Most importantly, I learned that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and that even when you’re doubting your abilities or decisions in the face of adversity (like parenting during a pandemic), doing your best is more than good enough. The pandemic was a testament to my own resilience as a father and served as reassurance that no obstacle can’t be overcome with patience, love, and a healthy amount of alcohol (kidding, sort of). —Ariel Owens-Barham, stay-at-home dad of a 9-year-old son“Tuning into my daughter was a game-changer.”Our daughter was born early in the pandemic, so stay-at-home orders meant I got to spend a lot of time with her in her first few months of life. I was grateful for the extra bonding time, but at first, whenever she cried, I would get stressed out and immediately tried to figure out what the problem was. The problem was me. Babies cry and that’s normal. I just needed time to better understand her cues and whether she actually needed something. That was a game-changer, especially for my wife. I think I stressed her out more than our daughter! —Arthur Mats, strategic projects director, father of a 2-year-old daughter“It doesn’t have to always be work or family.”I feel like I used to go 100% into work mode when I was at the office and put on blinders with all things family until I got home. Now that my work is at home and my family is around for a lot of it, I learned I can be a dad one minute and shift back to being a co-worker the next. I’m more flexible than I gave myself credit for, and honestly, having the mental break to talk to our kids or my wife for a few minutes regularly throughout the day feels good. It also helped my relationship with my wife, since, despite my best intentions, I realized I’d been leaving her with more than her share of emotional labor when it came to the kids and home. In lockdown, we had to get creative together fast, and that helped me see and appreciate how much she’d been doing the whole time solo, and then make the changes to better balance the load. —Brendan Hay, television executive producer, father of 6-year-old twins“There’s so much to learn from your children.”Sebastian, my son, was my greatest teacher during the pandemic. His nimble mind and McGuyver-like skills showed me what was possible during lockdown. He created two albums of original music, working in a messy studio with borrowed instruments and collaborating through various apps and platforms with 60 musicians from around the world (in seven languages that he figured out via Google translate). I know it sounds like bragging but, wow, the kid nailed it.Your children are not your children. It’s true. You’d think that during all that up-close time of being stuck at home, you’d wield more influence somehow as a father, but, lo, they really do their own thing. They go their own way. They have their own ideas and trajectories. They are in your house but not of your house. —David Hochman, freelance writer, father of an 18-year-old son“It’s important to make space for feelings.”Since being confined to the home, with limited travel and outings, was something new for us as a family, we had a lot of conversations with our kids about how they felt about our situation. We even developed an end-of-the-day sharing circle that we continue to do. It’s a place where we are free to express what happened in our day and how we felt throughout it. —Demond Jordan, digital marketer, father of a 7-year-old and 5-year-old daughter“Being a father is truly about spending quality time with my children.”I learned that they are just as happy reading a book with me or dancing to the same song over and over again as they are going on some kind of big adventure. Really, though, I feel like I learned less about myself as a father than I did about the capabilities and strength of my children, which was really impressive and inspiring. Early on, they were very uncomfortable with isolated life, away from friends, and dealing with things like mask protocols. But they adapted and grew past those things in a way that really makes me hopeful about the people they’ll become when they grow up. —Elliott Kalan, television writer, father of an 8-year-old and 3-year-old son“It became clear that my children are my purpose.”My job used to take a lot of my attention, focus, and energy. During the pandemic, when everything slowed down and our health and mortality came into question, my relationship with my children took a huge paradigm shift. It became increasingly clear that they are my world, my purpose, my legacy, my reason for being, and my greatest source of joy. —Joel Santos, environmental engineer, father of a 6-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son“There’s plenty of adventure in our own backyard.”Every day brought with it a new challenge. Either the remote-learning technology wasn’t working or one of my three children was having a meltdown about not being able to see friends. So, during the summers I had a plan for the girls every single day. They loved our adventures. For example, we live near the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. We had never been there, even though we’ve lived here for 15 years. We went to the river more than 40 times during the summer of 2020. It became our playground, and the kids loved it. —Matt Villano, freelance writer, single father of three daughters (ages 13, 10, and 6)“My children deserve my presence.”Before the pandemic, I saw all my clients in person at my gym. In order to give my kids the life that I never had, I had to leave home by 4:30 a.m. and come home at about 9 p.m. This meant that the kids would be asleep when I left for work and asleep when I got home. When the pandemic pushed me to pivot from an in-person business to a virtual one, it was a blessing because I could be more present in my children’s lives and get to know their routines. And they could finally see what it is that dad does when he’s away. I think it’s important for kids to see and feel the joy of hard work, but they also deserve my presence. —Ngo Okafor, owner of Iconoclast Fitness, father of