Influenza Season 2021-2022 is Approaching

The office has ordered enough influenza vaccine for all patients including 65 and older.  Let’s start the discussion by making it very clear that you can take the influenza vaccine at the same time you take the COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Several vaccine companies are actually producing a combination vaccine of COVID-19 and influenza but that product will not be available in the USA this fall.

The next issue to examine is when does influenza A generally arrive in south Florida? In most years we see very little influenza A prior to Thanksgiving . There is a smattering of influenza B primarily in the pediatric population year-round.

The disease arrives earlier north of the Mason Dixon Line but last season due to masking, lockdowns and school closures there was very little spread of the flu. It takes about two weeks to develop immunity after you receive the vaccine so if you are planning on traveling in October and November it pays to research when influenza arrives in the area you are traveling to and get vaccinated two weeks in advance of the trip.

In South Florida the influenza season peaks the last week in January and first weeks in February most years. Think Super Bowl weekend as the most infectious time.

We know that in those 65 years of age or older the protective effects begin to fade at 90 days. For this reason, we advise our senior citizen patients to take the influenza vaccine between Halloween and Thanksgiving. For patients over 65 who already took their flu shot at their pharmacy, we recommend a booster shot in late December or early January. For younger patients, the immunity lasts much longer and, if they choose to take the shot earlier, they should be protected for most of the flu season.

THE VACCINE IS ALREADY IN OUR OFFICE. We will officially start vaccinating in October. Seniors 65 and older will receive a version of the senior high dose quadrivalent vaccine. Younger patients will receive the traditional influenza vaccine. The vaccination will be recorded on Florida Shots – the official vaccination recording site of the State of Florida.

There is Nothing Mild About “Mild COVID-19”

Medical experts divide COVID-19 infections into the categories of “mild,” “moderate to severe” and “severe”. To be defined as “mild” you must have COVID-19 but have no respiratory symptoms that necessitate the use of supplemental oxygen or hospitalization. I currently have “mild” COVID-19 and I am recovering. I am observing the appropriate quarantine procedures and let me make this clear, there is nothing mild about mild Covid-19.

I became aware something was wrong a bit over a week ago. I developed a mild irritating bronchial cough with a stuffy nose. Since I have inhaled allergies for years, I wasn’t quite sure if it was a bad allergy day or something else. As I did my exercise routine everything was a bit stiffer and harder to loosen up and a bit more tiresome but nothing dramatic. My wife made our favorite dish for dinner but I just wasn’t very hungry. I ate a minimal amount. The next morning I woke up much sorer than usual. I attributed this to getting older and pushed through my workout and daily routine. By day’s end, I noticed my nose was running occasionally. I slept sparingly that night being unable to find a comfortable position with my hip hurting out of proportion to any injury.

On Monday my aches and pains were severe. By evening I was flushed and febrile. The aches and pains that occurred in my joints and muscles required some Tylenol to take off the edge. That night the chills and shakes started, the frontal headache worsened, the muscle and joint pains exacerbated and the fatigue was overwhelming. I was exhausted but I could not sleep. I vowed to get tested the next morning. I sat upright in a chair – unable to get comfortable most of the night.

When my wife woke up, we drove over to the test site and 30-minutes later I had my notification of a positive COVID antigen test. By the next day the PCR nasal swab confirmed it. The aches and pains and difficulty of initiating and completing simple movements, like walking to the toilet, were exhausting and accompanied by drenching sweats. The simple task of walking my small dogs to the front lawn to relieve themselves felt like the end of a long hard work-out.

Later in the day I was infused with monoclonal antibodies to decrease the chances of mild COVID progressing to moderate or severe COVID. The time after the infusion was probably the most painful and uncomfortable period I have gone through in years. I was wearing a sweatsuit mid-day in Florida with temperatures that felt like the 100 degree range, sipping tea and honey and still feeling cold and hot at the same time. The aches and pains actually got worse for a few hours.

