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Independence Day: 5 tips to stay healthy and safe

Independence day

Independence Day is a time for celebration, family reunions, good food, good drink and momentarily escaping the everyday. The 4th of July has been one of the biggest national holidays since 1776 and draws millions across the country to gatherings for fairs, fireworks, and fun. The significant difference this year is the lingering threat of the coronavirus. How can you and your family still enjoy the day and limit the risk of bringing home more than just fond memories?

Here are our top 5 tips for staying safe this Independence Day:

1. Don’t get locked up

While we highly recommend keeping your enjoyment legal, in this case, we mean avoiding enclosed space wherever possible. Bars, restaurants, cafes, and halls make it extremely difficult to socially distance and even in the case where special arrangements have been made by the establishment, close interaction with staff or other patrons is almost unavoidable. Couple this with recirculated air, or no ventilation at all, and it becomes a prime area for spreading diseases through contact or inhalation.

Only dine or drink at establishments with suitable outdoor spaces, or takeaway and enjoy at your own safe space.

2. Keep your distance

It’s hard to imagine spending time with friends and family without sharing a hug, a dance, or shaking hands. Just think about the number of people you would typically brush up against during a house party or concerts – don’t take that risk in the present climate. Respect your own social space and that of others and avoid direct contact with anyone outside of your household, even if you know and trust them (symptoms can take weeks to show).

3. Check the situation in your location

With certain areas being more greatly affected by COVID-19 than others,  check the situation in your area, and use your best judgment. For those most at risk, the elderly and sufferers from chronic diseases, the safest option is remaining at home and celebrating privately. This might sound like harsh advice, especially as the Independence Day seems like the perfect moment to reconnect with family and friends, but please take it into consideration – the price could prove severe.

4. Make it a Masquerade

If you do decide to venture out to celebrate then please take your face mask with you. It can be awkward when eating and drinking, but nonetheless protects you significantly when walking through crowded areas – of course, keep your distance as well.

One way to make wearing a mask more fun is to decorate your mask for the occasion, and could be a great way to encourage the kids to keep the masks on! Avoid using paints or anything that will drastically affect the absorbency of your mask – felt tips or chalks should be perfect – or pin on decorations!

5. Keep it clean

The safest way to approach anything you didn’t bring with you is to consider it is dirty or even contaminated, and either wipe it clean before you use it or immediately wash your hands after using it. This may seem extreme, but you cannot see any traces of a virus left behind from someone else so it is better to be safe than sorry. If you plan to eat and drink while attending an event bring your own cups, wipes, and even cutlery so you can dine worry-free. Be prepared for longer queues than normal, especially toilets.

Follow these tips, user your best judgment, and have a fun and relaxing 4th of July! fireworks

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Antibody vs antigen testing

Coronavirus testing. Hand holding a tube with 'coronavirus' written on it.

Our co-founder and infectious disease expert, Dr. Stephen Berger, recently explained the differences between diagnostic, antibody, and antigen testing for the virus in Business Insider

  • Diagnostic test: conducted via a nasal or throat swab; best suited for someone with severe symptoms; results may take several days or even weeks to become available. 
  • Antibody test: taken via a blood sample; confirms if you had a previous infection of the virus, but may not detect if it is still in your system as it generally takes 14 days following symptoms for antibodies to appear; does not determine if you will get the virus again; can help track where the virus has spread and monitor fatality rates if conducted over a widespread area. 
  • Antigen test: quickly registers antigens to the virus (or certain molecules that help evoke an immune response to something foreign in the body, such as a virus); results are ready in a shorter time; may potentially become a more efficient and affordable option for testing in the future.

“The presence of COVID-19 and many other viruses in patient specimens can be confirmed using these antigen tests, usually within minutes to hours,” Dr. Berger told Business Insider. 

Although these antigen tests are not yet currently on the market, they are in development right now. The speed at which they can detect the virus, as well as the possibility of at-home antigen test kits, making them an attractive option as we continue to face COVID-19. 

You can read the entire article here

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We’ve got exciting updates about our new interface!

PEOPLE shares Dr. Berger’s advice about how to correctly and safely wear a face mask

Wearing face masks is now a part of our everyday life. In early April, the CDC made the official recommendation that everyone should wear one to help slow the spread of COVID-19 after new research showed that 50% of people who get it don’t show symptoms. So they will likely be around for quite some time, but unfortunately, many people aren’t wearing them correctly and could be exposing themselves unnecessarily. 

