omicron news

What We’ve Learned About the Omicron Variant

As we’ve just passed the second-year anniversary of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter think we should take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come in dealing with this often-deadly disease.

It may not seem like it, because we still have to wear masks many places and haven’t fully returned to pre-pandemic life, but we have made progress.

For instance, we know more about how it spreads (through the air, especially in enclosed spaces), and how to protect ourselves (safe, effective vaccines and high-quality masks). And even though we’re still in the grip of of this still-relatively new coronavirus, and we’ve also found effective ways to treat it (monoclonal antibodies and anti-viral drugs).

Omicron a good thing?

And, believe it or not, the omicron variant of the virus may have turned out to be relatively good news, even though over 2,000 Americans a day are still dying from it.

But because it appears less lethal than its predecessors, omicron may make the pandemic more manageable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a study late last month showing that the omicron variant—which is now the dominant variant both here in the U.S. and around the world—causes less severe illness, fewer hospitalizations, and requires less time in isolation following exposure.

This is partly due to the large numbers of people who have been vaccinated and/or infected with COVID-19, as well as to the fact that the virus appears to concentrate its effects in the upper airways instead of settling deep in the lungs.

The downside is that omicron is far more transmissible than earlier variants or the original virus. This is why so many people are catching it, and why—due to the sheer numbers of infections— hospitals are still being overwhelmed and an average of 2,200 people a day are still dying from the coronavirus.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

But an NBC News analysis of COVID-19 case numbers at the end of January showed that Florida is one of the many states where omicron is no longer surging.

And chief White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that he expects the wave to subside in “most” states by the end of February.”

“As we get into February . . . it is very likely that most of the states in the country will have turned around with their peak and are starting to come down with regard to cases and then obviously hospitalizations,” he said.

While cautioning that “our work is not done,” Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Europe, released a statement two weeks ago that offered a glimmer of hope to a pandemic-weary world.

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” he said in a statement.

“This pandemic, like all other pandemics before it, will end, but it is far too early to relax,” he added.

Effective weapons

One recent setback in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 was the finding from the CDC, confirmed by the drugs’ manufacturers, that two of the most common monoclonal antibodies used to keep at-risk individuals out of the hospital do not work against the omicron variant.

But again, there’s good news on that front, as well, because one monoclonal antibody—sotrovimab—is effective, and is still available at most hospitals even though Florida’s outpatient centers have closed.

Those who have mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 (fatigue, cough, loss of smell or taste, fever) or have underlying risk factors (those over 65, diabetes, obesity, kidney, heart, or lung disease or those who are immunocompromised) can check with area hospitals to see whether they’re offering this treatment.

In addition, other effective weapons in the arsenal against COVID-19 include the intravenous antiviral treatment remdesivir and the newly authorized oral antiviral drugs, Paxlovid or molnupiravir.

Still work to do

Two years in, we still don’t have all the answers, and until more people in this country and around the world are fully vaccinated, SARS-CoV-2 will not be fully manageable.

Each person who remains unvaccinated not only puts themselves at risk, but others around them, as well. And each infection offers the virus another chance to mutate.

Speaking of mutations, you may have heard of another new mutation of the omicron virus that some are calling “son of omicron” or “stealth omicron” because it’s so difficult to detect in PCR tests.

The new variant, designated BA.2 (omicron is BA.1), was first reported in California in November. It has since been seen in isolated cases in Texas as well as other countries. However, while remaining cautious, at this point most virologists don’t think it’s more dangerous or more transmissible than omicron BA.1. We’ll let you know if we learn otherwise.

is popcorn healthy

In Praise of Popcorn

Our concierge doctors in Jupiter sometimes feel bad about all the tasty foods we suggest you avoid if you want to stay healthy. So we thought it would be nice for once if we could bring you some good news about a popular snack food.

When it comes to so-called “junk” foods, popcorn is one you don’t have to feel guilty about: with a couple of caveats, that is, which we’ll explain below. In fact, popcorn prepared the right way is so good for you, it doesn’t even belong on a list that includes cookies, chips, and ice cream.

Tiny Powerhouse

Popcorn by itself is a whole grain that includes the germ, the bran, and the hard outside endosperm. Together these components are packed with nutrients, including protein, vitamin E, several B vitamins, minerals, and healthy oils, along with fiber and antioxidants.

