This New COVID Variant Is the Most Unpredictable One Yet

Authors: David Axe Published Apr. 03, 2022 10:47PM ET 

After spreading across Asia and Europe, the BA.2 subvariant of the novel coronavirus is now dominant in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Right now, U.S. COVID cases are at a six-month low. But what happens next in the U.S. and nearby countries is hard to predict. Looking to Europe for hints isn’t enormously helpful because, on that continent, BA.2 has behaved… unpredictably. Indeed, unpredictability might be exactly what Americans—and everyone else—should expect as the pandemic enters its 28th month.

A patchwork of public health rules, varying vaccination rates, and differing amounts of natural immunity from past infections mean that no two countries are the same. But even those differences don’t fully explain BA.2’s uneven impact.

“The bottom line is that it is not predictable what BA.2 will do,” John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast.

Amid this confusion, at least one thing remains true, however. As volatile as BA.2 is when it comes to countries and populations, you can still protect yourself by getting vaccinated.

Usually, there’s a pattern with new COVID lineages. An uptick in positive tests from clinics, hospitals, and wastewater samples correlates with a proportional increase in symptomatic infections.

But when it comes to BA.2, “something different seems to be occurring,” Peter Hotez, an expert in vaccine development at Baylor College, told The Daily Beast. “BA.2 is going up everywhere in terms of percentage of virus isolated” in tests, Hotez explained, “yet this translates into many different scenarios in terms of rise in cases.”“I can’t say with any certainty that this can be chalked up to their vaccine policies or vaccine politics alone.”

BA.2 is a highly mutated cousin of the previously dominant BA.1 subvariant of Omicron, the latest major variant—“lineage” is the scientific term–of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Changes to the spike protein, which helps the virus to grab onto and infect our cells, make BA.1 and BA.2 extremely transmissible.

BA.1, which first appeared last fall and quickly drove record infections across much of the world, was the most contagious respiratory virus many virologists had ever seen—until BA.2 showed up a few weeks after its older cousin. BA.2 could be as much as 80 percent more transmissible than BA.1, Swartzberg said.

That’s why BA.2 eventually has outcompeted BA.1 and become the dominant sublineage in a steadily growing number of countries. It happened first in China, which for more than two years managed to avoid major COVID outbreaks through a combination of travel restrictions, business closures, careful contact-tracing and strict quarantine rules.

BA.2 blew right through China’s so-called “zero-COVID” strategy, causing cases to spike in Hong Kong then neighboring Shenzen then Shanghai. Authorities locked down each city in turn but still failed to stop the sublineage’s march across the country.

Europe was next. Health officials in the Americas watched nervously as BA.2 became dominant in one European country after another. After all, Europe tends to catch a particular coronavirus lineage or sublineage a month or six weeks before the U.S. and its neighbors do.

But BA.2 hasn’t sent clear signals. The first confusing datapoint actually wasn’t in Europe—it was in Africa. Weirdly, BA.2 was a virtual no-show in South Africa. That country logged a big surge in BA.1 cases in December, and then… nothing. A steady decline in cases even as BA.2 was ravaging other big, rich countries.

Some European countries likewise have escaped significant harm from BA.2. Others are reeling.

The United Kingdom and France caught BA.1 big-time in December and January. Both countries reported record numbers of cases that, owing to the vaccines, fortunately didn’t lead to record hospitalizations and deaths. Austria, by contrast, muddled through BA.1 before taking a huge hit from BA.2.

The U.K. reported a weekly average of 183,000 new daily cases in early January. Three weeks later, France counted a staggering weekly average of 354,000 daily new cases. The U.K.’s worst day for BA.1 deaths was Feb. 2, when authorities reported 535 COVID fatalities. On France’s worst day of BA.1, Feb. 8, 691 people died of COVID.

Comparing the two countries is natural. Not only are they neighbors, they also have roughly the same number of people–around 67 million. Both have managed to fully vaccinate around three-quarters of their populations. Both have wound down all major domestic COVID restrictions.

It makes sense that BA.2 would affect France and the U.K. similarly. And there, at least, the sublineage made some sense. The BA.2 wave that rolled across the U.K. and France starting in February has been relatively minor compared to the BA.1 wave—in both countries.

France’s daily new BA.2 cases seem to be leveling off at a weekly average of 126,000 infections. The U.K.’s weekly average of daily new cases peaked at 125,000 on March 21. Deaths tend to lag cases by a few weeks, so it’s not clear how fatal BA.2 will be in either country, but so far the worst daily death toll is much lower than it was for BA.1.

Now consider Austria. With just 8.9 million people, it’s smaller than the U.K. and France. But it’s equally well-vaccinated—and even came close to having a nationwide vaccine mandate before canceling the planned mandate back in early March, days before it was due to take effect. Austria, like most countries in Europe, has ended domestic restrictions on businesses and travel.

