News from Bioethics.com

Artificial-Intelligence Aims to Tame the Coronavirus Literature

1 month 4 weeks

(Nature) – The COVID-19 literature has grown in much the same way as the disease’s transmission: exponentially. The NIH’s COVID-19 Portfolio, a website that tracks papers related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the disease it causes, lists more than 28,000 articles — far too many for any researcher to read (See ‘Explosive Growth’; code and data at github.com/jperkel/covidlit). But a fast-growing set of artificial-intelligence (AI) tools might help researchers and clinicians to quickly sift through the literature. Driven by a combination of factors — including the availability of a large collection of relevant papers, advances in natural-language processing (NLP) technology and the urgency of the pandemic itself — these tools use AI to find the studies that are most relevant to the user, and in some cases to extract specific findings from the results.

Gilead’s Remdesivir Prevents Lung Damage in COVID-19 Study on Monkeys

1 month 4 weeks

(Reuters) – Gilead Sciences Inc’s (GILD.O) antiviral drug remdesivir prevented lung disease in macaque monkeys infected with the new coronavirus, according to a study published in the journal Nature on Tuesday.  The findings were first reported in April by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a “preprint,” prior to traditional academic validation provided by a medical journal.

Unpacking the New WHO Controversy Over Asymptomatic COVID-19 Transmission

1 month 4 weeks

(TIME) – For months, researchers have warned that people without any COVID-19 symptoms could still be silent carriers of the disease, making it that much harder to get the pandemic under control—and that much more important to take precautions like social distancing and wearing a mask, even if you feel fine. So it came as a surprise when Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical lead for COVID-19, said at a press briefing on June 8 that asymptomatic transmission appears to be “very rare.” Her statement came just days after the organization directed healthy people living in areas with widespread community transmission to wear fabric face masks in public to help contain the advance of the disease.

The Pandemic and Legal Abortion: What Happens When Access Is Limited?

1 month 4 weeks

(NPR) – Around the world, the pandemic has made it harder for women — especially young women and women in lower-income or rural settings — to access contraception and abortion services. The International Planned Parenthood Federation reports that over 5,000 reproductive health clinics globally have closed since the start of the pandemic due to COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures. In some cases, they have closed because of a lack of personal protective equipment to keep doctors and patients safe from contracting the virus.

The Sexual-Health Supply Chain Is Broken

1 month 4 weeks

(The Atlantic) – DKT’s struggles highlight the fragility of a global supply chain in which essential goods and medicines are often sourced from a small handful of countries whose competitive advantage has allowed them to dominate various steps of the production cycle. This is not a challenge limited to reproductive health: All over the world, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics have slowed or halted altogether as governments have closed factories, grounded flights, and sealed off borders in response to the coronavirus. But whereas for most goods, this represents little more than an inconvenience, when it comes to vital sexual- and reproductive-health commodities, such breakdowns can put lives at risk.

Coronavirus Spread by People with No Symptoms ‘Appears to Be Rare,’ WHO Official Says

1 month 4 weeks

(CNN) – The spread of Covid-19 by someone who is not showing symptoms appears to be rare, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said during a media briefing in Geneva on Monday. “From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Van Kerkhove said on Monday.

At Least 7 Coronavirus Strains Circulating in Northern California, Study Finds

1 month 4 weeks

(UPI) – At least seven strains of the new coronavirus have been circulating in California since the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States started, an analysis published Monday by the journal Science has revealed. The findings suggest that the cases of the disease, caused by SARS-CoV-2, likely originated from several sources, including not only overseas travelers but also from visitors from other states — like Washington — as well, the authors said. 

WHO Says Pandemic ‘Far from Over’ as Daily Cases Hit Record High

1 month 4 weeks

(Reuters) – New coronavirus cases had their biggest daily increase ever as the pandemic worsens globally and has yet to peak in central America, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, urging countries to press on with efforts to contains the virus.  “More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.

