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Depression, anxiety up 3-fold since start of COVID-19 pandemic, surveys find

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June 4 (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.

Researchers say, however, that mental health should remain a significant concern.

“We need to prepare for higher rates of mental illness among U.S. adults post-COVID,” Beth McGinty, associate professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release.

“It is especially important to identify mental illness treatment needs and connect people to services, with a focus on groups with high psychological distress including young adults, adults in low-income households, and Hispanics,” said McGinty, who co-authored the research letter in JAMA.

The first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was identified in late January. Much of the country went into lockdown in mid-March in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease.

Since then, more than 1.8 million Americans have been infected, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related life changes and stressors — social distancing, fear of contracting the disease and economic uncertainty, including high unemployment — have negatively affected mental health, McGinty and her colleagues said. The pandemic has also disrupted access to mental health services, they said.

For their research, McGinty and her colleagues surveyed nearly 1,500 American adults between April 7 and 13, and compared them to results from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey.

The survey assessed feelings of emotional suffering and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the previous 30 days, but did not ask specifically about COVID-19, researchers said.

The percentage of U.S. adults who reported symptoms of psychological distress as of April 2020 was 13.6 percent, up from 3.9 in 2018, they found.

The biggest increase in prevalence of mental health problems was found among young adults between 18 and 24 years old, 24 percent of whom reported psychological distress in April, compared to 3.7 percent in 2018, they said.

In addition, 19.3 percent of adults with annual household incomes less than $35,000 reported psychological distress in 2020 compared to 7.9 percent in 2018, the researchers found. The researchers suggest record numbers of people filing for unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic may have pushed the rate up.

Nearly one in five Hispanic adults surveyed reported psychological distress in 2020 compared to 4.4 percent in 2018, according to the researchers. Psychological distress in adults 55 years and older almost doubled to 7.3 percent in April 2020 from 3.8 percent in 2018, they said.

“The study suggests that the distress experienced during COVID-19 may transfer to longer-term psychiatric disorders requiring clinical care,” McGinty said. “Health care providers, educators, social workers, and other front-line providers can help promote mental wellness and support.”

Anxiety and depression associated with COVID-19 peaked in early April, when 40 percent of U.S. residents reported feeling anxious and 29 percent said they felt depressed, a separate survey of nearly 7,000 adults conducted between March 10 and May 26 by researchers at USC found.

By late May, 27 percent of survey respondents reported feeling anxious and 25 percent said they felt depressed, they said.

In addition, one in three young adults and those who spend more time on social media said they felt lonely, up from one in five prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the survey found.

“Early April was a tumultuous time for many, many people,” Daniel Bennett, assistant professor of economics at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, said in a statement. “Not only were we worried about the threat of COVID-19 — millions of people had just lost their jobs and families were being forced to adjust rapidly to school closures and new routines.”

“Since then, the pandemic caused a lot of destruction, but the changes to the daily lives of many Americans have been less extreme,” Bennett said.

Three out of five survey respondents believe they’re at high risk for running out of money or contracting COVID-19, Bennett and his colleagues said.

“We are in World War III,” Stephanie Ferguson, a nurse and global healthcare consultant, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. Ferguson was not involved in either survey.

Ferguson said she had a friend in New York City who told her, “I can’t even watch the news I’m so stressed.”

“People can’t make sense of these times,” she said.



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Study: People in U.S. exercising more, but less intensely, during pandemic

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In the face of pandemic-mandated gym closings and significant limits on movement outside the home, a new survey suggests that Americans are spending more time exercising while dialing back the intensity of their workouts.

The survey of nearly 900 Americans across the country, conducted between May and June, used as its benchmark World Health Organization recommendations that all adults between 18 and 64 get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week.

“The COVID-19 restrictions imposed early in the pandemic created a unique, unprecedented environment, including restricted access to resources and, in some cases, increased unstructured time,” said study author Mary Stenson.

“We were curious how these changes might impact physical activity patterns in the U.S. during the shutdowns, but also if these shifts would remain in the long term,” said Stenson, an associate professor of exercise science and sport studies at College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in St. Joseph, Minn.

In Stenson’s study, more than 85% of those polled were women and nearly 90% were white, with an average age of almost 39.

The findings: By June, just over 60% of those surveyed said they were meeting the WHO threshold, representing a nearly 8% jump from pre-pandemic routines.

Investigators also found a more than 11% jump in the number of people who were actually exceeding that threshold.

The number of days per week spent exercising also went up notably, from 3.75 days to more than 4.25 days.

Time spent per exercise session, however, stayed more or less stable, at just under an hour. And exercise intensity decreased “significantly,” the researchers found, with respondents attributing the drop to an inability to access gym equipment and classes and a shift to more outdoor walking.

“The increased activity and lower intensity were in line with what we expected,” said Stenson, who said the findings likely reflect the loss of performance “accountability” that comes with the cancellation of group exercise, organized sports and trainer sessions.

But Stenson said she was surprised by an additional observation that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they were likely or very likely to stick with their pandemic exercise habits post-pandemic.

And nearly 94% of those who had increased their activity levels since March said they planned to continue with their new routines over the coming year.

“We hope to find this is true next spring when we follow up,” said Stenson.

The plan is to re-survey the same people next June. In the meantime, she said her team is “hopeful that some individuals realized how much they can be active with limited resources, and that they will maintain their increased activity in the coming months.”

That thought was seconded by Dr. Beatrice Alexandra Golomb, a professor of medicine with the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine.