But unlike the U.K. and France, Austria caught BA.2 worsethan BA.1. Daily new case rates from BA.1 swelled to a weekly average of 34,000 and stayed there for a month and a half. Then BA.2 arrived in early March and, without much respite from BA.1, added another 10,000 daily new cases on top of the existing weekly average.“I don’t see a consistent thread between countries.”

Aside from a tiny dip in mid-March, the daily death rate has been going up and up on a weekly basis since January in Austria. BA.2 is claiming 40 lives a day, day after day on average.

It’s difficult to determine which policies make the difference—assuming differences in public health strategy matter at all against a virus as contagious as BA.2. Yes, Austria almost had a vaccine mandate, but it didn’t actually take force. And it’s very hard to say what the proposed mandate’s impact was, or would have been.

“Even if no additional people got vaccinated after a mandate was introduced, this doesn’t mean it didn’t ‘work,’ as the purpose of the mandate may have been to simply ensure that the only people you encounter when out at a restaurant or concert are vaccinated,” Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist at Western University in Ontario, told The Daily Beast.

“In that case, the vaccination mandate ‘working’ would mean reducing levels of transmission of the virus in the settings to which it applied,” Smith added. “Or, in the case of preserving critical infrastructure, it would mean something like fewer cases of severe illness or hospitalizations among those to whom the mandate applied.”

There are lots of ways Austria’s vaccine mandate might have improved outcomes for millions of Austrians at risk of catching COVID. But that didn’t stop Austria as a whole from suffering worse from BA.2 than other nearby countries.

“There are many factors that may have led to the case numbers we’re seeing both in Austria and its neighboring countries, so I can’t say with any certainty that this can be chalked up to their vaccine policies or vaccine politics alone,” Smith said.

Experts are at a loss to explain what other factors might be at work. If nearby countries have vaccinated roughly the same percentage of their populations and have also reopened their borders, businesses and schools—thus allowing for a certain level of natural immunity from past infection—then they should be equally prepared for a new viral lineage.

Clearly, they’re not. “I don’t see a consistent thread between countries,” Swartzberg said.

There are serious implications for the rest of the world as it braces for BA.2. Even strong vaccine uptake and lingering natural immunity might not spare you a big bump in infections. By the same token, BA.2 might just bypass a country for reasons no one fully understands, like it did with South Africa.

But the experiences of whole countries aren’t the experiences of individuals. Yes, BA.2 might have unpredictable effects on populations. But the science is clear on how people can reduce their personal risk. Favor well-ventilated indoor spaces. Wear an N95 mask when local case rates are high.

Most importantly, get vaccinated and boosted.

Covid infection associated with a greater likelihood of Type 2 diabetes, according to review of patient records

Authors: Lenny Bernstein – March 21, 2022 The Washington Post

People who had covid-19 were at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes within a year than those who managed to avoid the coronavirus, according to a large review of patient records released Monday.

The finding is true even for people who had less severe or asymptomatic forms of coronavirus infection, though the chances of developing new-onset diabetes were greater as the severity of covid symptoms increased, according to researchers who reviewed the records of more than 181,000 Department of Veterans Affairs patients diagnosed with coronavirus infections between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021.

Their data was compared to the medical records of more than 4.1 million VA patients who were not infected during the same period and another 4.28 million who received medical care from VA in 2018 and 2019. This kind of study cannot prove cause and effect, but it showed a strong association between the two diseases.

Overall, the researchers calculated that people diagnosed with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were 46 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes for the first time or be prescribed medication to control their blood sugar. The research was released Monday in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, a medical journal.

Put another way, 2 in 100 covid patients were more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas makes insufficient amounts of the hormone insulin, leaving blood sugar levels poorly controlled. Type 2 diabetes can cause damage to kidneys, nerves, blood vessels and the heart, among its other effects.

The results have implications for the more than 471 million people known to have been infected during the pandemic, nearly 80 million of them in the United States, and especially for people suffering from long-haul covid.

“For the broader public, if you’ve had covid-19, you need to pay attention to your blood sugar,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at VA St. Louis Health Care System, who led the review.

Previous smaller studies and physicians who have treated covid patients have noted an apparent increase in new diabetes diagnoses associated with coronavirus infection. But Al-Aly said his review was the largest consideration of the issue and looked at the greatest length of time after the acute phase of an infection — from 31 days after infection to a median of nearly one year per patient.

VA patients tend to be older than the general population, with more White people and males. But Al-Aly said the large numbers of people involved made him confident that his findings were applicable to the public.

“The risk was evident in all subgroups,” including women, racial minorities, younger people and people with different body mass indexes, he said.

