COVID can cloud the brain for half a year, study finds

California officially reopened a year ago today, when many COVID restrictions were dropped amid widespread optimism about a return to ordinary life. Reality has played out very differently. Multiple surges in cases, including one now under way, have turning the coronavirus into something like a constant companion.

COVID keeps the brain cloudy for at least half a year, UCSD study finds

The neurological impact of a COVID-19 infection often persists after other symptoms have cleared up, according to an initial round of research published Wednesday by scientists at UCSD. A majority of patients in the study, published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, reported symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, memory impairment, and decreased concentration for up to six months after a mild or moderate case of COVID-19. Some also had coordination and cognitive issues. While the symptoms generally improved after half a year, only one-third of the participants said they were completely resolved at that point. None of the individuals in the study had any history of pre-existing neurological conditions prior to their infections.

“It’s encouraging that most people were showing some improvement at six months, but that wasn’t the case for everyone,” said senior author Jennifer S. Graves, associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a neurologist at UC San Diego Health. “Some of these participants are high-level professionals who we’d expect to score above average on cognitive assessments, but months after having COVID-19, they’re still scoring abnormally.” A handful of participants in the study displayed a previously unidentified set of symptoms that included cognitive deficits, tremors and difficulty balancing. “These are folks who had no neurological problems before COVID-19, and now they have an incoordination of their body and possible incoordination of their thoughts,” said Graves. “We didn’t expect to find this, so we want to get the word out in case other physicians see this too.” The research team said it will continue to monitor the study subjects annually for the next 10 years.

Florida only state not to pre-order vaccines for youngest children

Every state but Florida has pre-ordered the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 from the federal government in anticipation of the shots becoming available to the last ineligible age group next week, the Miami Herald reports. State officials missed the pre-order deadline Tuesday, which means there will likely be a delay for families in accessing the vaccine from pediatrician’s offices, children’s hospitals, pharmacies and health centers. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who was hand-picked by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, on Tuesday said he was against providing children access to the life-saving shots. “From what I have seen, there is just insufficient data to inform benefits and risk in children. I think that’s very unequivocal,” Ladapo, who also runs Florida’s department of health, told reporters in Tallahassee, according to Orlando Weekly.

Fewer people getting flu vaccines due to polarization of COVID shots, letter suggests

The politically-charged pushback against COVID-19 vaccines is affecting influenza vaccination rates, according to a letter from researchers at UCLA published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the sensitivity analysis found that while influenza vaccine uptake remained relatively stable during the first influenza season of the pandemic, once COVID-19 vaccines became widely available influenza vaccine uptake decreased, even after adjustments were made for pandemic-related changes to accessing health care. “Our findings suggest that after the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, factors associated with COVID-19 vaccination rates (e.g., safety concerns and mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines or government) may have spilled over to affect influenza vaccination rates,” the authors wrote.

Stanford doctor warns of COVID-related staffing shortages

Abraar Karan, an infectious disease expert at Stanford, said Wednesday that the Bay Area’s current COVID-19 surge is causing staffing disruptions in the local health care system. “At one of the hospitals I work at, enough residents are sick such that we have reduced staffing on our very busy infectious disease service,” he tweeted Tuesday. Karan said he was infected for the second time last month, a pattern he is seeing with increasing frequency. “However you might feel about severity of covid & whether it’s a problem worth solving or not, having multiple doctors out of work sick at the same time is not a good thing. And that too multiple times in a year,” he said. Karan added that with the rise of more transmissible variants, it’s not enough for public officials to rely on individual responsibility to mitigate virus spread. “We need community-level solutions- both in policy, and in engineering controls.”

Most of the world “high risk” for travel, CDC says

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to “avoid travel” to some of the most popular destinations around the world this summer as a majority of countries in Europe, South America, Asia, North America, and Oceana are listed as having “high risk” for COVID-19 in the agency’s updated map. That is the second-worst level in the CDC tiers, behind the classification reserved for “special circumstances.” Out of the 235 locations federal officials monitor, 135 were placed on the “high risk” tier as of Tuesday, indicating that they are reporting 100 new cases per day per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

FDA advisors recommend authorizing Pfizer and Modern vaccines for children under 5

The vaccine advisory committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday unanimously recommended the FDA grant emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months to 4 years old. The three-dose vaccine is 3 micrograms each — the second one given three weeks after the first, and the third given eight weeks after the second. The committee also recommended authorizing the Moderna vaccine for children under 5 earlier on Wednesday. Despite supporting the authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, many vaccine scientists on the committee expressed concerns because the vaccine does not appear to provide sufficient protection after two doses, and the efficacy estimate after the third dose — 80% at preventing symptomatic COVID — was based on just 10 cases. They are concerned, given the Pfizer vaccine was rolled out last year as a two-dose vaccine for adults, that parents may not realize their children won’t get full protection until after three doses.

