World at risk of measles outbreaks as COVID-19 disrupts infant shots, report says

(Reuters) – The risk of measles outbreaks is high after more than 22 million infants missed their first vaccine doses during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.

Reported measles cases fell by more than 80% last year compared with 2019, but a higher number of children missing their vaccine doses leaves them vulnerable, a joint report by the WHO and the U.S. CDC showed on Wednesday.

About 3 million more children missed the shots in 2020 than the previous year, the largest increase in two decades, threatening global efforts to eventually eradicate the highly infectious viral disease.

“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” the U.S. CDC’s immunization head, Kevin Cain, said.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known, more so than COVID-19, Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can be especially dangerous for babies and young children, with pneumonia among the possible complications.

In 2019, reported cases of measles were at their highest in almost a quarter of a century.

The latest report said 24 measles vaccination campaigns originally planned for 2020 in 23 countries were postponed, leaving more than 93 million people at risk.

“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals.

“Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another,” she said.

(Reporting by Amna Karimi and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

Drug combination improves COVID-19 pneumonia outcomes; five genes linked to severe disease

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) -The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Two-drug combo improves COVID-19 pneumonia outcomes

For hospitalized COVID-19 patients with pneumonia, treatment with Gildead Sciences Inc’s antiviral remdesivir and the Eli Lilly and Co arthritis drug baricitinib was more effective than remdesivir alone, according to a clinical trial published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Overall, the 515 patients who received baricitinib – sold under the brand name Olumiant – along with remdesivir recovered in an average of seven days, compared to eight days for the 518 who got remdesivir alone. People treated with both drugs also had fewer serious adverse events, plus 30% higher odds of showing improved health status after two weeks. They also had a lower risk of death within four weeks of starting treatment – 5.1% versus 7.8% with just remdesivir. The effect was most pronounced among patients who needed high amounts of extra oxygen but were not sick enough to require ventilators to breathe for them. In this group, the average time to recovery was 10 days with the two-drug treatment compared to 18 days with remdesivir alone. The study authors note that baricitinib, a pill, is a generally safe drug that does not interact with other medications.

Five genes linked with severe COVID-19

Scientists have linked the most severe form of COVID-19 with five genes that affect lung inflammation and the body’s ability to fight off viruses. Their findings, from a study of 2,700 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across Britain, point to several existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat people who risk becoming critically ill. The genes – called IFNAR2, TYK2, OAS1, DPP9 and CCR2 – partially explain why some people become desperately sick with COVID-19, while others are not affected, said Kenneth Baillie of Edinburgh University, coauthor of the study published on Friday in Nature. The new information should help scientists design clinical trials of medicines that target specific antiviral and anti-inflammatory pathways. Among those with the most potential, Baillie said, should be a class of anti-inflammatory drugs called JAK inhibitors, including Eli Lilly’s arthritis drug baricitinib, which has been found to help hospitalized pneumonia patients in combination with Gilead’s remdesivir.

Online tool estimates COVID-19 mortality risk

A new online tool helps to estimate individuals’ risk of dying from COVID-19 depending on where they live in the United States, which could provide useful information on which individuals should be prioritized for early vaccinations. The calculator, developed by Johns Hopkins University researchers, incorporates a variety of factors, including age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic conditions, underlying medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes or cancer, and local pandemic intensity to produce estimates of adults’ COVID-19 mortality risk. Currently, it does not incorporate information on occupation, such as whether individuals are frontline workers, which may increase risk, said Nilanjan Chatterjee, whose team developed the calculator. The researchers reported on Friday in Nature Medicine that they found large variations in risk across U.S. cities and counties. “This information may be helpful for local policy makers to understand the need for vaccine allocations for local communities,” Chatterjee said.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Kate Kelland; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Lung radiation shows promise for COVID-19 pneumonia; smoking raises risks

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Lung radiation may hasten COVID-19 pneumonia recovery

A low dose of radiation to the lungs of COVID-19 pneumonia patients can help them recover more quickly, a small study suggests. Doctors at Emory University in Atlanta treated 10 such patients with lung radiation and compared them to 10 patients of similar ages who received usual care, without radiation. With radiation, the average time to significant improvement was three days, compared to 12 days in the control group.

Other potential effects included a shorter average time to hospital discharge (12 days with radiation versus 20 days without it) and a lower risk of mechanical ventilation (10% with radiation versus 40% without it). But those two differences were too small to rule out the possibility they were due to chance, the researchers found.

The radiation group was “a little older, a little sicker, and their lungs were a little more damaged … but despite that we saw a strong signal of efficacy,” Emory’s Dr. Mohammad Khan told Reuters.

Khan noted that in the radiation group, COVID-19 medications were withheld before and after the treatment, so the results reflect the effect of the radiation alone.