More than 99 percent of the infected VA patients developed Type 2 diabetes, as opposed to Type 1, a condition in which insulin-producing cells in the pancreas stop producing the hormone entirely. Al-Aly speculated that the cells’ reduced efficiency may be caused by inflammation, produced either by the virus itself or the body’s response to it.

“Taken together,” the researchers wrote, “current evidence suggests that diabetes is a facet of the multifaceted long covid syndrome and that post-acute care strategies of people with covid-19 should include identification and management of diabetes.”

Arthritis drug reduces mortality in severe COVID-19, huge clinical trial finds

For hospitalized patients already taking other proven COVID-19 drugs, pill further reduces chance of death

Authors: KAI KUPFERSCHMIDT 3 MAR 2022 1:20 PM

Baricitinib, an oral drug that dampens an overactive immune system and is commonly used by people with rheumatoid arthritis, reduced hospitalized COVID-19 patients’ risk of dying by 13%, investigators of the world’s largest trial of coronavirus treatments announced today. Patients in the study also took other drugs, such as the steroid dexamethasone, that act on the immune system and have already been shown to help against COVID-19. “Adding baricitinib on top of whatever else the doctors are currently prescribing … is beneficial,” says University of Oxford clinical scientist Martin Landray, one of the principal investigators of the United Kingdom’s Recovery trial.

Scientists and doctors welcomed the addition of the pill to the few treatments already shown to help treat severe COVID-19. “The pandemic is far from over, and we will likely have to contend with additional case surges in the future. It is heartening to have more mortality-reducing therapeutic options,” says Emory University virologist Boghuma Titanji, noting that the baricitinib comes in generic versions that low- and middle-income countries can afford.

Baricitinib inhibits enzymes in the Janus kinase (JAK) family, which play an important role in regulating immune responses. Several smaller randomized trials had concluded that baricitinib helped against COVID-19, and it is already being used in some countries to treat severe cases. But some of these trials only included patients that did not receive other drugs targeting the immune system, and the Recovery trial is by far the largest test of the drug yet.

The researchers compared 4148 hospitalized patients who received usual COVID-19 care plus baricitinib with 4008 hospitalized patients who only received the usual care. Of the patients who took baricitinib, 513 people (12%) died within 28 days of randomization versus 546 deaths (14%) in the control group, the researchers write in a preprint. That protective effect is smaller than found in previous trials of the drug. The new result “is likely a better reflection of the actual treatment effect,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, because the “finding reflects a more current, real-world background of standard treatments for severe COVID.” A meta-analysis of Recovery and the other eight completed trials that investigated baricitinib or another JAK inhibitor suggests a 20% reduction in deaths, the researchers write.

The COVID-19 treatment landscape has changed dramatically since the Recovery trial announced the first therapy shown to be effective, in June 2020: It found that dexamethasone, a widely available steroid, reduced deaths in ventilated patients by one-third. In February 2021, the Recovery trial announced that tocilizumab, another drug acting on the immune system, further reduced deaths in hospitalized patients taking dexamethasone. Now, baricitinib reduces deaths even further. “This is a drug that is just as effective as tocilizumab,” Landray says. “The effect size is very similar.”

Drugs targeting the virus, rather than the body’s response to it, have also proved their worth. Intravenous antibody treatments given early in disease have been shown to protect some patients against hospitalization. And more recently, oral antivirals from Merck and Pfizer have demonstrated they can cut COVID-19 deaths if given early enough. This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its treatment guidelines to include the first such drug: Merck’s molnupiravir. “As this is a new medicine, there is little safety data,” the agency cautioned, recommending prescribing only for those at highest risk of hospitalization and active monitoring for side effects.

But the rise of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has also challenged progress in treating COVID-19. Several antibody treatments are ineffective against this variant, which now dominates infections across the globe. In its recent guideline update, WHO recommended that an antibody cocktail, casirivimab-imdevimab, only be given when a different variant has caused an infection. There are also indications that an antibody therapy called sotrovimab, one of the only antibodies known to work against the Omicron subtype BA.1, has lost some efficacy against the spreading BA.2 subtype of Omicron, says Leif Erik Sander, an immunologist at Charité University Hospital in Berlin. “Still, we are in a much better position now to treat the sick patients we see in the hospital than we were a year ago.”

And other treatments are on the horizon. For instance, after Eli Lilly and Company’s cocktail of the antibodies etesevimab and bamlanivimab was found ineffective against the Omicron variant, the company brought forward a new antibody, bebtelovimab. It received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February. Dozens of other drug candidates in testing, with results expected within months.

The Recovery trial, which started in March 2020, has so far enrolled more than 47,000 hospitalized patients. Most have been treated at U.K. clinics, but the trial has expanded to include locations in South Africa, Ghana, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nepal. In addition to identifying three drugs that treat COVID-19, the study helped rule out several others, including aspirin, the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, the HIV drug combination lopinavir/ritonavir, and colchicine, an anti-inflammatory drug.

