- Cases and hospitalizations jumped nationwide after the holidays. (SF Chronicle)
- XBB.1.5 is keeping up a fast pace, and COVID cases, wastewater indicators, and hospitalizations are rising. (CIDRAP)
- A biology professor nicknamed XBB.1.5. ‘Kraken’ and it’s catching on. (Fortune)
- The worst of the RSV surge appears to be over and flu seems to have peaked, even as COVID cases continue to rise. (NPR)
- A doctor was harassed online by anti-vaxxers for a fake tweet that she didn’t even write. (NBC)
- XBB.1.5 is so infectious that those who have avoided COVID so far are getting it, and those who’ve already had COVID at least once are likely to catch it again. (USA Today)
- People aged 65+ who got Pfizer’s updated booster had an 81% lower risk of being hospitalized for COVID. (Reuters)
- AstraZeneca’s preventative monoclonal antibody treatment likely doesn’t work against XBB.1.5. (The Hill)
- The Biden Administration will extend the COVID public health emergency for the 11th - and likely final - time. (Politico)
- More US schools are re-implementing mask mandates as COVID cases rise. (ABC)
Public Health News:
- More than a quarter of US adults with chronic pain said they used cannabis in the last year to manage their pain. (JAMA)
- Norovirus is surging, especially in the Midwest and the West, where case positivity rates are up to 10%, a major increase from the beginning of the fall. (CDC)
- Scientists have created a honeybee vaccine, delivered through food to the queen and passed down to larvae, to help fight a disease that’s killing colonies. (NPR)
- New pediatric guidelines recommend drugs and surgery early for obese kids. (AP)
- Wastewater and its treatment plants in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific could be hotspots for antimicrobial resistance, a major threat to public health. (CIDRAP)
- With just hours to spare, the FDA released the 2022 Food Code. In addition to adding sesame as an allergen, the other biggest change was allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas. (FDA)
- The CDC is warning of a rise in strep throat infections in kids. (PBS)
Mental Health News:
- Animal sedative mixed with fentanyl is making its way into the US, and causing gruesome wounds that can require amputation. (NY Times)
- Calls have been pouring into the national 988 crisis line, with a major increase after switching to a simpler number, and a large percentage texting in for help. (Washington Post)
- California’s new health chair will prioritize mental health and homelessness. (KHN)
- Seattle schools are suing tech giants over youth mental health issues. (Axios)
- Students in New York could join those in 12 other states who get mental health days off from classes if a new law is passed. (CBS)
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
I’ve heard a rumor that vaccines are making COVID strains stronger. Is that true?
No, it’s a common misconception but there’s no evidence that it’s true. While new strains of the virus are mutating to become better at getting around our immune defenses over time, that’s a standard part of virus evolution. There’s no evidence that vaccines make COVID strains more powerful, and they certainly don’t mean that vaccinated people are more likely to get severe cases - quite the opposite. Vaccines are still helping to prevent hospitalizations.
Do vaccines work against XBB.1.5?
Vaccines do still work to prevent severe illness and death from the latest variant, XBB.1.5. That’s not something to be overlooked. What they’re less good at is preventing infection entirely, because the new variant has mutations that make it more transmissible than the original Omicron variant was, while still having the sneaky immune-system evasion that we’ve seen all along with Omicron and its subvariants. The vaccine - especially the Omicron-specific updated booster - still works to prevent serious illness and death from XBB.1.5, so if you haven’t gotten the updated booster yet, now is the time.
If the flu has already peaked, should I still get a flu shot?
While flu numbers do seem to have recently peaked, that doesn’t mean it’s gone, just that it’s trending down. The actual number of people getting the flu each week is still very, very high. 13 pediatric deaths were reported this week, a tragic number. There are still 20,000 people per week being hospitalized for the flu. It’s not over, and it’s still dangerous - and there’s a really simple way to make sure you and your family don’t end up as any of those statistics. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. Run, don’t walk!
We’re hearing lots of news stories about Paxlovid. Who should take it and how likely is a rebound?
The CDC now recommends that anyone over 50 years old or anyone at high risk for serious illness takes Paxlovid if they test positive for COVID. That’s because COVID is much more dangerous for those groups, and Paxlovid drastically reduces their chances of ending up in the hospital or dying from COVID. Paxlovid does come with some side effects - a strange taste in the mouth is one, and COVID rebound is another. While rebound happens to those who don’t take the treatment, as well, it may be more common in those that take Paxlovid. Still, its chances of reducing severe disease mean it’s something that anyone 50+ or high risk should consider. In California, the state’s Public Health Officer actually recommended that everyone who tests positive should seek treatment. If you’re at high risk or 50 and up or if you’re wondering whether you should take it, we definitely recommend calling your doctor to see if Paxlovid is appropriate for you because the benefits (not going to the hospital or dying) far outweigh the risk of rebound in most cases. Paxlovid does interact with certain drugs you might be taking, so you’ll always want to consult with the doctor who writes your prescription.