Blog Posts

FDA Asks for Plasma Donations to Fight COVID-19

August 24th, 2020

In an effort to further combat the spread of Covid-19, the US Food and Drug Administration is encouraging people who have completely recovered from the virus to donate their plasma to help hospitalized patients who are currently fighting the virus.

The FDA made this request on Sunday, August 23, when it gave emergency approval to the expanded use of antibody-rich convalescent plasma for coronavirus patients.

People who have had COVID-19 and completely recovered from it now have plasma that contains COVID-19 antibodies, the FDA reports. These antibodies can help patients with COVID-19 fight the disease, the FDA says.

“Based on scientific evidence, the FDA concluded that this product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the FDA says.

The use of convalescent plasma, or plasma collected from people who have recovered from the disease, is not new. It has been used on more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients already, which is why the FDA’s request amounts to an expansion of the therapy.

The FDA cited at least a dozen studies as support for its recommendation, adding that “it is reasonable to believe” that convalescent plasma “may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some hospitalized patients.”

Adding that early treatment is critical, an FDA official said that in patients 80 years or younger, those who received convalescent plasma within three days of diagnosis were about 35 percent more likely to be alive 30 days later than those who did not received the plasma.

Accounting for more than 55 percent of the blood’s physical makeup, plasma is the largest of the four components in a person’s blood, the part that carries all the other blood components throughout the body.

The FDA is urging recovered COVID-19 patients to donate their plasma because plasma is not like a drug that can be manufactured into millions of doses. It can only be obtained through donations from a small collection of people.

In order to donate plasma, former COVID-19 patients must have received their original diagnosis through a laboratory test, be at least 14 days removed from positive infection of the virus and meet all other donor qualifications.

The spread of COVID-19, which has been cited as the cause of more than 175,000 deaths in the US alone, has “caused unprecedented challenges to the US blood supply,” according to the FDA, which says one plasma donation can save as many as three lives.

“You can help ensure that blood continues to be available for patients by finding a blood donor center near you to schedule your donation,” the FDA concludes.

For further information about donating plasma, the FDA encourages potential donors to visit the following websites:

AAB

America’s Blood Centers

American Red Cross

Armed Services Blood Program

Blood Centers of America

Immunization: It’s Not Just For Kids Anymore

August 17th, 2020

Most people think immunization is just for kids. But National Immunization Awareness Month, which is celebrated in August, underscores the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. After all, the old adage that says “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true throughout life.

The term immunization refers to the action of making people resistant (immune) to certain infectious diseases, many of which can be very serious or even deadly. Immunization is typically accomplished through inoculation with vaccines.

If you’re like me, you probably received a series of vaccines when you were a child. Over the years, the schedule of vaccines given to children and teens has evolved as doctors have learned more about various infectious diseases and new and improved vaccines become available.

For the current guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Scheduled for Ages 18 and Younger.  And here, the American Academy of Family Physicians describes the recommended vaccines in greater detail: Childhood Vaccines: What They Are and Why Your Child Needs Them.

Most vaccines are made using a weakened version of the infectious germs, such as bacteria or viruses, that cause the disease, or materials that resemble those germs. Vaccines work by prompting your body’s own defense against disease, your immune system, to produce infection-fighting cells to attack the invading germs.

To better understand how vaccines work, let’s take a closer look at how the immune system fights infection.

When germs invade your body for the first time, your immune system uses certain white blood cells to destroy them. Special white cells called macrophages consume and digest the germs. B-lymphocytes produce disease-fighting antibodies that attack the germs, and T-lymphocytes attack cells in the body that have already been infected by the bacteria or virus.

Once antibodies are created in response to an initial infection, your body keeps them and uses them to fight future infections with the same germ. That’s how vaccines provide protection for the long haul. Many vaccines protect you for years, some for most of your life. But sometimes, a vaccine loses its effectiveness over time. In that case, you may require a “booster” later in life.

Adults need boosters of certain vaccines they received as children, such as the Tdap, which is the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), and the vaccine against hepatitis B. People of all ages should get a tetanus booster every 10 years. A booster is recommended any time you’re exposed to the tetanus toxin as well.

