Want to receive The Executive Briefing directly to your inbox? Subscribe here!
You've been subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Back to GetZedic.com

The Executive Briefing - Friday, January 13th

What’s bacterial meningitis & why is the 'Kraken' so contagious?


  • Satellite photos of China’s crematoriums show large crowds, indicating that there are far more than the 40 officially reported deaths. (Washington Post)
  • The WHO says that countries should consider reinstating mask requirements on long-haul flights. (Reuters)
  • Some of the COVID tests sent out by the government recently will expire very soon, even with extensions. (NBC)
  • The Pentagon dropped COVID vaccine requirements for troops, but commanders have discretion in how or whether to deploy unvaccinated troops. (AP)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders asked Moderna not to hike the COVID vaccine price, calling the planned hike ‘unacceptable corporate greed.’ (The Hill)
  • XBB.1.5 has been found in Europe, with a small but growing presence. (CIDRAP)
  • Global vaccine acceptance rose 5% from 2021 to 2022. (CIDRAP)
  • Henan province in China reports that 89% of its 100 million residents have already been infected by an Omicron subvariant. (WSJ)
  • XBB.1.5, dubbed ‘the Kraken’ variant, isn’t different enough from other Omicron subvariants to get its own Greek letter, the WHO says. (Fortune)
  • Some good news: for most people with mild initial infections, long COVID symptoms fade within a year. (STAT)
  • In one Malaysian study at least 28 out of 29 wastewater samples from planes had COVID in them - and the 29th just hasn’t been analyzed yet. (Forbes)

Public Health News:

  • Uganda’s Ebola outbreak is over. (WHO)
  • A drug-resistant ‘super fungus’ (Candida auris) was found in the US for the first time, in a long term acute care facility in Mississippi. It has caused two deaths. (WLBT)
  • British scientists will expand the genomic sequencing they’ve been using for COVID to study flu and RSV. (Reuters)
  • The US Tamiflu shortage was caused in part by distributors failing to stock up before the flu season, according to one manufacturer. (Bloomberg)
  • The Alabama Attorney General says that women can be prosecuted for taking abortion pills there. (AL.com)
  • A new study found that there was a very low incidence of Mpox after just a single dose of vaccine. (STAT)
  • With attention to Mpox fading, health officials fear that new cases will go unnoticed. (STAT)
  • Routine vaccinations continue to decline among kindergarteners. (MedPage Today)

Mental Health News:

  • NY Governor Hochul has pledged one billion dollars to address mental health needs in the state. (NY Times)
  • Farmers face a higher risk of suicide. The Texas Agriculture Department is hoping to fund a specific hotline for farmers and rural residents. (Texas Tribune)
  • People who listened to music reported lower stress and better mood during lockdown. (CIDRAP)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Best Questions:

Why do headlines say that everyone will get the latest variant? What makes it so contagious?

The ‘Kraken’ variant, otherwise known as XBB.1.5, is more contagious than most of the variants we’ve seen thus far. On average, one infected person is getting around 1.6 people sick right now, so it’s very contagious. XBB.1.5 has a number of new mutations on its spike proteins, including one that makes it very infectious without sacrificing any of its ability to sneak past our immune defenses. Importantly, though, this variant is not any more severe and doesn’t seem to cause any different symptoms than other Omicron subvariants, which is good news. And based on how it’s trending over the last week, the CDC’s estimates for its trajectory have been modified and it’s not necessarily looking as inevitable that everyone will get it, though that’s certainly still a possibility. It’s definitely still on track to be the dominant US strain nationwide.

Jeff Beck died of bacterial meningitis. What is that, and how can we prevent it?

We were saddened to hear that the legendary guitarist Jeff Beck passed away this week from bacterial meningitis, according to his publicist. Meningitis is an infection in the membranes around your brain and spinal cord. There are two kinds of meningitis, bacterial and viral. The bacterial type is rarer and more dangerous. Symptoms can include a stiff neck, high fever, headache, confusion, light sensitivity, and vomiting. Prompt diagnosis (via spinal tap) and treatment can make a big difference. Bacterial meningitis can be prevented through vaccination  - it’s a common childhood vaccine around age 12 with a booster at 16. But it’s also contagious, so if you’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis, speak with your doctor (who may put you on preventative antibiotics) and don’t ignore any symptoms. If you don’t think you’ve been vaccinated for meningitis, now is a good time to ask your doctor about that, too!

Why is New England seeing a peak in COVID before other parts of the country, even though it has higher vaccination rates?

This is a tricky one, and we’re not entirely sure, but we have a few theories. First, colder regions may tend to see surges earlier, since people are gathering indoors more. Second, New England has much better wastewater surveillance and official COVID testing sites than much of the rest of the country. So, more than an actual increase in cases, it could be that New England just has better surveillance and is noticing the surges before other parts of the country. Regardless, we’ve seen time and again that COVID increases in the northeast then continue to spread south and west, so it’s important data to keep an eye on.

Since so many people are testing at home, how do we know the actual COVID case rates?

Short answer: we don’t. At-home tests mean that tens of thousands of people could take COVID tests in a single day and we’d have no way of knowing how many of the are positive or where the trends are. The NIH launched a website for people to be able to report their own home tests to help combat this, but the information they gather is incomplete - more women report than men, and the majority are positive tests, likely because people are more inclined to report them. Those data are much less useful than official testing sites, for example, which report both negative and positive results with fidelity. The best we can do for now is create models to extrapolate from the official case numbers and to rely on more consistent measures like wastewater surveillance, which tends to be much more accurate.

Best Read:

XB what? BQ huh? Do you need to keep up with Omicron's ever-expanding offspring?

Share this article:

Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.