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Plasma helps recovery of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, study shows

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The blood plasma of people who have recovered from the new coronavirus infection may help critically ill COVID-19 patients recover, a new study finds.

Of 25 sick patients given plasma transfusions, 19 improved and 11 left the hospital, the researchers reported. None of the patients had side effects from the transfusion.

“While physician scientists around the world scrambled to test new drugs and treatments against the COVID-19 virus, convalescent serum therapy emerged as potentially one of the most promising strategies,” explained lead researcher Dr. James Musser, chair of the department of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist hospital. “With no proven treatments or cures for COVID-19 patients, now was the time in our history to move ahead rapidly.”

Plasma transfusions from recovered patients have been used since at least 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic and in 2003 in the SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — pandemic. It was also employed in the influenza H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and the 2015 Ebola outbreak in Africa, the researchers noted.

The new report was published online recently in the American Journal of Pathology.

This latest study isn’t the only research looking into the power of plasma transfusions in treating COVID-19.

Two groups of researchers are testing the theory in clinical trials.

One study, from doctors at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, will try to determine whether “convalescent plasma” injected into hospitalized COVID-19 patients can protect them from developing severe disease or requiring a ventilator.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore are poised to launch a pair of new studies looking at the use of plasma in health care workers and those who are sick at home with COVID-19.

Dr. Corita Grudzen, vice chair for research in NYU Langone Health’s department of emergency medicine, wrote the study protocol for the New York City study.

“What we hope to see is that convalescent plasma, used at this stage of disease, so early on, prevents patients from dying, from going on a mechanical ventilator, or any sort of bad outcome,” Grudzen said in a HealthDay Live interview.

The tactic is “sort of a stopgap measure in the sense that, when you don’t have a vaccine, it’s something that can be used in a new infection where we don’t have known drugs or other therapeutics or biologics that we know can work against the disease,” Grudzen explained.

Exactly what is blood plasma?

“Blood plasma is the liquid part of the blood,” explained Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of Hopkins’ department of molecular microbiology and immunology and lead researcher on the two Hopkins studies.

Characterized by its yellowish cast, plasma contains both red and white blood cells, as well as the colorless platelets the body deploys to clot and stem bleeding from wounds or cuts.

“And that’s [also] where the antibodies are,” Casadevall noted. “The antibodies are floating in the liquid.”

With plasma therapy, he explained, “you’re taking the antibodies that somebody else made when they recovered and you’re transferring them to a new person. So, the new person gets them already made, and can use them right away.”

Convalescent plasma is not without dangers.

The two main ones are the patient catching an infectious disease, though blood screening helps to lessen that possibility, or a patient’s immune system reacting badly to the injected plasma of another person. Grudzen noted that, “especially in older people, it’s a little more risky.”

And Casadevall cautioned that plasma therapy still needs to be tested on COVID-19 to see if it’ll work against this specific virus, “simply because it’s a new organism.”

To that end, Hopkins is set to start two COVID-19 plasma investigations simultaneously, with funding coming from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the state of Maryland, and Hopkins.

“The first trial is focused on trying to use plasma on high-risk populations,” he noted. That investigation will include health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic and nursing home residents, with a minimum of 150 participants.

“The second trial is focused on people who are sick at home,” Casadevall said. “We know most people recover. Most people today who are sick are sitting at home hoping to get better. But we also know that some fraction of them will get worse,” he added.

More information

There’s more about the COVID-19 pandemic at Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Survey: 40% in U.S. planning large gatherings for holidays despite COVID-19 warnings

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Nov. 12 (UPI) — Nearly 40% of U.S. residents plan to participate in gatherings of 10 or more people this holiday season despite concerns over the spread of COVID-19, according to the findings of a survey released Thursday by Ohio State University.

In addition, one-third of respondents said they wouldn’t ask attendees at holiday parties with family or friends to wear masks, and just over 25% indicated that they wouldn’t practice social distancing, the data showed.

“We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?'” Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, part of the team that conducted the survey, said in a statement.

“When you’re gathered together around the table, engaged in conversation, sitting less than 6 feet apart with your masks down, even in a small group, that’s when the spread of this virus can really happen,” said Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Researchers at Ohio State surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. residents on their holiday plans in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 10.5 million people nationally have been sickened by the virus, and more than 240,000 have died, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

In recent weeks, federal, state and local public health officials have advised against traveling or partaking in large social gatherings as the holiday season approaches to limit the risk of spreading the new coronavirus to vulnerable loved ones.

At the very least, they’ve asked that gatherings not happen without wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, or staying 6 feet apart.

Those at risk for severe COVID-19 include the elderly, as well as those with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, all of which are common across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, 38% of respondents to the Ohio State survey indicated they would host or attend a gathering with 10 or more people during the holidays and 33% would not ask others to wear masks, the researchers said.

However, 73% of respondents said they would practice social distancing during the holidays and 79% suggested that they would celebrate or gather only with people with whom they live, the data showed.

Just over 80% indicated that they would ask family and friends invited to events not to come if they had symptoms of COVID-19.

“If you have someone in your household who’s high risk and you’re in a low incidence area, you’re going to want to think twice about having a celebration where people are coming from an area where there’s a lot of virus in the community,” Gonsenhauser said.