Here are some of the nutrients that popcorn provides:

  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin K
  • niacin
  • thiamin
  • riboflavin
  • pantothenic acid
  • folate

As an added bonus, it’s also naturally low in calories at just 90 calories. In addition, it’s also very filling due to its protein (three grams per three-cup serving) and high fiber content (three grams per three-cup serving), which can aid in weight loss.

Whole grains are an important component in a healthy diet because they’ve been shown to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Other benefits that are attributed to whole grains include lower cholesterol levels and improved digestion.

“When prepared well, popcorn is actually a pretty good snack,” Maya Vadiveloo, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Rhode Island, told the American Heart Association (AHA) News.

“It’s stable. It’s inexpensive. It’s fairly tasty. For people who might be struggling to eat adequate fruits or vegetable or other whole grains, it’s a low-risk snack to start.”

Now for the bad news

Corn was domesticated in Mexico more than 9,000 years ago. And there is some evidence that popcorn has been enjoyed for millennia by people all around the world—anywhere, that is, where corn is a staple of the diet.

Simply heating the kernels causes them to pop, so it’s not surprising that archaeologists have found evidence that early cultures in Central and South America enjoyed this snack. It’s probably safe to say, however, that they didn’t drench their popcorn in melted butter and top it off with handfuls of salt.

And that’s one of the caveats we mentioned above. This wholesome snack food can turn unhealthy pretty quickly when prepared the wrong way, i.e., in microwavable bags, with unhealthy oils, or when loaded up with the wrong toppings.

For example, “Popcorn at the movies is very different than popcorn made at home,” Vadiveloo said. “Even a small movie theater popcorn has significant calories and is very high in salt.

“Sodium is one of the leading risk factors for hypertension [high blood pressure] and stroke in general, so it’s something we do care about from a perspective of heart disease,” she explained, adding that a tub of movie theater popcorn can contain up to 1,090 calories and 2,650 milligrams of sodium.

Keep it healthy

Even if you make it yourself on the stove, however, the oil needed during the cooking process can double the amount of calories, nutritionist Julien Chamoun of RD Nutrition Counseling in New Jersey, tells CNN.

That’s why he recommends an air popper for your popcorn.  Both microwave popcorn and popcorn popped in oil will absorb those oils, so air popping is generally considered the healthiest way to prepare popcorn because it uses no oil at all.

If you don’t want to buy an air popper, however, you can cook it on the stove using healthier oils such as extra virgin olive oil, walnut, avocado, or canola oils, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Avoid palm and coconut oils, because they contain high amounts of saturated fats, and skip corn oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil entirely.

Mexican pop corn with hot sauce and chili powder

Chamoun recommends this method to make 16 cups (about four servings):

½ cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons oil

Pour the oil into a large pot, at least six quarts in volume. Add two or three kernels to the pot, then cover and place over medium-high heat until you hear the kernels pop.

Take the pot off the heat, put in the remaining kernels, and cover the pan. Wait 30 seconds, then return the pot to the burner and cook, shaking the pan frequently to ensure the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom to cook as well as to prevent burning the cooked popcorn, until the popping slows down.

Remove the pan from the burner, lift the lid carefully to allow the steam to escape, then transfer the popcorn to a large bowl. Toss it with a little olive oil or walnut oil to help any toppings stick to the popcorn.

The seasonings you can use are almost limitless, as long as you avoid or at least minimize the usual butter and salt. Try adding garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, nuts, paprika, chili flakes, grated cheese, Italian herbs . . . anything you like that’s low in sugar and salt.

flurona

What is the Double-Trouble ‘Flurona’

Just when we were beginning to think we could see the light at the end of the tunnel on COVID-19, it turns out that the light might be a train coming the other way. Or maybe not. But all signs are pointing to the possibility of a “twindemic” of the flu and the coronavirus hitting at the same time this winter.

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insomnia

New Approaches Help Combat Insomnia

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. But our primary care doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter find our patients often don’t let us know when they’re having trouble sleeping. They either decide it’s not a big deal or they think the only remedy we can offer is sleeping pills.

While you might need to use medication in the short term, advances are made every day in the treatment of this potentially harmful condition.