Recovery is still testing molnupiravir, sotrovimab, and the diabetes drug empagliflozin. It is also testing higher doses of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone in the hope that using them alone would work just as well as combining them with more expensive immune-modulating drugs.

Mystery of the missing workers? Long COVID a big piece of the puzzle

Authors: Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Feb 19, 2022

She suffered cardiac arrest twice and was in the hospital for three months, then came home to more than a year of kidney problems and intermittent brain fog, tingling in her hands, numbness in her right foot and a need for oxygen after even modest exertion.

“Some days, I’m all right, but I can’t tell you which days I will feel good,” she said. “It’s all very frustrating because you know what you were capable of doing before.”

She is among many people with lingering COVID-19 aftereffects who cannot work or can only work part-time. The condition has been given a name: post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection, or PASC.

But it is commonly called long COVID.

It may be the missing piece in a pandemic puzzle: Why has the number of people in the labor force lagged? Why are there still so many unfilled job openings?

Schroederused to supervise nursing students. Lately theMcDonoughresident has been volunteering to run concessions at some high school track meets, trying to edge back toward the workplace.

“It gives me a sense of normalcy,” she said. “But after last Saturday’s meet, I was bedridden for two days.”

While more than 900,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, the vast majority of people who contract it do survive. But many — between 10% and 30% of those who live, experts say — continue to struggle with symptoms.

That is a lot of people: up to 23 million nationwide and nearly 800,000 people in Georgia, according to estimates by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Some don’t work. Some are still in the labor force, but at reduced hours.

Linda Rodin, a wellness specialist at an Atlanta-area supermarket, said she came down with COVID-19 in November. “I never had a fever, but it felt like the sinus infection from hell.”

The worst of it passed, but the symptoms clung to her. At one point in December,she said she stopped at a gas station and realized she had no idea how to put gas in the car. “I went back home sobbing hysterically. Things you’ve done your whole life, like tie your shoes, and suddenly are inaccessible. It is terrifying.”

She works part-time, grateful that her employer gave her that option.

Long COVID does not appear explicitly in the labor data. But there are clues.

  • The labor force in Georgia is still 28,341 below its pre-pandemic level, and the real gap is larger. At the pace of pre-pandemic growth, the labor force would be about 184,000 larger than it is today.
  • The number of people with jobs but out sick averaged 50% higher last year nationally than in 2019.
  • The number of people nationallywho usually work full-time but who are working part-time because of illness rose through last year. Since last summer, it has averaged 16% higher than pre-pandemic times.
  • The number of people who were out of the labor force with a disability is up 5.5%, or nearly 1.3 million, from the summer of 2020.
  • The Census Bureau’s most recent survey showed more than a quarter-million people in Georgia either sick or caring for someone with coronavirus symptoms.

Kathryn Bach, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has studied the issue, calculated that long COVID accounts for about 1.6 million people missing from the U.S. labor force. That’s equivalent to at least 15% of the nation’s job openings. By her calculation, about 45,000 people in Georgia are missing from the labor force because of long COVID.

“You could argue that my number is too low, I want to be conservative,” Bach said. “There is simply not enough data.”

Some long-haulers stay in the labor force, but just barely.

Joy McFather, a part-time teacher in Monroe County, caught what she thought was a mild case of COVID-19 at Christmas of 2020 and hasn’t been free of it since. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride of fatigue and brain fog,” she said. “It’ll get better and some weeks I’m good, then I’ll hit the wall and it will get worse.”

She’s taken 10 to 15 days off this past year, but has avoided any extended absences so far, she said. “I’ve been able to get myself through three days and on the fourth day, I crash.”

Symptoms of long COVID include debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, pain and a “brain fog” that makes it hard to focus.

With most federal pandemic programs expired, a COVID “long-hauler” who cannot work can apply for disability. That challenging process is even tougher for a new disease, many of whose worst symptoms — like brain fog — are invisible.

“Things you’ve done your whole life, like tie your shoes, and suddenly are inaccessible. It is terrifying.”- Linda Rodin, who says that COVID-19 symptoms have clung to her

Not everyone is convinced that long COVID is a large part of the labor shortage. Daniel Altman, chief economist at Instawork, an app for skilled hourly professionals, is among the skeptics.

He said changes in the labor force do not match up with the waves of COVID-19 in the way you’d expect if each wave pushed people out of the workplace. Still, he acknowledged, the disconnect might be because of how the data are gathered.

“We have found that the Department of Labor doesn’t do a great job of tracking people who are going into flexible work. If someone is in and out of work because of long COVID, they may not show up as part of the workforce in the official statistics,” he said.

