covid variants

Understanding COVID-19 Variants

Our concierge doctors are receiving many questions from our patients about the numerous COVID-19 variants. They want to know what they mean for the vaccine and how worried we should be about them. The U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, is spreading more rapidly in Florida at the moment than in any other state. We felt this would be a good time to summarize what we know about all of these questions.

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best face mask

Which Type of Face Mask Is Best?

We’ve been living with the coronavirus pandemic for a year now. Our concierge doctors are seeing more and more claims regarding special types of face masks that will supposedly offer more protection from the virus.

We’re also getting more questions from our patients on this subject. Especially now that at least three variants (mutations) of the coronavirus have been identified as circulating in this country.

So we thought we’d tell you what we know to date on how to find the best face mask.

Anti-microbial masks

Manufacturers have been producing so-called “anti-microbial” facemasks for months now. They claim to offer greater protection against the coronavirus. In Europe, brands such as Under Armour, Burberry, and Diesel have been marketing masks said to reduce viral activity that comes in contact with their masks.

Experts are dubious about these assertions. In the U.S., firms are prohibited from making claims like this without providing evidence. Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so-far approved anti-microbial masks to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Amy Price, a senior research scientists at Stanford Anesthesia Infomatics and Media (AIM) lab, advised the World Health Organization (WHO) on its face mask guidelines.

“The challenge is that sometimes claims are made, but they aren’t tested on the actual masks with the actual virus,” she told CNN on a video conference call. “So they’re like gimmicks.”

Dr. Charlaynn Harris, Ph.D., MPH, senior epidemiologist at Unity Band, makers of a wearable COVID-19 tracker, told POPSUGAR she wouldn’t recommend any mask not fully vetted by the FDA.

“I do feel as though these products could lead to false security for the wearer,” she added. “Claims of being antimicrobial lead the wearer to believe they have an added barrier against this highly infectious pathogen.”

Copper-infused masks

What about copper-infused masks, which are also selling briskly?

It turns out that it is true that copper kills viruses and other pathogens. When both bacteria and viruses come into contact with copper, they are killed “very quickly and without mercy,” Dr. Michael Schmidt told The Washington Post recently. Schmidt, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, studies the use of copper in health-care settings.

Comparing the reaction to “an exploding grenade,” he said viruses are no match for copper.

“The oxygen shrapnel first destroys the envelope,” of the viruses, he told The Post. “Then, additional oxygen radicals come in to destroy the viral RNA, and if the instruction set is not intact, you have no virus.”

There is a catch with copper-infused masks, however. The particles of the virus must actually come in contact with the copper strands within the mask. If it doesn’t touch the copper, it remains intact, and active. So copper-infused masks are still no guarantee of safety.

One side note on copper supplements, which are also being touted to protect from the coronavirus: Don’t take them. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ingesting high amounts of copper can lead to liver damage. And such unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects as abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Double-masking?

Remember that the coronavirus is transmitted primarily through the air, by both infected droplets and aerosols. This is why it so easily and stealthily passes from person to person.

And we now have three confirmed variant strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. All of which are far more transmissible than the strain we’ve been fighting for the last year.

Therefore, some experts have begun recommending that everyone wear not just one but two masks.

“The reason for that is you do wind up getting more filtration of viral particles,” Dr. Dave Hnida told CBS Denver. “It becomes more of an obstacle course for the viral particle to make its way from the air into your nose and throat and then into your lungs.”

We still have a shortage of medical-grade N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent of pathogens. So wearing two masks at the same time can offer better protection. In fact, wearing two can offer nearly the same protection as the vaccines, according to Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of public Heath.

“A surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of it can get you over 91 percent removal efficiency for particles,” he told CNN.

Fit is key

Whichever type of mask you choose, if it doesn’t fit properly, it won’t work to protect you or others.

The CDC offers the following guidelines to find the best face mask for you:

  • Choose masks that have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
  • Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face and doesn’t have gaps.
  • Do not choose masks that have exhalation valves or vents. These allow virus particles to escape.
  • Completely cover your nose and mouth. Note: If you have a beard, the mask cannot completely cover your nose and mouth. You might want to consider shaving it off until masks are no longer necessary.
  • If you wear a gaiter, use one with two layers, or fold it to make two layers.
  • If you wear glasses, find a mask that fits closely over your nose. Or find one with a nose wire to limit fogging.
  • Face shields are not recommended.
  • Scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks. Wear a mask under each of these items.