Coronavirus: The Chaplains at the Front Line of End-of-Life Care

1 month 4 weeks

(BBC) – Coronavirus has radically altered the working life of hospitals. But it has not just affected the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff. While the main role of chaplains – helping patients find a sense of peace – remains unchanged, the way they are doing that has changed beyond recognition. Lying on a table within the chapel of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is a special document. On its pages are prayers and blessings for dying patients to be read out not by a person of the cloth but by a member of staff – such as a nurse or doctor – in the event a chaplain is unavailable. The document’s very existence is testament to the immense impact of Covid-19 on the inner workings of the health service.

Abortion Opponents Protest COVID-19 Vaccines’ Use of Fetal Cells

1 month 4 weeks

(Science) – Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada, along with other antiabortion groups, are raising ethical objections to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are manufactured using cells derived from human fetuses electively aborted decades ago. They have not sought to block government funding for the vaccines, which include two candidate vaccines that the Trump administration plans to support with an investment of up to $1.7 billion, as well as a third candidate made by a Chinese company in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). But they are urging funders and policymakers to ensure that companies develop other vaccines that do not rely on such human fetal cell lines and, in the United States, asking the government to “incentivize” firms to only make vaccines that don’t rely on fetal cells.

Medical Waste from Coronavirus Epidemic Worries Spaniards

2 months 2 days

(Reuters) – Spaniards are concerned about a new problem resulting from the coronavirus epidemic – how to safely get rid of vast amounts of disposable masks, gloves and other sanitary equipment. A special prosecutor for environmental issues said on Friday that as the use of such items has soared, so had public concern about the mismanagement of contaminated waste.

Genes May Leave Some People More Vulnerable to Severe Covid-19

2 months 3 days

(New York Times) – Why do some people infected with the coronavirus suffer only mild symptoms, while others become deathly ill? Geneticists have been scouring our DNA for clues. Now, a study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Variations at two spots in the human genome are associated with an increased risk of respiratory failure in patients with Covid-19, the researchers found. One of these spots includes the gene that determines blood types. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

Tear Gas Is Way More Dangerous Than Police Let On–Especially During the Coronavirus Pandemic

2 months 3 days

(ProPublica) – The Philadelphia protest was one of many instances in recent days in which police launched tear gas — a toxic substance that can cause lung damage — into crowds. In a statement, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that officers had no choice but to release it after protesters threw rocks at them and refused to disperse, and that officers also used nonchemical white smoke to minimize the amount of the irritant “while maintaining a deterrent visual effect.” She called it “a means to safely [defuse] a volatile and dangerous situation.” But tear gas is not safe, according to a number of experts interviewed by ProPublica. It has been found to cause long-term health consequences and can hurt those who aren’t the intended targets, including people inside their homes.

E.R. Visits Drop Sharply During Pandemic

2 months 3 days

(New York Times) – Emergency room visits in the United States have dropped sharply during the pandemic, underscoring concerns that people with serious medical conditions, like heart attacks, are avoiding hospitals, according to a new analysis released on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the coronavirus spread across the United States this spring, visits to emergency rooms decreased by 42 percent over four weeks in April, compared with the same period in 2019. The declines were greatest among children 14 and younger and women, and in the Northeast.

Depression, Anxiety Up 3-Fold Since Start of COVID-19 Pandemic

2 months 3 days

(UPI) – The numbers of Americans suffering from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression have more than tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published Thursday by JAMA. The number of people in the United States reporting feelings of anxiety and depression peaked in early April, according to a separate analysis also published Thursday, by researchers at the University of Southern California.

U.S. Health Department Asks Labs to Add Demographic Data to COVID-19 Results

2 months 3 days

(Reuters) – U.S. laboratories testing patients for COVID-19 are required to report data such as a patient’s age and ethnicity along with test results, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Thursday.  The move aims to better understand why the respiratory illness affects certain demographics such as racial minorities and older Americans more severely than others, the HHS said in a statement. 

Lancet, New England Journal Retract Covid-19 Studies, Including One That Raised Safety Concerns About Malaria Drugs

2 months 3 days

(STAT News) – The Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals, on Thursday retracted an influential study that raised alarms about the safety of the experimental Covid-19 treatments chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine amid scrutiny of the data underlying the paper. Just over an hour later, the New England Journal of Medicine retracted a separate study, focused on blood pressure medications in Covid-19, that relied on data from the same company. The retractions came at the request of the authors of the studies, published last month, who were not directly involved with the data collection and sources, the journals said.

