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Personality traits govern success of workplace wellness programs, study finds

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Oct. 14 (UPI) — The personality traits of individual employees play a strong role in determining the success of workplace wellness programs designed to boost physical activity, a study published Wednesday by the journal PLOS ONE found.

Those identified as extroverted and motivated significantly improved their daily step counts by an average of 945 steps after participating in a competitive gamification program — which uses elements of game playing to encourage engagement — but did not sustain these gains over a 12-week period, the data showed.

Conversely, gamification programs generated 1,100- to 1,200-step improvements in introverted and less motivated study participants that they sustained over the 12 weeks they were monitored, the researchers said.

“This suggests that ongoing incentives and reminders may be necessary to sustain motivation for some groups of people,” study co-author Dr. Shirley Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, said in a statement.

Workplace wellness programs have become increasingly popular as employers seek to improve staff health and well-being. However, recent studies have suggested that they offer limited benefits.

The study by Chen and her colleagues is a follow-up to the 2019 analysis of the STEP UP program, which aimed to increase the step counts of roughly 600 Deloitte professionals classified as being either obese or overweight over a period of six months.

In the STEP UP program, personalized daily step counts were established for each participant, but they were then randomly funneled into four different groups: one that just gave the participants their goals and a step tracker, and three others that mixed in different forms of nudges that were “gamified” using a point system, the researchers said.

For the new analysis, they divided participants into different classifications of certain psychological and behavioral characteristics that the researchers called “phenotypes.”

Study participants completed surveys to help researchers identify personality types and social support needs, according to Chen.

The phenotypes that emerged were “more extroverted and more motivated,” which made up 54% of study participants and “less active and less social,” which was 20%, the researchers said. The remaining participants — 25% — were classified as “less motivated and at-risk.”

The participants then were assigned to one of three gamification programs — supportive, collaborative or competitive.

In the supportive program, participants were asked to identify a friend or family member who encouraged them and received weekly reports on their progress.

Participants in the collaborative program were placed into teams of three and a designated member was selected each day to represent them in their step activity.

Participants in the competitive program were assigned into teams of three and received a weekly “leader-board” email to foster competition.

Although more extroverted and motivated participants in the competitive program saw an uptick in step counts, these same gains were not seen among those in the collaborative or supportive programs, the researchers said.

In addition, gains were not sustained over 12 weeks of follow-up, they said.

However, participants classified as “less active and less social” saw step count improvements ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 in all three programs — and these increases were maintained over the 12-week follow-up period, according to the researchers.

Conversely, those in the “less motivated and at-risk” group had no improvement during the study, the researchers said.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to nudging new behaviors within wellness programs can have limited success,” study co-author Dr. Mitesh Patel, director of the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, said in a statement.

“We’ve shown that different forms of nudging can be effective, and in this latest study … we’ve now demonstrated that matching nudges to the right behavior profiles can unlock their full potential,” Patel said.



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Moderna says data show COVID-19 vaccine almost 95% effective

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Nov. 16 (UPI) — The COVID-19 vaccine under development by U.S. biotech firm Moderna is 94.5% effective in preventing infection, according to interim data the company published Monday.

Moderna said early analysis from its late-stage “COVE” clinical trial for its mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate was based on nearly 100 COVID-19 cases.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters.

“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease.”

Moderna said its COVE trial has found no serious side effects from the mRNA-1273 vaccine.

Bancel said the company will apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to distribute the vaccine once it finishes compiling safety data later this month.

“These are obviously very exciting results,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”

Moderna’s results are similar to those published last week by drugmaker Pfizer, which said its vaccine has shown to be about 90% effective.

Other vaccines are being tested in late-stage trials by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

Fauci said last week a vaccine could be available to the most at-risk populations before the end of the year.



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Experimental herpes vaccine shows promise in lab trials

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Scientists are reporting early success with an experimental herpes vaccine that uses a genetically modified version of the virus.

The gene edit prevents the virus from performing its normal evasive maneuver: hiding out in nervous system cells in order to elude the immune system.

So far, the vaccine has only been tested in lab animals. But scientists hope the genetic tweak will eventually allow the vaccine to succeed where past ones have failed.

The target is herpes simplex virus, or HSV, which in humans includes HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both can cause genital herpes, though HSV-1 is best known for triggering cold sores.

Globally, a half-billion people aged 15 to 49 have a genital herpes infection, according to the World Health Organization.

Those figures alone show there is a “huge need” for a vaccine, said Gary Pickard, one of the researchers on the new study.

But beyond that, once HSV invades the body, it’s there to stay, said Pickard, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

To evade the immune system, the virus works its way into nerve cells and remains there in a dormant state. It can periodically become active again, traveling to the skin and causing sores and other symptoms.

