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Heartburn drug Pepcid may ease COVID-19 symptoms

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An over-the-counter heartburn remedy is showing some potential as a symptom reliever for COVID-19, a small study finds.

Famotidine, sold under the brand name Pepcid, appeared to improve symptoms in a group of 10 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, researchers reported online June 4 in the journal Gut.

The patients’ self-reported symptoms began to feel better within a day or two of taking famotidine, the study authors said.

“A clinical trial is now needed to formally test if famotidine works against COVID-19,” said lead researcher Dr. Tobias Janowitz, a medical oncologist and cancer researcher with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

But don’t rush out to stock up on Pepcid just yet, warned Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

“This is a very small study that was observational in nature,” Adalja said. “It is very hard to draw any conclusions from it.”

A clinical trial in which Pepcid’s effectiveness is compared against a placebo is essential to prove that the medication works, since it is being used in mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, Adalja said.

“These are mild cases and mild cases do get better over time, so these cases have to be compared to placebo in order to see if this was actually just the natural course of infection or the famotidine,” Adalja explained.

Famotidine is an H2 blocker, a type of heartburn medication that works by decreasing the amount of acid the stomach produces.

Early in the outbreak, doctors found that many older people in Wuhan, China, who survived COVID-19 had been taking heartburn medications, researchers said.

Reviewing patient records, the investigators found that survivors suffering from chronic heartburn had been taking Pepcid rather than the more expensive omeprazole (Prilosec), Northwell Health Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research president Dr. Kevin Tracey told the Science journal in April.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients who’d been taking Pepcid were dying at about half the rate of those not taking the drug, 14 percent versus 27 percent, Tracey said.

Janowitz said, “Patients who were taking this medication coincidentally were having less severe COVID-19.”

For the new study, Janowitz and his team used a symptom tracking method used for patients with cancer, in which sick people chart how they’re feeling day by day.

The group in the study included six men and four women ranging in age from 23 to 71. They came from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, and most had chronic health conditions that increase a person’s risk of severe COVID-19.

The researchers developed a 4-point scale for five common COVID-19 symptoms, and the patients scored those symptoms every day.

Nearly all patients reported improvement in these symptoms after taking famotidine — cough, fatigue, headaches, loss of smell or taste, and shortness of breath, the researchers said.

Five patients also reported that their body aches improved after they began taking famotidine, and three felt less chest tightness, the study findings showed.

“This method of quantifying symptoms and tracking them over time, which we use in cancer medicine, may be of help to understand the natural course of COVID-19,” Janowitz said.

A clinical trial of famotidine’s effectiveness with COVID-19 is underway at Northwell Health in New York City, Tracey noted.

Janowitz said that he could not say why famotidine appears to help patients with COVID-19 symptoms, nor could he say whether other heartburn drugs in its class might also work.

Theoretically, the drug is structured in a way that it might hamper coronavirus from replicating, Tracey told Health.com. Famotidine might bind to an enzyme needed by the virus to replicate itself.

Clinical trials and more lab work will be needed to shed more light on the way the drug might work, Adalja concluded.

“It is also important to look at viral loads or other biomarkers to determine if there is objective evidence that an antiviral or immune-modulatory effect is being exerted by the drug,” Adalja said. “At best, this is hypothesis-generating, and further use of the drug for this purpose should await a randomized, controlled trial to understand whether there is an actual benefit.”

More information

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

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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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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Study: Common cold may help prevent flu, perhaps COVID-19

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — The virus most often behind the common cold is capable of preventing the flu virus from infecting airways by jump-starting the body’s immune defenses, a study published Friday by The Lancet Microbe found.

Now, the researchers from Yale University, want to determine if rhinovirus, the most common cold-causing virus, offers similar protective effects against COVID-19.

In an analysis of more than 13,000 patients with symptoms of a respiratory infection, those who had rhinovirus were not simultaneously infected with the flu virus — even during months when both viruses were active.

The finding may help explain why an expected surge in cases of H1N1 swine flu, predicted for Europe in fall 2009, never occurred, the researchers said.