The two-shot Moderna regimen uses doses of 25 micrograms each, smaller than the adult and older children dosages of 100 micrograms and 50 micrograms, respectively. The Pfizer and Moderna recommendations are incremental steps that will likely lead to the full FDA authorizing the two vaccine brands, after which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review safety and efficacy data for both. The CDC is slated to make its decision over the weekend, and the shots could start going into arms as early as next week. If one or both shots are authorized, it would mark the first time the youngest Americans would be eligible to get vaccinated. Children under 5 are the last remaining age group in the U.S. to get vaccinated and many parents have been anxiously awaiting Food and Drug Administration action to protect their little ones.

Fauci tests positive for COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top pandemic advisor, has tested positive for COVID-19. He is fully vaccinated, double boosted, and experiencing mild symptoms, according to a statement on Wednesday from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Dr. Fauci will isolate and continue to work from his home,” it said, noting he is not considered a close contact with President Biden or other senior government officials. “Dr. Fauci will follow the COVID-19 guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical advice from his physician and return to the NIH when he tests negative,” the statement added.

Paxlovid rebound infections remain rare, study suggests

A newly published study found that out of nearly 500 high-risk COVID-19 patients treated with the antiviral pill Paxlovid, few experienced rebound symptoms, according to data published Tuesday in Clinical Infectious Diseases. In the Feburary to April study of 483 fully vaccinated people, Mayo Clinic researchers identified four patients who had symptoms, generally mild, of a rebound infection at a median of nine days after Paxlovid treatment. None ended up requiring additional COVID-directed therapy, the study said. The common traits among those with symptoms were pre-existing health conditions and that they had received their most recent vaccine dose three or more months earlier. But the researchers said more study is needed to determine the causes.

Study: Mild COVID can spur lasting cognitive symptoms

COVID-19 survivors frequently experience lingering neurological symptoms that resemble cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment, according to research published Monday in Cell. There are clear similarities between COVID “brain fog” and cancer “chemo fog,” according to neuroscientist Michelle Monje of Stanford, who co-authored the study with local colleagues and specialists at Yale, Cedars Sinai and other institutions. “Using a mouse model of mild SARS-CoV-2 infection limited to the respiratory system, we found elevation of CNS cytokines/chemokines and white matter-specific microglial reactivity,” she said in a Twitter thread Tuesday. They found patterns the same “in the brains of people with COVID that we found after chemotherapy.”

Contra Costa, Alameda counties reach “high” COVID risk tier, other Bay Area counties improve

Marin, Sonoma and Santa Clara counties improved their coronavirus transmission status, moving from “high” to “medium” COVID-19 community levels, while Contra Costa and Alameda moved from “medium” to “high,” in the latest estimates of virus spread from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Napa and Solano counties continue to have “high” community levels, according to the maps that are updated daily, and San Francisco and San Mateo County remain in “medium.” All nine Bay Area counties, and nearly the rest of California, are in the “high” category on the COVID-19 transmission map.

FDA advisers recommend authorizing Moderna shot for youth ages 6 to 17

The vaccine advisory committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday recommended that the FDA grant emergency use authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children between ages 6 and 17. The two-dose Moderna vaccine would be the second one available for those in this age group. The Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 was authorized last year and has been available for many months. The Moderna dosage for 12-to-17-year-olds is the same as that for adults, 100 micrograms. The dosage for 6-to-11-year-olds is 50 micrograms. The FDA typically adopts the advisory committee’s recommendations within a couple days

BA.4 and BA.5 variants will likely soon dominate in Europe

Many European nations are seeing an increase in the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the coronavirus and at this rate the two are expected to dominate the region in the coming weeks, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Tuesday. The European Union agency said EU countries have detected low proportions of the two subvariants thus far but in Portugal, BA.5 has become the dominant coronavirus strain, and increasing proportions of BA.5 “have been accompanied by a surge in COVID-19 cases.” Limited data so far shows no evidence these subvariants, which were first detected in South Africa, cause more severe COVID-19, the agency said, but it warned that hospitalizations and deaths can increase as case numbers rise.

Rep. Maxine Waters tests positive for COVID following climate summit with Biden, Harris

Rep. Maxine Waters, who attended the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last week, announced Tuesday that has tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time. “Yesterday, after learning of a potential exposure at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, I was notified that I tested positive for COVID,” the 83-year-old Los Angeles Democrat said in a statement. “I am currently isolating and have no symptoms.” Waters, who is vaccinated and double boosted, previously tested positive in April. The hemispheric summit in Los Angeles, with attendees including President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who on Monday disclosed he also tested positive for COVID the second time this year.

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