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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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Asthma may not boost risk for severe COVID-19, study says

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New research may have people with asthma breathing a little easier: Doctors found the airway disease doesn’t raise the risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19.

The researchers also noted that people with asthma weren’t more likely than people without it to need a ventilator to help them breathe.

“A lot of people with asthma think they have a predisposition to severe COVID, and they worry a lot about going out. They should take precautions like using their masks, but they may not need to worry so much,” said study author Dr. Fernando Holguin. He’s director of the Asthma Clinical and Research Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in Aurora.

Holguin said the proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 patients with asthma was around 6%.

“For most places, that’s an asthma prevalence that is at or lower than the asthma prevalence in the general population. To compare, with influenza [flu], we typically see about a quarter of those in the hospital have asthma,” he said.

When the pandemic first began, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that people with asthma had a higher risk of hospitalization and other severe outcomes. People with asthma do have a significantly higher risk of complications with flu, another viral infection.

In the new study, the researchers reviewed 15 studies on COVID-19 infections to see how many people hospitalized had asthma.

They also looked at more than 400 patients treated for COVID-19 at the University of Colorado Hospital, to see whether the rates of ventilator use were different in people with asthma.

“The message from our study is not to be cavalier about COVID, but individuals with asthma won’t do worse than people without it,” Holguin said.

Other research also points to the same conclusion. A June study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of more than 1,500 people — 220 with asthma — who had COVID-19 found that people with asthma weren’t more likely to be hospitalized. They also didn’t have a higher risk of death.

Holguin said the researchers have a theory as to why COVID-19 infections don’t seem to lead to worse outcomes in people with asthma.

“Allergic asthma is associated with lower numbers of ACE2 receptors. These are the receptors the virus uses to anchor itself to cells,” he said. That means people with allergic asthma may have less area for the virus to attach to. Holguin added that people who use inhaled corticosteroids (an asthma treatment) also have fewer ACE2 receptors.

The new findings were published Aug. 31 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Dr. Charles Fishman, a pulmonologist with the NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, in New York City, said, “This study’s findings are consistent with what we’ve seen clinically. The original concern was that since people with asthma are disproportionately hospitalized with flu, that they might also have bad outcomes with coronavirus. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with coronavirus.”

Fishman said it’s probably too soon to know why people with asthma are faring better than expected.

“There so much that’s still unknown. It’s important in drawing conclusions that we really rely on good science,” he added.

In the meantime, like Holguin, he advised, “People with asthma should exercise the exact same caution as people without asthma. They don’t need to be increasingly concerned, but should have a healthy respect for what this virus can do. Until a vaccine is available and the population is fully protected, continue to do those things that protect you from the virus [such as wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently and keeping safe distances from others].”

More information

Learn more about asthma from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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COVID-19 may cause long-term heart problems in children, researchers say

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — Children who suffer heart damage caused by COVID-19 may need lifelong care and treatment, according to a review of existing research published Friday by EClinicalMedicine.

Young people who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome after being infected with the new coronavirus may experience heart-related symptoms similar to those seen with two rare, but serious, conditions called Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome, the researchers said.

In some, this may include a reduced ability for the heart to pump oxygenated blood to the tissues of the body or development of a heart aneurysm.

“This is a new childhood disease that is believed to be associated with [COVID-19], and it can be lethal because it affects multiple organ systems [including] the heart and the lungs, gastrointestinal system or neurologic system,” neonatologist Alvaro Moreira said in a statement.

“Children might have no symptoms, no one knew they had the disease, and a few weeks later, they may develop this exaggerated inflammation in the body,” said Moreira, an assistant professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Moreira and his colleagues reviewed 662 of multisystem inflammatory syndrome cases reported worldwide between Jan. 1 and July 25. Almost half of patients who had it also had an underlying medical condition. Of those, half were obese or overweight.

Seventy-one percent of the children who developed the condition after being infected with COVID-19 were admitted to intensive care units, and 60% had symptoms of shock, the data showed.

More than half — 54% — had abnormal findings on echocardiograms of their hearts, suggesting damage. Roughly one in five required mechanical ventilation to maintain breathing, and 11 died in the hospital, researchers said.

The damage spotted on EKGs included dilation of coronary blood vessels, a phenomenon also seen in Kawasaki disease, and depressed ejection fraction, which indicates a reduced ability for the heart to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

In addition, almost 10% of children had an aneurysm of a coronary vessel, or a ballooning of the blood vessel that can be measured on an ultrasound of the heart, which places them at high risk for future heart-health problems, Moreira said.

“These are children who are going to require significant observation and follow-up with multiple ultrasounds to see if this is going to resolve or if this is something they will have for the rest of their lives, and that’s catastrophic to a parent who had a previously healthy child,” he said.

Most of the 662 children suffered cardiac involvement as indicated by elevated levels of a protein that regulates muscle contraction called troponin — up to 50 times higher than normal — which is used with great accuracy in adults to diagnose heart attacks.

On the positive side, children who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome seem to respond well to treatments typically used in Kawasaki disease, including imunoglobulin and glucocorticosteroids.

“Evidence suggests that [these] children … have immense inflammation and potential tissue injury to the heart, and we will need to follow [them] closely to understand what implications they may have in the long term,” Moreira said.



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Kids’ ‘green’ time reduces adverse effects of ‘screen’ time on behavior, learning

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — More time spent outdoors — and less in front of a screen — leads to improved mental health in children and adolescents, according to an analysis of existing research published Friday by the journal PLOS ONE.

Based on data from 186 previously published studies, researchers determined that young people who spent more time on handheld games and devices, television and computers were more likely to have behavior and emotional problems and display symptoms of aggression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

The young people also were more likely to have learning or social difficulties.

Conversely, children who spent more time outdoors and who had increased access to “green” spaces for play and learning were less likely to have these undesirable traits.

“Overall, the studies showed that high levels of screen time were associated with poorer psychological well-being, while more green time was associated with better psychological well-being,” co-author Tassia Oswald told UPI.

“While a lot more work needs to be done in this field to help us understand why this is the case, it is important that [technology] doesn’t become the only thing young people do in their leisure time,” said Oswald, a doctoral student in public health at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The prevalence of mental health illness among children and adolescents is increasing globally, according to Oswald and her colleagues.

In the United States, roughly 7%, or 4.5 million, of children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with a behavioral problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

On average, American children and adolescents spent between four and six hours per day watching or uses devices with screens, and may be exposed to violence and misleading or inaccurate information, among other potentially problematic content, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

A separate study of 1,239 8- to 9-year-olds in Melbourne, Australia, published earlier this week by PLOS ONE, found that watching two or more hours of television per day at that age was associated with lower reading performance compared to peers two years later.

In addition, using a computer for more than one hour per day was linked to a similar reduction in their ability to understand and work with numbers.

However, no links were found between the use of video games and academic performance, the analysis showed.

Preliminary evidence suggests that green time potentially could limit the effects of high screen time, meaning nature may be an under-utilized public health resource to promote youth psychological well-being in a high-tech era, according to Oswald and her colleagues.

“Monitoring screen time can be difficult for parents — especially at the moment when many children have transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19 lockdowns,” Oswald said.

“Trying to encourage a balance of activities is good — so if a child spends an hour on a video game, encourage them to get outside for an hour.”



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