10 times the data required to authorize a vaccine on an emergency basis. The agency can usually complete a priority review within six to eight months and was already working on an expedited timetable for the Pfizer vaccine, the Times reported.

What are regulators looking for? They want to see real-world data on how the vaccine has been working since they authorized it for emergency use in December, the Times reported. That means verifying the company's data on vaccine efficacy and immune responses, reviewing how efficacy or immunity might wane, examining new infections in clinical trial participants, reviewing adverse reactions and inspecting manufacturing plants. Officials have said the government is also tracking breakthrough infections among tens of thousands of vaccinated people.

At the same time, senior officials at the FDA and other agencies are debating whether at least some people who are already vaccinated will need booster shots. Senior administration officials increasingly believe that vulnerable populations like those with compromised immune systems and older people will need them, the Times reported.

A decision to fully approve Pfizer's vaccine will give doctors more freedom to prescribe additional shots for certain Americans, including those with weakened immune systems, the Times reported.

Roughly 3 percent of Americans — or about 10 million people — have compromised immune systems as a result of cancer, organ transplants or other medical conditions, according to the CDC. While studies indicate that the vaccines work well for some, other people do not produce enough of an immune response to protect them from the actual virus.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCES: The New York Times; Associated Press

Largest Operator of Nursing Homes in U.S. Issues Vaccine Mandate for All Workers

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The United States' largest operator of nursing homes said Wednesday that its workers must get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to keep their jobs.

The announcement from Pennsylvania-based Genesis Healthcare -- which has 70,000 employees at nearly 400 nursing homes and senior communities -- suggests the nursing home industry's reluctance to force employees to get vaccinated due to fears about losing too many workers may be shifting, the Associated Press reported.

Understaffing is a major problem in the sector, but concerns about the surging Delta variant may convince nursing home owners they need to take action to quickly vaccinate the 40% of employees who still haven't received shots.

Voluntary vaccination was appropriate earlier in the pandemic, but only 65% of Genesis staff have received shots, according to the company. Employees have until Aug. 23 to get their first shot.

"To succeed against the Delta variant is going to require much higher vaccination rates," Genesis Chief Medical Officer Richard Feifer told the AP. "Our tactics in the fight have to change."

Unvaccinated staff members endanger residents, warn experts who are calling for mandatory vaccinations at nursing homes. Some workers have avoided the vaccine because they think it was rushed into development and is unsafe, or they feel protected because they already had a bout of COVID-19, the AP reported.

About 80% of nursing home residents have been vaccinated, but even vaccinated residents are at risk because many are frail and have weak immune systems, the AP reported.

More than 130,000 U.S. nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, according to the AP.

Jennifer Moore, of Hollywood, Fla., has a husband living at a nursing home where only 35% of the staff is vaccinated.

"Whenever I see a story about somebody being anti-vax, I just want to scream," said Moore, whose husband, Thomas, has Parkinson's disease. "I understand people have concerns about the vaccine, but these people are working with the most vulnerable population. They have a duty to their patients."

More information

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

SOURCE: Associated Press

Record Number of COVID-19 Hospitalizations Seen in Florida

THURSDAY, Aug. 9, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida reached a new high this week, the Florida Hospital Association (FHA) says.

Hospitalizations are 13% higher than the previous peak on July 23, 2020, and 60% of the state's hospitals are expected to face a "critical staffing shortage" in the next seven days, the association said Tuesday, CNN reported.

Currently, there are 11,515 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and 84% of in-patient beds and 86.5% of ICU beds in the state are occupied, according to the FHA.

It said that 21% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in the ICU and 13% are on ventilators, CNN reported.

The FHA figures are from a survey of hospitals that was completed Aug. 2 and represents 82% of the state's acute care hospitals.

"Current hospitalizations and the growth rate continue to be extremely troubling," Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said in a statement. "But vaccines work! The fact that less than 3% of current hospitalizations arrived from nursing homes and long-term care facilities shows the state's focus on vaccinating and protecting Florida's seniors and most vulnerable has worked."

Just two states -- Florida and Texas -- accounted for one-third of all COVID-19 cases reported in the United States in the past week, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing Monday, CNN reported.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COVID hospitalizations across the country.


Could a TB Vaccine Protect the Elderly From Severe COVID?

THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists suspect that a century-old tuberculosis vaccine might be able to protect older adults against the worst ravages of COVID-19.

The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine was first used 1921, and is on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. More than 130 million babies worldwide receive this vaccine every year.

But it also is known to calm the immune system, and new research shows that the vaccine might specifically blunt the severe inflammatory response that does so much damage to the body during a COVID infection.

"Typically, older people are more susceptible to severe COVID due to their ability to make exuberant inflammatory responses," said senior researcher Dr. Subash Babu, scientific director of the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis in Chennai, India. "Therefore, BCG might be useful by lowering this propensity."

The BCG vaccine already is used to modulate people's immune reaction in other diseases, most notably bladder cancer, said Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City.

Health experts in some nations with high COVID rates and little access to COVID vaccines have considered using BCG as a stopgap measure to protect older adults, researchers said in background notes.

But, they said, there have been concerns that the BCG vaccine might actually increase older folks' inflammation response and worsen their COVID infection.

In this study, researchers gave the BCG vaccine to 82 healthy people between 60 and 80 years old.

A month after vaccination, they found decreases in biochemicals linked to inflammation. Researchers also observed a decrease in enzymes that crop up during lung inflammation, which suggested that BCG might limit lung damage during COVID infection.

"BCG can potentially be useful as an adjuvant vaccine to the SARS-CoV-2-specific vaccines, and it needs to be tested for its ability to function as a therapeutic vaccine" that could be given as a treatment during infection, Babu said.

"BCG is safe and well tolerated, and widely available -- it is the most widely used vaccine in the world," he said.

But things aren't as cut and dried as all that, said Mount Sinai's Javaid, warning that no one should mistake the BCG vaccine as an alternative form of protection against COVID.

This new study didn't include a single COVID patient, and so it didn't directly test the BCG vaccine's effectiveness at all against the new coronavirus, said Javaid, who had no role in the new research.

"This cannot be an alternate in any way to the COVID vaccine. This cannot be used as a stopgap," he said.

"What we see here is that it does suppress some of the immune indicators that are otherwise active during COVID infection, and we know that during COVID infection part of the damage done to our body is because of our immune reaction," Javaid continued. "A lot of studies need to be done to prove or disprove these effects."

The concept is good in theory, he concluded, "but it still needs to be proven more concretely."

The findings were published Aug. 4 in the journal Science Advances.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the BCG vaccine.

SOURCES: Subash Babu, MBBS, PhD, scientific director, National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, Chennai, India; Waleed Javaid, MD, director, infection prevention and control, Mount Sinai Downtown, New York City; Science Advances, Aug. 4, 2021

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