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Does the flu vaccine affect my chances of getting COVID-19?

The flu vaccine protects you from seasonal influenza, not the coronavirus — but avoiding the flu is especially important this year.

Health officials and medical groups are urging people to get either the flu shot or nasal spray, so that doctors and hospitals don’t face the extra strain of having to treat influenza in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Not to mention the confusion factor: The illnesses have such similar early symptoms that people who get the flu may mistakenly think they have COVID-19, said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic.

Only a test can tell the two apart.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for everyone starting at 6 months of age, and suggests getting it by the end of October.

The CDC says the vaccine will not cause you to fall ill with the flu, and that the protection it provides takes about two weeks to kick in. And the flu vaccine isn’t perfect but studies show if the vaccinated get sick, they don’t get as severely ill.

A few flawed studies over the years have attempted to link the flu vaccine to increased risk of other respiratory infections, but experts say there is no evidence that’s true.

COVID spike arrives late, hits hard in rural Kansas county

TOPEKA, Kan. — As rural northwestern Kansas communities endured some of the state’s biggest spikes in COVID-19 cases last week, a county sheriff who was among those testing positive found himself struggling to breathe and landed in a hospital room more than an hour from home.

The pandemic arrived late, but it’s now stressing Gove County, which has had to send patients including Sheriff Allan Weber to hospitals in other towns. The county’s 22-bed medical center only has a handful of beds dedicated to coronavirus patients and not enough staff to monitor the most serious cases around the clock.

The local nursing home had most of its 30-plus residents test positive, and six have died since late September. Besides the sheriff, the county’s emergency management director, the hospital CEO and more than 50 medical staff have tested positive. Even so, some leaders are reluctant to stir up ill will by talking about how often friends and neighbors wear masks or questioning how officials responded.

President Donald Trump is popular in the county, and local officials quickly abandoned a mask mandate this summer after getting heat from some local residents and amid the president’s criticism of such policies. Funerals and weddings went on. So did a homecoming football game between its two high schools, eight players to a side, on the last Friday in September, though people were encouraged to wear masks.

The state health department said coronavirus cases in Gove County doubled during the two weeks ending Wednesday, from 37 to 75, and that spike was proportionally among the largest in Kansas. But locally, officials and doctors say the number is actually far higher — 140, with 88 in the past two weeks and almost all of them since Sept. 1. There have been seven coronavirus-related deaths — again, proportionally among the highest in the state.

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Rural northwestern Kansas communities such as Quinter have been seeing some of the state’s biggest spikes in COVID-19 cases. Mike Haase via Associated Press

“We have community spread to the point that we have not been able to pin down the root cause of any of our cases for the past month,” said Dr. Scott Rempel, the county’s health officer, one of five physicians in Gove County.

The county commission imposed a mask mandate starting Aug. 6, when only a handful of cases had been reported, but repealed it 11 days later. Rempel said it was “heartbreaking, from a public health perspective.”

With officials’ response to COVID-19 politicized in an election year, Kansas’ Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been at odds for months. More than two-thirds of Gove County’s voters are registered Republicans, and Trump carried the county with nearly 85% of the vote in 2016.

Quinter resident Judy Wolf, a cook at a senior center, said media outlets reporting on the pandemic need to “quit making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“Everybody’s going to get it and go on with your lives,” she said. “The only ones that are dying are the ones with other health issues.”

Doug Gruenbacher, another Gove County doctor, contracted the coronavirus in September and recovered along with his physician-wife, Shelly. He said county residents have concerns about personal liberties and “not wanting to be told what to do” prevalent across rural America.

“That’s part of the reason of why we love it here, because of that spirit and because of that independence,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s something that also contributes to some of the difficulties that we’re having right now.”

Young, healthy people may have to wait until 2022 for vaccine

Young, healthy people should be prepared to wait more than a year to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said Wednesday.

Many people are under the misconception that they’ll be able to get a vaccine in early 2021, “and then things will be back to normal,” Soumya Swaminathan said in a question-and-answer session broadcast on YouTube.

In reality, she said, any vaccine that is ready next year will be available in limited quantities, with health-care workers and others on the front lines having first priority, followed by “the elderly and so on.”

“There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy young person, might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine,” she predicted.

Although young people can get sick and die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and can spread the virus to others, some evidence suggests they are less likely to suffer serious complications than older people or those with health problems.

With an unprecedented global demand for a vaccine, governments will have to work so that people most at risk get immunized first. By 2022, it is hoped that mortality rates will have dropped and the most vulnerable people will be protected, Swaminathan said Thursday.

Swaminathan reiterated the WHO’s stance against allowing the virus to spread unchecked in an effort to reach herd immunity, emphasizing that the concept should be discussed only within the context of a vaccine.

“Once we have a vaccine, we can aim to have population immunity – herd immunity – because you’ll need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of people, have them protected, to really break the transmission,” she said.