Remember, the only mask that works—not only to protect yourself but also to help stop the spread of the virus—is the one that is worn consistently.

mental health pandemic

Mental Health Still a Pandemic Challenge

It’s no surprise that mental health issues have soared due to pandemic stress in recent months. Between the loneliness resulting from the pandemic isolation to worrying about us or our loved ones contracting COVID-19 to financial concerns, people are suffering.

One survey by the CDC found 40 percent of respondents were experiencing mental health issues. These mental health issues reportedly arose from the pandemic, anxiety about the coronavirus itself and the containment measures related to it.

Our concierge doctors have seen this first hand from our patients, as well. In fact, it would be surprising if everyone wasn’t feeling stress to some degree. Especially if you consider all the stressors our nation has experienced over the last few months.

You’re not alone

The CDC survey, along with others, shows that mental health concerns are widespread.

The survey found that of those who responded to the online survey:

  • 31 percent said they’d experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • 26 percent said they’d experienced trauma or stressor-related disorder symptoms
  • 13 percent said they’d started or increased substance use
  • 11 percent said they’d seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days

A new study in the journal The Lancet found the quarantines are linked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion, and anger. And some research is suggesting that these symptoms may be long lasting.

The Culprit: The Pandemic

One article published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) cautioned that a wave of lingering substance abuse and mental health disorders could be building as a result of the pandemic.

“This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale,” the authors wrote. “This interpersonal loss is compounded by societal disruption.”

They particularly warned of “the transformation of normal grief and distress into prolonged grief and major depressive disorder and symptoms of post-traumatic health disorder.”

Lisa Carlson, the immediate past president of the American Public Health Association, told CNN last month, “The physical aspects of the pandemic are really visible. We have supply shortages and economic stress, fear of illness, all of our disrupted routines, [and] there’s a real grief in all of that.”

Carlson, who is also an executive administrator at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, added, “We don’t have a vaccine for our mental health like we do for our physical health. So it will take longer to come out of those challenges.”

How to cope

The CDC reminds Americans that, although “public health actions such as social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety, such actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

And remember, the vaccines are on the way!

Meanwhile, here are some coping strategies, and places to turn to for help.

Knowledge can help alleviate stress. So know what to do if you become sick, and call us if you think you’ve contracted the virus. And learn the facts about COVID-19 from reputable organizations, not from social media or questionable sources.

Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources. This includes counseling and therapy, either in person or through telehealth services.

Take care of your emotional health. Caring for your emotional health will help you think clearly and better equip you to care for yourself and your family.

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.

Take care of your body:

  • Take deep breaths, stretch, or mediate.
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Get outdoors as often as possible.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.

Make time to unwind. Try to do some activities you enjoy.

Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations online, through social media, by phone or by mail.

Get immediate help in a crisis:

  • Call 911.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, or text LOVEIS to 22522
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish)
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or online chat
  • The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
  • Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255 or Crisis Chat

To find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-HELP (4357)

Be sure to call us if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row. We can help.

vaccine effects

What to Expect from the Coronavirus Vaccine

Our concierge doctors are receiving questions as the two approved coronavirus vaccines become more widely available. So we decided to answer many of those questions on the effects of the vaccine here.

The latest

The vaccine rollout has gone more slowly than anticipated. First, there aren’t as many doses available of either vaccine as had been promised originally. There are approximately 200 million Americans in need of the vaccine, which means 400 million total doses for two shots. But there are currently only about 100 million doses available, and approximately three percent of the population has been vaccinated.

Second, there has been confusion and controversy regarding who should be first in line to receive a shot, who should be next, and so on.

Finally, until the end of December, the federal government did not allocate enough money for states to pay for training additional vaccinators, adequately storing and distributing the vaccine, etc. The economic stimulus package passed in December allocated $8 billion for states. But health officials say it will take time to receive the money and implement necessary protocols.

In the coming weeks, however, these problems should begin to be resolved. Experts expect the vaccines to be more available to those who need it: front-line health care and essential workers, seniors in long-term care facilities, and those at high risk of contracting COVID-19. It will likely take longer than that for the general public to begin receiving vaccines.

Effectiveness

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses for maximum effectiveness. Both vaccines show in early trials to deliver immunity rates around 95 percent. The flu shot generally has an effectiveness rate of between 30-50 percent.

