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A summary of important health news from the past week.

Can Progesterone Improve COVID-19 Outcomes in Men?

By: Lori Uildriks, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCGP

Overall, men are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. This disparity may result from a complex interplay of psychosocial, behavioral, and biological factors. Females tend to mount stronger immune responses than males, which may be due to differences in sex chromosome genes and sex hormones, such as progesterone. Earlier research has shown that premenopausal females with COVID-19 tend to spend less time in hospital. In a recent study, the male participants receiving progesterone required 3 fewer days of supplemental oxygen and 2.5 fewer days of hospitalization than the control group, but the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant. While the preliminary results are encouraging, further research is necessary in larger, more heterogeneous populations, including postmenopausal women and at other treatment centers to establish the degree of clinical efficacy and to assess any other potential safety concerns of this treatment approach.

Artificial Intelligence can now design new antibiotics in a matter of days

By: Sigal Samuel

Scientists have to go through vigorous testing of lots of different molecules to find possible contenders that are good at killing the bacteria. However, after the long process you find out that the molecules are toxic to humans. That’s time and money flushed down the drain. But what if there’s a better and more efficient method of creating the perfect molecule. Researchers at IBM are testing an AI system that can automatically create the perfect molecule for new antibiotics within a matter of days. Traditionally this process could take scientists up to years. The use of AI system could also be expanded for other applications in drug therapy, climate change, and energy production.

Salmonella infections in 8 states could be tied to wild songbirds, CDC says

By: Ryan Prior

The CDC reported a recent outbreak of songbird-linked salmonella infecting 19 individuals, with 8 hospitalizations and no deaths. The report noted that although birds may look healthy, some have carried the same strain of salmonella as the 19 individuals infected, hence the sicker birds passing salmonella to people. These infections can pass when someone comes in contact with a wild bird indirectly or directly, then touches their mouth afterwards without washing their hands. The report urged bird owners to regularly clean their bird feeders and give their birds baths, and to always use soap and water after coming into contact with bird petting or equipment upkeep.

Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Travel With Low Risk, C.D.C. Says

By: Roni Caryn Rabin

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) has announced that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel at low risk to themselves. However, the C.D.C. stresses that they prefer people to avoid travel. Although the pace of vaccinations have been increasing across the country, and death rates have been declining,  cases are still increasing significantly in many states throughout the country. Public health experts are concerned that the government is sending confusing signals to the public. Scientists are still not certain on whether vaccinated people can become infected and transmit the coronavirus to others. Travel has already been increasing worldwide, and as the weather continues to get warmer, there may be more incidences of leisure travel.

US health agency will invest $1 billion to investigate ‘long COVID’

By: Nidhi Subbaraman

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that it will be launching the PASC initiative, which will investigate the long-term health effects of COVID-19. The agency’s director confirmed in a statement given February 23rd that the it plans to invest $1.5 billion towards the four-year project. The initiative comes as a recognition of ‘Long COVID’, or the constellation of symptoms that individuals previously infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus sometimes continue to have after recovery, including fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog.” Researchers involved in the effort will document the recovery paths and perspectives of at least 40,000 participants in a metacohort study design. The project will collect biospecimens in hopes of curating a specimen bank for use in future studies.