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Healthy diet, exercise good for heart regardless of medication use

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No matter how many medications you take, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and getting plenty of exercise will help keep you alive, a new study finds.

“We’ve long known about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle. The results from our study underscore the importance of each person’s ability to improve their health through lifestyle changes even if they are dealing with multiple health issues and taking multiple prescription medications,” said researcher Neil Kelly. He’s a medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University in New York City.

For the study, Kelly’s team collected data on more than 20,000 people who took part in a study on racial differences in stroke.

At the start of the study, 44% of participants were taking four or fewer prescription medications, 39% were taking five to nine, and 17% were taking 10 or more medications.

After about 10 years, the researchers found that a healthy lifestyle reduced the risk of death during the study period regardless of the number of medications a person was taking, and the more healthy lifestyle habits one had, the lower the risk of death.

The findings were scheduled for presentation at the American Heart Association’s virtual annual meeting, Nov. 13 to 17. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It’s especially important for health care professionals to counsel patients and develop interventions that can maximize healthy lifestyle behaviors, even among patients with several prescription medications,” Kelly said in an AHA news release.

“It’s important for the public to understand that there is never a bad time to adopt healthy behaviors. These can range from eating a healthier diet to taking a daily walk in their neighborhood,” he added. “A healthier lifestyle buys more time.”

More information

For more on a healthy lifestyle, head to the American Heart Association.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Bacteria in lungs may play role in cancer development, study says

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Lung cancer patients who harbor certain bacteria in the airways may have a poorer prognosis, a new study finds, adding to evidence that the body’s “microbiome” may play a role in cancer patients’ outlook.

The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that naturally dwell in the body. Research in recent years has been revealing how important those bugs are to the body’s normal functions, including immune system defenses.

When it comes to cancer, studies have hinted that the microbiome can influence tumor progression, and patients’ likelihood of responding to certain treatments.

For example, a number of cancers can be treated with immunotherapy — various approaches to boosting the immune system’s natural tumor-fighting capacity. Research has found that patients who respond well to immunotherapies tend to have a different makeup in the gut microbiome, compared to patients who do not respond.

The new study, published this week in Cancer Discovery, took a different view. Instead of focusing on the gut microbiome, researchers analyzed lung microbes of patients with newly diagnosed lung cancer.

In microbiome research, “the lung has really been ignored,” said lead researcher Dr. Leopoldo Segal, director of the Lung Microbiome Program and an associate professor at New York University Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.

Traditionally, he explained, the lungs were believed to be “sterile.” But recent research has shown that even in healthy people, the lungs can harbor low amounts of bacteria — drawn in from the air or the mouth.

Segal’s team wanted to see whether lung bacteria corresponded to lung cancer patients’ prognosis.

Looking at tissue samples from 83 patients, the researchers found that those with advanced-stage cancer carried more microbes than patients in the early stage of disease.

And when patients did have “enrichment” with certain bacteria types, their odds of survival were lower — even those with earlier-stage cancer.

Specifically, patients harboring Veillonella, Prevotella and Streptococcus bacteria had a worse prognosis. They also showed signs of an inflammatory immune response that, based on past research, may worsen lung cancer patients’ outlook.

None of that proves the bacteria, themselves, were to blame, Segal said. The cancer itself might make the lungs more “receptive” to being colonized with bacteria.

So the researchers turned to lab mice. They transferred Veillonella bacteria into mice with lung cancer and found that the microbes revved up “bad” inflammation, fed tumor growth and shortened the animals’ survival.

That suggests lung bacteria might modulate the immune response in a way that affects lung cancer progression, according to Segal.

But the microbiome is complicated, and it’s hard to draw conclusions from mouse findings, according to Dr. Thomas Marron of Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute in New York City.

Right now, he said, there is a “huge interest” in understanding the microbiome’s influence in cancer.

“Studies like this are really interesting,” said Marron, who was not involved with the research, “but we’re probably a few decades away from being able to alter the microbiome to treat cancer.”

Individuals vary in their microbiome makeup, and that’s determined by things like genetics and the immune system, Marron explained. So even if the body’s microbial communities directly affect cancer prognosis, he said, it will be a long time before researchers can turn that into therapy.

“We still don’t know how we could effectively target the microbiome,” Marron said.

He pointed to one question from the new findings: Is there any link between the lung microbiome and patients’ likelihood of responding to immunotherapy?

Segal said his team plans to study that.

Dr. John Heymach chairs thoracic/head and neck medical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He called the findings “a compelling starting point,” but also emphasized the long research road ahead.

“At this point, we’re not ready to directly act on this in the clinic, by either trying to kill ‘bad’ bacteria, or add back ‘good’ bacteria,” said Heymach, who was not part of the study.

So far, he noted, studies have reached different conclusions as to exactly which types of bacteria are related to better cancer outcomes — which might be due to differences in how studies look for the microbes.

And like Marron, Heymach pointed to the microbiome’s complexity: It generally differs from one large population to the next and among individuals — based on numerous factors.

Still, Heymach said the recent “explosion” in microbiome research could eventually lead to applications in cancer treatment. Besides the possibility of altering the microbiome, he said doctors might be able to use patients’ microbiome makeup as a “biomarker” of their risk of progression.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on cancer immunotherapy.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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