By the numbers: COVID-19 and U.S. workers

Confirmed cases, COVID-19: 78.1 million

Working-age deaths, U.S.: about 230,000

People in labor force, compared to pre-pandemic: down 1.4 million

Workers employed, but out of work because of illness, pre-pandemic: 1.1 million

Workers employed, but out of work because of illness, current: 3.6 million

At work part-time, usually work full-time, pre-pandemic: 2.4 million

At work part-time, usually work full-time, current: 4.2 million

COVID-19, Georgia workers

Confirmed cases: 1.9 million

Working-age deaths, Georgia: about 11,400

Labor force, compared to pre-pandemic: down 28,341

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Bureau of Labor Statistics, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Census Bureau

Megan Gaskin has worked with COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s start as a physician’s assistant at Piedmont Healthcare in Austell.

“It goes away, it comes back. It produces thousands of sick days. It is a beast,” she said.

When hit by the symptoms, about one in five can work from home, she said.

Experts say early retirement is the biggest single reason for people leaving the labor force, and long COVID is part of that, Gaskin said. She estimates long COVID accounts for about a quarter of early retirements.

More answers about the impact of long COVID are likely on the way.

A four-year National Institutes of Health study has just begun that will include about 1,000 Atlanta-area participants, said Igho Ofotokun, professor of medicine at Emory University, who is working on the study.

Long COVID is similar to some chronic diseases that doctors have seen before, and maybe in time, there will be effective treatments that send victims back to work, he said. “We don’t know enough yet to be able to tell.”

However, researchers are hoping to reach some conclusions later this year, Ofotokun said.

In the meantime, many employers struggle to find workers and many workers struggle.

Adrienne Levesque of Loganville had COVID-19 twice in 2020.

More than a year later, she still usually can’t work more than 20 or 25 hours a week.

As controller of a small, family-owned business, she must sometimes answer questions about a worker’s status, whether someone should be classified as employed and whether it’s full-time work. She looks at her own situation, someone who has larger responsibilities she often cannot fulfill, working part-time and productive in unpredictable bursts.

“How do I count myself?” she said.

Long COVID Could Be Linked to the Effects of SARS-CoV-2 on the Vagus Nerve

SciTechDaily

Authors: EUROPEAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES FEBRUARY 11, 2022

New research to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022, Lisbon, April 23-26) suggests that many of the symptoms connected to post-COVID syndrome (PCC, also known as long COVID) could be linked to the effect of the virus on the vagus nerve – one of the most important multi-functional nerves in the body. The study is by Dr. Gemma Lladós and Dr. Lourdes Mateu, University Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol, Badalona, Spain, and colleagues.

The vagus nerve extends from the brain down into the torso and into the heart, lungs, and intestines, as well as several muscles including those involved in swallowing. As such, this nerve is responsible for a wide variety of bodily functions including controlling heart rate, speech, the gag reflex, transferring food from the mouth to the stomach, moving food through the intestines, sweating, and many others.

Long COVID is a potentially disabling syndrome affecting an estimated 10-15% of subjects who survive COVID-19. The authors propose that SARS-CoV-2-mediated vagus nerve dysfunction (VND) could explain some long COVID symptoms, including dysphonia (persistent voice problems), dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), dizziness, tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate), orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure) and diarrhea.

The authors performed a pilot, extensive morphological and functional evaluation of the vagus nerve, using imaging and functional tests in a prospective observational cohort of long COVID subjects with symptoms suggestive of VND. In their total cohort of 348 patients, 228 (66%) had at least one symptom suggestive of VND. The current evaluation was performed in the first 22 subjects with VND symptoms (10% of the total) seen in the Long COVID Clinic of University Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol between March and June 2021. The study is ongoing and continues to recruit patients.

Of the 22 subjects analyzed, 20 (91%) were women with a median age of 44 years. The most frequent VND-related symptoms were: diarrhea (73%), tachycardia (59%), dizziness, dysphagia and dysphonia (45% each), and orthostatic hypotension (14%). Almost all (19 subjects, 86%) had at least 3 VND-related symptoms. The median prior duration of symptoms was 14 months. Six of 22 patients (27%) displayed alteration of the vagus nerve in the neck shown by ultrasound – including both thickening of the nerve and increased ‘echogenicity’ which indicates mild inflammatory reactive changes.

A thoracic ultrasound showed flattened ‘diaphragmatic curves’ in 10 out of 22 (46%) subjects (which translates a decrease in diaphragmatic mobility during breathing, or more simply abnormal breathing). A total of 10 of 16 (63%) assessed individuals showed reduced maximum inspiration pressures, showing weakness of breathing muscles.

