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Fearing a ‘twindemic,’ health specialists push urgently for flu shots

Scientists who have been monitoring immune responses to the coronavirus are now starting to see encouraging signs of strong, lasting immunity, even in people who developed only mild symptoms of COVID-19, a flurry of new studies suggests.

Disease-fighting antibodies, as well as immune cells called B cells and T cells that are capable of recognizing the virus, appear to persist months after infections have resolved — an encouraging echo of the body’s enduring response to other viruses.

“Things are really working as they’re supposed to,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona and an author of one of the new studies, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

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Although researchers cannot forecast how long these immune responses will last, many experts consider the data a welcome indication that the body’s most studious cells are doing their job — and will have a good chance of fending off the coronavirus, faster and more fervently than before, if exposed to it again.

“This is exactly what you would hope for,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington and an author of another of the new studies, which is currently under review at the journal Nature. “All the pieces are there to have a totally protective immune response.”

Protection against reinfection cannot be fully confirmed until there is proof that most people who encounter the virus a second time are actually able to keep it at bay, Pepper said. But the findings could help quell recent concerns over the virus’s ability to dupe the immune system into amnesia, leaving people vulnerable to repeat bouts of disease.

Researchers have yet to find unambiguous evidence that coronavirus reinfections are occurring, especially within the few months that the virus has been rippling through the human population. The prospect of immune memory “helps to explain that,” Pepper said.

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Considered with other recent reports, the new data reinforce the idea that, “Yes, you do develop immunity to this virus, and good immunity to this virus,” said Dr. Eun-Hyung Lee, an immunologist at Emory University who was not involved in the studies. “That’s the message we want to get out there.”

New York Times

Fearing ‘twindemic,’ medics urge flu shots

As public health officials look to fall and winter, the specter of a new surge of COVID-19 gives them chills. But there is a scenario they dread even more: a severe flu season, resulting in a “twindemic.”

Even a mild flu season could stagger hospitals already coping with COVID-19 cases. And though officials don’t know yet what degree of severity to anticipate this year, they are worried large numbers of people could forgo flu shots, increasing the risk of widespread outbreaks.

The concern about a twindemic is so great that officials around the world are pushing the flu shot even before it becomes available in clinics and doctors’ offices. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been talking it up, urging corporate leaders to figure out ways to inoculate employees. The CDC usually purchases 500,000 doses for uninsured adults but this year ordered an additional 9.3 million doses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been imploring people to get the flu shot “so that you could at least blunt the effect of one of those two potential respiratory infections.”

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A life-threatening respiratory illness that crowds emergency rooms and intensive care units, flu shares symptoms with COVID-19: fever, headache, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and fatigue. Flu can leave patients vulnerable to a harsher attack of COVID-19; coming down with both viruses at once could be disastrous, doctors warn.

According to the CDC, flu season occurs in the fall and winter, peaking from December to February, and so was nearing its end as the pandemic began to flare in March.

But now, fighting flu proactively during the continuing pandemic presents significant challenges — not only how to administer the shot safely and readily but also how to prompt people to get a shot that a majority of Americans have typically distrusted, dismissed, and skipped.

New York Times

Infections are rising in children, CDC says

The number and rate of coronavirus cases in children have risen since the pandemic took hold in the spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in recently updated guidance, underscoring the risk for young people and their families as the new school year begins.

According to the CDC, the infection rate in children 17 and under increased ‘‘steadily’’ from March to July. While the virus is far more prevalent and severe among adults, the true incidence of infection in American children remains unknown because of a lack of widespread testing, the agency said.

The United States continues to report more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths every day. Health officials reported 1,220 new deaths and 57,120 new infections Saturday — roughly even with the 1,117 deaths and 56,555 cases announced on the same day last week.

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School closures and other public health measures may have contributed to initially low rates of coronavirus infections in children early in the pandemic, according to the CDC.

Children between 5 and 17 also test positive for the coronavirus at higher rates than any other age group, according to CDC data, with positivity rates exceeding 10 percent in public and private lab tests.

The virus incubation period is the same for children as it is for adults.

The new academic year could bring new challenges.

Washington Post

Coronavirus hasn’t ravaged homeless as many feared

SAN FRANCISCO — When the coronavirus emerged in the United States this year, public health officials and advocates for the homeless feared the virus would rip through shelters and tent encampments, ravaging vulnerable people who often have chronic health issues.

They scrambled to move people into hotel rooms, thinned out crowded shelters, and moved tents into spots at sanctioned outdoor camps.

While shelters saw some large COVID-19 outbreaks, the virus so far doesn’t appear to have brought devastation to the homeless population as many feared. However, researchers and advocates say much is unknown about how the pandemic is affecting the estimated half-million people without housing in the United States.

In a country that’s surpassed 5.3 million identified cases and 169,000 deaths, researchers don’t know why there appear to be so few outbreaks among the homeless.

“I am shocked, I guess I can say, because it’s a very vulnerable population. I don’t know what we’re going to see in an aftermath,” said Dr. Deborah Borne, who oversees health policy for COVID-19 homeless response at San Francisco’s public health department. “That’s why it’s called a novel virus, because we don’t know.’’

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Associated Press

New York Times