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The Executive Briefing - Friday, March 10th

3 years of pandemic, plus why clearing forests may cause the next one


  • It’s the 3 year anniversary of the start of the pandemic, with 6.8 million people dead from the virus, more than a million of them from the US. (WHO)
  • The UK will offer an additional COVID booster in the spring to those at high risk. (The Guardian)
  • The US will remove COVID testing requirements for travelers from China. (WSJ)
  • Lockdowns reduced virus spread by 56%, but at a steep economic cost. (SF Chronicle)
  • Juneau, Alaska’s wastewater has 4x as much COVID as the national average. (KTOO)
  • Almost half of all public health workers left their jobs over the past 5 years, many during the pandemic. For restaurants, this means new health inspectors and thinly stretched departments. (MedPage Today)
  • Multiple COVID variants have been found in NYC’s rats. (The Hill)
  • In a first, a lion infected its zookeeper in Indiana. (SF Chronicle)
  • A dietary supplement called “Nano Silver” was recalled after it was falsely marketed as a COVID treatment. (USA Today)

Public Health News:

  • The former Blue Bell Creameries CEO pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge over food safety violations after a Listeria outbreak led to 3 deaths. (Reuters)
  • Global flu activity is declining, with Flu B proportions increasing. (CIDRAP)
  • GSK expects to launch its RSV vaccine in the US this year without supply issues, racing to beat Pfizer’s RSV vaccine. 14,000 Americans die of RSV each year. (Reuters)
  • Scientists have revived a ‘zombie’ virus that spent nearly 50,000 years frozen in permafrost. (CNN)
  • The WHO says ‘massive efforts’ are needed to reduce salt intake, as too much salt causes nearly 2 million deaths each year through heart disease and stroke. (CNN)
  • A whiskey fungus, fed by alcohol vapors from barrels of Jack Daniel’s, has coated cars, houses, and trees in a Tennessee town and sparked a lawsuit.  (NY Times)
  • Effective this week, employers will be automatically notified if there are any status changes (like a positive drug screen) for any driver they inquired about in the past year. (ASAP)
  • Taking the antibiotic doxycycline within 72 hrs after unprotected sex slashes the risk of a bacterial STI. More studies are being done around the risk of antibiotic resistance. (NY Times)
  • The White House is launching an $11 billion plan to end Hepatitis C. (STAT)
  • Inflation and money woes are forcing Americans to delay medical care. (NPR)
  • Hepatitis B screening is now recommended for all adults, as nearly two-thirds of those infected may be unaware. (WSJ)

Mental Health News:

  • 988’s special LGBTQ+ line is now offering text and chat 24/7. (ABC)
  • A new study suggests that COVID’s impact on mental health for most adults was minimal - but it focused on high-income countries, and didn’t include young people or those with existing mental health challenges going into the pandemic. (BBC)

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:

What is causing the rise in STIs like syphilis and gonorrhea?

STIs are spiking in the US, especially in the last 5 years. Take syphilis as an example; it was nearly eliminated in 2000 but has shot up 68% between 2017 and 2021. A whopping 1 in 5 people in the US have a sexually transmitted infection, so this isn’t rare or a problem that affects other people - it will be affecting your employees and guests. Part of the rise is due to closure of sexual health clinics across the country. The pandemic also delayed sexual health care, and stigma related to sexual health, testing, and treatment may be contributing factors, as well. Using protection during sex is still the best way to prevent infection.

What is Hepatitis C, and what should we do if an employee tests positive?

Hepatitis C is a viral liver infection that’s spread through contact with infected blood. For most businesses, including restaurants, there’s a low risk of workplace transmission. There’s no evidence that people can get hepatitis C from food handlers without blood-to-blood contact. That said, you do need to be extra careful cleaning up blood if an employee infected with Hep C injures themself. Be sure to wear gloves and use a bloodborne pathogen clean-up kit. Consider revamping training for your staff on how to use your body fluid clean-up kits, as well.

It’s almost allergy season. How can we make sure we’re not excluding employees from work if they just have allergies?

Allergy season is getting longer, which means it’s already here in much of the US. The easiest way to tell if an employee has a virus rather than allergies is if they have fever, body aches, diarrhea, or vomiting. Those almost never come with seasonal allergies. Likewise, itchy eyes are less common for viral infections. Still, the overlap can be confusing - sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue are common for allergies, colds, and COVID. Our clinical team asks about whether an employee typically has seasonal allergies and whether allergy medications alleviate their symptoms. If yes, it’s safe to assume it’s seasonal allergies. If there’s no history of allergies or meds don’t help, it may be something more.

Do I need to worry about (or call the health department for) every alleged E.coli?  

No, and this is very important. E. coli is an incredibly common bacteria, so we regularly see employees concerned about the types that have no impact on food handling or businesses, like UTIs. There are more than 700 types of E. coli, but only 6 types of them cause diarrhea, which are the ones that health departments (and we) are worried about when it comes to food handling. Of those six, there’s one that causes the vast majority of foodborne illness outbreaks, which is STEC or shiga toxin-producing E. coli. The most common STEC in the US is E. coli O157. If you see an employee test result that mentions 0157 or STEC (also sometimes referred to as Verocytotoxin-producing (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic (EHEC)), you should definitely assume the health department will be on their way and consider calling them to get ahead of the situation. But for the five other types of diarrheagenic E.coli, many health departments are much less concerned as the risk for foodborne illness is much lower. So, if you see E. coli on a test result, don’t panic, but be prepared. Some health departments will do an inspection for any E. coli result, others will only respond to STEC.

Best Read:

The Next Deadly Pandemic Is Just a Forest Clearing Away | ProPublica

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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.