Coronavirus Pandemic

New Guidance on COVID-19 Can Be Confusing

Sometimes it seems as though we need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the changing information and recommendations on COVID-19.

  • Masks/no masks?
  • Boosters? Maybe not, maybe now, maybe later.
  • Quarantine? Yes, no, who, and how long?

Our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter don’t mean to criticize the researchers and public officials who are responsible for keeping us healthy. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is, after all, a disease we’d never seen until early in 2019. No one knew how to deal with it.

And thanks to the combined efforts of scientists around the world, we’ve made tremendous strides in the effort to combat it.

But one thing few counted on was “pandemic fatigue,” which meant many people rapidly grew tired of taking precautions and radically altering their lifestyles to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Which may be what’s behind the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0811-covid-guidance.html

A new approach

This month the CDC relaxed many of its coronavirus recommendations, leaving measures to battle to limit viral spread largely up to individuals.

According to The Washington Post:

  • “No longer do schools and other institutions need to screen apparently healthy students and employees as a matter of course.
  • “The agency is putting less emphasis on social distancing—and the new guidance has dropped the ‘six-foot’ standard.
  • “The agency’s focus now is on highly vulnerable populations and how to protect them—not on the vast majority of people who at this point have some immunity against the virus and are unlikely to become severely ill.”

In releasing the new guidance, the CDC cited improved tools like vaccination, boosters, and treatments to better protect ourselves from the virus.

“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation,” Greta Massetti, a CDC epidemiologist, said in a statement.

“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” she added.

Isolation changes

In one fairly substantial shift, for example, the CDC no longer recommends quarantine if you’re up to date with your vaccines and have been exposed to COVID-19. Instead, you should mask for 10 days and get tested on Day Five.

Additional CDC guidance on isolation includes the following:

  • If you’ve tested positive and have a healthy immune system, regardless of your vaccination status, you should isolate yourself for five days. On Day Six, you can end isolation if you no longer have symptoms or have not had a fever for 24 hours and your symptoms have improved.
  • Once isolation has ended, you should wear a high-quality mask through Day 10. If you test negative on two rapid antigen tests, however, you can stop wearing your mask sooner.
  • Until Day 11 at least, you should avoid visiting or being around anyone who is more likely to have severe outcomes from COVID-19, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

These changes stem from a new statistic, according to Massetti: 95 percent of the U.S. population has at least some level of immunity against the virus, either from vaccination or previous infection.

What about boosters?

As for booster shots, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally decided last month against allowing adults younger than 50 to become eligible for a second booster vaccine (for a total of four mRNA shots).

Currently, only those age 50 and older and children at least 12 years old with impaired immune systems can get a second booster.

This is because the agency expects to have reformulated mRNA boosters available by next month that will contain components from both the original virus and its variants, as well as from the currently circulating (and highly contagious) omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

Meanwhile, the FDA still recommends that anyone under age 50 receive a single booster shot, and people older than 50 or those with weakened immune systems receive a second mRNA booster.

The mask question

No one likes wearing masks, especially in the heat. However, our primary care concierge doctors believe it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if you’re immunocompromised or older than 65.

Especially given the new CDC guidance revisions, there’s no harm in wearing a mask in crowded indoor situations with poor ventilation.

It’s true that we now have effective treatments for COVID-19, but given the risk of long COVID—one recent study found that as many as one in every eight people who contracted it had lingering symptoms—what’s the point in taking unnecessary chances?

It’s up to you, of course, but in a recent interview with The Post, Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, compared the current state of the country to “the Wild West.”

“There are no public health measures at all,” he told the paper.

“We’re in a very peculiar spot, where the risk is vivid and it’s out there, but we’ve let our guard down and we’ve chosen, deliberately, to expose ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable.”

is kratom safe

Use Caution with Kratom

Our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter know that many of our patients are interested in over-the-counter (OTC) alternative treatments for their ailments.

One of the more popular of these is kratom, an herb that has been used for centuries in Asian countries as a way to reduce fatigue and ease various aches and pains. In this country, it is sold in drinks or as supplements and is said to treat such common conditions as anxiety, depression, and opioid withdrawal.

One report estimated that as many as 16 million Americans also use kratom for pain relief in such chronic diseases as lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other similar conditions.

Testimonials from users include such claims as, “Kratom gave me my life back after being addicted to pain pills;” “It has helped me enormously with chronic back pain;” and, “It got me off a 20-plus-year addiction to narcotics and opioids.”

On the other side are statements like these from a former user who told The Washington Post that “kratom was fun—it was like having morphine and cocaine at the same time”—until he got addicted. Withdrawal, he reported, was like “getting ripped apart by fishhooks.”

Agencies fighting it

Various agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have spent the last several years trying to ban it. Six states have already done so, with several others considering it. It is still legal in Florida, but may be banned or controlled in some localities here.

In April, the FDA released a statement warning consumers not to use the herb, Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom:

“FDA is concerned that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”

FDA

Opponents have been buoyed in their arguments by several studies linking kratom to serious side effects.

