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Latest Good and Bad News about COVID-19 Drugs

Maybe you’ve heard that the pandemic is over in the United States. (It’s not.) Masks are no longer required in most places and large gatherings are becoming commonplace again. Most of the country is in the green, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracking site, which monitors COVID-19 transmission and hospitalization rates. Many people have been relying on vaccines to control outbreaks, and there is renewed attention on getting newly available treatments to sick people.

But coronavirus cases are on the rise again with more than a quarter of counties reporting high levels of transmission. And those are official numbers. No one really knows how many at-home tests come back positive and are never reported (SN: 4/22/22). Those cases are driving hospitalization rates up, with pockets of yellow and orange popping up on the CDC’s map, indicating that hospitals are entering the danger zone for being overwhelmed. Deaths have remained fairly low. That could change if another wave of infection sweeps the country.

“Maybe we think we’re on the edge of the woods, but we’re not out of it yet,” says Mark Denison, a coronavirus researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

The next line of defense against that bad outcome are three antiviral drugs and a monoclonal antibody that may keep people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 from becoming severely ill and dying. Preventing hospitalizations and deaths is what vaccines were designed to do, but even the very good COVID-19 vaccines aren’t perfect. And with new immune-evasive variants of the coronavirus, even vaccinated people and those who previously had COVID-19  — particularly the elderly or people with weakened immune systems or other health concerns — can wind up in the hospital.

The Test to Treat Initiative

About 20,000 pharmacies, hospitals, urgent care centers and other places have the antiviral pills Paxlovid (a combo of two medications), made by Pfizer. The federal government plans to extend that number to 40,000 in the coming weeks, Ashish Jha, the White House COVID Response director, said April 26 during a news briefing. Many of those sites also have molnupiravir (Logevrio) antiviral pills, made by Merck (SN:12/2/21). The expansion is part of the federal government’s test-to-treat initiative to make testing and treatment widely available.

In much more limited supply are intravenous doses of monoclonal antibodies and the antiviral drug remdesivir — the only antiviral drug fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating COVID-19.

One preventative treatment is a monoclonal antibody called Evusheld. It is for people with weakened immune systems who may not respond to vaccines or who can’t be vaccinated. In a clinical trial, it reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 infections by 82 percent compared with a placebo, researchers reported April 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine. That treatment is plentiful but isn’t being used much.

Remdesivir, or Veklury as its maker Gilead Sciences calls it, was approved by the FDA in 2020 for treating hospitalized patients (SN:4/29/20). A recent clinical trial showed that the drug reduced the chance of hospitalization by 87 percent in nonhospitalized people at high risk of severe disease, researchers reported in the January 27 New England Journal of Medicine. Such positive results prompted the FDA to expand its approval to outpatient use in people 12 and older. Then on April 25, the FDA authorized the drug to be used in children 12 and younger, making it the first antiviral COVID-19 treatment available for young kids.

The main downside to remdesivir is that it has to be administered intravenously. “There’s nothing convenient about that,” says Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases physician at Stanford University. Researchers are working on an oral form of remdesivir. Early experiments suggest it’s effective at protecting mice against severe illness. Tests still have to be done to see if it works for people, too.

Two other drugs, Paxlovid and molnupiravir, come in pill form. They are theoretically more readily available, but many people don’t know about them or how to get them. And some social media posts suggest that it’s not as easy as it sounds for everyone to lay their hands on the drugs after a positive COVID-19 test, even when they do know about them.

“It’s not as simple as, ‘We have a pill, now everything is solved,’” Karan says.

That’s partly because some doctors aren’t aware that they can or should prescribe the drugs for their high-risk patients who get infected with the coronavirus, says Jason Gallagher, a pharmacist and infectious diseases doctor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “There’s a lot of education that needs to occur on the medical side, also,” he says.

Access to the drugs is getting better, but it’s still patchy. In the interest of being prepared, I went to COVID.gov to learn about where I could get the drugs in case I catch the coronavirus. I’m relatively lucky. There are seven test-to-treat sites within five miles of my house just outside of Washington, D.C., though one is a military hospital not open to the general public. And I spoke to my doctor to ask if I should take Paxlovid if I get COVID-19. He said I should and that if I do a home test, I can call with the result, and he will call a prescription in to my pharmacy.

My mom in rural Nebraska is in a different situation. She would have to drive more than 25 miles to the nearest test-to-treat site. Many other rural areas have pharmacies that can fill prescriptions, but people would have to go elsewhere to be tested and get a doctor to prescribe the medication. For instance, residents of Gypsum, Colo., would have to get tested somewhere, get a prescription from a doctor, drive about six miles to get the prescription filled, or travel nearly 100 miles to the Denver suburbs for a test-to-treat site.

