Health Highlights: March 18, 2020

Flu Drug Effective Against Coronavirus: Chinese ResearchersU.S. May Not Have Enough Ventilators For Coronavirus PatientsMedicare Expands Telemedicine Coverage During Coronavirus Pandemic12 Coronavirus Infections, One Death at New Orleans Retirement Home

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

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.


Medicare Expands Telemedicine Coverage During Coronavirus Pandemic

Medicare is expanding coverage for telemedicine nationwide so that millions of American seniors can get health care at home and avoid the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

Seniors and people with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems have a greater risk of serious illness from the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

"Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered ... and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

Doctors' groups and hospitals had been pushing for the move, the AP reported.

The expansion of telemedicine coverage "helps us prevent the spread of the virus," said Medicare administrator Seema Verma.

Relatives or friends can help seniors who aren't comfortable with technology, she suggested.

"If it's your mom, you may need to go over to her house to help her do this," Verma said, but don't visit if you feel sick.

If telemedicine proves valuable in the coronavirus pandemic, it could lead to permanent changes that expand its availability to seniors, the AP reported.


12 Coronavirus Infections, One Death at New Orleans Retirement Home

Twelve residents of a New Orleans retirement home have the coronavirus and one has died.

The 84-year-old male resident of the Lambeth House retirement home was the third person in Louisiana to die from the new coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

The coronavirus is spreading much faster in New Orleans than in other U.S. cities, according to Dr. Jennifer Avegno, head of the city health department.

"This is a rapidly changing situation," she said, the AP reported. "There is substantial community spread."

Bars, gyms and movie theaters in Louisiana have been ordered to close and restaurants have been restricted to delivery and takeout. There have been 136 positive tests for the coronavirus in the state.

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