While it is still too early to be certain, it appears the vaccines could take as long as 28 days to create the promised level of immunity. Although, one recent study found immunity can begin within 12 days. (The flu shot takes between 10-14 days for full effectiveness.)

There has also been controversy regarding whether to make sure everyone receives both doses. Some argue one will be enough for now, given the nationwide shortage. Experts still haven’t settled the question. But more are now leaning toward the concept of giving as many people as possible at least some protection– meaning, just a single dose initially until the supply shortage eases. Early research seems to show a single dose may confer between 80-90 percent protection, thereby strengthening that argument.

Health officials say at least 70 percent of the population must be inoculated in order to receive so-called “herd immunity.”

By the way, there is zero chance of contracting the virus from the shot. Unlike traditional vaccines that introduce a weakened or dead virus into the body, both COVID-19 vaccines use messengerRNA (mRNA) to trigger immunity.

And no, the mRNA won’t change your DNA. It never enters the nucleus of the cells where the DNA resides.

Side effects

When we talk about side effects, we mean both the allergic reactions noted in relatively few individuals and the expected aftereffects of a standard vaccination.

Allergic reactions

According to the CDC, nearly two million people received one of the coronavirus vaccines in the first week it was available. It said at least 29 of the had a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This condition can be life threatening, and must be treated immediately with an emergency injection of epinephrine.

“This is still a rare outcome,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a media briefing. “Right now, the known and potential benefits of the current COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks of getting COVID-19.”

If you have a history of severe allergic reactions that require you to carry an Epi pen, check with us before being vaccinated.

Normal after-effects

Many of those who have already received the vaccine reported no side effects. Research from the vaccines trials reported most people can expect to experience at least one side effect from the shot. And that’s normal, as the body swings into action to mobilize its immune defenses against the coronavirus. It can also happen with the flu vaccine.

Reported side effects include

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • muscle soreness and aches
  • joint pain
  • pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site

These generally go away in a day or two. We believe such short-term discomfort is a small price to pay to keep from getting COVID-19. Just ask the “long haulers,” whose lives have been disrupted for months with lingering, debilitating effects from the virus.

If you have any questions about the effects of the vaccine, please let us know.

hospital delirium

Hospital-Acquired Delirium Catches Caregivers Off-Guard

The middle-of-the-night phone call from the man’s 91-year-old father was frightening.

“Call the police! They’re trying to kill me!”

“Who’s trying to kill you?”

“These people. They’re holding me captive, they’re starving me to death.”

Except “these people” were doctors and nurses, and the older man was in the hospital being tested for a possible stroke. He hadn’t had one, but during the brief two days he’d been in the hospital, he’d acquired a little-known condition called hospital-acquired delirium.

Our concierge doctors are aware of it, but few outside the medical community have heard of it unless it has happened to their loved one.

Wild delusions

The hallucinations may range from mild to outrageous. 

They can imagine they’re fighting a war they were never in; they’ve been captured by spies and spirited out of the state or even the country; that their nurses and doctors are trying to kill them. These delusions are absolutely real (and terrifying) to them, and no amount of reasoning can argue them out of it, and often result in attempts to escape their “captors.”

At the other extreme, patients may become withdrawn and unresponsive. Other symptoms may include confusion, disorientation, altered states of consciousness, or an inability to focus. Or the patient may change personalities, from a normally easy-going personality to angry or combative, for example.

The main difference between hospital-acquired delirium and dementia is the time period of onset. Dementia slowly progresses over the course of months or years. Although up to 40 percent of those with dementia can also suffer from delirium, the latter syndrome occurs suddenly in patients who were otherwise perfectly lucid prior to entering the hospital. It can develop in a matter of hours or days following admittance.

A common occurrence

According to a report Harvard Health Publishing, hospital-acquired delirium is the most common complication of hospitalization among older people, although it can occur in patients of any age. It is most prevalent in those who undergo such major surgeries as hip replacements or heart surgeries, or who were admitted to an intensive care unit. In fact, the syndrome was originally called ICU delirium.

The prognosis for recovery is mixed. Most people return to normal within a week or two after returning home. One study, however, found people over age 65 admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with delirium were more likely to die within a year than those who hadn’t. And the episodes of delirium may continue for months after discharge in up to a third of patients.