After several hours, the symptoms began to subside – likely from the RegenCov monoclonal antibodies As my symptoms diminished my sense of smell and taste disappeared and have not yet returned. Wearing a mask in my own home to protect my wife and pets from COVID is clearly a necessity but an inconvenience. Isolating to a portion of the house for quarantine is also an inconvenience but a necessity.

I did not anticipate the loss of concentration which was present for several days and made doing clinical work from home with telehealth difficult. My patience was non-existent so expressing sympathy and empathy for anything or anyone was a challenge. I have lost ten pounds in a week due to no appetite, no taste or smell.

There is nothing mild about mild COVID. It is worse than a “bad flu” and, possibly the designation as “mild” is too non-descriptive to make the unvaccinated and even the vaccinated, who are looking to rejoin life with no restrictions, understand that this disease is a beast and best avoided.

Why Have Guidelines, Rules & Regulations If No One Adheres to Them & There are NO Consequences?

I live and practice internal medicine and geriatrics in South Florida. We have a substantial elderly population living both independently and in senior facilities. The Sars2 Coronavirus Pandemic has been devastating to this patient population. There are many who became ill and passed away under the loneliest circumstances of in-hospital isolation. There are those who became ill and recovered but have lingering long-term effects. There are those who have avoided infection but are just beaten down by the daily monotony of staying safe, avoiding crowded public places and subsequently forsaking the company of friends and family.

The vaccine rollout in Florida was Helter Skelter and disorganized. It was every man and woman for themselves trying to obtain an appointment to be vaccinated. For the most, part the senior community managed to get the shots.

We were all grateful and buoyed as the summer of 2021 began by the news that we could venture out without masks and start resuming our pre-pandemic lives. The Delta variant and the recent surge in infectious cases, hospitalizations and now mortality put a quick and moribund end to that for most. The disparity between the message coming out of Washington and the CDC and the message delivered by our Governor and State Legislature has made decision making for individuals far more difficult than it should be. The latest conundrum is about the need for booster COVID vaccines or not.

The State of Israel, which exclusively used the Pfizer Vaccine, announced a third shot for those over 50 beginning a few weeks ago. Germany announced it would start such a program in September.

The CDC hinted at a booster program but until a NY Times article appeared on the evening of August 16th there was no official news on the subject beyond the recommendation that immunosuppressed individuals, especially organ transplant patients and cancer patients, under therapy get a third shot. Days before this announcement my patients had begun calling me, texting me, emailing me to tell me that their friends had walked into a Walgreens Pharmacy or Publix Pharmacy, showed them their Medicare ID card and their vaccine card and had been administered a third COVID vaccine shot with no questions asked. This was substantiated by multiple other patients including one couple spending the summer in the mountains of North Carolina.

Is there one set of rules for large chain pharmacies and another set for the rest of the world? What is the point of data and evidence-based recommendations if anyone can just do what they want when they want to?

At this point I will wait to hear the CDC’s recommendations on when to take a third shot and the data they used to explain why. I am thrilled that Pfizer has shown that a third shot is safe with few adverse effects. I am also buoyed by a research paper that showed that those groups who spaced their second shot at longer than the three- or four-week recommendations had a more robust immunologic response.

When my friends call me and ask me to join them on a trip to Publix or Walgreens to get the third shot now, I will hear my late mother’s voice in my brain asking that irritating question, “If all your friends decided to jump off the Empire State Building would you jump too?”

COVID-19: Bringing Back Precautions & Restrictions

We recently spoke with our Friday night Shabbat Dinner friends of 40 years and cancelled our dinner plans because of the aggressive resurgence of the COVID-19 Delta Pandemic. I remember our last dinner eating outside in early February 2020 on a beautiful evening wondering if we should all be together one last time before suspending our weekly meals together. We were joined by a physician friend and his wife visiting from Cleveland and they were poking fun at my concerns and over reaction to the “Wuhan Flu.” The proverbial “shit hit the fan” the next week and we went into lockdown.

One year later we were all excited lining up for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. We really thought that would be the solution. We really thought our leaders at the federal and state levels would stand up and promote vaccinations. We really expected community leaders, respected by people of color, including church leaders, community activists, respected community members would be out there championing the vaccine, helping at vaccination sites and getting the shot into the arms of the most vulnerable.