Our founder, Dr. Stephen Berger, who is double board-certified in infectious disease and microbiology, provided important tips to People.

“Masks should be as closely fitted to the skin as possible,” Dr. Berger told PEOPLE. He added there shouldn’t be any gaps on the side of the masks and it should cover everything from your nose to your chin. 

Dr. Berger added, “The nose must be covered. Note that when people are tested for the virus, a swab is inserted into the nose — because that is where the virus is!”

Dr. Berger also provided tips for people who wear glasses and how they can avoid fogging up their lenses. 

You can read the entire article here

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We’ve got exciting updates on our new interface!

LA Times: Dr. Berger Answers Questions About Food and COVID-19

LA Times Cooking Editor, Genevieve Ko, turned to GIDEON founder, Dr. Stephen Berger, to get an expert opinion about COVID-19 and food transmission. Dr. Berger provided answers to some common questions people are asking such as:

  • Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food? If so, how?

Dr. Berger: There have been no cases of COVID-19 associated with the ingestion of food, but the question is well-founded. COVID-19 is, after all, caused by a virus that enters the body through the nose or mouth. Food items are, after all, objects which may be contaminated with the virus and placed in the mouth — but like many other viruses, bacteria, and parasites, these will be swallowed and most likely destroyed by stomach acids. Should the virus survive into the intestine, no pathway will carry it to the lungs.

  • Can COVID-19 be transmitted in the process of consuming food or only through the respiratory system?

Dr. Berger: The virus of COVID-19 must enter the respiratory system to produce disease. There is the possibility that material could travel from the mouth through the larynx and into the lungs. It is thought that acquisition of COVID-19 through this route rarely, if ever, occurs.

  • If COVID-19 is on food, can it be killed by cooking? If so, at what temperatures?

Dr. Berger: SARS virus, a close relative of the virus of COVID-19, is inactivated at temperatures of 56 to 65 degrees Celsius (132.8 to 149 degrees Fahrenheit).

  • Can you acquire COVID-19 from food?

Dr. Berger: The bottom line answer is … no.

 

You can read the entire article here. 

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We’ve got exciting updates on our new interface!

What’s The Difference Between a Face Mask and a Condom?

Cloth surgical masks were first used in the late 19th century and were replaced by modern masks during the 1960s. Surgeons do not wear masks to protect themselves from the patient, but to protect the patient from their own oral and nasal bacteria. 

In any case, masks do protect the users themselves. A variety of masks are currently marketed in a wide range of design, material, filtering specifications, and prices. Both cloth and paper masks will offer protection against COVID-19…. but not one-hundred-percent protection. For this reason, we must observe additional precautions such as social distancing, hand washing, etc. 

Can COVID-19 get through the face mask?

Masks are designed to filter out small particles from the air. In theory, the virus that causes COVID-19 could easily evade even the high-quality masks that we see in our streets lately. More than 200,000 individual viruses would fit into the period at the end of this sentence. The good news is that we become infected through somewhat larger particles, consisting of the virus itself, mucus, cellular debris from the lungs and throat, etc. 

A face mask is not a substitute for social distancing

Sadly, masks also tend to give the user a false sense of security.

When I see neighbors in masks sitting next to others I will ask, “If I were to tell you that the other guy is actually infected with coronavirus, will you continue to sit with him? Or will you back away? After all, you do have a mask? If he is also wearing a mask, will you be reassured? 

I am reminded of the early days of the AIDS pandemic which continues to this day. Young travelers en-route to exotic countries would assure me that they will use condoms. I would ask them, “If you found out that this specific person is HIV-positive will you continue to partner with them? After all, you are wearing a condom!” 

How to properly wear a face mask

Masks should be as closely fitted to the skin as possible. The nose must also be covered. Note that when people are tested for the virus, a swab is inserted into the nose – because that is where the virus is

We often see medical professionals – and even doctors in the operating room – with masks worn below the nose. This is not only poor practice, it is blatantly illogical! Several years ago, we conducted an experiment to test the influence of mask position on contamination rates in an operating room – see Effect of Surgical Mask Position on Bacterial Contamination of the Operative Field

Regarding the problem of eyeglass fogging, my surgical colleagues recommend that the mask must be pressed tightly onto the skin under the eyes, but worn loosely under the chin to redirect the flow of exhaled air.