It is also recommended that adults receive vaccines for diseases such as influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia and shingles. Here’s a rundown of the recommended vaccines for adults. In addition, vaccination against diseases that are common in other countries is recommended before you travel outside the US. Here’s more information about vaccines for travelers.

Immunization is important for two reasons: It protects you from disease, and it protects the people around you. How vaccines protect you has already been explored, but how do vaccines protect your community?

If a large number of people in a community are vaccinated and immune to a disease, the germs that cause it can’t spread from person to person as easily. Spreading germs this way can make the people around you sick and lead to an all-out outbreak of the disease. The protection that results from community-wide vaccination is called herd immunity.

There are some people who don’t get vaccinated because they fear side effects. Most vaccines cause only miner side effects such as a mild fever or soreness at the site of the injection. And there is no credible evidence that vaccination leads to autism, as some people suggest.

All in all, immunization is a safe and effective way to protect against many serious, possibly deadly, infectious diseases. Thanks to immunization, diseases such as polio and smallpox are near obliteration in this country.

Keeping Americans safe from those diseases and many others is why spreading the word about immunization is a priority of National Immunization Awareness Month.

Stomach Stillness

August 10th, 2020

How well do you know your digestive system? Your stomach is an important part of it. The stomach is a hollow organ made up mainly of muscle. It takes in food that is eaten, mixes it up and breaks it down into smaller pieces. What’s left is passed from the stomach to the small intestine, where digestion continues.

But sometimes, the muscles in the stomach or the nerves that control those muscles don’t work correctly. That slows the movement of the partially digested food into the small intestine. This condition is called gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying, and it can interfere with the entire digestive process, which can lead to symptoms.

It’s uncertain how many Americans actually suffer with gastroparesis. Its symptoms are similar to those of other gastrointestinal disorders such as functional dyspepsia (recurrent indigestion) and chronic nausea. Although it is estimated that up to five million people in the United States have gastroparesis, many remain undiagnosed.

Symptoms of gastroparesis include feeling full shortly after starting a meal, feeling full long after eating, nausea, vomiting, excessive bloating, excessive belching, pain in your upper belly (abdomen), heartburn and poor appetite. Weight loss may occur in severe cases of gastroparesis, and it can promote gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and malnutrition.

Eating greasy, high-fat foods and large amounts of high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can make gastroparesis symptoms worse.

The most common cause of gastroparesis is diabetes, which damages the nerves that control the stomach. Certain nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, can lead to gastroparesis as well, as can some rheumatologic diseases such as scleroderma. But in most cases, the cause is unknown. In those cases, it is called idiopathic gastroparesis.

If you had surgery on your esophagus, stomach or small intestine, which can result in an injury to your vagus nerve, the main nerve controlling the muscles of the stomach and small intestine, you are at greater risk for gastroparesis. People who have received radiation therapy for cancer are also at greater risk.

Certain medicines, including narcotic pain medicines, some antidepressants and some medicines for treating overactive bladder, can lead to delayed gastric emptying but don’t cause gastroparesis.

If you experience symptoms of gastroparesis, your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and review of your health history. The doctor may use certain tests to aid in the diagnosis of gastroparesis. These include blood and imaging tests and, most commonly, a gastric emptying study, which determines the time it takes for food to move through your stomach.

For most people, gastroparesis is a chronic health condition in which symptoms come and go over time, so treatment is aimed at easing symptoms and improving your overall quality of life. Treatment options for gastroparesis include diet modification, medication and, in severe cases, enteral nutrition.

Eating small, more frequent meals can improve the movement of food from your stomach into the small intestine because less food is easier to digest. Eating less high-fat and high-fiber food also helps, as does chewing your food thoroughly. It’s also recommended that people with gastroparesis eat their larger meals earlier in the day.

