Higher blood sugar tied to COVID-19 death risk; rise in U.S. overdose deaths may have pandemic link

(Reuters) - The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

A woman has gauze applied to her finger after a blood sugar test at the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, Virginia, U.S., July 21, 2017. Picture taken July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

High blood sugar tied to COVID-19 risk in nondiabetics

High blood sugar may portend a rocky course for COVID-19 patients who seek hospital care, even if they do not have diabetes, according to a new study of 11,000 COVID-19 patients in Spain. None were critically ill when they got to the hospital. But researchers found those who arrived with above-normal blood sugar levels had higher odds of dying there - regardless of whether they were diabetic. Overall, 20% of the patients died while hospitalized, including 16% of individuals with blood sugar below 140 milligrams per deciliter at admission, 34% of those with levels of 140 to 180 mg/dL, and 41% of patients with levels above 180 mg/dL. (A level of 200 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.) After taking age and medical conditions into account, patients with the highest levels were 50% more likely to die in the hospital than patients with the lowest levels. People with elevated blood sugar were also at higher risk for needing intensive care and mechanical breathing assistance. In a report published on Tuesday in Annals of Medicine, the researchers say prompt control of blood sugar should be mandatory in the management of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, regardless of whether they have diabetes.

Pandemic may be driving rise in U.S. overdose deaths

The COVID-19 pandemic may be driving a surge in drug-overdose deaths in the United States, researchers say. Between March and August, the number of overdose-related cardiac arrests peaked at more than double the average in the prior two years, and remained 48.5% higher by the end of the study period, they reported on Thursday in JAMA Psychiatry. The data are from the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS), a registry of more than 10,000 EMS agencies in 47 states. The rising trend in cardiac arrests corresponded with a sharp drop in people’s mobility, leading the researchers to suggest that increased social isolation during the pandemic may have contributed to the conditions for fatal overdoses. There are strategies that can help mitigate the mortality associated with drug overdoses even during the pandemic, coauthor Joseph Friedman of the University of California, Los Angeles told Reuters. “Removing logistical and financial barriers to accessing medications like methadone and buprenorphine is especially important,” he said. “Allowing pharmacies to dispense methadone and providing emergency funds to make these medications affordable could make a big difference.”

No good answer yet for decontaminating masks for reuse

No single method for decontaminating healthcare workers’ personal protective equipment (PPE) for reuse stands out as best, according to a study published on Thursday in the American Journal of Infection Control, and reuse is not recommended if it can be avoided. Researchers analyzed 40 studies that tested various methods for sterilization of N95 masks and higher-end filters. They included steam, hydrogen peroxide, ultraviolet light, microwaves, and electric cookers, among others. Disinfection agents such as bleach, soap and water and alcohol were also tested. The outcomes differed by mask model, manufacturer and sterilization or disinfection process. Furthermore, most methods appeared to result in at least some structural damage or weakening of the masks’ filtration ability, according to coauthor Vanessa de Brito Poveda of University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Along with disinfection or sterilization processes, health systems that reuse masks must consider the need for traceability, if the same mask may be shared by different professionals; controlling the number of reuses of each mask; training personnel to inspect mask integrity and functionality after routine wear and tear, and cleaning methods to eliminate organic matter and soil (like residual cosmetics). “The scientific evidence available until this moment do not support any process as safe,” de Brito Poveda said, although she believes automated methods are safer than manual methods.

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Reporting by Nancy Lapid and David Douglas; Editing by Bill Berkrot