Health Highlights: Aug. 26, 2020

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

U.S. Nursing Home Staff Must Be Tested Regularly for COVID: White House

Nursing home staff will have to be tested regularly for COVID-19, and facilities that fail to do so will face fines, the Trump administration said Tuesday.

Even though they account for less than 1% of the nation’s population, long-term care facilities account for 42% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, the Associated Press reported.

There have been more than 70,000 deaths in U.S. nursing homes, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

It’s been months since the White House first urged governors to test all nursing home residents and staff, the AP reported.


Polio Eradicated in Africa: WHO

An effort that began in 1996 has led to the eradication of polio in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

The campaign by governments and nonprofits delivered nearly 9 billion polio vaccines, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a livestreamed event on Tuesday, CNN reported.

“The end of wild polio in Africa is a great day,” said Tedros, who chairs the polio oversight board. “Your success is the success of the world. None of us could have done this alone.”

There is no treatment or cure for polio, but vaccination can prevent infection with the once common virus, CNN reported.


Changes to CDC’s COVID-19 Testing Guidelines Trigger Concern

Experts are alarmed about revised U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines advising that people who don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 don’t need to be tested, even if they’ve recently been exposed to the new coronavirus.

The guidelines were quietly changed this week and prompted concern among infectious disease professionals, The New York Times reported.

They noted the importance of identifying infected people in the short period of time immediately before they develop symptoms and may be most contagious.

About half of coronavirus transmissions can be traced back to people in this pre-symptomatic stage, models suggest.

Experts warned that the revised CDC guidelines could delay treatment and lead to wider spread of the coronavirus.

“This is potentially dangerous,” Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease physician in Palo Alto, Calif., told the Times. Limiting testing to people with obvious symptoms of COVID-19 means “you’re not looking for a lot of people who are potential spreaders of disease,” she said. “I feel like this is going to make things worse.”

“I think it’s bizarre,” Daniel Larremore, a mathematician and infectious diseases modeler at the University of Colorado Boulder, told the Times. “Any move right now to reduce levels of testing by changing guidelines is a step in the wrong direction.”

“Wow, that is a walk-back,” Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, told the Times. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and that’s a really big change.”

She’s concerned that people could misinterpret the change in testing guidelines as meaning that people without symptoms can’t pass the coronavirus on to others, a misconception that experts have long tried to dispel.

“If people are getting exposed, and they’re not getting tested, and they’re not isolating, that’s a huge problem,” Kuppalli warned.

“Testing capacity has massively expanded, and we are not utilizing the full capacity that we have developed,” a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told the Times. “We revised the guidance to reflect current evidence and the best public health interventions.”


Olympian Usain Bolt Reported to Have COVID-19

Eight-time Olympic running champion Usain Bolt has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Jamaican newspaper, but the world’s fastest man hasn’t confirmed he has the disease.

The Gleaner newspaper said Jamaica’s health ministry said that Bolt’s test was positive, according to the Reuters news agency.

On Monday, Bolt said he’s self-quarantining after being tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, but didn’t say if he had the illness. In a Twitter video, Bolt said he had no symptoms, but told friends he’d been in contact with to take precautions, CBS News reported.

Friends threw Bolt a surprise birthday party on Saturday that was attended by sports and music stars, according to Jamaican newspapers.


Plasma Therapy for COVID-19 Still Experimental: WHO

The use of blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat patients hospitalized with the disease is still considered experimental, the World Health Organization said the day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would allow emergency use of the therapy.

On Sunday, the FDA authorized “emergency use” of the treatment, something the agency can do to make promising experimental drugs available during a public health crisis, the Associated Press reported.

However, that does not mean that plasma therapy for COVID-19 has been proven safe and effective.

The WHO noted that the FDA’s decision has many scientists concerned that formal studies currently underway to assess the therapy will be sidelined, the AP reported.

So far, results from those studies “are not conclusive,” WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said. “At the moment, it’s still very low-quality evidence.”

“Of course, countries can do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “But that’s usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

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