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COVID-19 outbreaks at meat processing plants are hitting minorities hard

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Workers from ethnic and minority groups make up nearly all meatpacking employees who’ve been infected during COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities, a new government study reveals.

The stats show that nearly 1 of every 10 workers in affected plants were diagnosed with COVID-19, based on figures from 14 states that reported the total number of workers in facilities with outbreaks. Among infected workers, 87 percent were from racial or ethnic minorities.

There have been 16,233 reported COVID-19 cases at 239 meat and poultry processing facilities located in 23 states reporting stats to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through May 31, according to a July 7 analysis in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Of the workers with COVID-19 who reported their race or ethnicity, about 56 percent of infected employees were Hispanic and 19 percent were black, the report found. Whites represented 13 percent of cases, and Asians accounted for 12 percent.

“Ongoing efforts to reduce incidence and better understand the effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic
minorities are important to ensure that workplace-specific prevention strategies and intervention messages are tailored
to those groups most affected by COVID-19,” the report concluded.

There were 86 deaths related to COVID-19 among the workers, the CDC reported.

The actual numbers are probably even higher than reported here, given that many states did not submit data for this report, the CDC researchers, led by Dr. Michelle Waltenburg, said.

Outbreaks at meatpacking plants were among the first signs that COVID-19 had started to reach into states previously unaffected by the coronavirus.

Meat and poultry processing plants employ an estimated 525,000 workers in about 3,500 facilities across the nation, the researchers said in background notes.

These new numbers show that “unsafe working conditions at meatpacking plants placed workers at high risk for COVID-19,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Glatter cited crowded working conditions, a lack of personal protective equipment, and inconsistent testing for the coronavirus as some of the major factors in the outbreaks reported around the country.

According to the CDC report, of the facilities with COVID-19 cases, 111 plants in 14 states reported their efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus:

  • 80 percent said they screened workers upon entry,
  • 77 percent required face coverings,
  • 65 percent installed more hand hygiene stations,
  • 63 percent educated workers about how infectious diseases spread,
  • 62 percent installed physical barriers between workers,
  • 37 percent offered COVID-19 testing to employees,
  • 22 percent closed temporarily to halt or prevent an outbreak.

An infected person who coughs or sneezes produces aerosolized droplets that can remain airborne for at least eight to 14 minutes, Glatter noted.

“Knowing this, it’s essential that workers in meatpacking plants wear PPE, and have physical partitions along with adequate physical distance between them to reduce risk of transmission,” Glatter said.

The CDC recommended in its report that plants also provide culturally appropriate health education materials to workers, encourage employees to take sick leave when needed, and screen workers for possible infection.

However, efforts to screen workers as they enter the plant are probably futile since infected people without symptoms account for a large percentage of COVID-19 cases, Glatter said.

“Temperature checks and symptom screening have limited value,” Glatter said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Racquet sports make arthritic knees worse for overweight people

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Stay off the court: For overweight people with arthritic knees, racket sports like tennis and racquetball may accelerate degeneration of the joints, a new study finds.

Exercise can benefit overweight people, but the wrong type might damage knees and lead to the need for knee replacement surgery, the researchers said.

“Fast-paced and high shear load physical activities, such as racket sports, are more harmful for overall knee joint health,” said lead researcher Dr. Silvia Schiro, from the University of California, San Francisco.

Racket sports include frequent and high-intensity lateral movements that can worsen knee osteoarthritis, as opposed to activities that mostly involve forward movements — such as running, an elliptical machine, swimming and bicycling — or forward and diagonal movements, such as ball sports, Schiro said.

“Overweight or obese people may benefit from working out with an elliptical trainer in order to lose weight and engage a healthy lifestyle,” Schiro said.

For the study, Schiro’s team used MRI scans to assess the rate of degeneration of the knee joint in 415 overweight or obese patients who were part of the U.S. Osteoarthritis Initiative.

Participants kept records of different types of physical activity, including ball sports, bicycling, jogging/running, elliptical trainer, racket sports and swimming. The participants were evaluated using the Whole-Organ Magnetic Resonance Imaging Score — “WORMS” — a measure of knee degeneration.

Patients who regularly took part in racket sports saw their WORMS increase significantly, compared with patients who used the elliptical machine, the researchers found.

Surprisingly, the same happened in those participating in racket sports when compared with those who jogged or ran. Those doing racket sports had a significantly greater degeneration in the medial tibial cartilage compartment, which is the area where arthritis often first appears.

Those using the elliptical machine showed the smallest changes in degeneration over the four years of the study.

The faster degeneration of the knee joints in people who participated in racket sports is likely due to the high-speed lateral movements inherent in such sports, Schiro said.

Overweight people who continue to play racket sports might slow degeneration in their knees by switching to sports with less fast-paced and high shear loads like badminton or doubles tennis, the researchers suggested.

Schiro emphasized that the degenerative process is complex and individualized. Some people may be able to safely play these sports, she said. But as a group, overweight and obese people who play racket sports are at higher risk for disease progression.

Knee osteoarthritis, which gradually wears down the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones, is a major cause of pain and disability, affecting about 14 million Americans, the researchers noted.

Dr. Karen Schneider is an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said, “Moderate daily exercise and weight loss for those who are overweight are important in the treatment of knee and hip osteoarthritis.”