Eating and digestive function was also affected in some patients, with 13 of 18 assessed (72%) having a positive screen for self-perceived oropharyngeal dysphagia (trouble swallowing). An assessment of gastric and bowel function performed in 19 patients revealed 8 (42%) had their ability to deliver food to the stomach (via the esophagus) impaired, with 2 of these 8 (25%) reporting difficulty in swallowing. Gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux) was observed in 9 of 19 (47%) individuals; with 4 of these 9 (44%) again having difficulty delivering food to the stomach and 3 of these 9 (33%) with hiatal hernia – which occurs when the upper part of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest cavity.

A Voice Handicap Index 30 test (a standard way to measure voice function) was abnormal in 8/17 (47%) cases, with 7 of these 8 cases (88%) suffering dysphonia.

The authors say: “In this pilot evaluation, most long COVID subjects with vagus nerve dysfunction symptoms had a range of significant, clinically-relevant, structural and/or functional alterations in their vagus nerve, including nerve thickening, trouble swallowing, and symptoms of impaired breathing. Our findings so far thus point at vagus nerve dysfunction as a central pathophysiological feature of long COVID.”

Meeting: The European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022)

Speech Therapist: 364% Surge In Baby And Toddler Referrals Thanks To Mask Wearing

A speech therapist says that mask wearing during the pandemic has caused a 364% increase in patient referrals of babies and toddlers.

Authors: by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News, SUNDAY, JAN 30, 2022 – 03:50 PM

Jaclyn Theek told WPBF News that before the pandemic, only 5 per cent of patients were babies and toddlers, but this has soared to 20 per cent.

Parents are describing their children’s speech problems as “COVID delayed,” with face coverings the primary cause of their speaking skills being seriously impaired.

As young as 8 months old, babies start learning how to speak by reading lips, a thankless task if parents and caregivers smother themselves with masks to comply with mandates.

“It’s very important kids do see your face to learn, so they’re watching your mouth,” said Theek.

The news report featured one such mother, Briana Gay, who is raising five children but having speech problems with her youngest.

“It definitely makes a difference when the world you’re growing up in you can’t interact with people and their face, that’s super important to babies,” said Gay.

According to Theek, since the pandemic, autism symptoms are also skyrocketing.

“They’re not making any word attempts and not communicating at all with their family,” she said.

As we previously highlighted, Forbes deleted an article written by an education expert who asserted that forcing schoolchildren to wear face masks was causing psychological trauma.

A study by researchers at Brown University found that mean IQ scores of young children born during the pandemic have tumbled by as much as 22 points while verbal, motor and cognitive performance have all suffered as a result of lockdown.

Michael Curzon noted that two of the primary causes for this are face masks and children being atomized as a result of being kept away from other children.

“Children born over the past year of lockdowns – at a time when the Government has prevented babies from seeing elderly relatives and other extended family members, from socialising at parks or with the children of their parent’s friends, and from studying the expressions on the faces behind the masks of locals in indoor public spaces – have significantly reduced verbal, motor and overall cognitive performance compared to children born before, according to a new U.S. study. Tests on early learning, verbal development and non-verbal development all produced results that were far behind those from the years preceding the lockdowns,” he wrote.

Perhaps all the virtue signalers who think of themselves as such morally upstanding people for wearing masks will change their behavior given they are literally contributing to causing major cognitive problems in children.

Or maybe they simply won’t care, given that the mask is now a political status symbol above anything else.

New York Times Admits Unvaxxed People Have ‘Lower Rates of Infection And Hospitalization’ Of COVID-19 Than The Vaxxed.

Authors: Natalie Winters

A January 19th update posted to the outlet’s COVID-19 live blog explains how unvaccinated individuals who previously contracted the virus “had lower rates of infection and hospitalization than those protected by vaccines alone”:

During the week beginning May 30, 2021, vaccinated people who had not experienced Covid had the lowest risk of coronavirus infection and hospitalization, followed by unvaccinated people who had been previously diagnosed with Covid.

By the week beginning Oct. 3, however, vaccinated people with a prior diagnosis fared best against the Delta variant. Unvaccinated people with a history of Covid also had lower rates of infection and hospitalization than those protected by vaccines alone.

“The data are consistent with trends observed in international studies, the researchers said,” added The New York Times.

The outlet attempts to explain the disparity in vaccinated and unvaccinated people contracting COVID-19 by attributing it to the “waning of vaccine-derived immunity.”

“A recent study of employees at the Cleveland Clinic suggested that while vaccination does not add much benefit to a prior bout for the first many months, it may offer better protection against symptomatic illness over the long term than does immunity from a previous infection,” reasons the outlet.

The admission follows other studies showing similar trends, including a Robert Koch Institute report that found nearly 80 percent of Omicron cases occurred in vaccinated individuals. The story also follows an unprecedented surge in lobbying efforts by American pharmaceutical giants that developed COVID-19 shots including Pfizer and Moderna.

