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Health Highlights: April 3, 2020

Last Updated: April 03, 2020.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Human Trial of Experimental Stem Cell Therapy for COVID-19 Approved by FDA

A human clinical trial of an experimental stem cell therapy for coronavirus patients has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The stem cell treatment is derived from human placentas and is being developed by New Jersey biotech company Celularity. The early-stage trial will include up to 86 coronavirus patients with symptoms who will receive infusions of the stem cell therapy to assess the its safety and whether it prevents the patients from developing more severe illness, The New York Times.

The stem cells from the placenta used in this treatment are "natural killer" cells that guard a developing fetus or newborn from viruses in the mother. Celularity has been testing this treatment approach in cancer patients.

Initial results from the early trial are expected 30 to 60 days after the first patients receive their dose, Dr. Robert Hariri, Celularity's founder and chief executive, told The Times.

If the early trial is successful, the company would conduct a placebo-controlled study that would evaluate the drug's efficacy against the disease, Hariri said.

Hariri is a longtime friend of White House advisor Rudy Giuliani, who has touted the therapy in tweets and on a podcast, the Times reported.

And at least one expert warned the therapy could pose safety risks. Patients with coronavirus can develop severe reactions in which their immune systems go overboard in attacking cells in their lungs, causing harmful inflammation, Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, Davis, told The Times.

One risk with the natural killer cells is that they could worsen existing respiratory problems "by massive killing of the patients' respiratory cells," he warned.

Other cell therapies tested in China are designed to weaken the immune response, The Times reported.


Test for Coronavirus Antibodies Approved by FDA

The first coronavirus virus antibody test for use in the United States has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The test checks for protective antibodies in a finger prick of blood, revealing whether a patient has ever been exposed to the coronavirus and now may have some immunity, The New York Times reported.

That's an important difference from current tests, which look for fragments of coronavirus genes that indicate an ongoing infection.

There are a number of reasons why the new test is important. It may show that it's safe for people who are immune to the coronavirus to leave their homes and rejoin the workforce, and knowing whether they have coronavirus antibodies may be especially crucial for healthcare workers, The Times reported.

Also, antibody testing could provide a better idea of how widespread coronavirus infection is in the population and improve calculation of the death rate.

"If we don't know the asymptomatic or mild cases, we won't know if it's killing a sizable fraction of the people who have it, or only people who have underlying conditions or are very unlucky," Dr. Carl Bergstrom, infectious diseases expert, University of Washington in Seattle, told The Times.

China, Singapore and a few other countries already use coronavirus antibody tests.


82,000 Health Care Workers Volunteer to Help New York

At least 82,000 health care workers have volunteered so far to bolster New York's fight against the new coronavirus.

Health officials said the respondents to the state's call for a reserve force of medical workers include recent retirees, health care professionals who can take time from their regular jobs, and people between jobs, the Associated Press reported.

They've signed up even though they face a difficult and dangerous situation.

"Whatever it is that they need, I'm willing to do," Jerry Kops, a licensed nurse on Long Island, told the AP.

He was on tour as a musician in the Blue Man Group before its North American tour was sidelined by the coronavirus shutdown.

"I keep thinking about my old co-workers and friends that are still in nursing. And to me, it's like if they have to be there, I should be there too," Kops told the AP. "If it means being at a testing site, cool. If it means being relief staff for RNs that are overworked right now in hospitals, cool."

Similar recruiting efforts are underway in other states -- including California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Virginia, New Jersey, North Dakota and Washington D.C. -- and by the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Healthcare workers have also been brought to New York by staffing agencies, and they found a hospital system in dire straits.

"I have never seen so many human beings in an ER at one time in my entire life," said Liz Schaffer, a nurse from St. Paul, Minnesota, who had her first shift Tuesday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

"Shoulder to shoulder. It is a sight I never thought I would see. Patients are dying every day. Every single day," she told the AP.


Scammers Taking Advantage of N95 Mask Shoratge

Scammers are sneaking counterfeit N95 masks into the supply chain and taking money for masks they don't have.

N95 masks -- considered to be the best respirator masks-- are in short supply worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic and fraudsters are taking advantage and putting lives at risk, CNN reported.

Two leading N95 mask manufacturers issued fraud warnings after they received complaints about scammers trying to sell nonexistent masks.

Counterfeit masks are also a problem and some have already made it to the front lines in the U.S. After receiving a batch of 1,000 N95 masks a few weeks ago from a trusted longtime vendor, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J. determined they were fake, CNN reported.

The hospital is currently treating 144 patients for COVID-19 and has tested 1,440 people in total.

"We have a policy of having our clinicians test a small sample of medical equipment like masks before we give it to our staff," Jessica Griffin, the hospital's director of public relations, told CNN.

"These masks did not fit the face area properly," and did not have the specific U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approval label required on N95 masks, she said.

Previous: Vitamin D Might Aid Seniors’ Recovery From Hip Fracture: Study Next: Coronavirus Cases Hit 1 Million Worldwide, US Officials Urge Many Americans to Wear Face Masks

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