Governments and WHO Changed Covid-19 Policy Based on Suspect Data from Tiny US Company

2 months 4 days

(The Guardian) – The World Health Organization and a number of national governments have changed their Covid-19 policies and treatments on the basis of flawed data from a little-known US healthcare analytics company, also calling into question the integrity of key studies published in some of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. A Guardian investigation can reveal the US-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology.

ICUs Become a ‘Delirium Factory’ for COVID Patients

2 months 4 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Doctors are fighting not only to save lives from COVID-19, but also to protect patients’ brains. Although COVID-19 is best known for damaging the lungs, it also increases the risk of life-threatening brain injuries — from mental confusion to hallucinations, seizures, coma, stroke and paralysis. The virus may invade the brain, as well as starve the organ of oxygen by damaging the lungs. To fight the infection, the immune system sometimes overreacts, battering the brain and other organs it normally protects. Yet the pandemic has severely limited the ability of doctors and nurses to prevent and treat neurological complications. The severity of the disease and the heightened risk of infection have forced medical teams to abandon many of the practices that help them protect patients from delirium, a common side effect of mechanical ventilators and intensive care.

Hype Collides with Science as FDA Tries to Rein in ‘Wild West’ of COVID Blood Tests

2 months 4 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Across America, untold numbers of employers, employees and ordinary citizens are turning to a slew of sometimes pricey new COVID-19 blood tests. Knowing who’s already been infected could have important implications for understanding the spread of the disease, scientists say. But serious questions about the accuracy of some of the serology tests — and the usefulness of the results they provide — have prompted the federal Food and Drug Administration to try to rein in what several infectious disease experts described as “the wild, wild West” of antibody testing.

Benzodiazepines Tied to Higher Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy

2 months 4 days

(New York Times) – Women who take benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, before becoming pregnant may be at increased risk for ectopic pregnancy, a new study found. An ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy is one in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube, and it is a life-threatening event. The egg must be removed with medication or surgery. Benzodiazepines, sold by prescription under several brand names, are widely prescribed for anxiety, sleep problems and seizures. The study, in Human Reproduction, used an insurance database of 1,691,366 pregnancies to track prescriptions for benzodiazepines in the 90 days before conception. Almost 18,000 of the of the women had used the drugs, and the scientists calculated that these women were 47 percent more likely to have a tubal pregnancy than those who did not.

Heart Patients Avoided ERs as Coronavirus Hit, US Study Says

2 months 4 days

(ABC News) – Emergency room visits in the U.S. for chest pain and heart attacks fell early this spring, according to a study that supports fears that the coronavirus outbreak scared away people from going to the hospital.  ER visits were up for respiratory illnesses and pneumonia, but were down for nearly every other kind of injury or ailment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday. Overall, fewer ER patients showed up: Visits were down 42% in a four-week period that stretched from late March through most of April, compared to the same time last year.

Top Medical Journals Raise Concerns About Data in Two Studies Related to Covid-19

2 months 4 days

(STAT News) – Both studies in question used data from Surgisphere, a little-known company based in Chicago that claimed in the Lancet study to have data from 671 hospitals on six continents. The Lancet paper found that the malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which had been explored as potential therapies for Covid-19, did not correspond with improved outcomes for patients, and were also associated with higher mortality. The paper in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that blood pressure medications were not associated with worse outcomes in patients with Covid-19. The studies share some of the same authors, including Sapan Desai, who runs Surgisphere.

Handgun Ownership Vastly Increases Suicide Risk, Large Study Confirms

2 months 4 days

(STAT News) – A large new study confirms what mental health experts and those who research firearms have known for some time: Owning a handgun vastly increases one’s risk of suicide. The research, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, goes beyond what smaller past studies have shown, however, by capturing suicide risk down to the individual level.

Two More People Infected with Ebola in New Congo Outbreak, WHO Says

2 months 4 days

(Reuters) – The Ebola virus has infected two more people in Equateur province in western Democratic Republic of Congo and spread to a new area 150 km (93 miles) away from the original six cases, the World Heath Organization said on Wednesday. On Monday Congolese authorities confirmed tests showing that four people had died of Ebola in the western city of Mbandaka.

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