Besides improvement in bone density, cardiovascular health and mental well-being, exercise helps decrease joint stiffness associated with osteoarthritis, and improves flexibility and strength, she added.

It may seem counterintuitive that running did not increase the risk of progressive osteoarthritis, but that has been shown in other studies looking at the association of moderate running and osteoarthritis, Schneider said.

“Lower-impact exercises — such as biking, elliptical trainer and swimming — are easier on the joints and often may be preferable to patients with obesity and osteoarthritis,” she said. “For those patients who enjoy tennis, I would encourage them to play doubles on a softer surface and cross-train with other low-impact forms of exercise.”

The findings are scheduled for presentation at the upcoming virtual annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more on knee osteoarthritis, head to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Chinese COVID-19 vaccine said to show promise in early clinical trials

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Nov. 17 (UPI) — A vaccine against COVID-19 developed in China safely produces antibodies against the virus in 92% of the people who receive it, according to a study published Tuesday by The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Still, antibody levels among participants receiving the shot, called CoronaVac, were lower than those seen in patients who have recovered following infection, the researchers said.

The trial was not designed to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine, however, and those studies are ongoing, they said.

“Our findings show that CoronaVac is capable of inducing a quick antibody response within four weeks of immunization by giving two doses of the vaccine at a 14-day interval,” study co-author Fengcai Zhu said in a statement.

“We believe that this makes the vaccine suitable for emergency use during the pandemic,” said Zhu, a researcher with the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Nanjing, China.

The findings are the latest to fuel hopes that a viable vaccine against COVID-19 will become available in the short-term.

In recent days, both Pfizer and Moderna have released positive, preliminary results with their respective vaccines. More than 120 potential vaccines are being evaluated, and 48 are in clinical trials.

CoronaVac is a chemically inactivated whole virus vaccine based on a strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, originally was isolated from a patient in China.

In this phase 1/2, two-part clinical trial — the first stage of the evaluation process — researchers administered CoronaVac to more than 700 healthy volunteers ages 18 to 59 in China between April 16 and May 5.

No participant had a history of COVID-19 infection, had not traveled to areas with high incidence of the disease and did not have signs of fever at the time the vaccine was administered, the researchers said.

In both parts of the trial, participants were split into two groups to receive one of two vaccination schedules — either two injections 14 days apart or two injections 28 days apart.

Within each of the two groups, participants were randomly assigned to receive either a low dose of the vaccine — 3 micrograms — or a high dose — 6 mcg.

Antibody responses — proteins produced by the immune system to fight off viruses — could be induced within 28 days of the first immunization by giving two doses of the vaccine at the lower dose 14 days apart, the data showed.

In the phase 1 portion of the study, the vaccine produced an immune response in 46% of participants, a figure that more than doubled to just over 92% during the second phase.

The vaccine used in the second phase of the study was produced using a different manufacturing process that may have enabled it to produce a stronger immune response, researchers said.

Participants in all dosing schedules and levels reported similar side effects, with pain at the injection site the most common.

Most of the reported side effects were mild and participants recovered within 48 hours.

CoronaVac can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, which is “typical for many existing vaccines including flu,” and can remain in storage for up to three years, according to study co-author Dr. Gang Zeng, of China-based Sinovac Biotech, which makes the vaccine.



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Buying gun during pandemic may increase suicide risk, study says

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Those who buy guns as the pandemic rages are more likely to be suicidal than those who already own firearms, a new study finds.

In fact, among people who bought guns during the pandemic, about 70% reported having suicidal thoughts, while just 37% of other gun owners had such thoughts, researchers found.

“People who were motivated to purchase firearms during COVID-19 might have been driven by anxiety that leaves them vulnerable to suicidal ideation,” said researcher Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center and an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, N.J.

“While this does not guarantee an increase in suicide rates, it represents an unusually large surge in risk made more troubling by the fact that firearms purchased during COVID-19 may remain in homes beyond the pandemic,” he said in a university news release.

During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 2.5 million Americans bought guns for first time. In March alone, when the pandemic began with a vengeance in the United States, roughly 2 million guns were purchased, Anestis said.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 3,500 Americans. A third of them owned guns.

The researchers found that of those who bought a gun during the pandemic, 70% had suicidal thoughts throughout their lives, 56% had suicidal thoughts during the past year, and 25% had suicidal thoughts during the past month.

Among people who did not buy guns during the pandemic only 56%, 24% and 12%, respectively, had suicidal thoughts during those time periods.

“Firearm owners are usually no more likely than non-firearm owners to experience suicidal thoughts,” Anestis noted. “It is possible that a higher-risk group is driving the current firearm purchasing surge, introducing long-term suicide risk into the homes of individuals who otherwise may not have acquired firearms during a time of extended social isolation, economic uncertainty and general upheaval.”

People who bought a gun during the pandemic also were also less likely to store guns in a secure way, including storing the weapons unloaded or using locking devices.

“The increase in firearm purchases is concerning, given that suicide is three times more likely in homes with firearms, and there is a hundred-fold increase in an individual’s suicide risk immediately following the purchase of a handgun,” Anestis said. “And unsafe firearm storage increases that risk.”

The report was published this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

More information

For more on guns and suicide, see Harvard University.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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