More than 150 countries have joined the WHO’s Covax initiative, a cooperative arrangement in which nations combine forces to invest in vaccine development and agree to allocate the first doses based on population and then by level of risk.

Read the full story here.

Fauci calls backing herd immunity ‘total nonsense’

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is criticizing a declaration by a group of scientists that supports the concept of “herd immunity,” which the White House is using to bolster a push to reopen schools and businesses.

Fauci says backing herd immunity — the idea that a disease will stop spreading once nearly everybody has contracted it — is “total nonsense.”

The top U.S. infectious disease expert says: “If you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you’ll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and death,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday. “So I think that we’ve just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense.”

The U.S. leads the world with 7.9 million coronavirus cases and nearly 217,000 confirmed deaths. Globally, there have been 38 million reported cases and 1.09 million confirmed deaths.

Teen on family trip spread the coronavirus to 11 relatives across 4 states after a negative test

A 13-year-old girl spread the coronavirus to 11 relatives across four states this summer, despite testing negative two days before a three-week family vacation, a recent journal article released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed.

The trip occurred at an undisclosed location in June and July, and it infected family members from ages 9 to 72 who traveled to a home that was shared between five households. No masks or distancing measures were in place. The teen was known to have been in contact with an unspecified COVID-19 outbreak in June before testing negative, the report says. Nasal congestion was her only symptom.

The CDC declined to say where the family members were located “out of respect for the privacy of the family who generously shared their information with investigators,” but public health departments in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia and Illinois were cited in the article’s footnotes.

Read the full story.

Americans may need to ‘bite the bullet’ and cancel Thanksgiving, Fauci warns

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said late Wednesday that Americans may have to rethink large family gatherings this Thanksgiving as dozens of states witness a significant rise in coronavirus cases.

“That is unfortunately a risk, when you have people coming from out of town, gathering together in an indoor setting,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told “CBS Evening News.” “It is unfortunate, because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition — the family gathering around Thanksgiving.”

Fauci noted that people need to be especially cautious if members of their family are at risk due to age or underlying health conditions. “You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering,” he said, “unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected.”

Fauci added that his own three children, who all live in different states, will not be flying home for Thanksgiving “because of their concern for me and my age.” Fauci is 79, placing him in a high-risk category.

During the CBS interview, Fauci cast doubt on President Trump’s claim that 100 million vaccine doses could be available before the end of the year, saying it was more likely that a vaccine would be rolled out to the general public at the end of the first quarter of 2021. Even then, having 100 million doses available would require all the vaccines that are in late-stage trials to be proven safe and effective, which is not guaranteed, he said.

Fauci also expressed confidence that Trump has recovered from his battle with the coronavirus and is no longer infectious, but he warned that others in the president’s age and weight category shouldn’t expect to fare as well.

“That’s sort of like saying somebody was speeding in a car at 95 miles an hour and didn’t get in an accident, so I can go ahead and speed and not get in an accident,” he said.

New infections surge across Europe

Record daily infection figures in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy added to fears on Thursday that Europe is running out of chances to control its latest coronavirus outbreak. France has set a 9 p.m. curfew for many of its biggest cities as governments across the continent take increasingly tough action.

New infections have surged across Europe over recent weeks as the fall kicks in, prompting authorities in many places to start reimposing restrictions that were relaxed over the summer. The Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Britain are among the countries causing particular concern.

While Germany, the European Union’s most populous nation, is still in comparatively good shape, alarm bells have started ringing there too. On Thursday, the country’s national disease control center reported 6,638 cases over 24 hours — exceeding the previous record of nearly 6,300 set in late March, although testing in the country of 83 million has expanded greatly since then.

This week has seen the Netherlands close bars and restaurants and the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland close down schools. The Czech Health Ministry said the country, with a population of over 10 million, confirmed 9,544 new cases on Wednesday — over 900 more than the previous record, set less than a week ago. The government says hospitals could reach full capacity by the end of October.

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A man runs across an empty medieval Charles Bridge in Prague on Wednesday. Associated Press/Petr David Josek

On Wednesday night, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that 18 million residents in nine regions, including Paris, will have a 9 p.m. curfew starting Saturday until Dec. 1.

“We won’t go to restaurants after 9 p.m. We won’t see friends. We won’t party, because that’s how to pass on the virus,” Macron said.

Paris restaurant, cinema and theater owners are fuming at the new curfew rules, which effectively shut down evening activities. Tighter local restrictions in northern England and Northern Ireland have prompted the same emotions from business owners there. But health authorities across Europe are expressing urging people to obey the new restrictions.

One of Belgium’s main universities said it is moving to online education whenever possible. Ghent University said the measure will begin Oct. 26 and the Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels said it already prepared its staff and facilities to do likewise if necessary.

Italy, which so far has been spared the worst of the second wave, on Wednesday also recorded its biggest single-day jump in infections since the start of the pandemic. It added another 7,332 cases amid a resurgence that is threatening to bring the country’s contact-tracing system to its knees — topping a record set in late March.

