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Roundup: CDC’s Alert on Hepatitis Outbreak in Children; New Details on Omicron’s Severity Compared to Other Variants; and More

Details of CDC’s Alert on Outbreak of Hepatitis Among Kids Under 6 Years of Age

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert this week [1] to educate parents about the growing number of hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) cases “of unknown cause” in children requiring hospitalization.

All of the children were previously healthy and ranged in age from one to six years at the time of hospitalization. As of this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 340 probable cases of hepatitis in children have been reported in 20 countries. In the U.S., there are at least 109 confirmed cases, with five deaths, in over 25 states and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC. Health officials do not believe the hepatitis outbreak in pediatric cases is linked to COVID-19.

“Hearing about severe liver disease in children can be concerning. If you have any questions about your child’s health, call your child’s healthcare provider,” the CDC states. The CDC adds that parents should be aware of the symptoms associated with liver inflammation, including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin.

The CDC said it is working with “public health officials around the world to understand what they are learning.” Adenovirus has been detected in some of these patients throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, but not among all of them. Adenoviruses are common viruses that commonly cause mild cold- or flu-like illness.

“Investigators are considering other possible causes and identifying other possible contributing factors,” the agency added. The CDC is asking healthcare providers to consider testing for adenovirus in children with hepatitis of unknown origin, and to report any possible cases of hepatitis to their local or state public health authorities.


Omicron Was as Severe as Previous Variants, But Vaccinations Kept Hospitalizations, Deaths Lower, New Study Finds

Preliminary findings of a large U.S. study [2] indicate that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was as severe as previous variants. That’s in contrast to assumptions in previous studies that it was more transmissible but less likely to cause severe illness.

Researchers estimated Omicron’s severity after accounting for the impact of vaccines, a factor that reinforces the vital importance of initial vaccinations and follow-up booster shots, experts say. Vaccines helped keep hospitalizations and deaths relatively low from COVID during the Omicron surge, compared with previous variants.

The study was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Minerva University, and it is currently being peer-reviewed. The data is based on the records of 130,000 COVID patients in Massachusetts.

“Our analysis suggests that the intrinsic severity of the Omicron variant may be as severe as previous variants,” the study’s authors wrote.

Previous studies have shown “very clearly that vaccinations protect against the Omicron variant,” the study state. Researchers said they went further than other studies by incorporating “vaccinations, comorbidities, demographics, and healthcare utilization” to show that the severity of omicron was very similar to previous variants.

The study’s authors concede that measuring the severity of variants is challenging but important.

“Measuring severity of the new variant can be challenging given there are so many confounders that have changed since the start of the pandemic,” the study states. “Still, the large difference of the unadjusted risk of hospitalization and mortality between the Omicron period and that of other periods, and that difference decreasing after adjusting for differences in waves, is important for highlighting that variants remain dangerous entities.”


This Much Sleep Helps Prevent Cognitive Decline Starting at Middle Age, New Research Finds

Seven hours is the ideal duration of a night’s sleep for adults starting at about middle age and older And the those who don’t get enough sleep — or too much — may experience a decline in cognitive health, according to new research.

The study of nearly 500,000 adults, between the ages of 38 and 73, found that both too much and too little sleep were associated with worse cognitive performance and mental health, including anxiety and depression. Impaired cognition may include a reduced ability to pay attention, remember and learn new things, solve problems and make decisions.

Researchers from China and the United Kingdom reviewed the data from the UK Biobank – a long-term, government-backed health study. Participants were asked about their sleep patterns, mental health and overall well-being. They also participated in a series of cognitive tests. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for almost 40,000 of the study participants. The study was published in the scientific journal Nature Aging. [3]

“While we can’t say conclusively that too little or too much sleep causes cognitive problems, our analysis looking at individuals over a longer period of time appears to support this idea,” Jianfeng Feng, a professor at China’s Fudan University and an author of the study, said in a statement. “But the reasons why older people have poorer sleep appear to be complex, influenced by a combination of our genetic makeup and the structure of our brains.”

A consistent seven hours of sleep each night, without too much fluctuation in duration, is   important to cognitive performance and good mental health and wellbeing, the study concludes. Previous studies have also found that uneven or interrupted sleep patterns are linked to a higher risk of age-related diseases, including dementia.

Sleep needs can vary from person to person. But experts generally recommend that healthy adults get an average of seven to nine hours per night,

Barbara Sahakian, a professor with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement: “Getting a good night’s sleep is important at all stages of life, but particularly as we age. Finding ways to improve sleep for older people could be crucial to helping them maintain good mental health and wellbeing and avoiding cognitive decline, particularly for patients with psychiatric disorders and dementias.”