The WHO and FDA are at odds over remdesivir
Here’s what you need to know this week.
As health officials have been warning for months, the cold weather and holiday season have resulted in intense, widespread spikes in COVID-19 infections across the country. The US saw one million new cases last week, and that number is expected to continue climbing as we head into Thanksgiving.
This morning there was a bit of good news when AstraZeneca reported that their coronavirus vaccine is 70 percent effective in clinical trials, making it the third vaccine after those from Pfizer and Moderna to show promising results. Last week, Anthony Fauci said that some people at high risk of suffering life-threatening symptoms from COVID-19 could even receive the vaccine by the end of the year.
Right now, though, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting the virus is by staying home instead of traveling for the holiday. Keep social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and make sure to get your flu shot—there’s still quite a long way to go before the end of the pandemic.
The US continues to hit record numbers of COVID-19 infections
In the first 22 days of November, America reported over three million new cases of COVID-19. That’s about a quarter of all US cases since the beginning of the pandemic—and rates of infection are only continuing to rise.
Those numbers can’t just be attributed to increased rates of testing. Last week, cases were up 25 percent compared to the week before, whereas testing was up by 14 percent over the same period.
Hospitalizations are up, too, which is a better measure to determine the real impact of the pandemic. The US record for single-day hospitalizations was broken 12 times in a row, ending with 83,227 people admitted into hospitals for the virus on Saturday. Those rates are also expected to increase in the cold weather as more people move gatherings inside and travel for the holidays.
Heavy exercise seems to cause heart damage post-COVID-19
Respiratory symptoms aren’t the only thing to worry about after a COVID-19 infection—the virus can also damage your heart tissue, making it potentially dangerous to engage in sports or other physical activities.
Serious cases of COVID-19 have caused myocarditis, which is inflammation of the walls of the heart. This condition makes it much more difficult for the heart to pump blood. The good news is that with time and rest, the condition heals on its own; however, if you do too much strenuous physical activity in the wake of infection, myocarditis can lead to swelling limbs, dizziness, shortness of breath, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest or death.
The most serious consequences of myocarditis usually occur in professional athletes, and several professional athletes have been hospitalized or died from the condition this year. But they’re not the only ones at risk. An observational study of 100 non-athlete COVID-19 patients from earlier this study found that 78 of them had lingering heart inflammation, and of those, 12 had never even had symptoms from the virus.
The WHO advises against using remdesivir to treat the coronavirus
The WHO just advised doctors not to use the Gilead drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19 about a month after it was approved for that use by US regulators.
The FDA had previously approved the treatment in the US because a trial found that patients who received the drug had a recovery time that was, on average, five days shorter than patients who did not receive the treatment. The WHO, however, ran its own global trial which found that the drug did not help reduce deaths. The organization also reviewed three other studies that found no difference in recovery time between patients who did and did not receive the treatment.
On Thursday, the FDA granted emergency-use authorization of the drug baricitinib, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, in combination with remdesivir, a move that appears to reinforce US regulators’ support for the antiviral. Proponents of this move say that while the positive effect of remdesivir may be small, it is not insignificant, and that incremental improvements are vital in fighting this virus. However, the actual data on remdesivir paint a somewhat cloudy picture.
Despite warnings, 50 million people are planning to travel over Thanksgiving
On Thursday, the CDC warned Americans against traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday. According to an estimate from AAA, however, 50 million people are still planning on traveling between November 25 and 29. That’s only 5 million fewer than last year, and still more than enough to exacerbate the pandemic, which is currently raging stronger than ever in the US.
Most travel over Thanksgiving this year will be by car—95 percent, according to AAA. Air travel is expected to be about half of what it was last year at about 2.4 million air travelers. Despite cars being a safer option than public transport, any travel has the potential to spread COVID-19.
Health and government officials continue to advise people to stay home for Thanksgiving this year to protect themselves and their families from the virus. No one wants an empty table for the holidays, but we’re sacrificing this year to ensure everyone can be around for the next one.