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Health Highlights: April 21, 2020

Last Updated: April 21, 2020.

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

Death Risk Higher for COVID-19 Patients Who Got Drug Touted by Trump: Study

COVID-19 patients who received the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than those who didn't receive it, a new study says.

The study of the drug -- touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a COVID-19 treatment -- included 368 male patients in U.S. veterans hospitals, the Associated Press reported.

About 28% of the patients who received hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died, compared with 11% of those who received usual care alone.

About 22% of patients who received hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin died, but the researchers didn't consider the difference between that group and the usual care group significant enough to rule out other factors that could have affected survival, according to the AP.

The study also found that treatment with hydroxychloroquine made no difference in patients' chances of needing to be placed on a breathing machine.

The study is the largest so far to assess the use of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin in treating COVID-19. It's posted on an online site for researchers and has been submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine, but hasn't been reviewed by other scientists, the AP reported.

Earlier this month, part of a hydroxychloroquine study in Brazil was halted after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of patients given the higher of two doses.

Many doctors are skeptical of the drug's potential for treating COVID-19.

"I think we're all rather underwhelmed" at the results among the few patients who've received it, Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control and prevention, University of Wisconsin, Madison, told the AP.

After Trump started promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, patients asked about it, "but now I think that people have realized we don't know if it works or not" and that morre research is needed, said Safdar, who was not involved in the VA study.

Other clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients are continuing.

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North Korean Leader May Be in Danger After Surgery

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be in danger after having cardiovascular surgery and the U.S. is monitoring reports about his health, an American official says.

Kim underwent the procedure on April 12 and is now receiving treatment in a villa, according to Daily NK, an online newspaper based in South Korea that focuses on North Korea, CNN reported.

Kim required the procedure because of "excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork," according to Daily NK.

Concerns about Kim's health are credible but it's difficult to assess the severity, another U.S. official told CNN.

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FDA Authorizes Coronavirus Test That Uses Samples Collected at Home

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the first COVID-19 test that enables patients to take samples at home.

The authorization is for the Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) COVID-19 RT-PCR Test to test samples self-collected by patients at home using LabCorp's Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 Test home collection kit, the agency explained.

For "tests that include home sample collection, we worked with LabCorp to ensure the data demonstrated from at-home patient sample collection is as safe and accurate as sample collection at a doctor's office, hospital or other testing site. With this action, there is now a convenient and reliable option for patient sample collection from the comfort and safety of their home," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an agency news release.

Patients use a self-collection kit that contains nasal swabs and saline. After self-swabbing to collect their nasal sample, patients mail their sample, in an insulated package, to a LabCorp lab for testing.

LabCorp plans to make the home collection kits available to consumers in most states, with a doctor's order, in the coming weeks, according to the FDA.

It said this authorization only applies to the LabCorp COVID-19 RT-PCR Test for at-home collection of nasal swab specimens using the Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 home collection kit, and is not a general authorization for at-home collection of patient samples using other collection swabs, media, or tests, or for tests fully conducted at home.

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Ventilation Systems in Restaurants May Spread Coronvirus: Study

A study examining how people at a restaurant in China became infected with the new coronavirus may provide insight into how air currents spread the virus in enclosed locations.

In January, a customer at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, who had the coronavirus but didn't have symptoms may have infected nine other people. It's suspected that a restaurant air conditioner blew the virus particles around the dining room, The New York Times reported.

However, 73 other people who ate that day on the same floor of the five-story restaurant weren't infected, nor were the eight employees working on the floor at the time, according to the study to be published in the July issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The incident suggests that ventilation systems can distribute viruses, meaning the recommendation to stay six feet apart may not be effective in keeping people safe in restaurants when they reopen, The Times reported.


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