Possible causes

There are many reasons why a patient might slip into hospital-acquired delirium. These include:

  • Sleep deprivation—The constant noise, lights, interruptions, and general activity in a hospital setting can make a peaceful night’s sleep impossible. This naturally leads to a confused mental state.
  • Undiagnosed infections—Many untreated infections can cause delirium. Urinary tract infections are the most common culprit in a hospital setting. 
  • Dehydration—It may sound too simple, but dehydration can lead to delirium.
  • Drug reactions/interactions—Older adults often take multiple medications, and new ones may be introduced at the hospital, causing unforeseen reactions or interactions. This is especially true with certain categories of drugs (e.g., antihistamines, antidepressants) that can trigger side effects, including delirium. Conversely, the sudden withdrawal of medications can also cause such a reaction.

How to help

It’s important that hospital staff rule out physical causes for unusual behavior in a patient, such as treating infections or performing tests for a possible stroke, for example. Be sure they know that the use of physical restraints and sedatives are not recommended, because they can increase the patient’s agitation.

But there are ways you can help.

  1. Try to spend as much time as possible with your loved one. If pandemic restrictions prevent in-person visits, at least make sure they have such necessary items as glasses, hearing aids, and dentures. Bring family photos or other familiar items to help reorient them. Make sure they have their phone and charger available and call them as often as possible.
  2. Ask the staff to minimize sleep deprivation, waiting until morning to do blood pressure checks or give medication, for example. Also ask to lower and to keep noise to a minimum at night to allow for restful sleep.
  3. Encourage exercise. Even a brief walk down the hall two or three times a day will help.
  4. It’s important not to panic if your loved one becomes delirious following a stay in the hospital. If you tell them their hallucinations are not real, they likely won’t believe you. Remain calm, reassure them you are there to look out for them, and try to calmly redirect their thoughts into their surroundings.

Remember, once they are out of the hospital setting, they will most likely return to normal. 

children COVID

All Children in Study Show Blood Vessel Damage from COVID-19

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it became clear the majority of those most affected by COVID-19 infections were adults over the age of 65. The severity of the illness and deaths decreases in younger people. Many began to believe we didn’t have to worry about children when it came to the virus.

Children may be carriers and able to infect others. But many thought if they should become ill, in most cases they’ll exhibit either mild symptoms or none at all.

Dangerous misconception

Our concierge doctors want to warn you that this is a misconception. At least 120 children in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. And a new study last month at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found a disturbing result of coronavirus infection in children. They found elevated levels of a biomarker (C5b9) related to blood vessel damage, even in those with minimal or no symptoms.

They also found a high proportion of children with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, were also diagnosed with a condition called thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA). TMA leads to clots in small blood vessel. It has been linked to severe COVID-19 symptoms in adults.

“We do not yet know the clinical implications of this elevated biomarker in children with COVID-19 and no symptoms or minimal symptoms,” co-senior study author David T. Teachey, MD, said in a news release. Teachey is the Director of Clinical Research at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at CHOP.

“We should continue testing and monitoring children with SARS-CoV-2 so that we can better understand how the virus affects them in both the short and long term,” he added.

The unknowns

There’s still a great deal we don’t yet know about this novel coronavirus, including why it affects both children and adults in varying degrees. At least 30-40 percent of adults, for example, show minimal or no symptoms at all. They still can transmit the infection to others, however.

Despite having a higher viral load, children are even less likely to exhibit symptoms. This means children tend to have a larger amount of the virus in their upper respiratory tracts than adults. Does that mean they can transmit the virus even more readily than adults? 

Again, we don’t know for sure. But a recent Harvard Health paper warns “the presence of high viral loads in infected children does increase the concern that children, even those without symptoms, could readily spread the infection to others.”

One thing we do know is a small number of children can have severe effects. One of these is a new condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls it “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children,” or MIS-C. It now seems to have affected approximately 300 children in the U.S, at least five of whom have died.

Long-term implications

Originally, doctors thought there was an unusual outbreak of a rare form of Kawasaki’s disease. The symptoms reported were similar (persistent fever, rash, and inflammation of the blood vessels). It has now, though, been connected specifically with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“This [MIS-C] is a new childhood disease that is believed to be associated with [COVID-19], and it can be lethal because it affects multiple organ systems [including] the heart and the lungs, gastrointestinal system or neurologic system,” neonatologist Alvaro Moreira said in a statement. Moreira is an assistant professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

His team reviewed 662 cases of MIS-C worldwide between January and July of last year. They found more than half of the children studied suffered heart damage as a result of the condition. These children may require lifelong care and treatment, United Press International (UPI) reported in September.