“Radiotherapy,” Khan said, “can reduce the inflammation in the lungs of COVID-19 patients and reduce the cytokines that are causing the inflammation.” Cytokines are proteins made by the immune system. The results on the first five patients have been accepted for publication by the journal Cancer.

The results on all 10 were posted on Tuesday ahead of peer review on the website medRxiv. The researchers have launched a randomized controlled trial of the treatment and expect to eventually include multiple centers.

Smoking may boost severe COVID-19 risk among young adults

Close to one third of young U.S. adults appear to have an elevated risk for severe COVID-19, with smoking their strongest risk factor, according to survey data.

Researchers looked at data from more than 8,000 participants, ages 18 to 25, in the nationally representative National Health Interview Survey for 2016 to 2018. They also looked at participants’ medical conditions identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as making people of any age “medically vulnerable” to severe illness from the coronavirus.

Among these are diabetes, heart disease, immune problems, smoking, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and respiratory diseases. Overall, 32% of the young adults surveyed were seen as medically vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Among non-smoking young adults, however, only 16% were seen as medically vulnerable.

“Efforts to reduce smoking and e-cigarette use among young adults would likely reduce their medical vulnerability to severe illness,” the researchers said on Monday in the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “Our analysis suggests that risk from smoking and e-cigarette use is highest among young adults who are male, white, and lower income and who are fully or partially uninsured.”

Coronavirus may rarely pass through placenta

It is unclear whether the coronavirus can pass through the womb from mother to fetus.

On Tuesday, doctors in France reported a very rare case that suggests transmission through the placenta may be possible. In the journal Nature Communications, they described a baby born prematurely to a mother with COVID-19. They found the virus in placental tissue as well as in the mother’s and baby’s blood, which suggests that trans-placental transmission of the novel coronavirus virus may be possible, although further studies are needed. Both mother and baby recovered well.

Marian Knight, a professor of maternal and child population health at Oxford University, said the case should not be a major worry for pregnant women. Among the many thousands of babies born to mothers infected with the virus, only around 1% to 2% have been reported to also have had a positive test, Knight said.

Promising results from early trial of new vaccine

Moderna Inc’s experimental vaccine for COVID-19, mRNA-1273, was safe and provoked immune responses in all 45 healthy volunteers in a first-in-humans phase 1 study, researchers reported on Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Volunteers who got two doses of the vaccine had levels of virus-killing antibodies that exceeded the average levels seen in recovered COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose researchers developed Moderna’s vaccine candidate, called the results good news. Fauci noted that the study found no serious adverse events and the vaccine produced “reasonably high” levels of virus-killing or neutralizing antibodies.

“If your vaccine can induce a response comparable with natural infection, that’s a winner,” Fauci told Reuters. “That’s why we’re very pleased by the results.” A phase 2 trial testing the vaccine’s efficacy in a larger group started in May.

A much larger phase 3 trial to confirm efficacy and identify rare side effects will begin this month, ultimately including 30,000 participants. Separately, early-stage human trial data on a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University will be published on July 20, the Lancet medical journal said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Kate Kelland and Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Will Dunham)

Faith Healing Family To Be Sentenced For Child’s Death

A Pennsylvania couple that believes in divine healing is facing 20 years in prison today after pleading no contest to a third-degree murder charge after a second child died from pneumonia.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible are being sentenced today for the death of their 8-month-old son Brandon.

The couple had been on probation for ten years after the death of another child due to pneumonia.  A part of the probation for the conviction on involuntary manslaughter was an order that they seek medical attention for any one of their children who fall ill in spite of their religious faith.

The Schaibles belong to a small Pentecostal church in Philadelphia where the church’s pastor said the deaths of the child were due to a spiritual lack in the couple’s lives.  The pastor said none of the church’s families will seek medical care.

Lawyers for the couple say that their religious beliefs will be prominently brought up at the sentencing.

The couple has seven surviving children.

UK Raises Alarm On Superbugs

The UK is using the latest meeting of leaders from the G8 countries to sound the alarm over “superbugs” that are increasingly resistant to the use of antibiotics.

Scientists have stated action is necessary because of the rise worldwide of drug-resistant strains of bacteria including those that cause tuberculosis and pneumonia. Officials say the soaring rates of previously treatable diseases could turn into a public health crisis. Continue reading

Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Warns of “Catastrophic Threat” From Superbugs

Britain’s chief medical officer is warning that the world could find itself “in a health system not dissimilar to the early 19th century at some point” as more bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Dame Sally Davies is calling for urgent action not only in the UK but around the world. She reported a worldwide increase in e coli and klebsiella, which causes pneumonia. Continue reading