a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter“Make sure everyone keeps checking in on their mental health.”My wife and I tag in and out with parenting duties so we can get our respective work done and needs met, and that often bleeds into the evening. I have found that writing actually has come easier during this time, and my therapist has identified that productivity is a bit of my coping mechanism. Writing at night while I’m alone in my head has been a stress relief because I don’t have to think about anyone else’s needs. If your family enters into prolonged extreme circumstances, it’s important to make sure everyone keeps checking in on each other’s mental health as much as possible. And whatever people need—time alone, sleep, comfort food—try to make that accessible because burnout and emotional collapse are very, very real. —Mike Chen, NYT best-selling author and tech marketer, father of a 7-year-old daughter“I saw how absent I had been.”The pandemic brought a seismic shift in how I work now, which is almost exclusively from home. Before, I never worked from home, but now that I do, I can clearly see how absent I had been. If I still needed to go into the office, I’d basically never see my son outside of breakfast and that thought just terrifies me. For me, working from home means being there for as many meals and snacks during the day as I can, not being on my phone when we are eating or playing together, changing diapers as much as possible, and taking him out of the house so we can give his hard-working mother a bit of a break too. —Will Znidaric, documentary film editor, father of a 17-month-old sonRelated:
Why? It’s due to the way COVID-19 spreads, Collins says. The main way SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads is through respiratory droplets and small particles called aerosols that an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes out, per the World Health Organization (WHO). Having two layers can help catch those droplets and keep them from getting into your system. A respirator mask works in the same way. “The idea behind respirator-style masks is that they can easily capture these particles and filter them out,” Collins says. “So, they get caught in the mask and don’t make it into your lungs.”How to boost your protection if you are the only person wearing a maskAgain, one-way masking works, but it really works when you meet certain criteria. Here are the biggies:You need to have a high-quality mask.“You should be wearing the highest quality mask in terms of filtration—ideally an N95, KF94, or KN95 mask,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF. The CDC specifically recommends that people choose N95 masks or similar masks (like the KN95 and KF94), which filter out up to 95% of airborne particles. You do have to be careful about where you buy your masks though, as up to 60% of the KN95 masks on the market are counterfeit, per the CDC, and it’s difficult to know if the mask you purchase is legitimate. Here are some tips for finding an acceptable mask.Your mask needs to fit well.Having a high-quality mask and “making sure it fits your face well” is crucial, Dr. Russo says. Gaps in your mask—which can be caused by wearing the wrong size or type of mask, or wearing a mask with facial hair—let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges, the CDC points out.The CDC specifically recommends you do the following to ensure you have a well-fitting mask:Make sure it fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin.Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.You should feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath if your mask has a good fit.If you have a well-fitting, high-quality mask, “you will notice immediately that breathing is more difficult because you’re breathing through the mask and not around it,” Dr. Schaffner says. “That means the mask is doing its job,” he adds.You need to know when to throw out your mask and use a new one.If we’re talking about surgical masks, those are considered one-and-done deals. Throw it away after each use. But when it comes to respirators, the CDC recommends checking the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how long they can be worn. A good rule of thumb for these types of masks is to throw them away when the straps become stretched out and the mask no longer fits snugly against your face, or it becomes damaged, wet, or dirty, per the CDC.You need to feel comfortable wearing your mask.With all the concerns about protection, it’s kind of easy to forget that a mask also has to be comfortable to wear for the duration of time you’re wearing it, Dr. Russo says. “If you have a high-quality mask and it’s not comfortable or doesn’t fit well, it defeats the purpose.” So make sure you can handle cruising through your local grocery store or mall with your mask on in relative comfort. If not, Dr. Russo says, you may need to find a different mask.Overall, experts stress that you should feel relatively safe if you’re masked up and no one else is. “While two-way masking with N95, KF94, FFP2, and KN95 masks is significantly better, the masks are still effective if just one person is wearing it,” Collins says.Sources:Related:
Some people who take Paxlovid, the antiviral COVID-19 medication made by Pfizer, may develop rebound symptoms after finishing the treatment. These symptoms, which many are calling “Paxlovid rebound,” can make you infectious and/or test positive again—even if you previously tested negative after finishing treatment with Paxlovid—according to a recent health advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Paxlovid rebound symptoms are typically showing up two to eight days after finishing Paxlovid (which people take orally for five days), the advisory said, and are occurring in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Importantly, these rebound symptoms aren’t the result of a subsequent COVID-19 infection, according to case reports referenced by the advisory. The rebound symptoms tend to be the same as those experienced during the onset of disease, Thomas Russo, MD, infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF. It’s usually some combination of fever, sore throat, headache, and fatigue, Dr. Russo says. Paxlovid rebound symptoms are going away on average three days after onset, the advisory says.Right now, the CDC isn’t recommending any additional treatment for people who experience Paxlovid rebound symptoms, the advisory said. However, if symptoms do recur and/or if you test positive after finishing treatment with Paxlovid, you will need to restart quarantine. This means a five-day isolation period that can end only when you haven’t had a fever for 24 hours. Following that five-day period, you should continue to wear a mask when in public for 10 days. It’s important to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask, given the high transmissibility of the COVID-19 variants dominant in the U.S. right now, Dr. Russo says.These precautions are crucial, since you can spread the virus to others during a Paxlovid rebound, the advisory said. Right now, experts don’t know whether the likelihood of transmission during this rebound period is any different than the likelihood of transmission during the initial onset of symptoms–only that it’s possible to spread the virus during a recurrence of symptoms. They also don’t know whether rebound symptoms are particular to Paxlovid, Dr. Russo says, adding that some people who do not receive treatment also report experiencing rebound symptoms.Given reports of Paxlovid rebound, though, people who finish the treatment should stay alert for COVID-19 symptoms. They should test immediately upon detection of those symptoms, even if they’ve previously tested negative following Paxlovid treatment, per the CDC. If you’re experiencing symptoms but your at-home test is negative, consider taking a PCR test just to be sure, since they’re more sensitive than at-home tests, Dr. Russo says. However, if you test negative after Paxlovid treatment then don’t experience any COVID-19 symptoms, you don’t need to test again, he adds.All that said, the possibility of rebound symptoms should not discourage anyone from taking Paxlovid if their doctor recommends it, Dr. Russo says. “Paxlovid is a very important tool to minimize progression of disease in people at risk of developing severe disease,” he says, adding that unvaccinated individuals fall in this group.Related:
One in five COVID-19 survivors aged 18 to 64 and a quarter of those 65 or older have developed long COVID symptoms, according to a large new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published this week. The findings underscore that millions of Americans who have been infected with the virus that changed life as we know it may continue to live with long-term side effects and complications, emphasizing the need for more research around long COVID treatment options.For the study, CDC researchers analyzed data from 353,164 COVID-19 patients 18 or older and 1,640,776 control patients who had not tested positive for COVID-19. Following the initial infection, the COVID-19 patients were monitored for 26 clinical conditions that have been linked to post-COVID illness. More than 200 post-COVID symptoms have been reported, and the most common include brain fog, fatigue, cough, chest pain, muscle pain, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and dyspnea (increased respiratory effort), according to the National Institutes of Health.While many are still being infected with COVID-19 each day, the new study highlights long-term concerns that infectious disease experts will need to tackle in the coming months and years. “As we’re mentally transitioning, there’s a shift in focus of what we’ve known for a while–that long COVID is going to be the next phase of this pandemic,” Thomas Russo, MD, infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF.Clinicians don’t have a standard definition of long COVID yet, but some of the symptoms people are experiencing are life-changing. Dr. Russo says that during the height of the pandemic, many focused on the potential short-term consequences, asking themselves: “If I get COVID, am I going to die or not?” As a result, he adds, many people were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 illness, and, though they survived, are now experiencing debilitating health issues. Among these people, for example, are those who used to follow a rigorous exercise routine but now get winded very easily—say, by walking up a flight of stairs or doing the laundry, Dr. Russo says. Also among them are people who can’t mentally function at the same level they did pre-COVID-19: Because of “brain fog, people are no longer able to focus or perform tasks they were able to perform before. There are consequences that are quite serious and life-altering in the long run,” Dr. Russo explains.While people may be more likely to suffer from long-term complications if they were critically ill and admitted to an intensive care unit, long COVID doesn’t just impact those who experienced severe disease; people who were asymptomatic and those who experienced mild illness can also develop long COVID symptoms, Dr. Russo says. Additionally, while long COVID is less common in children, it can occur in them as well.Even if the estimates in the new study are high, Dr. Russo says, the research still confirms that many people will suffer from long COVID: “This is going to be a large number of people, [potentially] hundreds of millions.” To date, there have been 83,408,645 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., per the CDC. The new study also highlights the necessity of staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, Dr. Russo says, since they are the best tools we have to help prevent a severe COVID-19 infection. Experts know that vaccination helps protect against long COVID in some capacity, but Dr. Russo says “we’re still learning the magnitude of that protection.” A new study published in Nature Medicine, in which researchers analyzed data from millions of people registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, suggests vaccination could decrease the risk of long COVID by 15%.