The use of medications that stimulate the stomach muscles to work is another treatment option. These medications include the oral drugs cisapride, domperidone, metoclopramide and erythromycin, which is a type of antibiotic that, in lower doses, also stimulates contraction of the muscles of the stomach and small intestine. In severe cases of gastroparesis, you may receive medications intravenously (IV).

Severe gastroparesis can cause dehydration and malnutrition. When this occurs, your doctor may give you liquid food directly into your small intestine. This is called enteral nutrition. The two most common methods for delivering enteral nutrition are the nasojejunal tube, which is placed through your nose and advanced to your small intestine, and jejunostomy, which is inserted through your abdomen and into your small intestine.

If you have gastroparesis, diet modification and medication will likely be all you need to manage your symptoms and live a higher quality of life.

It’s a SMAall World

August 4th, 2020

August is typically one of the hottest months of the year, so today is an excellent time to stay indoors in the air conditioning and read a blog. The topic of this one is a genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) that primarily affects infants and children and, more rarely, adults. August is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month. 

SMA is a neuromuscular disorder. It is a progressive disease that destroys motor neurons, the nerve cells that control muscle movement. With SMA, motor neurons in the spinal cord are affected. As a result, the muscles begin to waste away, or atrophy. Over time, this takes away a person’s ability to walk, eat or breathe.

Approximately one in every 6,000 to 10,000 babies worldwide is born with SMA. It is generally believed that as many as 25,000 American children and adults have SMA, which is the leading genetic cause of death in infants and toddlers. It is estimated that more than 75 million Americans are carriers of the mutated gene that leads to SMA. That’s nearly one in every 40 people.

In almost all cases, SMA is caused by the insufficient production of a protein necessary for motor neuron function called survival motor neuron (SMN). SMN is primarily produced by the SMN1 gene located on chromosome 5. The SMN2 gene also produces SMN but in smaller quantities.

In children who have SMA, both of their SMN1 genes are mutated or missing, and their SMN2 genes don’t make enough SMN to compensate. Without adequate SMN, the motor neurons in the spinal cord begin to wither and die, leading to debilitating and sometimes fatal muscle weakness.

Some forms of SMA are not linked to SMN1, chromosome 5 or SMN deficiency. These forms of SMA vary greatly in severity and in the muscles affected. SMN-related SMA primarily affects the proximal muscles, those closest to the center of the body. Other forms primarily affect the distal muscles, those farthest away from the body’s center.

SMA is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means that both copies of the SMN1 genes in each cell must be mutated. To inherit SMA, both parents must carry the mutated gene and pass it along to their children. When both parents are carriers of the mutated gene, a child has a 25 percent chance of being born with SMA.

In SMN-related SMA, there is wide variability in age of onset, symptoms and rate of progression. To account for the differences, SMA is classified into four types. The age at which SMA symptoms begin roughly correlates with the degree to which motor neuron function is affected. The earlier the age of onset, the greater the impact on function.

Type I SMA, also called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, is a severe form with muscle weakness evident at birth or within the first few months. Most children with type I SMA cannot control their head movements or sit without help. They often have swallowing problems, which cause feeding difficulties that ultimately impair growth. They also experience breathing problems. Most children with type I SMA don’t survive past early childhood due to respiratory failure.

Children with type II SMA, also called Dubowitz disease, develop muscle weakness between the ages of 6 and 12 months. While those with this type can often sit on their own, they typically cannot stand or walk unaided. They often have tremors, scoliosis and respiratory muscle weakness that can be life-threatening. Still life expectancy for children with type II SMA can range from early childhood to adulthood, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition.

Type III SMA, also called Kugelberg-Welander disease, is a mild form of the condition. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 18 months to early adulthood. Those with this type learn to stand and walk, but often lose these abilities later in life. They generally experience mild muscle weakness and are at high risk for respiratory infections. Most people with this type have near-normal life expectancies.

Type IV, or adult-onset SMA, is rare and generally does not present until people are in their 20s or 30s. People with this type of SMA can walk throughout life but typically experience mild to moderate muscle weakness, tremors and mild breathing problems. People with type IV SMA have a normal life expectancy.