One such study in 2019 reported that the number of phone calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding adverse effects from kratom have soared, from 13 calls in 2011 to 682 in 2017. Reported effects of kratom overdose included rapid heartbeat, agitation, high blood pressure, seizures, coma, kidney failure, and 11 deaths during the study period. Two of those deaths were attributed to kratom alone, while the other nine occurred in people who combined kratom with other drugs.

Another study on kratom use disorder (KUD) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in March, found that over half of 129 past and current kratom users showed no signs of addiction. But 29.5 percent met the diagnostic criteria for KUD, which includes increased use, tolerance, withdrawal, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and cravings.

Counter-arguments

Proponents attribute these adverse reports to a profit motive on the part of drug companies, overly restrictive U.S. drug policies, and poor research. They say it has been used successfully for thousands of years in Southeast Asia without a problem.

Advocates also maintain that, in these times of widespread and deadly opioid addiction, kratom is an acceptable alternative and that its dangers have been wildly overblown.

In a recent editorial published in the Scientific American, Maia Szalavitz, an author and journalist who focuses on science, public policy, and addiction treatment, writes that kratom “does appear to be far safer than all illegal and most prescription opioids.” She referred to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in 2016 and 2017 of some 27,000 kratom-related overdoses. Of those, kratom was implicated in less than one percent of overdose deaths.

“Moreover, in nearly all overdose deaths associated with kratom, it was accompanied by stronger drugs that kill more often, so it is not clear that it actually played a major role or even any at all,” she wrote.

“For example, around two-thirds of the 152 deaths the CDC studied also involved illicit fentanyl and its analogues, which are thousands of times more potent. In only seven cases was kratom the only only substance identified—and even here, researchers cannot rule out the possibility of undetected drugs,” she added.

Caution warranted

Nevertheless, most medical experts warn that kratom use can have adverse consequences. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “kratom’s potential for serious side effects outweigh its potential benefits.”

It lists the following most common side effects of kratom:

  • aggression
  • altered mental status
  • anxiety and irritability
  • constipation
  • delusion and hallucination
  • drowsiness and sedation
  • dry mouth
  • frequent urination
  • itching
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tongue numbness

More serious side effects can include:

  • cardiac issues, such as heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and high blood pressure
  • encephalopathy (brain disease)
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • insomnia
  • liver damage and liver failure
  • loss of appetite
  • psychosis
  • respiratory depression (difficulty breathing)
  • seizure
  • tremor
  • weight loss

In addition, people going through kratom withdrawal may experience:

  • muscle spasms
  • pain
  • rhabdomyolysis (a condition leading to kidney damage when muscles disintegrate and release a protein into the blood)
  • rigidity
  • seizures
  • tremors

Think twice about kratom

While proponents hope more research will eventually vindicate kratom as a useful supplement, the medical community generally holds that its side effects more than outweigh any potential benefits. It can be especially dangerous when combined with other legal and illegal drugs.

While it’s up to you, we would suggest that our patients not take the risk of using this substance. If you’re thinking of using kratom for any reason, please discuss it with us first. We may be able to help you find other safer treatment options.

Skin Cancer Awareness

What to Know About Sunscreens

Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, our primary care doctors in Jupiter want to remind you of the dangers of sun exposure and remind you of the best way to avoid it.

It’s important to know the facts about skin cancer and the sun, along with exposure to tanning beds, because the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that this year 99,780 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, and that 7,650 people will die from this most deadly form of cancer.

But a proper use of an effective sunscreen can prevent most skin cancers.

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pandemic over

Is the Pandemic Over? Not Quite

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comment that we are “certainly, right now, in this country, out of the pandemic phase” of COVID-19 sparked numerous questions to our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter.

It also seemed to cause a great deal of confusion and misconceptions around the country at large, at least until he clarified his statement the following day.

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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.

Vitamin D Linked to Lower Colon Cancer Risk

Vitamin D Linked to Lower Colon Cancer Risk

In recent news, the topic of colon cancer is buzzing about and your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida, are often asked how to prevent it.

There are numerous ways to avoid contracting colon cancer (third-most common cancer diagnosed among Americans) from regular colon cancer screenings to a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Now researchers possibly discovered another way.

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The Latest Breast Cancer Treatment Recommendations

The Latest Breast-Cancer Treatment Recommendations

If the new breast-cancer treatment recommendations confuse you, your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida, would like to help you sort through what they mean. Across the globe, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. With about 250,000 new cases per year reported and roughly 40,000 deaths, breast cancer affects both women and men.

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healthy lifestyle

Preventative Health Care IS Possible

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin

Heart disease. Cancer. Diabetes.

These conditions affect millions of lives every year in the United States. The news of such an illness can be a devastating blow to patients and their loved ones. Fortunately, it is often possible to avoid such heartache when physicians and patients partner in a commitment to preventive health care.

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