When telogen effluvium occurs, the hair loss is rapid. “We all lose about 100 hairs per day on average, but in the case of telogen effluvium, you’re suddenly losing way more than that,” says Dr. Bhanusali. He adds that people tend to notice it when they see large clumps in their hands after washing their hair, see lots of hair in the shower drain, or notice that their brush or comb is filling up much faster than normal. This isn’t a gradual type of hair loss or subtle hair thinning—it’s an acute, intense, sudden shedding that can leave your hair feeling less full overall and often manifests as noticeable thinness and sparseness along the sides of the temples.⁵It’s unclear if hair loss after COVID-19 correlates with any other specific symptoms of the virus, or how sick you get. “The American Academy of Dermatology has a COVID-19 registry and we hope over time we will be able to extrapolate some data to find associations, but so far there are no clear relationships,” says Dr. Kuhn. “I have seen severe shedding following a mild case of COVID, and mild shedding following severe illness.”Back to topHow long does hair loss after COVID-19 last?Telogen effluvium, whether it’s caused by COVID-19 or another trigger, usually isn’t permanent. “Shedding can occur, however, for three to six months before it stops,” says Dr. Kuhn. With telogen effluvium, the hair growth cycle eventually normalizes and, because there is no damage to the scalp or hair follicles, all of the hair should grow back.According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your hair will likely regain normal fullness after telogen effluvium within six to nine months. Although Dr. Kuhn says, in her experience, it often takes even longer—anywhere from one to two years—for someone’s hair to reach its pre-shed status.Back to topHave any of the COVID-19 vaccines been linked to hair loss?“There’s no research to indicate that the COVID vaccines trigger hair shedding,” says Dr. Kuhn, who adds that, in her experience, she hasn’t seen any people dealing with hair loss post-vaccine. Dr. Bhanusali underscores the fact that there’s currently no direct data to connect the two.Back to topHow to stop hair loss after COVID-19Most importantly, be patient. “Though losing hair can be scary, I always reassure patients that they won’t go bald from COVID-related shedding,” says Dr. Kuhn. “Typically, the best thing to do is simply wait it out.” In the meantime, practicing healthy hair habits is paramount.You want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to minimize the risk of losing any more hair, notes Dr. Bhanusali. That means avoiding heat styling and/or using the lowest temperature whenever you do, minimizing intense chemical processes such as highlighting and straightening, and avoiding tight hairstyles that put tension on the hair.You can also consider getting tested for nutrient deficiencies to ensure that’s not exacerbating the situation. If you are, in fact, lacking in a certain vitamin or mineral that’s associated with hair health—Dr. Bhanusali notes that vitamin D and iron deficiencies are common—talk to your doctor about how to incorporate more of it into your diet and/or if you’ll need to try a supplement (and if so, what the dosage should be).And while it’s always easier said than done, lowering your stress levels may also help. “Practicing self-care and engaging in things such as meditation and breathing exercises can be helpful as you deal with COVID-related hair loss,” suggests Dr. Ziering. “Breaking long-term stress can be helpful in helping normal hair function resume more consistently.” That said, lowering stress levels may feel nearly impossible given what’s going on in the world or in your personal life, so if self-care isn’t cutting it, consider talking to a therapist, if you’re able.
Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to smallpox but milder. Symptoms usually begin one to two weeks after exposure. Early on, this can include fever, headache, exhaustion, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes (which is the only notable symptom present with monkeypox but not smallpox), according to the CDC. One to three days later, a rash appears, often starting on the face and then spreading to other areas of the body. The lesions change over time, eventually turning into pustules and then scabs before falling off. People are usually sick for two to four weeks. The 2003 monkeypox outbreak was contained through a multi-pronged approach.Spearheaded by the CDC, federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and state public health departments, the response included lab testing; epidemiological investigation; the development of treatment guidelines for patients and doctors, as well as vets and other people who handle animals; the distribution of smallpox vaccines and treatments; and federal regulation. For instance, the CDC quickly issued a ban on the importation of African rodents (dead or alive), including animals who were born outside of the African continent but whose native habitat is in Africa. The FDA also issued a ban on the interstate sale, transportation, or release of prairie dogs and six types of African rodents, though it was rescinded in 2008.That first outbreak was a primer on how to quickly mount a multifaceted defense. It also prompted authorities to take preparatory steps that left us better resourced to handle the situation today. Namely, the government renewed interest in smallpox vaccination, which has not been routine in the U.S. since 1972, when smallpox was eradicated, according to the CDC. (Currently, the smallpox vaccination is only recommended for military personnel and lab workers who work with certain kinds of poxviruses.)Observational studies in Africa have indicated that smallpox vaccinations are about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, per the WHO. Experts also think that getting vaccinated after monkeypox exposure can help either prevent the disease or lessen the severity, the CDC explains. (The agency recommends vaccination within four days of exposure.) The U.S. is in the process of securing more smallpox vaccines in the event of an emergency. The Danish pharmaceutical company that created the smallpox vaccine licensed for use against monkeypox in the U.S. said in a news release that the U.S. government is exercising options from an existing contract to order $119 million in smallpox vaccines to be manufactured starting next year. However, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told Axios that this order was unrelated to the recent monkeypox cases. The company says they have been working with the U.S. government on the smallpox vaccine since 2003. Another smallpox vaccination has also been FDA-approved for monkeypox prevention, although it isn’t CDC-recommended or available yet. The CDC committee that issues vaccine recommendations is currently evaluating that vaccine for use in people whose jobs put them at higher risk of exposure.The federal government says it is monitoring the current situation in the U.S. closely.“We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do,” President Joe Biden said on Sunday. continued. “It is a concern in the sense that if it were to spread, it’s consequential.”He also sent a more hopeful message during a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, per USA Today. “I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19,” President Biden said.Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, told ABC News on Sunday that he feels the country is well-prepared should the outbreak grow. “This is a virus we understand. We have vaccines against it,” Dr. Jha said. “I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it. We’re going to track it very closely and use the tools we have to make sure that we continue to prevent further spread and take care of the people who get infected.” Related:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 boosters for children ages five to 11 Tuesday. The administration said in a statement that kids in that age range can get a booster five months after completion of the Pfizer-BioNTech primary vaccination series. “While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer term effects, even following initially mild disease,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, said in the statement.Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best protection we have against severe COVID-19, which can lead to hospitalization or death. “Children are not bulletproof against COVID,” Thomas Russo, MD, infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF.Getting a booster dose could also help prevent potential long term effects from COVID-19 (known as long COVID), Kimberly Giuliano, MD, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. She says it’s helpful to think of the booster as “another layer of protection” for children who have received the primary vaccination series.In addition to keeping children safe from severe COVID-19, the booster dose could serve the community as a whole. “Getting the COVID-19 [booster] protects children and those around them–particularly those like grandparents or older relatives who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Dr. Giuliano says. “The more people who are vaccinated, including children, the better chance we will have of slowing the spread of COVID-19.”The booster dose is especially important for children who may be spending significant amounts of time with unvaccinated individuals–such as in classrooms or sporting events–Dr. Giuliano adds: “In areas with lower vaccination rates, the booster is even more important as the spread of disease will likely be greater.”That said, a booster dose won’t necessarily prevent infection 100% of the time, as we’ve seen over the last several months since omicron