SMA is typically diagnosed using a blood test that looks for the SMN1 gene. The doctor will recommend this blood test if your child’s symptoms and diagnostic workup suggest SMA. The doctor may also order an electrical study called electromyography (EMG) or a muscle biopsy to confirm the SMA diagnosis.

In July 2018, SMA screening was added to the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel for newborns. This helps ensure that every newborn baby is screened for SMA, which permits early access to life-changing and even life-saving interventions.

Currently, there is no cure for SMA. Treatment focuses on easing symptoms, preventing complications and improving quality of life. Treatments used are based on the type of SMA, the severity of the condition and your child’s age. They can range from feeding and breathing tubes to orthopedic braces, wheelchairs and physical and occupational therapy.

In December 2016, nusinersen (Spinraza) was approved by the FDA for treating all four types of SMN-related SMA in children and adults. Spinraza may be effective at slowing, stopping or possibly reversing SMA symptoms. Then in May 2019, the FDA approved Zolgensma, the first gene replacement therapy for a neuromuscular disease. Research on additional treatments for SMA is ongoing.

Iron Overload

July 20th, 2020

Every year, Americans observe Hemochromatosis Screening and Awareness Month in July, and this year is no exception. Hemochromatosis is a big word for a disorder in which you absorb more iron from the food you eat than your body needs for optimal function. It’s essentially iron overload.

Everyone needs some iron. It’s an important nutrient that helps the hemoglobin in your blood carry oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues. But if you absorb too much, it stores up in your joints and organs, particularly your liver, heart and pancreas. If hemochromatosis goes untreated, your organs won’t be able to handle the extra iron. They can become damaged and eventually fail.

There are two types of hemochromatosis: primary and secondary. Primary hemochromatosis is caused by a defect in the genes that control how much iron is absorbed from food. Secondary hemochromatosis results from another disease or condition such as thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, anemia or chronic alcoholism. The primary type is much more common and the focus of this blog.

Hemochromatosis is one of the most common hereditary disorders in the United States, affecting more than one million Americans. It is more common in Caucasians of Northern European descent.

Symptoms typically appear in men between the ages of 30 and 50. They generally do not appear in women until after age 50, or after menopause, because women lose iron from the blood loss of menstruation and childbirth.

Chronic fatigue and joint pain are the most common complaints of people with hemochromatosis. But diagnosis is usually not made right away because these are symptoms of many other disorders as well. Pain in the knuckles and middle finger, referred to as the Iron Fist, is the only symptom specific to hemochromatosis.

Other symptoms of hemochromatosis include lack of energy, abdominal pain, loss of sex drive, heart flutters, weight loss, memory fog, weakness and an abnormal coloring of the skin. It may appear gray or bronzish.

Diagnosis begins with a detailed medical history. Your doctor will ask if anyone in your family has had the disorder or carries the defective genes. A thorough physical examination, including a check of the liver and spleen for swelling, is also completed. Your doctor will likely order blood tests to determine the iron level in your blood. Your doctor may recommend genetic testing to search for the defective genes.

Treatments for hemochromatosis include therapeutic phlebotomy, iron chelation therapy, dietary changes and treatment for complications. Phlebotomy is a procedure that removes blood – and as a result, excess iron – from your body. The process is similar to donating blood, but is typically done at more frequent intervals until your iron level is stabilized. After that, maintenance phlebotomies are completed on a routine basis

Iron chelation therapy uses medication to remove excess iron from your body. This is an excellent option if you’re unable to routinely have your blood removed. The medication can be injected at your doctor’s office or taken orally at home.

Since iron is absorbed from the food you eat, changes in your diet are necessary to limit the amount of iron you consume. Iron-rich foods include red meats such as beef, venison, lamb and buffalo; blue fin tuna; organ meats; and fortified breakfast cereals.

Finally, any complications that result from too much iron in your organs, including liver disease, diabetes and heart problems, can be treated as neededour prognosis depends on the amount of organ damage that occurred by the time you were diagnosed. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent or sometimes reverse complications of hemochromatosis. With early intervention, a normal lifespan is possible.