It’s possible that the H1N1 virus was unable to infect those who already had the common cold, which was widespread at the time, they said.

“Infection with the common cold virus protected cells from infection with a more dangerous virus, the influenza virus, and [this] occurred because the common cold activated the body’s general antiviral defenses,” study co-author Dr. Ellen F. Foxman told UPI.

“This may explain why the flu season, in winter, generally occurs after the common cold season, in autumn, and why very few people have both viruses at the same time,” said Foxman, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Concern has risen over the potential overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic with the annual flu season in the United States.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that the level of new cases of the coronavirus across the country is “too high.”

If cases continue to rise as flu season approaches, Fauci said, people infected with either of the two viruses, or both, could overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system.

“There [have been] a few reports of influenza-COVID-19 co-infections earlier in the year, and many of us are quite concerned what an influenza epidemic added to the COVID-19 pandemic could do,” Dr. Tony Moody, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, told UPI

“At this point, we don’t really know what the two diseases will look like, or if other respiratory viruses will help or hurt during the current pandemic,” said Moody, who was not part of the Yale research.

For this study, Foxman and her colleagues analyzed nasal and throat specimens collected from 13,707 people with evidence of a respiratory infection. Just over 7% of the specimens tested positive for the rhinovirus, while just under 7% had confirmed influenza A infection.

Only 12 people in the study population had evidence of both viruses simultaneously, the researchers found.

To test how the rhinovirus and the influenza virus interact, Foxman and her colleagues created human airway tissue with epithelial cells, which line the airways of the lung and are a chief target of respiratory viruses, grown from stem cells.

After the tissue had been exposed to rhinovirus, the influenza virus was unable to infect the tissue because the cells’ antiviral defenses were already turned on before the flu virus arrived, Foxman said.

The rhinovirus triggered production of the natural antiviral interferon in the cells. Interferon is part of the early immune system response to the invasion of pathogens, Foxman said.

The protective effect offered by this new interferon lasts for at least five days, she said.

The findings may allow researchers to better predict how respiratory viruses spread and find new ways to combat them in the absence of vaccines, the researchers said.

They emphasized, however, that whether the annual seasonal spread of the common cold virus will have a similar impact on COVID-19 remains unknown.

“Our results show that interactions between viruses can be an important driving force dictating how and when viruses spread through a population,” Foxman said.

“Since every virus is different, we still do not know how the common cold season will impact the spread of COVID-19, but we now know we should be looking out for these interactions.”



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People who don’t believe in God may get better sleep, study says

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Atheists and agnostics are much more likely to sleep like an angel than Catholics and Baptists, a new study finds.

It included more than 1,500 participants in the Baylor University Religion Survey who were asked about their religious affiliation, behaviors and beliefs, as well as their average nightly sleep time and difficulty getting to sleep.

While 73% of atheists and agnostics said they got seven or more hours of nightly sleep, only 63% of Catholics and only 55% of Baptists said they got at least seven hours of sleep a night, preliminary data show.

Seven or more hours of sleep a night is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM, for good health.

Catholics and Baptists were also more likely to report having difficulty falling asleep than atheists and agnostics.

Study participants who said they slept seven or more hours per night were much more likely to believe that they would get into heaven, compared to those who got less sleep.

However, beliefs about getting into heaven weren’t linked with difficulty falling asleep at night.

The researchers said that better sleep results in a more optimistic outlook and that in this study, that manifested as people believing they’d get into heaven.

“Mental health is increasingly discussed in church settings — as it should be — but sleep health is not discussed,” said study author Kyla Fergason, a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“Yet we know that sleep loss undercuts many human abilities that are considered to be core values of the church: being a positive member of a social community, expressing love and compassion rather than anger or judgment, and displaying integrity in moral reasoning and behavior,” Fergason said in AASM news release.

“Could getting better sleep help some people grow in their faith or become better Christians? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do know that mental, physical and cognitive health are intertwined with sleep health in the general population,” she noted.

The findings were recently published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep, and were presented last week at the virtual annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more on sleep.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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