5 new things we learned about COVID in November 2021
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This is understandable, given the massive scale of the pandemic. More than 263 million cases have been confirmed worldwide since the start of follow-up. And even now – as we move closer to two full years of life with the coronavirus – the virus and the means to fight it are still relatively new to the medical world, so researchers are learning as they go.
Yet the amount of information about the coronavirus is staggering. It is difficult to keep track of what is known, what is a myth, and what advice we should follow. That’s why HuffPost rounded up five of the most important new things we learned about COVID in November.
1. Omicron is the worrying new variant.
At the end of November, the World Health Organization identified a worrying new variant: omicron. It has now been detected in around 20 countries (the first case was detected in the United States on December 1), and global health experts are on high alert because it contains a significant number of mutations, many of them on the all-important spike protein. These mutations could be linked to “increased transmissibility and immune evasion,” warned Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert.
It is not yet clear whether omicron is more transmissible, makes people sicker, or is more able to escape our current vaccines. There have been a few encouraging early reports that the symptoms associated with omicron are relatively mild, but these are anecdotal. The reports also do not provide any insight into potential long-term effects. Experts hope we will have more answers on what omicron means for the pandemic in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the new variant makes it more important than ever to mask in indoor public places or situations where social distancing is not an option, and to vaccinate and boost as many people as possible.
2. Boosters are recommended for almost all fully vaccinated adults.
In mid-November, federal health officials significantly expanded the pool of Americans eligible for booster shots. Once omicron was detected, this recommendation became more urgent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising all Americans to receive a booster if it has been six months since their first Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or if it has been two months since they received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further underscores the importance of the vaccination, booster shots and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” said the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a press release. “The first data from South Africa suggests an increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining the efficacy of the vaccine linked to this variant.”
3. 1 in 100 COVID patients may have brain complications.
Throughout the pandemic, studies have tracked the neurological impact of COVID-19, looking at everything from brain fog to long-term memory problems. A sobering new study presented at a conference in November found that about 1 in 100 patients hospitalized with COVID develop serious central nervous system complications, including stroke, hemorrhage and swelling of the brain.
The team behind this study argues that their findings indicate a continued need to investigate all organs that can be affected by COVID, not just the heart and lungs. They also suggest that healthcare providers consider taking a closer look at the potential impact of COVID-19 on the brain, even in patients who are not critically ill.
“There should probably be a low threshold to order brain imaging for patients with COVID-19,” said study researcher Dr Scott Faro, professor of radiology and neurology at Thomas University. Jefferson of Philadelphia.
4. Women are more likely than men to be long-haul COVID.
A study published by a team of doctors and researchers at the Mayo Clinic who treated patients in a post-COVID care clinic found that women were more likely than men to experience symptoms of COVID at long term.
The women in this study also had an enhanced immune response which may have helped them fight off the initial infection, but this may have been the source of their lingering symptoms months later.
“I think women can really handle acute COVID probably better than men, their immune systems can,” Dr. Ryan Hurt, head of Mayo’s post-COVID research and clinical efforts, told Kare11. “But this really strong immune response can also persist longer than it should.”
Experts are still studying post-COVID conditions in real time because the virus is still relatively new. By some estimates, about a quarter of patients with COVID-19 develop long-term symptoms. These symptoms can range from persistent difficulty breathing and fatigue to problems sleeping, menstrual changes, and changes in taste and smell.
5. The first COVID pill could be here in a few weeks.
In late November, a Food and Drug Administration advisory group approved Merck’s oral COVID pill, paving the way for its approval within weeks. However, the vote was close and several panelists raised questions about the “moderate” effectiveness of the pill and demanded that it be accessible only to unvaccinated people.
The Merck pill is one of two antivirals that, if approved, could help treat COVID at home. (Pfizer has also developed a COVID pill and will likely seek emergency use authorization soon.) The hope is that taking these pills early in a person’s illness will prevent serious illness or death – well that experts were quick to warn that while COVID pills are approved, they not replace vaccines.
“This is an additional strategy that we need to help manage the infection for those infected, but does not replace the value of vaccination,” said Dr. Erica Johnson, chair of the American Infectious Disease Board. Board of Internal Medicine, at HuffPost. .
Experts are still learning more about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but directions may change as scientists find out more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.
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