“Fitness is tied to better health outcomes, and fewer COVID high-risk factors like hypertension [high blood pressure], obesity and diabetes,” said Golomb, who wasn’t part of the study. “Thus, exercise in the time of COVID remains important.”

“[And] it is a time of opportunity to discover new ways to exercise,” Golomb added. “There are a plethora of online exercise video options, possible parks or trails to investigate, and creative ways to repurpose your home or apartment. Chair, beds, the floor or vacuum cleaners can be conscripted for use. Remember: any movement is better than no movement.”

That becomes all the more important during a time of increased eating and sedentary behavior, said Lona Sandon, program director of the Department of Clinical Nutrition in the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“I know from my own experience,” said Sandon, who had no part in the study. “I sit more during the day when working at home. When I am in the office, I move around a lot more, get up out of my desk to talk to people at the other end of the hall, [and] run up the stairs to do something in the lab.”

And because what you eat is as important as exercise, Sandon has some advice: “Think realistically about calorie balance. We tend to underestimate the calories we eat and overestimate the calories we use. If over the past five or six months your clothes have been tightening, take a look at where you might be getting a few extra calories. Are you eating more desserts than you used too? Are you having a few more beers or glasses of wine? Or simply eating out of boredom or stress and depression?”

Stenson and her colleagues presented their findings last week at the virtual annual meeting of the American Physiological Society. Research presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

There’s more information on the WHO exercise recommendations at World Health Organization.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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FDA issues emergency authorization for first at-home COVID-19 test

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Nov. 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency authorization for the first rapid coronavirus test that can be administered at home.

The agency announced the authorization for the all-in-one test kit late Tuesday in response to a request by Kelly Lewis Brezoczky of Lucira Health, the California-based company that developed the test.

In a letter to Brezoczky, the FDA said the test meets the criteria for an emergency use authorization as there are no available alternatives and the product’s benefits outweigh its known and potential risks.

The test has been authorized for use with samples collected from the nasal cavity of those age 14 years and older whose doctors suspect they have been infected with the coronavirus. Use in doctor’s offices, hospitals, urgent care centers and emergency rooms has been approved for all ages.

While there have been other products approved for collecting samples at home, the Lucira product is the first to be fully self-administered and to provide results without a physician’s assistance.

The company’s website said the test is intended to cost under $50 and is designed to provide results within 30 minutes.

“Today’s authorization for a complete at-home test is a significant step toward FDA’s nationwide response to COVID-19,” Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said the development of a COVID-19 test that can be administered outside a healthcare setting has been a major priority for the FDA, and now that there is one more people who suspect that they may have been infected with the virus can take immediate action to protect themselves and their community.

“We look forward to proactively working with test developers to support the availability of more at-home test options,” he said.

The FDA approval was issued as the nation deals with a growing widespread outbreak. According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, the United States has recorded more than 150,000 case a day in five of the last six days.

The United States has reported more than 11.3 million infections and nearly 250,000 deaths, making it by far the sickest country to the pandemic.



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Antidepressant might help prevent severe COVID-19

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The antidepressant drug fluvoxamine — best known by the brand name Luvox — may help prevent serious illness in COVID-19 patients who aren’t yet hospitalized, a new study finds.

The study included 152 patients infected with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. Of those, 80 took fluvoxamine and 72 took a placebo for 15 days.

By the end of that time, none of the patients who took the drug had seen their infection progress to serious illness, compared with six (8.3%) of the patients who took the placebo, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“The patients who took fluvoxamine did not develop serious breathing difficulties or require hospitalization for problems with lung function,” said first author Dr. Eric Lenze, professor of psychiatry.

“Most investigational treatments for COVID-19 have been aimed at the very sickest patients, but it’s also important to find therapies that prevent patients from getting sick enough to require supplemental oxygen or to have to go to the hospital. Our study suggests fluvoxamine may help fill that niche,” Lenze noted in a university news release.

Fluvoxamine — widely used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder — is a type of drug called a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This class of drugs also includes medicines such as Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa.

But unlike other SSRIs, fluvoxamine has a strong interaction with a protein called the sigma-1 receptor, which helps regulate the body’s inflammatory response.

“There are several ways this drug might work to help COVID-19 patients, but we think it most likely may be interacting with the sigma-1 receptor to reduce the production of inflammatory molecules,” explained study senior author Dr. Angela Reiersen, associate professor of psychiatry.

“Past research has demonstrated that fluvoxamine can reduce inflammation in animal models of sepsis, and it may be doing something similar in our patients,” she said in the release.

By reducing inflammation, fluvoxamine may prevent a hyperactive immune response in COVID-19 patients. That, in turn, may decrease their risk of serious illness and death, Reiersen said.

“Our goal is to help patients who are initially well enough to be at home and to prevent them from getting sick enough to be hospitalized,” Dr. Caline Mattar, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, said in the release. “What we’ve seen so far suggests that fluvoxamine may be an important tool in achieving that goal.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. He wasn’t involved in the study, but said the research is “notable not only because of its positive outcome — we desperately need a medication that keeps COVID patients out of the hospital — but also because of the manner in which it was conducted.”

But Adalja stressed that a larger trial is needed “to see if the promising findings hold up.”

The researchers said they plan to begin such a study in the next few weeks and it will include patients from across the United States.

The preliminary study was published online Nov. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

For more on COVID-19, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Amesh Adalja, M.D., senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore; Washington University in St. Louis, news release, Nov. 12, 2020

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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