Several months ago, when things began to calm down, we started having dinner together again in our homes. The rate of positivity in the spring of 2021 was low and our friends masked and kept distance when indoors shopping for supplies. We felt comfortable enjoying our friends’ company once again outdoors at a few restaurants and in our homes. Then came the Delta surge and with it the relaxation of restrictions.

It reminds me of pictures of the start of the Oklahoma Land Rush. A gun was fired, and everyone rode off to stake their claim. In 2021 they made their plane flight reservations, bought their concert tickets, made their hotel reservations and resumed everything they did prior to the pandemic. They stopped tracking cases, and, in many states, they stopped looking for new genetic mutations and variants of the virus. They forgot to get the vaccine to poorer nations but left the air and ship travel paths open to anyone and everyone. They underestimated the ability of the virus to find a way to survive by changing once inside the bodies of the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Yes, it’s true that if you are vaccinated and get infected with the virus you most likely will not require inpatient hospitalization and die but according to those who went through this you will feel miserable for quite awhile. Yes, it’s true that you probably can transmit it to others even though the data on that is still new and quite controversial including passing it to unvaccinated children and the immunosuppressed.

To make matters worse, our Governor thinks he’s Bob Barker screaming; “Come on Down” as he invites foreign and out of state residents to come visit our beautiful state, spend money, pick up the virus and bring it home to your locale. I bet Florida is the leading exporter of sickness, death and chronic illness in the world over the last 12 months and no one in our state capitol seems to care.

We are returning to a bunker mentality in our household. No more dinners out. No more social engagements with friends whose activities and travels we are unsure of. If our grandson is sent to his preschool my wife will stop being his nanny because she does not want to risk catching the virus.

As college and NFL football season approach, it is unlikely I will sit in a stadium with thousands of unmasked individuals to see my teams play. The same goes for the theater and for travel. It’s really disheartening and depressing but we will do what is necessary to stay healthy and we hope you will too.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Continues Due to Citizen Dysfunction

Last night on the national news coverage of the Sars 2 Coronavirus Pandemic a major story dealt with the large number of children infected with the Delta variant of the virus and the severity of their illness. These children are too young to receive the vaccine.

At best, Pfizer and Moderna hope to have approval to start vaccinating young children by the end of September. These children are dependent on their parents, teachers and counselors keeping them masked, keeping them distanced and keeping them safe. This story dealt with an outbreak in Missouri and Mississippi with 10 youngsters currently on life support systems.

It is a dilemma for parents, especially working parents, about what activities to allow their children to engage in. With previous COVID-19 surges and outbreaks, experts have discussed how mild the illness is in children and how infrequently long-term and life-threatening complications occur. They stress the need for children this age to socialize and go to school and camp but that was prior to the Delta variant and other mutations and variants becoming the dominant source of infection in the USA. It is hard to tell whether the news coverage is sensationalized to promote viewership or is the Delta variant a threat to young unvaccinated children different and more severe than it was 90 days ago?

It’s time for our federal government to take a hard line with health care workers and health care facilities. All employees without a valid health reason for being vaccinated must be vaccinated or face termination. This would include hospitals, outpatient facilities, senior centers, childcare centers, etc. If the result is the facility is understaffed resulting in delays in elective profitable procedures, then so be it until the pandemic is controlled!

Commercial air traffic from regions of the country and world with low vaccination rates and vaccine hesitancy battling large outbreaks of COVID-19 should be halted until their outbreaks are under control. Vaccine passports should be encouraged – not legislated against. When an individual’s actions and decisions threaten others around them by increasing the likelihood of spread of a disease, and its accompanying economic devastation, then the issue is not about loss of freedom. It is about public health and the governments’ sworn duty to protect its citizens.

It’s time to end this Pandemic and the way to achieve that is through mandatory vaccination.

