Coronavirus- The Latest News and Information
Although the average number of daily new COVID-19 cases has been dropping recently in the United States, health officials are keeping a close eye on the Omicron variant which is evolving worldwide. As of March 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 7-day moving average of 30,040 new COVID-19 cases, a 16.6 percent decrease from the previous 7-day moving average of 36,010.
The original Omicron variant makes up the majority of COVID infections in the United States, but an Omicron sub-variant called “BA.2” is steadily making its rounds across the country. Health experts say the sub-variant is more transmissible than the original Omicron, but not more severe.
BA.2 made up 23.1 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the week ending March 12, compared to 13.7 percent of all cases in the week ending March 5, according to CDC statistics
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus warned countries not to let their guard down. Not only is WHO tracking the original Omicron, called “BA.1,” and BA.2, the agency is also tracking Omicron sub-variants BA.1.1 and BA3.
“This virus is dangerous, and it continues to evolve before our very eyes,” Ghebreyesus said recently while giving WHO’s weekly COVID update.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, said he believes BA.2 will surpass the original Omicron variant to become the dominant variant in the nation. As a result, Fauci expects the number of BA.2 cases to increase within the next month.
Studies Focus on Long COVID
People who survived COVID-19 have reported developing health problems after recovering from the disease. Now, a growing number of studies support the survivors’ claims of “Long COVID,” a term describing new health problems that generally develop four weeks after infection.
For example, a review of 57 studies around the world comprising 250,351 people, showed that COVID survivors suffered both short- and long-term difficulties. The review, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October, found that more than half, or 54 percent of the survivors, were still struggling with at least one symptom six months after diagnosis or hospital discharge.
While COVID is primarily a respiratory disease, COVID-19 survivors reported having a variety of non-respiratory problems, such as insomnia, joint pain, vertigo, and brain fog.
In one study, a team of researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons discovered that the brains of a small sample of people who died of COVID-19 had some of the same molecular changes found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association in February.
According to the study, the brains of COVID-19 patients had defective ryanodine receptors and high levels of phosphorylated tau, both of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The phosphorylated tau could be a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s and also contribute to other neurological symptoms reported by COVID-19 patients, the study said.
Defective ryanodine receptors have also been linked to causing heart and lung disease and the brain’s response to stress and Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Andrew Marks, chair of the Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who led the new study.
Another study found that people who survived the coronavirus disease were at an increased risk for 20 different heart and vessel conditions.
In a study published in Nature Medicine journal in February, researchers found the risk for heart problems was evident regardless of age, race, gender, and whether or not people had cardiovascular conditions prior to having COVID-19.
The study team reviewed the health records of more than 11 million U.S. veterans and found veterans who had COVID-19 one year earlier, had a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular problems, compared with those who did not. The conditions included:
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Inflammatory heart disease (myocarditis, pericarditis)
- Thrombotic disorders (pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis)
Besides physical problems, Long COVID survivors also reported having anxiety, depression, mood changes, and other mental health challenges.
COVID-19 Pandemic Prompts New Habits and New Research
While routine activities were limited during the pandemic, some individuals, like Libby Richards, adopted healthy habits.
Richards, a busy mother of two active boys, said she started walking, initially as a way to have time to herself during the pandemic. Now, Richards, an associate professor of nursing at Purdue University, says she continues walking because it helps her to relieve stress and tension.
Similarly, Alison Phillips turned to weight-lifting during the pandemic to build strength and reduce stress. At first, Phillips, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, did not like lifting weights. But now, Phillips said the exercise became a habit when she found herself toned and fit and experiencing “good physical sensations” after a muscle-building workout.
Besides prompting individuals to develop new health habits, the pandemic also inspired scientists to develop messenger RNA-based (mRNA) vaccines to treat other viruses. During the pandemic, Pfizer and Moderna developed mRNA vaccines to treat COVID-19. According to the CDC, messenger RNA vaccines instruct cells to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside the body. This response protects against diseases like COVID-19 without risking the potentially serious consequences of getting sick.
Researchers are running a variety of studies to see whether therapeutic mRNA vaccines can treat certain health conditions, ranging from the common flu to ovarian cancer to cystic fibrosis.
Along those lines, Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced a new NIH initiative to study the health consequences of Long COVID.
“We anticipate subsequent calls for other kinds of research, in particular opportunities focused on clinical trials to test strategies for treating long-term symptoms and promoting recovery from infection,” Dr. Collins said in a statement announcing the initiative in December.