So, here’s a thought! Walking among strangers without a mask is like having unprotected casual sex. But, unlike venereal diseases (and even HIV / AIDS) COVID-19 can kill, and you may well become a danger to the lives of your loved ones!

Don’t panic. Prepare

Dr.Tracey McNamara on West Nile Fever and COVID-19

 

As interviewed by Edward Borton, GIDEON

What was the experience of discovering a new virus outbreak on your doorstep?

When New York City announced that people were dying of unusual encephalitis, I was struck by the timing and proximity between this event and an outbreak of crow deaths. Upon ruling out all known viruses that cause inflammation of the brain in birds, in the United States: exotic Newcastle, avian influenza, and Eastern Equine encephalitis (EEE), I knew this was something new.

It wasn’t until I picked up the phone and called the U.S. Army and said “I think it’s something new to veterinary medicine. I think it’s the same thing killing people in New York City, but no one will test my samples.” That one phone call changed everything because the military had a different mindset. When you say ‘something unusual, new and killing people’, they immediately thought of bioterrorism, and the West Nile virus is indeed a biowarfare weapon.

 

Was there a significant media response at the time? How does the response compare with what we’re experiencing today?

It was pretty crazy. We faced the same situation: a disease that we had never seen in the Western Hemisphere, and knew nothing about. We didn’t know what it was going to do, who it was going to make sick, only that it had already killed people. The scientists had nothing but questions about this virus and the public was extremely anxious.

To minimize panic, everyone was told ‘it’s only affecting the very young and the very old’.  Public health officials were telling people to wear mosquito repellent and destroy mosquito habitats if found in or near your home. Sadly, a lot of people were saying, ‘I don’t have to worry about this’.

It seems to be an instinctive response to a novel threat, to just deny it,  but sticking your head in the sand doesn’t mean something isn’t going to walk up and bite you on the butt.

 

Do you feel that the technology available to the industry is sufficient right now or does it need to improve before we start moving things forward?

I think the technology is there. There are companies using artificial intelligence and algorithms to detect anomalous events. It just hasn’t been applied to the animal sector.

We need to improve the speed of diagnostics. When the Ebola virus outbreaks took place, that prompted scientists to look into portable deep sequencing in the field. There is a company that developed a tool that’s smaller than a lunchbox, which allows you to take a swab, stick it in the device and in two hours you can download the results to your laptop. In two hours, you could know what you’re dealing with, whether it’s Ebola, or another virus, bacteria, fungus, parasite or unicellular organisms.

Another really powerful thing is a species neutral diagnostic test. It doesn’t matter if it’s human, environmental or animal. We’re probably talking 10 years from now, but it has been deployed in the field for Ebola, so we will eventually replace all our other methods of diagnostic tests we’re currently using.

 

Do you think we’ll see a new wave of people inspired to get involved in healthcare as a result of the current outbreak? 

Yes, I think so. Young people, they’re so interconnected, they’re online constantly. They will make terrific advances.

There is a phrase used when teaching medical students – ‘when you hear hoofbeats in the distance, think horses, not zebras.’ None of us can afford to think that way anymore, we all have to be thinking about zebras.

We, as human beings, have to find a way to bring all of our expertise together and to respond quickly. That will prevent major mortalities, no matter what profession you’re in. We all have a different mindset but that is what we need – multi-disciplinary teams.

We truly are all in this together and everyone has a role to play. I hope everyone keeps that in mind. Don’t panic. Prepare. Don’t get scared. Prepare. Work with the officials that are working around the clock trying to get their arms around us.

 

Dr. Tracey McNamara was hugely influential in the discovery of the West Nile Virus outbreak in the United States in 1999 and has been in the field of veterinary pathology for over 32 years, including Professor of Pathology at Western University of Health Sciences for almost 13 years.

Tracey gave a TedX talk at UCLA on ‘How monitoring animal health can predict human disease outbreaks’, which is available here.

 

New Video tutorials for Outbreaks, Surveys and Cross Border Events

Dr. Steve Berger has release new videos to review how to use the Outbreaks, Surveys and Cross Border Events Public Health features of GIDEON.

They are included below:

Webinar replay and GIDEON demo

Dr Steve Berger presents a background on Infectious Diseases and using GIDEON as a decision support tool during a webinar earlier today.

Traveling to Haiti

Even before the earthquake, travelers to Haiti were advised to consult with an expert in Travel Medicine.  The new situation has significantly increased the risk for a variety of infectious diseases – both common and “exotic.”   Needless to say, there are many health risks which are not related to infection – excessive heat and sun exposure, political violence, psychological trauma, etc.

Clearly, the most common problems will be related to contamination of food and water: dysentery, salmonellosis and other forms of gastroenteritis.  Cholera is not currently encountered in Haiti.  There is no vaccine for these diseases, and preventative measures (if possible) will include adequate heating of food, bottled water, etc.  Many experts would also suggest that the traveler carry antibiotics (Azithromycin or Ciprofloxacin) to be taken in the event of symptoms.

Among the food / water-borne diseases, Hepatitis A (and possibly Hepatitis E) and typhoid constitute a genuine risk.  All travelers should be vaccinated as far in advance as possible before embarking for Haiti.  Several food borne parasitic infections are also common in Haiti.

The rate of AIDS in Haiti is particularly high.  Although most HIV infection in Haiti has been acquired through sex, exposure to blood will now become a major risk factor.

Malaria is endemic to 75% of Haiti.  Although the local parasite strain is often associated with severe illness, and even death, it is sensitive to anti-malarial drugs.   People traveling to Haiti should take two tablets of Choroquine, once weekly.  Another common mosquito-borne disease, dengue, can only be prevented by vigorous use of insect repellents.  Such measures might also prevent a number of local exotic parasitic diseases (Wuchereriasis, Mansonelliasis).

Animal contact should also be avoided – rabies, anthrax and other “zoonoses” are not uncommon in this country.

Contrary to common belief, contact with dead bodies is not considered a health risk.  A person who did not have cholera or typhoid in life will not begin to spread these diseases because she has died.

Anyone returning from Haiti should arrange for a stool examination – even if they feel well. Parasitic infestation is not necessarily associated with symptoms.  Needless to say, if fever, diarrhea, headache or any other symptom of infection develops, a physician should be consulted.

Also check out GIDEON’s free ebook: Infectious Diseases of Haiti

New GIDEON Diagnosis module

GIDEON’s redesigned Infectious Diseases Diagnosis module has been launched (screenshot). There are many new features, including

  • Suggestions
  • Dynamic diagnosis
  • Usability improvements

Suggestions

Diagnosis suggestions snapshotUntil now, GIDEON’s Diagnosis Compare function has ranked signs and symptoms which are most likely to impact the Differential Diagnosis list. Now, the top four clinical findings which are most likely to focus and shorten the list of possible diseases are displayed and dynamically updated as each new sign or symptom is entered. Clickable boxes which allow the user to enter a “yes”, “no” or “unknown”, appear and enlarge each time the mouse passes near a perspective finding.

Dynamic diagnosis

The Diagnose button has been eliminated! Now, the differential diagnosis list updates automatically as you enter signs and symptoms. This feature demonstrates the effects of each new sign or symptom as it is entered.
The First case scenario list still appears below the diagnosis list.
Diagnosis results buttonsThe familiar buttons: Compare, Why Not, Open case, Save case, Remove All, Print, Email are all in the Diagnosis Results area.

Usability improvements

Country selection and Incubation period entryCountry and incubation period in symptom list
Country name and Incubation period have been appended to the Clinical Presentation list.  Now, whenever you indicate a country name, or dates of exposure, the Differential diagnosis list instantly re-adjusts accordingly.

Collapsible windows
Windows, such as Suggestions and Clinical Summary can be minimized and hidden. For example to not see suggestions, click on the minimize button Minimize button to the left title.

Mouse overs
Mouse over check boxMore mouse-overs have been added: Clickable boxes expand as you mouse over them, and display clear symbols to select “yes” or “no.”

Clinical Summary
You can now click on the signs and symptoms in the Clinical Summary. Clicking on Country will display “Worldwide”. Clicking again displays the country.

Quick sorting
Probability sort arrowDiagnosis results can be sorted alphabetically or by probability easily by clicking the column title.

Resize window
Changing vertical window size expands size of Clinical presentation and Diagnosis results sub-windows. This is a great feature for larger monitors.

Previous version
Click “Original diagnosis” to use the older interface.

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