Representing yet another conflict of interest, a member of Pfizer’s Board of Directors doubles as a Chairman for Reuters, which has published more than 22,000 articles mentioning the Chinese Communist Party-linked pharmaceutical giant.

Early Omicron Breakthroughs Show MRNA Vaccines’ Weakness

Authors: Antony Sguazzin Copyright © Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) — Booster shots with messenger RNA vaccines such as those made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE failed to block omicron in a study of some of the first documented breakthrough cases caused by the highly contagious variant. Seven German visitors to Cape Town experienced symptomatic Covid-19 infections between late November and early December despite being boosted, the researchers, whose investigation was authorized by the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, said in findings published Tuesday in The Lancet. All the cases were mild or moderate, providing support for the extra shots’ ability to fend off severe disease, death and hospitalizations. Still, the findings demonstrate omicron’s ability to evade immunity generated by even the most powerful Covid-19 vaccine That underscores the need to continue fighting the pandemic with measures besides vaccination, such as social distancing and masking, the authors said. The shots appear to generate protection against omicron with other parts of the immune system in addition to antibodies, such as T-cells, and so far hospital and mortality data have been less severe than with the delta variant that dominated earlier.

Booster Programs

The rapid global spread of omicron, first identified in Botswana and South Africa in late November, has spurred the U.K., the U.S., South Africa and other countries to step up or introduce booster programs. However, the latest research shows the limits of such plans.  

Vaccines made with new mRNA technology have come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic. The shots instruct cells to make highly specific antibodies that block the coronavirus spike, a protein that allows it to enter cells. More traditional inoculations use inactivated or dead viruses to stimula te a response from immune systems. Preliminary data from an Israeli trial involving 154 health worker — released Monday, just two weeks after that study began — showed that a fourth dose of Pfizer’s shot didn’t prevent infection with omicron. Still, those in the trial had mild symptoms or none at all. Data from the U.K. have also shown a significant rise in protection against symptomatic infection and hospitalizations after a booster shot but suggest there may be a need for a fourth shot for those over 65, according to a report by Bloomberg Intelligence. In the Cape Town study, four of of the Germans were training at local hospitals, three were on vacation, and all were between the ages of 25 and 39. Five were female, two were male, and none were obese. Five had received three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and one received Moderna Inc.’s shot — also made with mRNA technology– followed by a Pfizer booster. Another received one dose of AstraZeneca Plc’s viral vector vaccine followed by two shots of Pfizer’s. None reported a prior Covid-19 infection. Five of the subjects received their booster dose in late October or early November.

‘Unique Opportunity’

“The presence of this group from Germany presented a unique opportunity to study omicron breakthrough infections in individuals with mRNA vaccine boosters,” the researchers said.  All of the subjects reported the onset of respiratory symptoms between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, and ultimately experienced mild or moderate disease, they said.  Strong responses from T-cells were detected in the subjects, the researchers said. “The mild to moderate course of illness suggests that full vaccination followed by a booster dose still provides good protection against severe disease caused by omicron,” they said. Better vaccines will ultimately be needed to stop symptomatic infections with omicron, they said.

New data show those who recovered from Covid-19 were less likely than vaccinated to get infected during Delta wave

New data released Wednesday showed that both vaccination and prior infection offered strong protection against infection and hospitalization from Covid-19 during the Delta wave — and that case and hospitalization rates were actually lower among people who had recovered from Covid-19 than among those who had been vaccinated.

The data, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health agencies in California and New York, are sure to inflame arguments from those who insist they don’t need to be vaccinated if they can show they’ve recovered from Covid-19. But the data contain many caveats that health officials stressed pointed to the value of vaccination, even on top of prior infection.

For one, the new report was based on data only through November, before the U.S. booster campaign really took off. It also looked at data during the Delta wave and does not account for the surging Omicron variant.

And while research has shown that infection can train the immune system to guard against the coronavirus in different ways than vaccination, Covid-19 also has killed more than 850,000 people in this country, sickened — often severely — millions more, and caused untold cases of long Covid. Serious side effects from the Covid-19 vaccines are extremely rare.

“We know that vaccination remains the safest strategy for protecting against Covid-19,” Benjamin Silk, a CDC epidemiologist, told reporters Wednesday.

The data also confirmed something we’ve known for a long time: Those who weren’t vaccinated and also hadn’t been previously infected were far more likely to be infected and hospitalized than either group.

The new report examined Covid-19 trends among adults in New York and California from May 30 to Nov. 20, 2021.

In early October, after Delta became dominant, infection rates among vaccinated people who hadn’t had Covid were 6.2-fold lower than among unvaccinated people who hadn’t had Covid-19 in California, and 4.5-fold lower in New York. People who previously had Covid-19 but had not been vaccinated had 29-fold (California) and 14.7-fold (New York) lower case rates. Vaccinated people who had also had Covid-19 had the lowest rates, with a 32.5-fold (California) and 19.8-fold (New York) lower infection rate than people who had no protection.