Drawbacks to these drugsThere are other wrinkles besides access to using the drugs. “For all of the therapeutics, they have been studied primarily in unvaccinated people who are at risk of going on to develop severe disease,” says Gallagher. “So we basically end up projecting that data onto the population we have now, which is largely vaccinated.” It’s not clear that every person who has health conditions that put them at risk needs the drugs, especially if they have gotten a vaccine booster shot. The drugs might decrease symptoms, but there’s no real evidence to show they’re effective in making people feel better faster, he says.

The drugs are good at keeping people out of the hospital, though. Paxlovid reduced the relative risk of hospitalization and death by about 89 percent, researchers reported in the April 14 New England Journal of Medicine. Its side effects included a distorted sense of taste, and a small number of people developed diarrhea.

Another wrinkle is relapse. One preprint and other anecdotal accounts have reported that some people have relapses of the virus a few days after stopping Paxlovid. No one really knows how common that is or why it happens. The U.S. National Institutes of Health are collaborating with the CDC and the FDA to better understand the phenomenon, according to a statement the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sent to me. But the agencies have no formal studies underway.

Experts I talked to had some ideas about what might be happening. It could be that the immune system “chills out” while people are taking the drug, giving the virus the opportunity to rebound once the drug is stopped, Gallagher speculates. Or the virus might hide in certain places in the body that the drug has trouble reaching, Denison says. Both of those situations might be solved by giving people the drug for longer, they say.

But the FDA rejected that suggestion in a post citing John Farley, director of the agency’s Office of Infectious Diseases. Similar relapses happened to people taking placebo pills in Pfizer’s clinical trial of the drug, so the viral rebound may not be related to taking the drug, Farley stressed. And there has been no indication that people get sicker and are hospitalized after a relapse. There’s also no data to say whether people would benefit from taking Paxlovid longer or getting another round of the pills if they have a relapse, he said.

Resistance to the drug is another reason infections might relapse. “I think drug resistance is the least likely explanation,” says Denison. For resistance to develop, the virus has to replicate, which it can’t do when the drug is around. Still, researchers should watch for mutations in viruses taken from relapsed patients that might indicate resistance, he says.

None of the drugs are likely to prevent waves of infection. For instance, Paxlovid slightly reduced the chance of contracting COVID-19 in people who were exposed to infected household members, but the result wasn’t statistically meaningful, Pfizer reported April 29 in a news release. That means it’s not great as a preventative and won’t affect case counts.

“What [the drugs] could flatten is a surge in hospitalizations and deaths,” Gallagher says. But, he notes, people at high risk of severe disease should not rely on the drugs alone to save them. “I don’t think that any of these therapeutics is as good as a booster.”


1. Food Travel Awakens the Senses

traveling for food - Peru chicarones
Peruvian Arroz con Mariscos with choclo (big corn) on top

You’re wondering how food can be powerful, right? It’s simple. Eating utilizes all five senses. Not only do we taste our food, we also touch it, smell it, devour it with our eyes and listen to it sizzle in the pan. We’re in a heightened state of being whenever we interact with food, so it stands to reason that intentionally experiencing food while you’re traveling will increase the intensity of the memories you build.

2. Food Takes you Back to Your Travels

Have you ever noticed how even the faint aroma of something you ate on a vacation instantly takes you back to the moment you experienced it. Tasting an Argentinian Malbec transports me to a tasting room in Mendoza. The smell of galangal and lime instantly brings to mind the Thai cooking class we took in Chiang Mai.

Even the sight of choclo (really large corn) gets me excited for the intense flavors of Peruvian food. Just ask my husband – “big corn”, as I call it, elicits an unreasonable amount of excitement from me.

3. Food is Powerful

travel for food - ostrich sandwich
Ostrich sandwich at a Stellenbosch winery outdoor restaurant

You see, food is powerful. It has the ability to shape your journey and define your memories. Food is also an essential part of life and community. It’s what makes us who we are as a people.

Not necessarily because of the food itself – although if it’s good that’s an added bonus – but because those are the moments when the best memories are made.

4. Good Food is Worth It

I read a lot of blog posts and travel articles about how to save money on food while traveling and how to avoid street food so as not to get sick. It makes me sad to think of all the amazing things I would have missed out on in a country if I had taken that advice.

I seriously question whether you can experience the real, authentic side of a culture without experiencing the food. After all, what is Thailand without a plate of Pad Thai, China without Dim Sum, Canada without poutine, Mexico without street tacos?

I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point.