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omicron variant

Omicron Variant Still Largely a Mystery

There’s still much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 omicron variant. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected just over a month ago. Our concierge primary care doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter have gotten questions from so many of our patients. We wanted to bring you up to date on what we know at the moment.

Health officials are conducting laboratory tests and reviewing real-world data as the variant spreads. However, it will be several weeks before we know precisely what we’re dealing with. There are some early indications, however, that can allow us to make a few assumptions.

How different is omicron?

The new variant originally caught the world’s attention in South Africa. Researchers there detected as many as 30 mutations on the shell of the coronavirus. 

In the intervening weeks, we’ve learned that omicron is highly contagious, even more so than delta. While delta’s transmissibility has been compared to that of chicken pox, omicron has been spreading much more rapidly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released an update in mid-December. It noted the omicron variant is spreading faster than any previously detected strain of the coronavirus.

More benign?

There’s some possible good news. So far as real-world data have been able to determine, the omicron variant appears to trigger slightly less severe cases than delta. This information is very preliminary and is based on a study in South Africa where the infection and vaccination rates differ from that in the U.S.

Another small study this month by the CDC examined 43 people infected with the omicron variant. Three-quarters of the group received vaccinations, and a third of those also had booster shots. One person from the group was hospitalized for two days. The rest experienced cough, fatigue, congestion, or a runny nose.

While noting the report was “encouraging,” John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, told NBC News that, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Only four cases [in the study] were aged over 65, while 29 were under 40. Young people generally have milder infections, whatever the variant,” he added. “So we don’t yet know what omicron might do in much older and more vulnerable populations.”

The variant is not benign, however. In the middle of the month, Britain reported its first death from the omicron variant. Since then, reports of possible omicron-related deaths grew.

Omicron now surpassed delta as the dominant variant due its rapid spread.

What about the vaccines?

The question of vaccine effectiveness against omicron is a case of good news/bad news, or perhaps vice versa. The bad news, according to the South African study, the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing illness dropped from around 93 percent to about 30 percent against the omicron variant. It still provided about 70 percent protection against hospitalization, though.

The good news is, the study found that the vaccine still offers as much as 70 percent effectiveness against hospitalization with any current variant of COVID-19, including omicron. Boosters increase this protection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that boosters will be enough protection against the omicron variant. He didn’t see a need for a new vaccine specifically designed to fight omicron.

“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” he said at a White House coronavirus briefing. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”

Vaccines necessary

At the same time, he warned those unvaccinated are still at high risk of contracting COVID-19. This includes the delta and omicron variant.

“If you are unvaccinated, you are very vulnerable—not only to the existing delta surge we are experiencing, but also to omicron,” he said.

Vaccines continue to offer the best protection against severe illness and death against any variant of the coronavirus, including omicron.

“[Omicron] may be a more mild variant but we just don’t know yet. It’s too soon,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, told NBC News. For now, “if you’re vaccinated, chances are you’re going to have a milder course,” he added.

Do we still need masks?

One question we often get from our patients is whether they need to keep wearing masks once they’ve been vaccinated.

Here’s what the CDC says: “If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection and prevent possibly spreading COVID-19 to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

We would add that it’s also a good idea to wear one if you are indoors in a public place where you’re not sure how many there have been vaccinated, especially if few others are wearing masks. Until we know more about the omicron variant, wearing a mask for now offers added protection against breakthrough cases.

healthy resolutions

7 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

It’s easy to make healthy resolutions for the New Year. We’re almost compelled to, because the flip of the calendar offers the promise of wiping the slate clean and starting a whole new life for ourselves.

But often, our best intentions fall by the wayside by the end of January. So our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter would like to suggest a few healthy resolutions you can make that will be easy to stick to but can still make a significant difference in your health in the coming year.

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covid boosters

What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Boosters

Our primary care concierge doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter have been receiving many frantic calls from our patients about the omicron variant of the coronavirus. So let us say right up front that there’s no need to panic, and likely no need to be especially concerned at this point.

The fact is, it will be another week or two at least before researchers can get begin to get answers on what this new variant means in the fight against the pandemic. Early indications show the vaccinations will offer at least some measure of protection against it, and possibly a good deal.

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