Health Highlights: July 29, 2020

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

Face Masks May Make COVID-19 Less Severe

Wearing a face mask might cut down on how much virus you breathe in and lessen the severity of any infection, a new report suggests.

Masks can prevent spreading the virus to others, but they may also reduce the severity of symptoms, and for some, prevent infection altogether, researchers said Tuesday.

Different types of masks “block virus to a different degree, but they all block the virus from getting in,” researcher Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times.

If some particles do get through, the disease might be milder, she added.

The researchers gleaned their findings from animal experiments and observations during the pandemic.

Dr. Tsion Firew, an emergency physician at Columbia University in New York City, told the Times that the findings aren’t definitive.

But, the study “reiterates what we say about masks,” she said. “It’s not just a selfless act.”

That face masks can lessen disease severity, while not proven, “makes complete sense,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech, told the Times. “It’s another good argument for wearing masks.”

Masks aren’t a substitute for other measures like physical distancing and hand-washing, but they are easy and sustainable, Gandhi said. It’s “as simple as covering up the two holes in your face that shed the virus,” she explained.

Her report will be published in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.


Rich Get Better Sleep Than the Poor

In a survey of nearly 140,000 adults, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more money means a better night’s sleep.

Only 55% of those living below the poverty level slept seven to eight hours a night, compared with 67% of those making 400% above the poverty level, the researchers found.

CDC epidemiologist Lindsey Black told CNN that, “Sleep affects many aspects of well-being and quality of life for people of all ages.”

“People with more resources are able to afford homes that are in quieter locations — more space, less people-density and better sound-proofing,” Dr. Neil Kline, a sleep physician at the American Sleep Association, told CNN. “People with more resources can also afford more healthcare when it relates to sleep disorders.”

Adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, says the American Sleep Association.

“Too often, we prioritize work and social events over our sleep,” Kline said. “When we don’t receive adequate sleep, we do not function at our peak and we increase the risk for poor health outcomes.”


FDA Warns Again About Dangers of Methanol-Based Hand Sanitizers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing methanol, or wood alcohol, which is used in fuel and antifreeze and is toxic if absorbed through the skin or life-threatening if ingested.

The FDA has acted to prevent these products from coming into the country and working with manufacturers to recall products.

Also, a warning letter was sent to Eskbiochem S.A. de C.V. for distributing a methanol-containing product with unapproved claims — including falsely claiming that it has FDA approval.

Methanol exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.

“Practicing good hand hygiene, which includes using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available, is an important public health tool for all Americans to employ,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

However, he added, “consumers must also be vigilant about which hand sanitizers they use, and for their health and safety we urge consumers to immediately stop using all hand sanitizers on the FDA’s list of dangerous hand sanitizer products.”


COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate Now in Final Phase of Testing

A vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. has entered the final phase of testing, the Associated Press reported Monday.

To see if the vaccine will protect people from the virus, 30,000 volunteers will randomly receive the two doses of the vaccine or a placebo.

The participants will be followed to see which group gets infected.

“Unfortunately for the United States of America, we have plenty of infections right now,” NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci told the AP.

According to Moderna, vaccination has been tried out in Savannah, Ga., and will be given in more than 80 sites around the country.

This is only one of the many vaccines under development worldwide. Other trials are underway in China and Britain, and final tests have started in Brazil and other countries.

Before a vaccine can be approved in the United States it must be tested here. Through fall, the COVID-19 Prevention Network will test new vaccines — each with 30,000 volunteers, the AP notes.

These tests will determine which vaccine works best and is safest. Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax and Pfizer Inc. are all slated for testing.

It usually takes years to develop a new vaccine, but specialists are racing to find an effective vaccine that can curb the pandemic.

“We all feel so helpless right now. There’s very little that we can do to combat this virus. And being able to participate in this trial has given me a sense of, that I’m doing something,” trial volunteer Jennifer Haller of Seattle told the AP. “Be prepared for a lot of questions from your friends and family about how it’s going, and a lot of thank-you’s.”

In early trials the vaccine boosted the immune system in ways expected to be protective. Some side effects, such as a brief fever, chills and pain at the injection site were seen. These findings were also seen in the other vaccines scheduled for testing.

If the vaccine passes the test, it will be months before it can reach the general public.

The first doses will be most likely, be given to people at highest risk from the virus, the AP said.

“We’re optimistic, cautiously optimistic” that the vaccine will work and that “toward the end of the year” data will prove it, Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Massachusetts-based Moderna, told a House subcommittee last week, the AP reported.

“I don’t know what the chances are that this is the exact right vaccine. But thank goodness that there are so many others out there battling this right now,” Haller said.

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