Making Sense of the New CDC Guidelines Here in Florida

There were almost 6,000 new cases of Coronavirus illness in Florida yesterday with the positivity rate of those tested being well above 5%. Fewer and fewer people are showing up for testing or to receive vaccine here in the Sunshine State.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued new less restrictive activity guidelines last week which suggest outdoor activities in low population densities do not require a mask. This makes great sense and I am in complete agreement. They go further and say small indoor gatherings with vaccinated individuals do not require a mask. This makes great scientific sense as well. What they do not want is thousands of individuals, whose vaccination or immunity status is unknown to be packed into a venue indoors or out without being masked. They additionally don’t recommend large private gatherings indoors of individuals whose immune status is unknown. This makes sense to me as well in Florida where the infectious positivity rate remains greater than 5%.

We know vaccinated individuals have a low probability of catching COVID if exposed. If they are unlucky enough to catch it (about 6,000 breakthrough cases are known in the USA with about 150 million already receiving vaccine) there is an even smaller chance of getting sick enough to require hospitalization or dying. They still are not sure if those infected can transmit it to those unvaccinated or those frail, immunosuppressed and vulnerable.

The Governor of Florida and his Attorney General have sued the CDC, NIH and Federal government demanding that they allow cruise ships to begin sailing again from Florida ports. My daughter and grandchildren depend on cruise industry revenue to pay their mortgage, feed and clothe the family and live. The cruise industry has gone to great expense to vaccinate its crews and restrict passenger access to those who can prove they have been vaccinated or prove they are not COVID Positive. They wanted a “vaccine passport” for passengers.

Florida responds by having its Surgeon General, pediatrician friend and political ally of the Governor with zero public health or infectious disease background declare if you are vaccinated you are not required to wear a mask anywhere anytime. The legislature, composed primarily of members of the Governors party, passes legislation forbidding businesses from barring individuals from their business based on their vaccine status. This comes well after they supported the Governor with legislation forbidding local municipalities from enforcing local ordinances requiring masks.

I want the ships to sail so my son-in-law keeps his job! The last thing we need is for Florida politics to permit a ship to go out to sea and become a center of infection, illness and death because Florida elected officials watered down the sensible guidelines the cruise industry developed to begin sailing again safely.

Florida is a gateway state encouraging visitors from Latin and Central America as well as US tourists. Brazil is embroiled in a COVID surge of infection and death . The poverty in Central America and the islands prevent knowing exactly what their status is. I am more concerned about the disease entering and leaving Florida via visitors and no rules than I am concerned with illegal immigrants bringing it in at the Texas and Arizona borders as the media and certain elements of the U S seem to be.

Vaccines have brought us so close to controlling the Pandemic. Why can’t we mask up and be patient for a few weeks more?

In my office we will continue to follow the CDC guidelines. We will wait to see if the relaxed mask recommendations of the CDC, plus the vaccine program, keep the infection rate down. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkes’ no mask for the vaccinated anywhere may be interpreted as no masks anywhere for everyone. It will take three to four weeks for the consequences of these announcements to make an impact. If the number of infected decreases, my physician associate and I will sit down and alter our approach based on the science. Until that time, we will require masks in our office!

I Was Wrong Regarding Athletes Post COVID-19 & Inflammatory Heart Disease

In a January 2021 blog post, I criticized college athletic departments for allowing their athletes who were infected with SARS-CoV-2  to resume training and competing in their sport without taking a cardiac MRI scan first. This was based on an article early in the pandemic from Italy citing the large number of inflammatory heart issues seen in 100 relatively mildly symptomatic COVID patients.  There was unexpected heart inflammation found in over 50% of these older nonathletic individuals.

The Big Ten Intercollegiate Athletic Conference published an article from the University of Wisconsin Department of Athletics a few months later. All their athletes recovering from COVID (182) received a cardiac MRI at the three-week mark and only two students had MRI evidence of myocarditis.  Based on this small study, other institutions decided that a history session, physical exam, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and laboratory measurement of the athletes’ cardiac muscle troponin levels would be sufficient. Athletes with abnormalities on any of those tests were referred for a cardiac MRI which could cost $1500- $7500 per study.  I was extremely critical of that decision citing the large amount of income these athletes generated for their university and the potential cost in terms of long-term medical care, potential lawsuits and negative publicity from an athlete becoming seriously ill.  