5. Food Becomes a Part of Travel, Even When You Least Expect It

We do still take trips that have no immediately apparent food focus – like to Turkey – where we went because we wanted to check out Istanbul and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. But even those trips ended up expanding our global palette and introducing us to things we would never have experienced without the power of food.

6. All Food is Amazing

Indulging in Michelin-starred restaurants, veering off the beaten path to where they make the best-fried noodles, immersing yourself in an authentic cooking school in Tuscany, or even accepting a dare to eat a deep-fried cricket from a market in Cambodia – these are the things vibrant memories are made of. And if you don’t seek out food, you’ll miss out on an entire aspect of the journey.

Ever since that first trip to South Africa, we have been intentionally choosing destinations based on our desire to find new culinary hotspots. We choose destinations to expand our knowledge and appreciation for not only the history and architecture of a country but the food that the culture was built on. Doing so has had a great impact on our travels.

7. Wineries

While researching the area, we found that many of the wineries also had world-class restaurants and it became clear that we would be missing half the experience if we didn’t explore the burgeoning food scene. So we made reservations at top restaurants with wine-pairing menus, and experienced foods we’d never tried before, like wild game and ostrich.

South African Food

why you should travel for food - simit in Turkey
Simit with Kaymak (Water Buffalo clotted cream) and honey

As is the case with many countries around the world, South African cuisine is a conglomeration of many different subcultures. If we only went to South Africa to see elephants (which are pretty fantastic – don’t get me wrong), we wouldn’t have learned so much about the vast and dynamic culture of the country through the food. Sure, we could have opened a textbook and read of the history that brought all of these cultures together, but then we wouldn’t have experienced it firsthand and taken home all of those priceless memories.

Now that I’ve sufficiently plied you with drool-worthy photos of food from around the world, can’t we agree that intentionally adding food to your travels will greatly enrich your experience?

If you’re a foodie like me, just knowing that we aren’t limited to the restaurants and gourmet food markets of our own cities is reason enough for me to get excited about traveling. There’s a world full of incredible foods beckoning to be eaten and they are just a plane ride or road trip away.

And if you’re not a foodie — well, you still have to eat, right? So why not eat a little, learn a little and take home the leftovers?

Culinary travel has grown rapidly in popularity recently and I've jumped wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. Have you? Here's why you should travel for food.

Body, Hair And Nail Benefits of Coconut Oil

Top 7 Benefits Of Coconut Oil

1. Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a very common body issue that women go through when they hit puberty. Albeit, if you’ve never had stretch marks before, chances are that pregnancy will give it to you. Luckily, coconut oil enhances your skin’s elasticity and boosts your skin’s hydration.

Formulated with skin-loving ingredients, coconut oil is packed with vitamins C and E, this moisturizer works charm on the fine lines and wrinkles, bidding farewell to skin aging, too. Coconut oil does it all, from hydrating the skin and maintaining or balancing pH levels to toning and strengthening the skin.


3. Tames Hair Frizz

Coconut oil has high content of vitamin E and you can never go wrong with it when it comes to hair and skin. Put some coconut oil generously on your scalp, running it through your hair. massage well and keep it on overnight. Wash it off the next day as you normally wash your hair. You’ll be breathing new life to dull and damaged hair in no time. The antioxidants in the coconut oil will further protect hair from damage and breakage.

4. Moisturizing lips

Coconut oil is one of the best natural oils. It has moistening properties that helps the skin and even chapped lips to even and smooth out in no time. Infused with nourishing ingredients coconut oil promises to keep your lips protected and conditioned.

UV filters can help protect your hair from sun damage. It is found that coconut oil has a sun protection factor. Therefore, putting it on your hair and skin  could be very useful.

6. Make Mouth Healthier

In contrast with the popular belief, coconut oil also aids in a whiter and brighter smile. Swishing some coconut oil in your mouth for several minutes a day or maybe gargling every night before bed. may have benefits including whitening your teeth and preventing tooth decay, bleeding gums, and cracked lips.

7. Toenail Infections

Alongside many other benefits, coconut oil benefits not only our hair and skin but it also works wonders for our nails. Even at many salons, the people there use coconut oil to bring back your nail’s life before pedicure. Simply pour a tablespoon of coconut oil on your toes, rub it in your nails and put a pair of socks on. Sleep on it overnight or remove the socks after an hour or two. you will feel smoother and full of life feet in no time.

If you use coconut oil in your daily routine on your body, hair and nails, then you are definitely taking advantage of these benefits somewhere or the other. However, do not go overboard with the usage of it since you know what they say, excess or anything is bad. If you feel irritated skin or scalp after the application, consult a dermatologist for help.

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