Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2020

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

Nurses at High Risk for COVID-19: CDC

Among all health care workers, nurses face the highest risk of catching COVID-19, a new study finds.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at nearly 6,800 hospitalizations in 13 states between March and May, The New York Times reported. Roughly 6% of those hospitalized were health care workers, and more than a third of those cases were nurses or nursing assistants.

About 27% of those hospitalized workers were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 4% died, the Times reported.

Health care workers “can have severe COVID-19-associated illness, highlighting the need for continued infection prevention and control in health care settings, as well as community mitigation efforts to reduce transmission,” the researchers said in a report released Monday.

“We need more testing,” Michelle Mahon, assistant director of nursing practice at National Nurses United, told the Times.

Saying the findings are no surprise, Mahon criticized federal officials for not having more robust guidelines. About 2,000 health care workers have so far died from the virus, according to a union report.

Workers should be tested more often so they can be identified and isolated, to keep the infections from spreading. Also, supplies of protective gear for health care workers have been uneven, and some hospitals aren’t prepared for an increase in cases, she told the Times.

Many health care workers also have underlying health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure, that put them at risk for infection. And nearly 75% of those hospitalized were obese, a high-risk category for death, according to the CDC report.

Most of the stricken workers cared for patients in hospitals, homes or schools. Most of the hospitalized workers were women. They tended to be older, and more were Black, the Times reported.


New Guidelines Issued to Manage Increase in Opioid Use During Pregnancy

In response to the increased use of opioids among pregnant women, the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued new guidelines to improve care for women and newborns affected by the mothers’ drug use.

The number of women and babies affected by opioid abuse has increased, but they often don’t get effective treatment and the pandemic may be worsening that problem, guidelines author Dr. Stephen Patrick, a pediatrician at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press.

“While we have been talking about the opioid crisis for years, pregnant women and their newborns seldom make it to the top of the heap. Infants are receiving variable care and not getting connected to services,” Patrick said.

Pregnant women should have access to medications to treat opioid misuse. Buprenorphine and methadone are effective treatments, but pregnant women can face stigma if they use them and not many doctors prescribe them, the AP reported.

Breastfeeding and other things that promote bonding should be encouraged, and education and referral to services for newborns should be provided, the academy said.

“This is a substantial public health problem that is still lacking solutions,” Patrick told the AP.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7% of U.S. women have used prescription opioids during pregnancy. One in 5 reported misusing the drugs while pregnant.

Also, heroin and fentanyl use has increased among pregnant women, the AP said.

Some infants born to women who abuse drugs during pregnancy have symptoms of withdrawal, like tremors, fussiness and diarrhea.

Nearly 80 infants are diagnosed with withdrawal symptoms every day and the numbers have tripled in recent years, according to the AP.

“Getting into treatment may be getting even harder” because of the pandemic, Patrick said. “There’s so much going on in the world that issues involving opioid use are flying under the radar.”


Five Pence Staffers Test Positive for COVID-19

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now quarantined, CBS reported.

“Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for COVID-19 today, and remain in good health,” Pence’s press secretary Devin O’Malley said in a statement Friday. “The Vice President will maintain his schedule following the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”

Besides Short, political adviser Marty Obst and three members of his staff are infected with the coronavirus, CBS reported. Pence’s office said Sunday morning that the vice president and second lady tested negative for the virus.

Pence is currently campaigning for President Trump, but staffers considered in close contact with Short were pulled from the latest campaign swing, CBS reported.

Short’s positive test calls into question the White House’s coronavirus safety protocols, CBS reported. Pence is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.


AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson Resume U.S. COVID Vaccine Trials

Drugmakers AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are ready to resume paused coronavirus vaccine trials after health scares, CNN reported.

The AstraZeneca trial was stopped in early September, and Johnson & Johnson’s was paused earlier this month.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the restart after reviewing all the safety data, CNN reported. The AstraZeneca trial has already resumed in other countries. That trial was stopped after a Britain volunteer developed an unexplained neurological condition.

Johnson & Johnson’s trial was halted because one participant had an “unexplained illness,” for which “no clear cause” was identified, the company said.

Government health officials and outside experts have said the holds are an example of how the safety process is protecting Americans from any potentially dangerous vaccines, CNN reported.