Health Highlights: March 26, 2020

By on March 26, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Gilead Backs Down on Special Designation for Possible Coronavirus Drug

Following severe criticism, Gilead Sciences is backing off special designation of its antiviral drug remdesivir — which shows promise against the coronavirus — that would have allowed the company to block competition and increase its profits for the drug.

Gilead asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to designate remdesivir a so-called orphan drug, saying it qualified as a rare disease because fewer than 200,000 Americans are infected with the coronavirus, and the FDA granted the request on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The company was blasted for the move, and a letter sent to the company by more than 50 consumer and patient advocacy groups stated: “COVID-19 is anything but a rare disease.”

Millions of Americans are expected to eventually be infected with the coronavirus, the groups noted.

On Wednesday, Gilead asked the FDA to rescind the orphan drug designation for remdesivir, which was originally developed for Ebola and is undergoing tests as a treatment for the coronavirus, the AP reported.

Currently, there are no drugs, vaccines or treatments approved in the United States for the coronavirus. Some existing and experimental drugs are being assessed, and researchers are developing vaccines.

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Coronavirus Similar to Pandemic Coronavirus Found in Pangolins

Coronaviruses similar to the pandemic-causing SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have been found in pangolins that were smuggled into China, researchers report.

Evidence suggests that bats may be the likely reservoir for SARS-CoV-2, but intermediate host animals that could have led to the transfer of this virus into humans remain unknown.

Pangolins are considered a possible intermediate host animal because they’re the most widely illegally trafficked mammal — for use as food and in Eastern medicine — and are the only mammals other than bats found to be infected with a SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus.

Researchers analyzed samples from 18 Malayan pangolins seized by anti-smuggling officials in southern China between August 2017 and January 2018. SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses were detected in five of the pangolins.

Similar coronaviruses were found in three of 12 more pangolins seized in a second Chinese province in 2018 and in another pangolin from a third province.

However, all of the coronaviruses found in the pangolins lack a specific feature seen in human SARS-CoV-2, which makes pangolin’s role in the transmission of the coronavirus into humans unclear, according to the authors of the study published March 26 in the journal Nature.

The degree of similarity between coronaviruses in pangolins and the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus isn’t sufficient to suggest that pangolins are intermediate hosts directly involved in the coronavirus pandemic.

However, these findings suggest that pangolins are a second mammalian host of coronaviruses and that their sale in wildlife markets should be banned to reduce the risk of future virus transmission to humans, the researchers said.

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U.S. Social Distancing Efforts May Be Working, Fever Study Hints

Social distancing measures such as closing restaurants, bars and other nonessential businesses is slowing the spread of thre new coronavirus in the United States, early evidence suggests.

Data show that the number of people with fever that’s an early indication of coronavirus infection started falling almost immediately after social distancing measures took effect in some areas, USA Today reported.

The findings are from health technology company Kinsa, which analyzed fever readings from more than 1 million thermometers in use across the U.S.

“When you shut down schools and businesses, you are breaking the chain of infections,” Kinsa CEO Inder Singh told USA Today. “The data are showing it is working and the clusters of fever we were seeing are leveling off and diminishing within days.”

Fever fell more than 60% in Santa Clara County, California since it issued a shelter-in-place order on March 17, while fevers have been on the rise in Miami-Dade County.

State and local governments in Northern California took earlier and more aggressive social distancing action than those in South Florida, USA Today reported.

The data is available for public and scientific analysis, and Kinsa plans to submit it to a medical journal.

These are “interesting results that support public health recommendations and should be independently reviewed,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former top U.S. Food and Drug Administration official and Maryland health commissioner, told USA Today.

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