COVID-19 Roundup: Can Flu Vaccine Reduce Coronavirus Risk?; CDC Warns of Spread in Households; and Air Travel Safety

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November 6, 2020


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Flu Shot Could Lower Your Risk of Serious COVID-19 Illness, Studies Indicate

Getting vaccinated against influenza, or the flu, may provide some protection for COVID-19-positive patients, according to a report by researchers at the University of Florida that was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The researchers at UF’s College of Public Health & Health Professions found that COVID-19-positive patients who had not received the flu vaccine within the last year had 2.44- and 3.29-fold increased odds of being hospitalized or admitted into intensive care units, respectively — compared to those who had received flu shots. The results were adjusted for age, race, gender and several underlying health issues including: hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure.

The lead author of the study, Ming-Jim Yang, M.D., a third-year resident in family medicine at UF Health, and fellow researchers, reviewed data on 2,005 patients older than 18 years of age who tested positive for COVID-19.

The researchers said more investigation is needed to confirm the link between the flu vaccine and severe illness from COVID-19. They said there were limitations to their research, including that it involved just one medical center.

“We think this gives people a huge incentive to get a vaccination,” said Arch G. Mainous III, Ph.D., the UF study’s senior author. “It’s a double-win in many ways because the vaccination is, of course, helping protect you from influenza as well.”

In a separate study, infectious disease immunologists at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands reviewed their hospital’s records to see if employees who had received a flu shot during the 2019–2020 season were more or less likely to get infected by COVID-19. Workers who received a flu vaccine were 39 percent less likely to test positive for the coronavirus as of June 1, 2020, researchers found.


CDC Report on Household Transmission: COVID-19 Can Spread Quickly

If one person in a household contracts COVID-19, he or she will likely spread it quickly to another member of the household, confirms a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How quickly? The study’s authors write: “Approximately 75 percent of infections [were] identified within 5 days of the index patient’s illness onset.” The “index patient” refers to the first household member to come down with the coronavirus.

Other important findings from the study, according to the CDC: Fewer than one half of household members with confirmed COVID-19 infections reported symptoms at the time infection was first detected, and “many reported no symptoms throughout 7 days of follow-up, underscoring the potential for transmission from asymptomatic secondary contacts and the importance of quarantine.”

The study examined 101 households in Nashville, Tennessee, and Marshfield, Wisconsin. All households had one index patient. At the time that the index patient first reported symptoms, no one else in their household reported any.

The CDC state that household transmission of COVID-19 is common and occurs early after illness onset. “Persons should self-isolate immediately at the onset of COVID-like symptoms, at the time of testing as a result of a high risk exposure, or at time of a positive test result, whichever comes first,” the agency states. “All household members, including the index case, should wear masks within shared spaces in the household.”


Harvard Study: Air Travel can be Less Risky for Coronavirus Transmission Than Grocery Shopping

Airline travel in the COVID-19 era can be less risky than going to the grocery store or eating out, say Harvard researchers in a new study. But airlines must properly maintain air flow in aircraft cabins and all crew members and passengers must adhere rules mandating mask-wearing, the study says.

The Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI), a project of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researched practices with the aim of minimizing transmission of the coronavirus during air travel. The research team released phase one of its findings, a “gate-to-gate” analysis of the environment on board an aircraft. It will release phase two, a “curb-to-curb” analysis of the environment inside the airport, in early 2021.

Researchers used computer models to examine airflow in aircraft cabins, finding that specialized onboard ventilation systems filter out 99 percent of airborne viruses. The study was funded by airlines, airplane manufacturers and airports, but the Harvard researchers insist that the airline did not influence findings.

An airline’s ventilation system, however, cannot do the job of protecting passengers on its own. In addition to deep cleaning of high-touch surfaces, the study stressed the use of face masks as “the most essential part of a comprehensive set of measures to reduce COVID-19 during air travel.”

“Implementing these layered risk mitigation strategies . . . requires passenger and airline compliance (but) will help to ensure that air travel is as safe or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times,” the study said.

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