Like most information regarding this pandemic over time, we learn more about the disease and how to diagnose and treat it. The more familiar we become with Sars2 coronavirus the more previous beliefs change.

This week researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology that very few elite athletes recovering from COVID-19 develop myocarditis.  They pooled medical data from May 2020 until October 2020 from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League, the National Football League and the Men’s and Women’s National Basketball Association.

789 professional athletes tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and entered the return to play protocol (RTP). Athletes who tested positive had a cardiac screening 19 days after their positive test without cardiac MRI imaging. From this group, only 30 athletes had abnormal results and were sent for additional screening. Cardiac MRI was performed on 27 of the 30 and inflammatory heart disease was found in 5 of them. This represents 0.6% of the original screened group. Three of the athletes had confirmed myocarditis and two had pericarditis. These athletes were held out of training and competition. The other 25 returned to training and competition.  None of those athletes who returned to competition had a cardiac illness related event as of December 2020.

In my blog I  tried to provide the ultimate safety evaluation and recommendation for athletes. My patients are older – not elite and anxious to resume their grueling workouts with their local personal trainers.  Given the knowledge base at the time I would make the same choice leaning towards safety, but the data proved me wrong. 

As we learn more about this disease previously held beliefs will be disproved. We have learned that hydroxychloroquine does not work in the treatment of the disease even though initial expectations were that it would. We learned that the virus does not last exceptionally long on surfaces but in the beginning a published article about the cleansing process on the cruise ship Yokahama Princess showed the virus survived 17 days on the ship’s surfaces. We learned that convalescent plasma does not save lives in severely ill patients. This is what happens in the field of science. The CDC and Dr Fauci do not flip flop and are not wrong. As information becomes available, they review the data and try and explain it to the rest of us. As the data changes over time, and the picture changes over time, they adjust their recommendations to be consistent with the facts. They tend to err on the side of caution and safety, as will I, as we move through this tragic pandemic.

The Pandemic, Snail Mail & Credit Reporting

Not a day goes by that I do not receive an unsolicited email offer to run my credit report for free.  It never occurred to me that while the pandemic was raging, and millions of people were out of work without a true source of income, business as usual was occurring at the three major credit reporting firms.   I have been extremely fortunate in that my wife and I have been able to pay our bills on time.

The only negative issues we have run into is the dreadfully slow journey first-class mail takes today.  Bills and invoices for services rendered arrive late routinely if they arrive at all. I mail my payments when I receive a bill or invoice well in advance of the due dates.  Sometimes they arrive. Sometimes they disappear off the face of the earth. They all have my return address on them, but none have been returned. I mail them from the local post office these days putting on a mask and gloves and dropping them in the stamped mail slot inside the post office. 

Last month I ran out of first-class stamps, so I went to the nearby Post Office on Banyan Road and bought stamps directly from a postal employee inside because the automated machine was out of order. I stamped my three envelopes and handed them back to the postal worker behind the counter.  Those were payments to FPL, Florida Public Utilities (gas company) and to my homeowner’s insurer Tower Hill.  Those payments never arrived. Those checks never cleared.  USPS is so slow that several companies I purchase from refer to US mail as “snail mail.”

My children tell me to “… pay your bills online by setting up an automatic deduction from your bank account”.  This comes a few days after another major cyberattack and hack – this time to Facebook.  I used the email address and app Facebook provided to see if my credentials were part of the stolen data and yes, they were.  I subscribe to LifeLock for help in protecting my identity, so I know my data flows on the “Dark Web”. Last month someone tried to use that stolen data to obtain unemployment insurance in the state of Illinois.  I squashed that quickly.

Credit scores are used today to evaluate job applicants. They are used to determine if you qualify for all forms of insurance, and how much you need to pay, including life insurance, auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance and possibly health insurance.  I can see checking a credit report if you are trying to buy something and are trying to obtain financing or a loan to pay for it. Even in that arena, this summer I leased a car from Acura.  I have leased a car from Acura using their finance company for twenty-five years now.  Did they need to run a credit report to determine if I pay my auto lease?

