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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, January 31st

You won’t get a zombie fungal virus like on TV…probably…


  • The pandemic emergency declarations will end on May 11th, which will have a wide-ranging impact, including skyrocketing vaccine costs. (AP)
  • Many doctors are concerned that ending the public health emergency means that patients currently using telehealth will end up without medical care. (KHN)
  • Airplane toilets may catch the next COVID variant using targeted wastewater testing. (The Atlantic)
  • Some experts think we’re playing “COVID roulette” by not aggressively addressing air circulation and better ventilation in work and public spaces. (The Guardian)
  • While still rare, COVID was the 8th highest cause of child death in the US from 2021-2022. Vaccines help prevent deaths in kids as well as adults. (NPR)
  • Long COVID has an ‘underappreciated’ role in the labor gap as it keeps people out of work and reduces their productivity on the job. (CNBC)

Public Health News:

  • Virginia continues to experience an uptick in Hepatitis A cases, one of nine states impacted by the ongoing outbreak that began in 2019. (Chatham Star Tribune)
  • A study of 500,000 medical records links Alzheimer's to viruses again and again and again. (Science Alert)
  • Last week, the FDA issued its final rules on the new traceability requirements. (FDA)
  • The US spends the most on health care but has the worst outcomes among all high-income countries. (CNN)
  • The International Red Cross says that all countries are ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future pandemics. (Reuters)
  • As California’s climate heats up, Valley Fever is spiking. This infectious fungal disease can cause respiratory symptoms and can lead to chronic illness. (Mercury News)
  • Timely detection and isolation can stop mpox spread on college campuses. (Annals of Internal Medicine)
  • Your kids are getting sick - and they’re getting you sick. Kids under 5 have some sort of respiratory virus a full 50% of the year. (NPR)

Mental Health News:

  • Among its layoffs, Google eliminated its Director of Mental Health and Wellness - a move facing criticism at a time when stress levels in the tech industry are peaking. (Gizmodo)
  • Children’s mental health tops the list of parent worries, a new survey found. (CNN)
  • Are mental health issues really on the rise, or are we just more aware of them? Experts believe it’s both. (LA Times)

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:

We’re watching ‘The Last of Us’ on HBO. How realistic is a fungal pandemic like the one on the show?

In the hit show ‘The Last of Us,’ the world is hit by a parasitic fungus that alters human minds, like the kind of fungi that actually do exist in real life and direct the behavior of insects. Right now, humans can’t be affected by that fungus because it can’t survive at our higher body temperature. That said, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a world where it evolves (especially since climate change is forcing lots of organisms to adapt to survive at higher temps). And there are already fungi that impact human behavior (magic mushrooms, for one) and others that make healthy people sick (like the ones that cause Valley Fever, among others). What’s particularly interesting is that in ‘The Last of Us’, the fungus got into a flour production facility, and that flour made it into lots of things that hit the shelves around the same time. That threat is certainly reflected in real life by things like E.coli and Listeria outbreaks from infected food products. Long story short - the specific parasitic pandemic in the HBO series is not likely, but the idea of a fungal pandemic, in general, is certainly possible, especially given the rise in multi-drug resistant fungi in recent years. Still, rest assured that it probably won’t look quite as zombie-like as the one you’re seeing on TV, and likely wouldn’t be able to control our minds - thank goodness!

During the egg shortage, more employees are starting backyard chicken coops. What infectious disease issues should we be aware of?

As eggs are becoming hard to find on grocery store shelves, individuals and families are turning to backyard coops as a consistent source. But chickens can spread disease, and it’s important to be aware of the risks to ensure that you’re keeping yourself and your birds safe. There are five main risks for humans: E.coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, bird flu, and Histoplasmosis (caused by breathing in a fungus found in soil with bird or bat poop). E.Coli, Campy, and Salmonella involve GI symptoms including diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, or vomiting. Histoplasmosis and bird flu can cause flu-like symptoms. To stay safe around backyard birds, practice the following safety guidelines:

  • Wash your hands after touching any birds or anything in the area where they live and roam, even if you didn’t directly touch the birds. Try hand sanitizer near the coop, as well!
  • Don’t snuggle or kiss your birds (they’re cute, we know!).
  • Handle chickens and their equipment outside only. Set aside a pair of shoes to use in your coop and leave them outside the house.
  • Supervise kids around poultry - young kids are more likely to get sick!
  • Collect eggs often, throw away cracked eggs, and don’t wash warm eggs (because cold water can pull bacteria into the egg). Refrigerate eggs after collection to slow bacterial growth.

If an employee shows signs of severe GI illness and has backyard poultry, treat it as though it’s an E.coli or Salmonella situation until you find out otherwise. Sanitize thoroughly if they worked sick, and ensure sick employees stay home.

An employee had TB exposure. What steps do we need to take?

First, it’s important to establish the facts - were they actually exposed to someone with active TB? Testing positive on a skin test for TB doesn’t necessarily mean that you have active TB, so it’s relatively common for people to mistakenly report exposure. If the employee was truly exposed to someone with active TB, which spreads through respiratory droplets via coughing, speaking, sneezing, etc., they can continue to work while they get tested, as long as they’re symptom-free. An exposed person isn’t spreading TB right away, which is good news. They should go get a TB skin or blood test and be sure to tell the medical professional that they’ve been exposed. They should also monitor themself for symptoms over the next weeks and months, including cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, and fever. Importantly for businesses, TB does not spread via surfaces, like using a bathroom, touching surfaces, or shaking hands, and it rarely spreads outside because it can’t survive in sunlight.

Best Read:

Absence From Work at Record Highs - The Guardian

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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.