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Hong Kong activates ‘serious response’ to growing mystery illness

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Hong Kong authorities stepped up monitoring of airports and train stations Saturday in response to a mysterious outbreak of a viral pneumonia.

Officials activated a new “serious response” level, which indicates a moderate impact on Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people, The Associated Press said. It is the second highest in a three-tier system that is part of a new government plan launched Saturday to respond to infectious diseases of unknown cause.

The outbreak started last month in the mainland city of Wuhan, a city about 600 miles northwest of Hong Kong. At least 44 people have fallen ill, with 11 of them in critical condition, the South China Morning Post reported.

All were being treated in isolation and 121 others who had been in close contact with them were under observation. So far, no medical workers have been infected and there have been no clear indications of human-to-human transmission of the disease.

Many of the ill worked at a seafood market that also sold live wild animals like rabbits and birds that can carry viruses dangerous to humans. Avian flu has been ruled out, along with influenza.

While the market has been scoured, the outbreak has prompted worries about the return of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic that started in southern China and killed nearly 800 people and infected more than 8,000 in the mainland, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The most common symptom is fever, with shortness of breath and lung infections in a small number of cases, the Wuhan Health Commission said.

Hong Kong’s health department added an additional thermal imaging system at the city’s airport to check the body temperature of arriving passengers. Temperature checks are also being done at the West Kowloon high-speed rail station that connects Hong Kong to the mainland.

Screening measures were also adopted in Singapore and Taiwan.

The World Health Organization is “closely monitoring” the outbreak.

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What plasma donations could mean for the hardest-hit COVID-19 patients

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The son of a retired New York State investigator hopes the experimental treatment of convalescent plasma will help his father, who has been in the hospital for more than two weeks battling the coronavirus.

Danny Fernandez’s son Zachary Fernandez and ex-wife Yesenia Fernandez put out a plea on Friday asking for coronavirus survivors to donate blood for an antibody test for the coronavirus.

Those who have fully recovered from the coronavirus may be able to help patients fighting the virus by donating the convalescent plasma — the clear, straw-colored liquid part of the blood that contains special proteins — produced in their blood, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to be considered as a possible donor, a patient must be fully recovered for two weeks.

“Convalescent plasma can also be used to manufacture a biological product called hyperimmune globulin, which can similarly be used to treat patients with COVID-19,” according to a statement issued by the FDA on Thursday that encourages recovered coronavirus patients to donate plasma.

PHOTO: An employee shows a blood sample for COVID-19 antibody testing at home at the Labor Dr. Heidrich & Kollegen MVZ GmbH medical lab, on April 16, 2020, in Hamburg, Germany. (Morris Macmatzen/Getty Images)
PHOTO: An employee shows a blood sample for COVID-19 antibody testing at home at the Labor Dr. Heidrich & Kollegen MVZ GmbH medical lab, on April 16, 2020, in Hamburg, Germany. (Morris Macmatzen/Getty Images)

Since the coronavirus’ first outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China, in December over 2.2 million people around the world have been diagnosed and over 570,000 have fully recovered. In the United States, over 700,000 people were diagnosed and over 60,000 have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

MORE: Blood tests could help battle COVID-19 in US

Provisional death count data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control as of April 14 shows that people of color, who make up less than 40% of the United States population, are dying at a higher rate. According to the data, 16.6% of Hispanics and 17.9% of African Americans diagnosed with the coronavirus have died.

The demographic of coronavirus recoveries are not available.

What to know about Coronavirus:

While plasma transfusions are still in the experimental stages to treat coronavirus patients, the Fernandez family are willing to take a chance to help Danny Fernandez.

Danny Fernandez, a retired New York State senior investigator, has been on a ventilator in ICU at an Orange County hospital since April 1.

“So far where it has been used, it is showing some success, so we are hopeful he has some success with it,” Yesenia Fernandez told ABC News’ local affiliate WABC on Friday.

“It was experimental, and we didn’t know of any donors personally, so we are trying to come out and get donors,” said Zachary Fernandez to WABC.

Prior experience with respiratory viruses and limited data from China suggests that convalescent plasma has the potential to lessen the severity or shorten the length of illness caused by COVID-19, the FDA said.

Blood donation organizations like New York Blood Center says on their website that they have received several inquiries from concerned people about how to get convalescent plasma donations to their specific loved one.

PHOTO: An employee holds antibody test cartridges of the ichroma COVID-19 Ab testing kit used in diagnosing the coronavirus on a production line of the Boditech Med Inc., in Chuncheon, South Korea, April 17, 2020. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
PHOTO: An employee holds antibody test cartridges of the ichroma COVID-19 Ab testing kit used in diagnosing the coronavirus on a production line of the Boditech Med Inc., in Chuncheon, South Korea, April 17, 2020. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

“At this time, we are building a public bank of CP (convalescent plasma) and there is not an option to make a directed donation (making a donation for a specific patient),” according to the New York Blood Center.

Unlike giving blood where it takes up to 15 minutes to donate, a plasma donation is more of a time commitment.

MORE: Why Thousands of Low-Income Americans ‘Donate’ Their Blood Plasma to For-Profit Centers

After a blood is drawn from the arm, it “takes a spin” in a centrifuge to separate your plasma from other blood components. The plasma is collected in a separate bag and the remainder of your blood is returned to you. This cycle is repeated several times to generate the required volume of plasma,” according to the New York Blood Center.

The Fernandez family hopes someone steps up to donate soon.

WABC’s Tim Fliescher contributed to this report

What plasma donations could mean for the hardest-hit COVID-19 patients originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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