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The Executive Briefing - Friday, January 20th

The tripledemic has peaked! 📉


  • Some good news - the European Medicines Agency says it hasn’t seen any signal of possible stroke risk related to the Pfizer bivalent booster after the FDA found some possible signals. (Reuters)
  • Internet searches - on Google, Twitter, and other sites - can predict COVID surges earlier. (SF Chronicle)
  • Lack of vaccination and severity of illness are both tied to a higher risk for long COVID. Getting vaccinated can help with both and reduce your chances of getting it. (CIDRAP)
  • Japan is considering downgrading COVID to the same health threat level as the flu. (CNN)
  • Your immune system responds more strongly to the first strain of virus that it meets, weakening its response to other strains. (Nature)
  • A new survey found that nearly one in four Americans still don’t know they’re eligible for the updated booster shot. (US News)

Public Health News:

  • It’s official - the tripledemic has peaked! Emergency department visits and hospitalizations for flu, COVID, and RSV peaked in December, according to a nifty new CDC dashboard. (CDC)
  • Egg prices are soaring, leading some folks to start backyard flocks - but salmonella and other infectious illnesses are something to consider. Handwashing is key to preventing the spread. (CNN)
  • The UK is seeing a surge in norovirus cases, more than doubling in a week in some areas. (BBC)
  • A Colorado Taco Bell is being investigated after a customer who got into an altercation with staff claims that his taco was tainted with rat poison. (Washington Post)
  • There’s a new antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea in the US. (CBS)
  • Chagas is a parasite-borne disease that kills 12,000 people a year, mostly in Latin America. Carriers are calling for more research and funding to eradicate it. (The Guardian)

Mental Health News:

  • There is promise  - and a lot of challenges - in using AI for mental health support. (NPR)
  • New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s resignation is putting a spotlight on burnout. (Washington Post)

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 are COVID deaths rising if this winter’s surge isn’t as bad as last year’s?

Deaths are up 6% in the US over the last two weeks, even as cases are down 14%, so what gives? First and foremost, case counts are likely a vast underestimate of total cases because of the wide availability of at-home tests. Most reported tests are from doctor’s offices or hospitals, but the majority of people just test at home, and those never get reported. Then there’s the fact that our booster rates are extremely low. Two-thirds of the country hasn’t been boosted at all, so they’re much less protected, even if they were initially vaccinated. This is especially true in those 65 and older, who make up a large proportion of the increase in deaths. One other possibility is that there are more people who have co-infections, meaning they are sick with both COVID and the flu or RSV, for example, which tends to correspond with more severe illness. Long story short: get boosted, especially if you’re 65 and up - it could very well save your life.

What does it mean that the wastewater results for polio in New York were negative for a while and are now positive again?

The New York Department of Health is doing regular wastewater surveillance after a paralytic polio case was found last year, and wastewater testing showed that there was poliovirus circulating in multiple counties in the state, including parts of New York City. They’ve continued to test, and in certain areas, those tests were negative for a while during the winter and have tested positive again more recently, as was the case in Orange County, NY toward the end of December. What it means is that polio is likely still circulating, but in lower numbers than when testing first started. There’s very little action that employers need to take, but as an individual, make sure your kids get the polio vaccine on schedule!

Can you get COVID and flu at the same time?

Unfortunately, yes. There are lots of people who have tested positive for more than one virus at a time, including COVID and flu or flu and RSV. It’s more likely to happen in kids, as well as seniors and those with weakened immune systems. Pediatric emergency departments are seeing more co-infections, which a new CDC study shows tend to be more severe, on average, than when kids are sick with just COVID or just the flu. The good news is that the way to prevent one is the same way to prevent the others - get the COVID and flu shots, and wear a mask in crowded indoor places and around sick people.

Why do people get sick in the winter?

A new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that it has to do with our noses. When we’re infected with a virus, cells in our noses actually work to combat pathogens by releasing “vesicle swarms” that combat the virus. When temperatures are colder, our nose cells don’t release as many of these vesicles and they don’t work as well to fight the virus, which is one explanation for something that most laypeople already knew - we get more upper-respiratory illnesses like colds and the flu in the winter!

Best Read:

The science (and business) of COVID disinformation - Your Local Epidemiologist

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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.