Health Highlights: May 13, 2020

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

New York City May Have Had Thousands More COVID-19 Deaths Than Thought

There may have been thousands more COVID-19 deaths in New York City so far than official figures suggest, according to a new analysis released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It found that between March 11 and May 2, there were about 24,000 more deaths in New York City than would normally be expected during that time period, which is about 5,300 more deaths than were attributed to the new coronavirus during those weeks, CBS News reported.

Some of those excess deaths could have been caused by COVID-19 but weren’t included in official tallies because the person died at home, or because healthcare providers didn’t know the person was infected, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene researchers.

They said another factor could be that people delayed seeking care for conditions such as heart disease or diabetes because they were afraid of contracting the coronavirus, or their care was delayed due to hospitals being overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis, CBS News reported.

As of Sunday, New York City had recorded nearly 14,800 COVID-19 deaths confirmed by a lab test and another nearly 5,200 probable deaths where no test was conducted.


Any Smoking, Drinking in Pregnancy Threatens Baby’s Brain: Study

Any amount of drinking or smoking at any time during pregnancy can harm a baby’s brain development, a new study warns.

It included more than 1,700 newborns in the U.S. and South Africa and found that drinking or smoking in the early stages of pregnancy and then quitting, and drinking and smoking at low, moderate or high levels all affected brain development in newborns, CNN reported.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“Already we can see there was an alteration in the development of brain processes that can be quantified during sleep when babies are just a few days of age,” said senior author William Fifer, professor of medical psychology, Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, CNN reported.

“Babies of those moms who even had low levels of alcohol or tobacco exposure still had some alterations in the brain activity.”


Doctors Without Borders’ Team Sent to Navajo Nation To Fight COVID

Doctors Without Borders has sent a nine-person team to the Navajo Nation in the southwest U.S. as it struggles with a coronavirus crisis.

This is the first time Doctors Without Borders — which specializes in sending medical teams to conflict zones worldwide — has dispatched a team to a location in the United States, CBS News reported.

The team sent to the Navajo Nation — which is home to 170,000 and has more coronavirus cases per capita than any state — includes two physicians, three nurse/midwives, a water sanitation expert, two logisticians and a community health education specialist.

“There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile,” Jean Stowell, head of the U.S. COVID-19 response team for Doctors Without Borders, told CBS News.

“Situationally, the Native American communities are at a much higher risk for complications from COVID-19 and also from community spread because they don’t have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate You can’t expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water,” Stowell said.

Navajo Nation lacks nursing and specialized medical staff, so the most severely-ill patients have to be airlifted to hospitals outside of the reservation. There are also high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, which make people susceptible to infection, CBS News reported.


Putin’s Spokesman Hospitalized With COVID-19

A key aide of Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, 52, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday: “Yes, I’ve gotten sick. I’m being treated,” the Associated Press reported.

He started working with Putin in the early 2000s and has been his spokesman since 2008.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Peskov’s hospitalization means that his condition is serious or if it’s an extra precaution, the AP reported.


New Study Latest to Show Hydroxychloroquine Ineffective Against COVID-19

Yet another study shows that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — promoted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19 — doesn’t work against the illness.

It also found that hydroxychloroquine puts patients at risk for heart problems.

The study included more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients admitted to 25 New York City area hospitals. Death rates were similar for those who received hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, and those who weren’t given hydroxychloroquine, CNN reported.

Patients who took the hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin combination had a more than two times higher risk of cardiac arrest, the University of Albany researchers said. Heart problems are a known side effect of hydroxychloroquine.

The study was the largest of its kind and was published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It follows a study published last Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed hydroxychloroquine is ineffective against COVID-19.

“The nail has virtually been put in the coffin of hydroxychloroquine,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and longtime adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN.

“The big takeaway for me from this study is that it’s very consistent with the FDA and NIH guidelines that came out in April,” said study co-senior author David Holtgrave, dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany.

“When deciding on public health interventions and treatments for COVID-19 or any other disease, it’s really important to follow the data and follow the science and make sure decisions are being made on the highest quality data possible,” he told CNN.


Trump Administration Suggests COVID-19 Testing at All U.S. Nursing Homes

Coronavirus testing should be conducted on all residents and staff at U.S. nursing homes over the next two weeks, the White House suggested to state governors Monday.

However, the Trump administration isn’t ordering testing at the more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide and the reason for not doing so is unclear, the Associated Press reported.

It’s also not known why the administration is recommending testing now, more than two months after the first major COVID-19 outbreak at a U.S. nursing home.

Nursing homes should have been given priority for testing from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We’re two months into it,” she told the AP. “If they had done that to begin with, we would’ve picked up cases early and we wouldn’t have so many deaths.”

There have been more than 27,000 COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff at U.S. nursing homes and long-term care facilities, which is about a third of all 80,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to the AP.