If organ damage has already occurred, treatment may prevent further damage and improve life expectancy, but it may not be able to reverse existing damage. If hemochromatosis is left untreated, it can lead to severe organ damage and even death.

If someone in your family history has hemochromatosis, consider getting a genetic test to screen for the defective genes. Having the genes doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop the disorder, but at least you’ll know if you can pass on the genes to your children.

Youth at Risk

July 17th, 2020

As the summer rages on, coronavirus infection rates continue to climb across the country. States such as Texas, Arizona and Florida are seeing record spikes on an almost daily basis. As of July 15, there were more than 3.41 million infections and at least 134,000 deaths from the virus in the US, and it’s not done.

Unfortunately, in the midst of all this bad news another negative trend is emerging. Some states are seeing an increase in the number of young people being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. That flies in the face of a commonly held belief that young people don’t get seriously ill from the coronavirus.

It remains true that the majority of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 are older Americans, and the death rate in the younger population is still very low. But the new reports from hospitals across the country are proving not only that more young people are getting infected but that they’re also getting sick enough to require hospitalization.

At one Arizona hospital, six COVID-19 patients in their 20s were admitted by a physician during one shift on Sunday. Most of those patients, the physician noted, were young, healthy individuals before contracting the virus. Across Arizona, people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 20 percent of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

At a Houston hospital, more than 60 percent of the patients hospitalized by the coronavirus in March and April were over the age of 55, while about 20 percent were under 55. In June and July, the percentage of patients under 50 climbed to 40 percent.

The rising infection rate in younger people may be explained by the fact that a high percentage are overweight and have a history of smoking or vaping. These risk factors can contribute to the development of a severe illness from the coronavirus. Young people are also more likely to gather in large crowds, attend parties and shun social distancing, believing they are immune to the virus.

And then there’s Florida, one of the worst coronavirus hotspots. According to a report released July 10, at least 31 percent of children who were tested for the coronavirus recorded positive. As part of a state initiate, 54,022 Florida residents under 18 were tested and 16,797 tests came back positive. The positivity rate for Florida’s entire population is approximately 11 percent.

This report comes as Florida, along with many other states, debates the risk of returning students to school this fall. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children and adolescents are “less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease” from COVID-19 infection. But they can still carry the virus and infect others.

In May, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory about a severe inflammatory condition discovered in children believed to be associated with the coronavirus called MIS-C. Florida’s pediatric report notes there have been 13 cases of MIS-C in children under 18 in the state.

To be fair, not all states have experienced a rise in infections and hospitalizations of younger patients. Some states, such as Colorado and Idaho, report that their age distribution has remained fairly flat. In California, the average age of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased, but only slightly, from 64 at the beginning of the pandemic to 57 in early July.

Another key finding in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 is that the most disproportionately affected young people are those of color, especially those who have underlying medical conditions. And young people of color are more likely to experience chronic health conditions associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.

Common chronic conditions affecting minorities include diabetes, obesity, asthma, hypertension and heart disease. These conditions increase the risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. They affect people of color, including young people, at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites, putting them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 infections.

For everyone’s sake, continue to practice the recommended safety precautions: Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask in public and stay 6 feet away from others.

COVID-19 Statistics

July 17th, 2020

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our state, nation and world changes daily. The staff at Florida Health Care News aim to provide our readers with the latest information on the spread of the coronavirus. To help us do that, we are providing updated statistics on confirmed, fatal and recovered cases in Florida, the US and across the globe.

The statistics reported here are collected from multiple trusted and reliable sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and national and state public health departments. The data are updated approximately every 10 minutes. Continue to visit this site for an up-to-date report on pandemic cases.

Boning Up on Sarcoma

July 14th, 2020

Summer is now in full swing and some of us are looking for creative ways to beat the heat. Here’s an opportunity to take a break and get a little education at the same time.

July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, so sit back and read about this form of cancer that accounts for only one percent of all adult cancers but is rather prevalent in children, accounting for about 20 percent of all pediatric cancers.

