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A summary of important health news from the past week.

FDA Approves a New Virtual Reality Device to Help Ease Chronic Pain

By: Elizabeth Pratt

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a breakthrough device that could improve the daily lives of people with chronic pain. The EaseVRx is a virtual reality (VR) headset that uses techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy to help with pain reduction in adults. Individuals turn on the headset and they’re in an immersive 3D world where they can see a new environment around them and be directed to interact within the context of that environment to learn various information such as the role of pain in the brain, how pain exists in the central nervous system, and what can be done to soothe or calm one’s nervous system within the context of pain. The FDA that in a clinical study of the device, 66 percent of those who used EaseVRx reported a higher than 30 percent reduction in their pain, compared with 41 percent of other participants who didn’t use the device. About 46 percent of those who used the device reported a greater than 50 percent reduction in their pain.

Yes, there will be a flu season this year

By: Maggie Fox

Last winter, during one of the peaks of Covid-19, the United States saw a minimal flu season compared to previous years. This may have been due to a combination of mask-wearing, social distancing, and increased hygiene practices. However, this winter may look a bit different. While flu numbers are still low at this time, they are starting to rise at a rate that makes CDC officials predict a much different flu season than last year’s. Additionally, flu vaccination rates are moving slower than in past years, suggesting that overall vaccine hesitancy may be influencing the decision to get the flu vaccine. Dealing with the flu in addition to Covid-19 will only strain hospitals further, so getting vaccinated for both of these viruses and continuing to wear a mask in crowded indoor places is still the best way to prevent the spread of both the flu and Covid-19.

Harris to Announce $1.5B Investment in Health Care Workforce

By: Alexandra Jaffe, Associated Press

The Biden Administration will announce Monday that $1.5 billion will be invested to improve conditions surrounding the healthcare worker shortage in underserved communities. Over 22,700 providers will be supported from the funds, which will also go to funding for the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs. The funding is part of the coronavirus aid package, in which the latest March installment included $1.9 trillion as part of the American Rescue Plan, which addresses improving health disparities in underserved communities.

A 2nd Person May Have Been Naturally ‘Cured’ of HIV: What Science Is Learning

By: Brian Mastroianni

A report from published research in the Annals of Internal Medicine by a team of researchers suggests that a woman living with HIV in Argentina is now cured of the HIV virus. This makes her the second recorded person whose body seemingly rid itself of the virus. The woman was diagnosed with HIV in 2013, and current testing has been unable to detect signs of the infection in her cells 8 years later from her diagnosis. Researchers have suggested that she might potentially be an “elite controller”. Despite this exciting discovery, researchers are still unable to determine exactly how this occurred within her body. Therefore, this woman should not be considered a definitive cure for HIV. The potential this case has for future treatment breakthroughs is still significant and promising. 

The W.H.O. says Omicron poses a ‘very high’ risk globally, as questions about the variant remain.

By: Nick Cumming-Bruce

The recent emergence of the novel Omicron COVID-19 variant, the W.H.O. warns, may transport the world back into the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Believed to have originated in South Africa, a country that has had limited access to COVID-19 vaccines like many others outside of the Western world, the extent of the threat posed by the strain is still largely unknown, but experts anticipate it will be a hefty one. The Omicron variant–and the concern it has generated–has inspired dialogue about global inequalities in vaccine distribution and access in past months and the potential contribution of these disparities to the rapid mutation and persistence of the COVID-19 virus.