In addition to those flare-ups, HSV infection can sometimes lead to complications. Pregnant women can, rarely, pass it to their newborns, who can become very sick or die, said Terri Warren, a registered nurse and medical advisor to the American Sexual Health Association.

Genital sores, and active HSV infection, also leave people more vulnerable to contracting HIV.

“In some places,” Warren said, “it accounts for many cases of HIV.”

Genital herpes also exacts a psychological toll, she explained, because it’s a lifelong infection that people can transmit to their partners, even when they are symptom-free.

That’s why researchers have been trying for years to create a preventive vaccine — with no success thus far.

As Pickard explained, one issue is that some candidate vaccines use only a subset of HSV components, or antigens, to try to generate an immune response. And that may not be enough: One vaccine with that design failed to prevent HSV-2 infection in a clinical trial involving thousands of young women.

Some other experimental vaccines have used a live, weakened form of HSV, but have run into similar issues.

“They’ve essentially made the virus so ‘sick’ that it can’t illicit a strong immune response,” Pickard said.

The new approach, recently described in the journal npj Vaccines, might circumvent those problems.

For the study, the researchers tested a vaccine made with a live, weakened form of HSV-1 that has a key genetic edit: It prevents the virus from advancing into the nervous system, while allowing it to replicate outside nerve tissue, to draw an immune response.

In lab experiments with guinea pigs, the tactic showed promise.

Of 12 animals given skin injections of the vaccine, only one developed sores after being exposed to HSV-2. In contrast, sores cropped up in 10 of 12 guinea pigs given no vaccine, and in five of 12 given the vaccine that failed in the earlier, human clinical trial.

In addition, the modified vaccine cut the viral shedding period by more than half, from 29 days to about 13. That’s important, Pickard said, because in humans it’s the viral shedding that can transmit the infection, even when there are no sores present.

“The findings on viral shedding are positive,” agreed Warren, who was not involved in the research.

She said a big question is whether a version of the vaccine that uses HSV-2 — rather than HSV-1 — can be shown effective in animals.

The researchers are working on that. Pickard said they are encouraged by the fact that the current vaccine showed “cross-protection” against HSV-2: If anything, they anticipate that an HSV-2 version will be more effective.

The road to an approved vaccine, however, is a long and very expensive one.

The hope is to have a vaccine ready for initial, phase I human testing within a few years, according to Pickard.

More information

The American Sexual Health Association has more on herpes.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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New procedure shows promise for pain relief in shoulder, hip arthritis

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Nov. 16 (UPI) — A method of “stunning” nerves reduces pain by at least 70% in people with moderate to severe arthritis in their hip and shoulder joints, a study presented Monday during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America found.

In the method, called cooled radio-frequency ablation, needles are placed on the main sensory nerves around the shoulder and hip joints, the researchers said.

The nerves, which cause the body to feel pain, are then treated with a low-grade current known as radio frequency that “stuns” them, slowing the transmission of pain to the brain, they said.

The procedure could help the need for potentially addictive opioid-based pain relievers in people with moderate to severe arthritis pain, the researchers said.

“We’re just scratching the surface here,” study co-author Dr. Felix M. Gonzalez said in a statement.

“We would like to explore efficacy of the treatment on patients in other settings like trauma, amputations and especially in cancer patients with metastatic disease,” said Gonzalez, a professor of radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Historically, people with moderate to severe pain related to osteoarthritis have had limited treatment options — including the injection of corticosteroids into the affected joints — that tend to grow less effective as the arthritis progresses and worsens, according to Gonzalez and his colleagues.

“Usually, over time patients become less responsive to these injections,” he said.

Without pain relief, patients with this form of arthritis face the possibility of joint replacement surgery, but many aren’t candidates for these procedures due to other, underling health reasons, the researchers said.

For this study, 23 people — 12 with shoulder pain and 11 with hip pain — with osteoarthritis underwent treatment, the researchers said.

All 23 study participants had pain become unresponsive to anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid treatment, they said.

After receiving cooled radio-frequency ablation, the participants completed surveys to measure their function, range of motion and degree of pain prior to and at three months following the procedure.

No procedure-related complications occurred, and participants in the hip and shoulder groups reported significant reductions in pain with corresponding increases in joint function after the treatment, the researchers said.

Based on survey responses, participants with shoulder pain reported an 85% decrease in pain and a 74% increase in function, on average, Gonzalez said.

Those with hip pain reported a 70% reduction in pain and a 66% gain in function, he said.

“Until recently, there was no other alternative for the treatment of patients at the end of the arthritis pathway who do not qualify for surgery or are unwilling to undergo a surgical procedure,” Gonzalez said.

“This procedure is a last resort for patients who are unable to be physically active and may develop a narcotic addiction,” he said.



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