The Sarcoma Foundation of America states that sarcoma is cancer that arises from connective tissue, “or the cells that hold the body together.” These include cells of the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, bones, fat, tendons and cartilage. The Foundation reports that there are hundreds of different types of sarcomas that arise from different types of cells.

Sarcoma can be divided into two broad categories, non-soft tissue sarcoma, including bone sarcoma, or osteosarcoma, which is soft tissue sarcoma. It’s estimated that in 2020, about 13,130 people will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma and about 5,350 people will die from it. In addition, an estimated 800 to 900 people of all ages will be diagnosed with osteosarcoma. About half of those will be children and teens.

The most common types of sarcoma found in adults are undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma, which most often affects the arms and legs; liposarcoma, which involves malignant tumors of fat tissue, and leiomyosarcoma, which is cancer that starts in smooth muscle tissue.

The most common type of sarcoma in children is osteosarcoma. Other common sarcomas in children include rhabdomyosarcoma, tumors of the skeletal muscles, and Ewing’s sarcoma, cancer that occurs principally in the long bones of the arms and legs, the pelvis and the ribs, but can also occur in soft tissues.

In general, sarcoma doesn’t cause any outward symptoms until a noticeable lump, or tumor, develops that causes pain. Sarcoma affecting the gastrointestinal tract can lead to blood in the stool or black, tarry stools. Osteosarcoma tumors can cause certain symptoms including localized pain in the affected bone, radiating pain in the area surrounding the affected bone, swelling, limping if the leg is affected and reduced mobility.

The cause of sarcoma is unclear, but there are certain factors that put a person at greater risk for developing sarcoma. Previous radiation therapy in high doses has been found to contribute to the development of sarcoma in some people.

Exposure to toxic chemicals used in herbicides, wood preservatives and plastic manufacturing is a risk factor as well. Certain inherited diseases are also associated with an increased risk. The human herpesvirus 8 is known to cause a type of sarcoma called Kaposi’s sarcoma, which mainly affects the skin but can occur in other tissues.

Diagnosing sarcoma begins with a complete personal and family medical history followed by a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as x-rays, CT, MRI or PET scans to get a better look inside your body. The doctor will likely take a biopsy of the tumor to confirm that it is cancerous and to establish the stage and grade of your cancer. This is done to help guide treatment decisions.

Treatment for sarcoma may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. These treatments may be performed alone or in combination for the best results. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used either before surgery to try to shrink the tumors or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells after the tumors are removed.

Targeted drug therapy attacks the parts of cancer cells that make them different from normal, healthy cells. The drugs used for this therapy are different from the drugs used for standard chemotherapy and have different side effects. Targeted therapy drugs affect the way cancer cells grow, divide, repair themselves or interact with other cells.

As with other types of cancer, the outlook for people with sarcoma is better when the cancer is found and treated early. There are no screening tests for sarcoma, so the best thing you can do is see your doctor immediately if you begin to experience any of the symptoms. This way, treatment can be started right away.

Always be mindful of changes in your body, and don’t be shy about bringing them to your doctor’s attention.

Safe Under the Sun

July 8th, 2020

A few precautions can keep your skin safe this summer.

Summer is here and with it comes an increased desire to get out of the house and do something outdoors. That desire may be even stronger this year, what with so many isolating themselves at home in an effort to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

Before venturing outside, though, it’s always smart to take into account the risks associated with exposure to the sun and its potentially harmful ultraviolet rays. That’s why July has been named UV Safety Awareness Month.

UV light is a form of radiation emitted naturally by the sun, which produces three different UV wavelengths. One of those wavelengths, UVC, is blocked by the ozone layer that protects the earth’s atmosphere.

But the other two UV wavelengths, UVA and UVB, can not only pass through the ozone layer but they can penetrate deep into a person’s skin and cause everything from sunburn to wrinkling of the skin and skin cancer.

That’s why it’s so important to protect the skin from overexposure to the sun, which is hottest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is also the time when UV levels and radiation levels are highest, especially at the beach, where the sun’s rays can easily be reflected.