Hospitalization rates in California followed a similar pattern, the report says. (There were no hospitalization data from New York.) In October, hospitalization rates for people who’d been vaccinated but hadn’t had Covid were 19.8-fold lower than among those who hadn’t had Covid-19 or been vaccinated. The rates were 55.3-fold lower among unvaccinated people who’d had Covid-19, and 57.5-fold lower among people who’d been vaccinated and had Covid-19.

Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist, said hospitalizations among those who were vaccinated were mostly among older people.

Incidences among people who’d been vaccinated were highest among people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot, followed by the Pfizer-BioNTech and then the Moderna shots, the report said.

“Infection-derived protection was higher after the Delta variant became predominant, a time when vaccine-induced immunity for many persons declined because of immune evasion and immunologic waning,” the report states. Immune evasion refers to how, as the virus evolved, it started to erode the protection elicited by vaccination or an infection from an earlier form of the virus; this happened to some degree with the Delta variant, and to a much larger extent with the Omicron variant.

The new CDC report notes that the analyzed data are from the period before most people had received additional shots. It was only in mid-October, for example, that the government authorized booster shots for people who had received the J&J vaccine, recommending that people get them two months after the original jab of the one-dose shot. Boosters weren’t given the green light for all adults until November.

Colchicine could cut COVID-19 deaths – Israeli scientist

Authors: By MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN Published: DECEMBER 14, 2021 17:37

An ancient Greek drug derived from the saffron plant could improve the treatment of people with severe COVID-19 and reduce the COVID mortality rate by as much as 50%, according to a report published earlier this month in the European Journal of Internal Medicine by an Israeli researcher from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical School. The drug, colchicine, dates back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, where it was known for its special healing properties. It is one of a few medicines that survived until modern times. Most recently, it has been used to treat and prevent inflammation caused by gout that can lead to painful arthritis and Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), which is common among Jewish people of North African descent.

Prof. Ami Schattner researched and analyzed all patients treated in controlled trials of this ancient drug for the past 20 years. He found that among its uses and potential uses, colchicine also appears effective in treating COVID-19.So far, four controlled studies of around 6,000 coronavirus patients have been published on the effect of colchicine, Schattner said, each showing a “significant improvement in severe coronavirus indices and, most importantly, there was a decrease in mortality by about 50% compared to those who were not treated with colchicine. ”The drug is cheap, a small half-milligram dose is needed per day, and it has already been proven safe to use, he said, making colchicine “an important discovery that could significantly contribute to improving the morbidity and mortality of many patients, if confirmed in further studies.”

The drug is also well-tolerated, the doctor said. The only side-effects in some patients can be bouts of diarrhea; about 10% of patients discontinue the use of the drug for this reason. The drug has been tested in the treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, including in Canada, Greece, South Africa, Spain and Brazil. Many of the tests were double-blind placebo studies, increasing their likelihood of accuracy. “The results were impressive,” he said. Colchicine was first mentioned in an ancient Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1550 BC, even before the Jewish people left Egypt, according to the biblical story. Later, it was used by physicians in ancient Greece, in the Byzantine period and then by Arab physicians more than 1,000 years ago. Some 50 years ago, using the drug to treat FMF was verified by researchers at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and Hadassah, not only against the sharp attacks associated with the disease and their prevention, but also in protection against a serious complication of FMF – amyloidosis, which affects the kidneys. More recently, several studies have started to prove its effectiveness in the treatment of acute pericarditis (swelling around the heart, and in the prevention of post-cardiac injury syndrome and atrial fibrillation following cardiac surgery.“As is well known, patients who have had a heart attack are at a significantly increased risk of recurrence and stroke, and these are very many patients,” Schattner said. “Studies from recent years have found that thanks to its anti-inflammatory activity on the atherosclerotic layers in the arteries, colchicine in small daily doses is able to effectively protect these patients. “The level of protection was to the point of preventing about half of the recurrent events, and this impressive beneficial effect was also achieved in patients who had already undergone therapeutic catheterization and had taken optimal preventive treatment by aspirin and statins,” he added. “This is important news for a very large number of patients.”

Further randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm these preliminary results, according to Schattner, which he believes will likely lead to expanding indications for low-dose colchicine. But he said there is no reason that the drug could not start being used right now.“Even though initial data on the effect of colchicine on coronavirus patients is very promising, more patients need to be in randomized controlled trials,” Schattner said. “But that would not prevent me from using the drug already in patients with high risk, to hopefully lower their chances of developing severe disease.“The drug is low-cost for the patients and the community,” he continued. “By using it in corona patients, we have nothing to lose and much to gain.”