“Evidence suggests that [these] children . . . have immense inflammation and potential tissue injury to the heart, and we will need to follow [them] closely to understand what implications they may have in the long term,” Moreira concluded.

Further study needed

Researchers in the CHOP study were surprised to find the biomarker C5b9 present. They found it not only in children with severe symptoms of COVID-19 and MIS-C, but also in those with minimal or no symptoms.

“Although most children with COVID-19 do not have severe disease, our study shows that there may be other effects of SARS-Cov-2 that are worthy of investigation,” Teachey said.

“The most important takeaway from this study is we have more to learn about SARS-Cov-2,” he concluded. “We should not make guesses about the short- and long-term impact of infection.”

Neither of the two vaccines approved for adults have been tested in children under age 12. It could be a long wait until kids get protection from the virus.

In the meantime, we urge parents to take the same precautions with their children that they do with themselves. Socially isolate as much as possible, frequently wash your hands, and wear masks when outside the family circle.

best diet

The Best Diet for You

The start of a new year is traditionally the time to turn the page on the bad habits and disappointments of the previous year.

Usually near the top of the list of New Year’s resolutions that people make is the decision to lose weight. And from a health perspective, our concierge doctors certainly applaud that one.

Overweight or obesity is responsible for a host of chronic diseases, from type 2 diabetes to backaches to joint pain. So you want to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, right? But which diet is best?

The problem with keto

What about the popular keto diet? Studies show that 80 percent of those who try it struggle to stick with it. Why, when it often results in huge and rapid amounts of weight loss?

First, it can it cause numerous side effects—body aches, headaches, light-headedness, nausea, fatigue and lethargy, constipation, and brain fog. Plus, all their friends are eating garlic bread and mashed potatoes (not cauliflower) with gravy and pasta. Or because they lost their job and need a regular intake of brownies to help them feel better. Or because they’re stressed about the pandemic—possible job loss, not being able to see friends and family, worried about catching the coronavirus. And that chocolate cream pie dulls the loneliness and anxiety, at least for a little while.

Because, in short, the keto diet restrictive. It has a long list of quite tasty foods that either aren’t allowed, or allowed only in small portions after a certain time.

“When you are on the keto diet, you drastically cut your carbs to only 20 per day. That’s less than one apple!” nutritionist Lisa Drayer, a CNN contributor, told the network.

The common problem

And this is the problem with all diets. Nearly all of them work as promised, but are difficult to adhere to over time. So you “cheat.” Then you cheat some more. Then you figure, why bother? You then start eating normally again and regain all the weight you lost. And you likely gain back even more.

But here’s the thing: It’s not you, it’s them. In other words, it’s the whole concept of dieting to begin with. Someone once pointed out that diet begins with the word “die,” so even if only subconsciously, the concept has a negative connotation.

In addition, our bodies were built to store calories. That’s because our ancient ancestors never knew when they’d be facing lean times, or even starvation if the mastodons they hunted migrated elsewhere. Even in more recent times, before there was such a thing as a food industry, mankind learned to store food over the winter. But it still wasn’t as abundant as during the summer months.

So we’re biologically built to store up calories to last through the lean times.

And speaking of the food industry, their entire reason for being is to get us to buy more of their product. Stores are laid out with enticing displays of sugary, fat-laden foods. Advertising constantly tempts us with photos and videos of delicious, fattening foods.

We succumb, we gain weight, and then it’s up to us to find a way to lose it. And we try a long list of diets, only to be disappointed with the results. So which one do we recommend?

The only real solution

The best diet is one that works for you, that helps you gradually lose weight, but doesn’t leave you feeling deprived or hungry all the time.

“For any given person, it’s really a matter of what they can stick with,” Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic told Psychology Today.

Keto might be the right choice for some people. For others, the Paleo diet, moderation, veganism, intermittent fasting, or simply cutting back on sugar and flour.

Above all, research shows the most successful diet is the one that you yourself designed. This gives you a sense of control, rather than being at the mercy of a set of restrictive rules.

“You have to have joy and pleasure in food,” Stanford University professor of medicine Christopher Gardner told The Washington Post. He has conducted numerous randomized trials to test the success rate of various diets, and found they are essentially the same.

“They agree more than they disagree,” he said. Instead, he counsels, “Limit added sugars and refined grains, and eat more non-starchy vegetables. [I]f you do those two things, you get 90 percent of the benefits.” 