If at all possible then, it’s best to plan outdoor activities for the early-morning or late afternoon hours. No matter the time of the outdoor activity, though, it’s also smart to take a few simple precautionary measures to reduce your risk of suffering skin damage.

Those measures include wearing a hat, preferably a wide brimmed hat; wearing lightweight, light-colored loose-fitting clothing and sunglasses. The latter is a step endorsed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and rightfully so.

Because overexposure to the sun can lead to the early development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the AAO recommends wearing sunglasses that are labeled UV400 or come with a label saying they block 100 percent of UV rays.

When outside, it’s always best to spend as much time in the shade as possible, but it’s important to keep in mind that the sun is so powerful that it can still cause skin damage even on a cloudy day or when someone is in the shade.

It’s also important to remember that reflective surfaces such as a white sandy beach, the water in a pool, lake or ocean, even snow on a bright sunny day in the winter, can intensify the sun’s ability to damage skin through UV exposure.

That’s why one of the most important precautionary measures is to wear sunscreen. But not just any sunscreen will do. For the best protection, the US Food and Drug Administration recommends using waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at l5.

And don’t be conservative with it. When applying sunscreen, it’s best to apply at least an ounce (which amounts to about a palmful) every two hours and to apply it even more frequently when sweating or swimming.

Another step that can be taken to ensure your safe under the sun is to check the UV index for your area prior to going outside. By simply typing in your zip code, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can give you a UV forecast.

This forecast will give you a number from 1 to 11 that will help you determine just how dangerous the sun is that day and how much protection is needed to avoid serious damage from UV rays. The lower the number, the less protection you’ll need.

Summer is a time for outdoor fun and adventure, but assuring you and others are safe under the sun is one way to ensure you won’t regret you venture outside.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

July 5th, 2020

Most of the news we’ve been reading about COVID-19 lately seems to be bad news: New cases are spiking across the country. Hospital ICUs are filling to capacity with seriously ill patients. And experts are warning of escalating infection rates in the coming months.

But if you look a little closer, you can find some tidbits of good news as well. Here’s one story I came across recently that gave me hope. On July 1, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner the German biotech company BioNTech announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising results in early testing.

The initial clinical data from the study revealed that volunteers who took low or medium doses of the vaccine in two injections about a month apart developed immune responses to the virus in the range expected to be protective.1 In fact, their immune defenses were stronger than those of the average recovered COVID-19 patient.

The study involved 45 healthy volunteers. Twelve received a 10 microgram dose of the vaccine, 12 received a 30 microgram dose, 12 received 100 micrograms and nine received a placebo. The main side effects were fever and injection site soreness. The 100 microgram dose caused fevers in half of patients receiving it, so a second dose was not given to those patients.

Pfizer’s experimental vaccine generated antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and some of those antibodies were neutralizing. That means these antibodies may prevent the virus from functioning.

The level of neutralizing antibodies in the study volunteers were 1.8 to 2.8 times that found in recovered COVID-19 patients, but researchers aren’t sure yet if higher antibody levels lead to virus immunity. Pfizer is planning large-scale studies to prove that people getting their vaccine are 50 percent less like to become infected. Those studies are set to begin this summer.

For its vaccine, Pfizer used specific genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. This mRNA contains directions for making a certain protein used by the virus to invade human cells. The mRNA is taken up by the body’s cells, which then follow the directions and make the protein. The body’s immune system recognizes the protein as foreign and make antibodies to disable it if the virus tries to invade.

The vaccine in this study is one of four candidate vaccines being developed by Pfizer. The company reported that additional information from this particular trial will help it to pick a leading candidate and dose level for a much larger study. Based on the initial trial results, BioNTech and Pfizer hope to progress to a larger US trial involving 30,000 participants.

Pfizer notes that if its vaccine proves safe and effective, and is approved, it expects to make up to 100 million dose by the end of 2020 and “potentially more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021.”

The good news is there. But you might have to look beyond the front page.

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