 

London shifts into 2nd-highest virus risk level as cases rise

LONDON  — Britain’s health secretary has shifted London into the second-highest COVID-19 alert level amid a rise in cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that the government acted because infection rates are rising rapidly in the capital and swift action was necessary to control the virus.

The move comes as millions of people in northern England are waiting to find out whether they will be placed under the government’s tightest COVID-19 restrictions, which the city of Liverpool already faces.

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People exit London’s Waterloo train station, at which point they are allowed to remove their masks on Thursday. Associated Press/Matt Dunham

London Mayor Sadiq Khan expected the move. Khan told the London Assembly that talks were continuing but he expected authorities to move London into the second of three risk categories based on “expert public health and scientific advice” about what is needed to save lives.

Khan has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking details about what assistance would be provided to businesses and individuals affected by such a move.

“Nobody wants to see more restrictions,” Khan said. “But this is deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners’ lives by myself, London council leaders and by ministers.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of the greater Manchester area, with 2.8 million people, says he expects to meet with Johnson’s team on Thursday for talks on whether the region will be classified as a “high risk” area. T

That is the highest risk category in the government’s new three-tier regional COVID-19 strategy and would require restrictions such as closing bars and banning social gatherings outside one’s own home.

The government has said it is also talking with leaders of other parts of northern England where COVID-19 infection rates are high.

Hong Kong, Singapore agree to bilateral travel bubble

HONG KONG — Hong Kong and Singapore say they have agreed to a bilateral air travel bubble, re-establishing travel links as coronavirus infections in both cities decline.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers from Hong Kong and Singapore will not be restricted on their travel purposes, Hong Kong commerce minister Edward Yau said at a news conference on Thursday. This means that tourists from each city will be able to visit the other.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore temporarily closed their borders earlier this year, banning short-term visitors from entering as they fought to reduce coronavirus infections.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers will also not be subject to compulsory quarantine, provided they have taken coronavirus tests mutually recognized by both cities, with a negative test result.

Additionally, travelers are required to fly on dedicated flights, which will only serve air travel bubble travelers between Hong Kong and Singapore.

The launch date has yet to be announced.

Hong Kong, Singapore agree to bilateral travel bubble

HONG KONG — Hong Kong and Singapore say they have agreed to a bilateral air travel bubble, re-establishing travel links as coronavirus infections in both cities decline.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers from Hong Kong and Singapore will not be restricted on their travel purposes, Hong Kong commerce minister Edward Yau said at a news conference on Thursday. This means that tourists from each city will be able to visit the other.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore temporarily closed their borders earlier this year, banning short-term visitors from entering as they fought to reduce coronavirus infections.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers will also not be subject to compulsory quarantine, provided they have taken coronavirus tests mutually recognized by both cities, with a negative test result.

Additionally, travelers are required to fly on dedicated flights, which will only serve air travel bubble travelers between Hong Kong and Singapore.

The launch date has yet to be announced.

Number of virus deaths in India still increasing but more slowly

NEW DELHI — India has reported its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.

The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 680 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 11 weeks, raising the country’s death toll since the pandemic began to 111,266. The country was seeing more than 1,000 virus deaths per day last month.

The ministry also reported 67,708 new infections, raising India’s total to more than 7.3 million.

According to the ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. Over the last month, the country has been seeing a trend of declining cases on a week-to-week basis.

Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.

Australia to give priority to reopening air service with Japan, South Korea and Singapore

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister says his government is giving priority to reopening air services to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday that he discussed reopening air routes with the leaders of all three countries.

He described Japan and South Korea as “two countries that have done particularly well” in dealing with the pandemic.

“There are a number of countries we’re looking at to see what we can do probably next year. We’re not going to rush into this,” Morrison said.

The three Asian countries “are my current priorities in how we would pursue that,” he added.

Australia will allow travelers from neighboring New Zealand to arrive without hotel quarantine from Friday. New Zealand has mostly stopped community transmission of COVID-19.

Australia reported only 12 new cases of community transmission of the virus on Thursday.

Mexican healthcare workers account for 18% or virus deaths

MEXICO CITY — Mexico reported Wednesday that a total of 1,744 health-care workers have died so far of COVID-19, and another 164 are suspected to have died of it but their test results are still pending.

The number of doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital employees confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in Mexico now amounts to 127,053. That means health care professionals account for about 15% of all Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases, and about 18% of all COVID-19 deaths.

The Health Department said that of those who died, 42% were nurses, 26% were doctors, and 32% were technicians, cleaning staff or other hospital employees.

Mexico has one of the highest rates of medical-personnel deaths in the world, and hospital employees have staged a number of demonstrations in Mexico to protest insufficient personal protective equipment. But Health Department officials denied the death rates was because of a lack of protective gear.


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