I think there should be a moratorium on credit reporting just like there is a moratorium on home evictions.  It should start in May 2021 and run until at least April 15, 2022.  Millions of people will be trying to get back on their feet as the vaccines take hold and people return to the workforce. They deserve a chance to rebuild their lives and their credit rating without the discrimination against them caused by the pandemic’s effects on the economy.

Put on a Mask and Just Stay Home!

I listened to the Governor of my home state, Florida, declare our state the freedom state because all the businesses are open and running full tilt.  He cited his success in keeping deaths from coronavirus low while keeping the economy running and jobs available.

I bring this up because on my way to visit my fully vaccinated adult children last weekend I passed by at least 20 overhead electronic road signs proclaiming, “Miami Beach Curfew 8PM – 6 AM Causeways Closed!”  Yes, here it was springtime with Passover and Easter on the horizon and the famed Miami Beach was closing at night.  We are at a critical point in the fight against the Sars2 COVID-19 coronavirus. We are trying to vaccinate enough people quickly so that the virus does not enter a vulnerable host and mutate to a form that the vaccine is less effective against.   We are so close to controlling this pathogen but human nature and failure to be able to delay gratification, and put off travel and group activities, is leading to a potential fourth surge of COVID-19 related illness and death.

My cell phone rang twice with patient calls on the 60-minute trip southward. The first was from a patient whose adult children came to visit him. His unvaccinated eighteen-year-old grandson was with them. After spending four days together they received a phone call that the grandson’s girlfriend was sick and tested positive for COVID-9. The next two calls were from patients who had been to two different Passover seders. One was outdoors, the other indoors with 20 plus guests. Both had been exposed to a person who called the next day to say they were COVID-19 positive.

I watched the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an experienced infectious disease and critical care physician, beg Americans to wear a mask and social distance while she was brought to tears by the thought of another wave of illness, death and prolonged restrictions. I listened to the President of the United States plead with state governments to maintain mask restrictions a bit longer to save lives and control the disease. I listened to the Vatican public relations division discuss not holding an Easter Service in St. Peters Square this coming weekend and wondered what it will take to convince people that we just are not ready to resume full activities.

The Governor of Florida is correct. Deaths are down due to vaccinations and the elderly staying home. I suspect if he tracks the cell phones of the tourists and spring breakers to their home states and countries three weeks from now, he will see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.  Florida’s economy may boom but we certainly are maintaining it at the cost of illness and death elsewhere.

An Oral Medication To Stop Coronavirus?

Researchers have produced a pill that, taken twice a day at the 800 mg dosage for five consecutive days, seems to stop SARS-CoV-2 virus from multiplying and causing clinical symptoms. The work is quite early and needs to proceed through stage 2 and 3 clinical trial phases before it can be presented to the FDA for emergency utilization authorization.

The drug is called molnupirvir. It could be taken in the first few days of infection to prevent advancement to severe disease much like Tamiflu is used with influenza. In initial human trials, the virus was eliminated from the nasopharynx of 49 infected individuals.

Wendy Painter, MD, of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics presented the data at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The drug works by interfering with the virus’s mode of reproducing and mutating – overloading the virus with replication and mutation until the virus burns itself out and can no longer make effective viral copies.

Their method of testing the drug was to administer it, or a placebo, to humans who were infected and in the early stages of symptomatic disease. They used three different dosages and swabbed the participants’ nose and cultured for the virus at different times during the experiment.

At day 5, after the onset of symptoms, there was no detectable infectious virus in the nasopharynx of participants who were treated with molnupiravir. Dr. Painter reminded everyone that the next test will be given to patients who are actually sick with COVID-19 and see if it works. This preliminary data should encourage us that when scientists are given the time and resources, they solve problems. Imagine in the near future a vaccinated society that has at its disposal accurate and reliable quick tests for COVID-19 and the availability of a pill taken twice a day, for five days, to prevent the disease from becoming severe and requiring hospitalization.