emerged, says Dr. Russo. If parents are unsure about whether they should vaccinate their children, they should turn to their health care providers, experts say. “It’s understandable that parents may have questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccination and boosting for their children,” Dr. Giuliano says. Pediatricians–or other trusted providers–can help parents understand why vaccination is crucial for children (and those around them). “It’s critical for parents to remember the benefit-risk ratio heavily favors vaccination and subsequent boosting when appropriate,” Dr. Russo says.Part of the reason the booster dose was authorized, Dr. Russo adds, comes down to what scientists and doctors are currently seeing: a large number of people infected with omicron even after vaccination and a booster dose. “We are seeing another increase in COVID-19 cases across the country,” Dr. Giuliano adds.On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced that families can now order a third round of free at-home tests from this website. Also this week, the FDA authorized an at-home sample kit that detects COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or the two most common strains of influenza (A and B). The test can be purchased online or in-store without a prescription; people then send their sample to the maker of the test kits, Labcorp, to be analyzed. Easily determining which (if any) virus they’re suffering from will help people follow the necessary safety protocols, the FDA statement said: “This will enable consumers to more easily determine whether they may be infected with COVID-19, flu, or RSV, which can aid in determining if self-isolation (quarantine) is appropriate.”Related:
The Biden administration estimates the United States could see 100 million COVID-19 infections and a wave of deaths during the coming fall and winter of 2022, according to the Washington Post. The projection comes as the U.S. teeters on the brink of 1 million COVID-19 deaths: The latest count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) totals 995,371 known fatalities at the time of publication. A senior administration official shared the prediction for next fall and winter on Friday, according to the Post, and said it underscored the need for more funding for vaccines, tests, and treatments. The official didn’t present new data with the prediction, per the Post.The news raises questions about what’s ahead in the coming months, with more transmissible subvariants circulating and case counts continuing to steadily rise. The most dominant variant in the U.S. as of the end of April was BA.2, a subvariant of omicron, which made up nearly 62% of cases, per the CDC. The second most dominant variant, a subvariant of BA.2, is BA.2.12.1, which made up 36.5% of cases. As the virus evolves, it’s getting better at spreading, experts say. “Each subsequent variant is more transmissible,” Daniel Culver, DO, a chair of the department of pulmonary medicine at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. “BA.2.12.1 seems to be even more transmissible than BA.2,” which is even more transmissible than the original omicron variant and delta as well, Dr. Culver says.Rising case counts highlight the transmissibility: In the U.S., the average positive test rate was 2.5% at the beginning of April; as of May 7th it was 7.8%, according to data from Mayo Clinic. And the stats are probably even higher than we know, due to the way most are getting tested now, Dr. Culver says. Instead of going to a clinic for a PCR test, the result of which is then logged so that public health experts can monitor community spread, many people are testing themselves at home and never sharing their results with a government body or research organization that can track COVID-19 cases. “The numbers are very underestimated right now,” Dr. Culver says. “So many are doing home tests that are never reported to any public health authority.”Before widespread immunization efforts, the above factors might have resulted in a lockdown, similar to those implemented during the early days of the pandemic. However, experts advise against jumping to the conclusion that we’re headed for another shutdown, and they stress the crucial differences between early 2020 and now. Namely, many Americans have received safe and effective vaccines that help prevent severe disease and hospitalization for many people. Plus, many people have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, providing them with some level of immunity, Jennifer Lighter, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone, tells SELF. The Biden administration’s prediction that the fall and winter could bring 100 million COVID-19 infections was likely based on vaccination rates and the threat of future variants, Dr. Lighter (who is not connected to the Biden administration) says, but “it doesn’t mean we’re going back to two years ago. We do have the tools now to prevent severe disease.” That said, we can minimize the toll COVID-19 will take in the future by using those tools (or, in other words, getting vaccinated when eligible), Dr. Lighter says: “There’s an underutilization of these tools.” Getting vaccinated can lower the future death toll and help keep hospitals functioning, she explains. “If we want to thwart off another big wave, the one way to do that is through increasing our vaccination gaps.”Related:
A new subvariant, called BA.2.12.1, is steadily becoming more prominent in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). BA.2.12.1 is a subvariant of BA.2, and both descended from the original Omicron variant, which was first recorded in the Botswana and South Africa regions in November 2021. Shortly after, Omicron cases soared worldwide.As of right now, BA.2 is still the dominant variant in the U.S., but BA.2.12.1 is steadily taking over the percentage of reported COVID-19 infections in the U.S. In mid-March, it caused only 1.5% of cases, but as of last weekend, it was responsible for 42.6%, per the CDC.BA.2.12.1 spreads easily, experts say. It’s is believed to be up to 27% more transmissible than BA.2, according to a statement from the New York State Department of Health. For context, BA.2 is believed to be up to 50% more transmissible than the original Omicron variant, Thomas Russo, MD, infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF. “These new variants are really infectious,” Dr. Russo says, noting that BA.2.12.1 can spread through communities rapidly thanks to its high transmissibility. As a growing number of BA.2.12.1 cases emerge, it’s important to keep track of the symptoms associated with the subvariant so you can get tested if you think you might have contracted it. While any coronavirus symptoms could show up in a person infected with BA.2.12.1, certain ones might be more common than others, depending on your personal health history. The known symptoms of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, include fever and chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, cough, fatigue, muscle and body aches, loss of taste, loss of smell, headache, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, nausea, and diarrhea, per the CDC. But the symptoms commonly associated with BA.2.12.1 are typically akin to those of a head cold, Dr. Russo says, explaining that sore throat, runny nose, headache, or cough should definitely prompt you to get tested for COVID-19. No new symptoms have been reported with the emergence of BA.2.12.1, Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF.The symptoms doctors are seeing now aren’t necessarily different from those that have been showing up over the past few months since Omicron emerged. “It’s important to remember BA.2.12.1 is still part of the Omicron lineage of COVID-19,” Dr. Adalja says. And not every possible COVID-19 symptom listed above is a definite indicator of the disease, he adds. For this reason, when you’re deciding whether or not to get tested, consider your overall health instead of one individual symptom. “Those symptoms are all a constellation,” Dr. Adalja says. For instance, if you’re only experiencing a gastrointestinal symptom, such as nausea, and you haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 to the best of your knowledge, you may not need to test immediately. But if you’re feeling nauseated in addition to experiencing other cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose and sore throat, you should probably get tested.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is limiting the use of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement published Thursday. The J&J COVID-19 vaccine has been linked to thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a rare, potentially life-threatening condition that causes blood clots. Now, only people 18 years or older in two different groups will be able to get the J&J vaccine.The first group includes anyone who otherwise wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine (in other words, individuals who will only receive the J&J vaccine due to personal preference). The second includes individuals “for whom other approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate.” Those affected include people who suffered an anaphylactic reaction (a severe allergic reaction that can cause symptoms like skin rash and difficulty breathing) to either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the only other COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S. Per the FDA statement, the benefits of getting the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks of remaining unvaccinated for these individuals. The FDA update aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has recommended the use of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna over the J&J vaccine since December 2021.The decision follows an FDA review, which was referenced in its statement of reported cases of TTS occurring after a J&J vaccine. “After conducting an updated analysis, evaluation, and investigation of reported cases, the FDA has determined that the risk…warrants limiting the authorized use of the vaccine,” the statement said. The J&J COVID-19 vaccine first received emergency use authorization from the FDA in February 2021. Two months later, the FDA and CDC paused the use of the vaccine when six cases of TTS linked to the J&J vaccine were reported. Health care providers were then informed of these risks so they could appropriately plan for the possibility of TTS since it requires specific treatment. The FDA then lifted the pause. TTS occurs when blood clots form alongside low platelet counts, according to a 2021 CDC report. (Platelets are a type of blood cell, and low platelet counts can cause internal bleeding.) Blood clots can potentially lead to heart attack, stroke, or death. Symptoms to look out for include pain and swelling in limbs, chest pain, numbness on one side of the body, and an abrupt change in mental faculties, among others. TTS is primarily diagnosed through blood tests and imaging tests, including MRI or ultrasound, and it’s a very rare complication of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine; the FDA estimates that TTS occurs in 3.23 people per every million who receive the vaccine. Even fewer people die from TTS following a J&J vaccine: “The reporting rate of TTS deaths is 0.48 per million doses of vaccine administered,” the FDA statement said. Experts have also said that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can also cause blood clots: A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis of 42 studies that included more than 8,000 people found that the risk of thromboembolism (TE), which occurs when blood vessels are obstructed by a blood clot, is significant. “TE rates of COVID-19 are high and associated with a higher risk of death,” the researchers wrote. The new report highlights the fact that continuous research is being done to determine the safest and best vaccination practices to protect people from severe illness and death from COVID-19.Related: