Health Highlights: April 27, 2021


Biden Administration Eases Restrictions on Drug Used to Treat Opioid Addiction

Rules that made it challenging for health care providers to treat opioid addiction with medication have been rolled back by the Biden administration.

The changes to the decades-old regulations mean that doctors and other health providers will no longer have to complete extra hours of training to prescribe buprenorphine, and no longer have to refer patients to counseling services, the Associated Press reported.

Buprenorphine is a gold standard medicine that helps ease addicts' cravings.

The new guidelines released Tuesday also allow prescribers to treat up to 30 patients at a time with buprenorphine, but stricter rules will still apply to those treating more than that number of patients at a time, the AP reported.

Along with doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and some other types of nurses will be able to prescribe buprenorphine without the need for special training.

"What it does is provide more on-ramps to treatment," Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the AP. "This will help in health centers, hospitals, jails and prisons — places where these folks sometimes show up for treatment."


Hand-washing by Health Care Workers, Everyday Americans Is on the Decline

Rates of hand-washing spiked early in the coronavirus pandemic but have since declined, new research shows.

A new study found that staff at one Chicago hospital were 100% compliant with hand hygiene rules (soap and sanitizer) just after the new coronavirus arrived in the United States, but that dropped to 51.5% within four months, CNN reported.

Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director of infection prevention and control for University of Chicago Medicine, was co-author of the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

"Our health care workers were really worried about COVID -- they didn't know who had COVID and who didn't -- so they were extremely careful with their hand hygiene," said Landon, CNN reported.

But by January, only 38% of Americans were continuing to remind family members to wash their hands, compared to 54% last year, while "rinse and runs" were on the rise, CNN reported.

"Hand hygiene is a habit. It's like wearing your seatbelt, or eating healthy or exercising regularly; it's something you have to get used to doing," Landon said.

A survey conducted in January found that only 57% of of Americans said they were washing their hands six or more times a day, compared with 78% in the early stages of the pandemic, CNN reported.


U.S. Health Officials May Ease Outdoor Mask Rules

Possible easing of mask requirements outdoors are among new recommendations for fully vaccinated people expected to be announced Tuesday by the Biden administration.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency was "looking at" whether it's still necessary to wear a mask outdoors, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, said Sunday that federal health officials might loosen mask requirements, The New York Times reported.

A vaccinated person's risk of infection outdoors is "minuscule," according to Fauci.

"I think it's pretty common sense now that outdoor risk is really, really quite low," for vaccinated people, Fauci said on the ABC News program "This Week," the Times reported.

There's increasing evidence that the risk of coronavirus spread is far lower outdoors than indoors because virus particles disperse quickly outdoors.

Several states have already dropped mask mandates and fully reopened indoor and outdoor venues, even for large sporting events. New York still has mask requirements.

A growing body of research indicates that the risk of spreading the virus is far lower outdoors than indoors. Viral particles disperse quickly outdoors, experts say, meaning brief encounters with a passing walker or jogger pose very little risk of transmission.

"That biker who whizzes by without a mask poses no danger to us, at least from a respiratory virus perspective," Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, wrote in a blog post for the New England Journal of Medicine, the Times reported.

The CDC currently recommends that vaccinated people wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance from others in public, including while taking public transportation such as buses, trains or planes and while in transportation hubs. It also recommends they continue to avoid crowds, large gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces, the Times said.

AstraZeneca Sued by EU Over Vaccine Shipment Delays

AstraZeneca is being sued by the European Union (EU) for delays in shipping hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

European officials say AstraZeneca broke its contract when it said it would deliver only a third of the 300 million doses that European officials had been expecting by the end of June, The New York Times reported.

Trouble between the bloc and the company began in January when AstraZeneca said it would provide the bloc with far fewer vaccine doses than expected for the first quarter of the year.

That set back the bloc's vaccination campaign by weeks as cases climbed and political leaders were criticized for inadequate planning, the Times reported.

AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with the University of Oxford, has said that the EU finalized its contract months after Britain did, giving the company less time to iron out any manufacturing difficulties, the Times reported.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is being used in 135 countries.

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