If you enjoy what you eat, you’ll have a much better chance of sticking with it for the rest of your life, he added.

“[The most successful way of dieting] will be different from one person to the next, and there will never be a randomized trial of it.”

We would add that for the most wholesome way to eat, consider the Mediterranean diet. It rates number one in surveys of diets, not only for long-term weight loss, but also for ease of adherence and the healthiest outcomes.

If you have any questions about weight loss, please talk with us. We can suggest the best approach specifically for you.

covid vaccine

MMR Vaccine May Protect Against COVID-19

With all the excitement and hope surrounding the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, our concierge doctors want to highlight other vaccines that could also prove to be lifesavers. Particularly in the case of childhood vaccinations, we have seen a significant reduction in the numbers of children receiving routine immunizations.

And we are not alone. In one of the more troubling results of the pandemic, experts across the country saw a marked decline in children being vaccinated. According to a report released this month by the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, nearly nine million children have received fewer vaccinations than normal. There is a 26 percent decline from last year. This is partly due to the restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19. But, it’s also due to a growing resistance by some parents toward vaccines in general.

Kids need vaccines

Experts warn this drop could result in a renewed outbreak of childhood diseases. We could see resurgences of diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, and even polio.

“Although we don’t want to cause alarm, we do want to be mindful of what a drop in vaccination levels could mean,” Dr. Tim Gutshall, Wellmark’s chief medical officer, said in a statement to The Iowa Gazette. “If we dip below the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] benchmarks for immunity, we could wind up with an epidemic of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The good news is the trend can be reversed if parents and guardians ensure these vital immunizations are up to date,” he added.

COVID-19 vaccine already here?

Now it appears there may be an even better reason for children to receive at least one type of vaccine: the MMR (for measles, mumps, and rubella). It’s been rumored since the start of the pandemic that the MMR vaccine might protect those who become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This is due to the similarity of both viruses.

Now a new study, published last month in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, shows promise. It found patients vaccinated against mumps had less severe COVID-19 infections than those not vaccinated.

“We found a statistically significant inverse correlation between mumps titer levels and COVID-19 severity in people under age 42 who have had MMR II vaccinations,” lead study author Jeffrey E. Gold said in a media release. [Titer levels measure the amount of protective antibodies in the blood.]

“This adds to other associations demonstrating that the MMR vaccine may be protective against COVID-19. It also may explain why children have a much lower COVID-19 case rate than adults, as well as a much lower death rate. The majority of children get their first MMR vaccination around 12 to 15 months of age and a second one from four to six years of age.”

The study

Researchers split 80 participants into two groups. The first group included 50 Americans under age 42. This group received most of their MMR antibodies through the MMR II vaccine. The second group comprised those who had no record of ever having received vaccines and reported they had the measles, mumps, or rubella.

Those who actually contracted the mumps did not seem to show any protective effect against COVID-19. Those who showed high levels of mumps titers resulting from the MMR II vaccine were either asymptomatic (showed no symptoms at all) or were functionally immune from the virus, just as if they’d received one of the new coronavirus vaccines.

Researcher’s conclusions

This was a relatively small observational study. But study coauthor David J. Hurley, PhD, professor and microbiologist at the University of Georgia, appeared impressed by its findings.

“The MMR II vaccine is considered a safe vaccine with very few side effects,” he wrote in a statement. “If it has the ultimate benefit of preventing infection from COVID-19, preventing the spread of COVID-19, reducing the severity of it, or a combination of any or all of those, it is a very high reward-low risk ratio intervention.”

In fact, he suggested while the country is waiting for wider distribution of the newly approved coronavirus vaccines, the MMR II vaccine could stand in in the interim.

“Based upon our study, it would be prudent to vaccinate those over 40 regardless of whether or not they already have high serum MMR titers.”

Further studies coming

Our concierge doctors aren’t necessarily ready to start vaccinating all our older patients based on a single study. But we think it bears watching. That’s because—based on prior anecdotal evidence—other studies along these lines are already underway.

One of those is funded by a $9 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, MasterCard, and others. It plans to recruit as many as 30,000 healthcare workers worldwide in a clinical study. This would measure immunity to COVID-19 against those who receive the MMR II vaccine vs. those who receive a placebo injection.

It’s heartening to realize the best scientific brains around the world are working so diligently to conquer the scourge of COVID-19. There is hope on the horizon.

Meanwhile, please keep playing defense as much as possible:

  • wear a face mask around people outside your household
  • avoid indoor spaces as much as possible
  • wash your hands frequently

It won’t be much longer until this nightmare is a distant memory. And be sure your children are up to date on their vaccinations!

running knees

Studies Say Running May Actually Be Good for Your Knees

Of course running is bad for your knees, right? Everybody knows this. After all, it only makes sense. You’re bringing the full weight of your body down on these joints with every step, so you’re wearing out the cartilage from overuse.

But our concierge doctors have often found that what seems like “common sense” is anything but, which is why we look to science for answers.

Studies say otherwise

Rather than the widespread notion that running wears out the cartilage in the knees, it appears the opposite is true. The old adage “use it or lose it” apparently applies here.

Over the last fifty years, researchers have been looking at the question of whether running is bad for the knees.

One of the oldest studies dates to 1971. Here researchers began studying the children and spouses of the Framingham, Massachusetts Heart Study. Called the Framingham Offspring Cohort, 1,279 volunteers participated in a study of exercise and arthritis, which ultimately found no link between jogging and arthritis.

A 2008 study at Stanford University not only confirmed the Framingham findings, but in a 21-year-long follow-up, the runners “experienced significantly less musculoskeletal disability than did their less-active peers,” according to a Harvard University report on the study. They also found that runners experienced less disability and lived 39 percent longer than those who weren’t as physically active.

An Australian study that same year found subjects who engaged in vigorous exercise had knee cartilage that was thicker and healthier than those who didn’t exercise routinely.

In another study, published in the Journal of Orthpaedic and Sports Physical Therapy in 2017, 10 percent of those who weren’t runners developed osteoarthritis in their knees or hips over the course of the study. Only 3.5 percent of runners did so.

Movement is medicine

What about the frequent reports of runners experiencing knee problems? Experts believe that they would have happened whether subjects were runners or not. Researchers attribute the onset of osteoarthritis to obesity or genes, rather than overuse of the joints.

And one recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology seems to bear this out.

Researchers asked six recreational runners, ages 18-35, to spend 30 minutes running, and then extracted the cushioning synovial fluid from their knees. They found that two cytokine markers for inflammation were lower in the runners than in a control group of non-runners.

“What we now know is that for young, healthy individuals, exercise creates an anti-inflammatory environment that may be beneficial in terms of long-term joint health,” the study’s lead author, Robert Hyldahl, BYU assistant professor of exercise science, said in a statement. He further wrote that the study results indicate exercise may help delay the onset of such joint degenerative diseases as osteoarthritis.

“In fact, a normally functioning joint can withstand and actually flourish under a lot of wear,” James Fries told Time magazine. Fries was the lead researcher on the Stanford study, and is professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford.

He explained that cartilage—the soft connective tissue that surrounds the bones in joints—doesn’t contain arteries that deliver blood along with its rejuvenating dose of oxygen and nutrients. Therefore, cartilage depends on movement to obtain needed nourishment.

 “When you bear weight,” he said, “[the joint] squishes out fluid, and when you release weight, it sucks in fluid,” thus delivering the necessary nutrients to build new cartilage.

Protect yourself regardless

Running, however, does carry some element of risk, including the possibility of stress fractures and soft-tissue injuries. But with proper precautions, these can generally be prevented.

Here are some tips to prevent running injuries:

1. Wear the right shoes

You need to be fitted with a proper pair of running shoes, matched to your gait and foot size. Don’t try to run in regular footwear.

2. Strengthen supporting muscles

To ensure good support for your knees as you run, be sure to exercise all your leg muscles, especially the quads and glutes. 

3. Start slowly

Before you begin each run, always warm up with long, slow stretches to get the blood flowing. As with any form of exercise, you need to build up to full speed gradually. Pace yourself as you start out or if you’re returning to running after a long time away from it.

4. Run correctly

If your strides are too long, you’ll land on your heels, a prime cause of shin splints and joint pain. Shorter strides will allow you to land on mid-foot, minimizing the chances of injury. In addition, a 2018 study found that leaning forward slightly while running can help reduce the stress on your knees. Ensuring proper form will optimize your run.

5. Cross-train

Alternate days of running and days of other forms of exercise to allow muscles and tendons time to heal.

If you have any questions about your body’s ability to withstand any type of exercise, be sure and talk with us.

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