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Don’t blame schools for high COVID rates among B.C. youth: provincial health officer

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s provincial health officer says the findings of a study she co-authored showing children and youth have had the highest rates of COVID-19 in parts of the province should not be interpreted to suggest those infections occurred mostly in schools.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has been criticized by some parents, advocacy groups and health-care professionals who say a major jump in infections occurred during the school year among children under age 10.

They say measures like masking for all students and ventilation upgrades in schools could have been taken earlier and should be continued to protect children from an airborne virus, especially as more transmissible variants emerge.

However, Henry said school-aged children were becoming infected when they were not eligible for a vaccine as transmission was rising in the community, but that most youth had a mild illness and were not hospitalized.

“We have shown, multiple, multiple times, that what happens in schools reflects what’s happened in the community.”

Measures were taken at schools to prevent prolonged closures in order to protect students’ emotional well-being, and that goal was shared by the BC Teachers Federation, Henry said.

“Every single school had an assessment of their ventilation, every single school had measures put in place to ensure that it was improved. And that’s one of the permanent things that we need to continue,” Henry said.

The Education Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for information on the standard of ventilation upgrades that have been completed.

A spokesman for the BC Teachers Federation said no one was available to comment on any concerns the union may have, but a public reporting on ventilation upgrades was expected by either the ministry or school districts.

Henry said enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other steps that everyone should continue taking include washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick, especially as influenza season is expected to start earlier this fall.

“But then there are disruptive things like cohorting, the physical distancing, the mask mandates in certain settings. Those are overarching, broad tools that were meant to be temporary. And they were in place during the period of time when we had high transmission of the new virus, Omicron, until we could support the level of immunity primarily through vaccination,” Henry said.

“We slowed it down as much as we possibly could, by using those very broad measures.”

She said the findings of the preprint study, which has not been peer-reviewed and was published on the internet site medRxiv last week, are similar to those in other jurisdictions where schools were closed for much longer than in B.C.

The study lists Henry among 13 experts, including those from the BC Centre on Disease Control and the University of British Columbia. It says a series of surveillance reports of infections from the start of the pandemic until August this year show at least 70 to 80 per cent of youth in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley have been infected with COVID-19.

In contrast, 60 to 70 per cent of adults aged 20 to 59 and about 40 per cent of those aged 60 and over have been infected, says the study, which is based on 14,000 anonymized blood samples obtained between March 2020 and this August from a network of outpatient laboratories.

Hybrid immunity from both high levels of infections and vaccinations is “good news” because it’s protecting everyone, Henry said in response to those who have suggested the study shows a “let it rip” approach was used in schools to achieve that goal.

Henry urged all eligible B.C. residents to get a booster shot of a recently approved bivalent vaccine that offers protection against variants, including Omicron. The province is expected to send invitations for second booster shots this month.

Dr. David Buckeridge, scientific lead for data management and analysis at the federally funded COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said findings in the study involving Henry are consistent with those around the world as Omicron took hold.

Data on younger age groups is limited in Canada, but information from Canadian Blood Services shows that in June, 71 per cent of donors between the ages of 17 and 19 had contracted COVID-19 across the country, and the number for the same age group rose to 72 per cent in July, he said.

However, the average sample size for those months involves about 530 people, said Buckeridge, who is also an epidemiologist and professor at the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022.

 

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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Artificial sweeteners tied to increased heart risk, new study finds – The Globe and Mail

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Participants in the study who had a higher intake of total artificial sweeteners had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to non-consumers.NYSE/PEPSICO Handout via Reuters

Artificial sweeteners are added to thousands of foods and beverages – soft drinks, yogurts, pancake syrups, jams, baked goods, frozen desserts, chewing gum, candy – to help us satisfy our sweet tooth with fewer (or zero) calories and no added sugar.

But the effect of artificial sweeteners on body weight and health has long been debated.

Short-term randomized controlled trials have mostly shown that, when substituted for sugar-sweetened beverages, artificially-sweetened drinks help prevent weight gain.

Findings from numerous observational studies, however, suggest that over the long-term, a regular intake of these substances can have harmful effects on cardiometabolic health including increased waist circumference, elevated blood sugar, insulin resistance and inflammation.

Now, new research published in The British Medical Journal adds to growing evidence that a high intake of artificial sweeteners may harm cardiovascular health.

The latest findings

For the study, researchers examined the link between artificial sweetener intake and risk of cardiovascular disease in 103,388 participants enrolled in the NutriNet-Santé study, an ongoing nutrition and health study conducted among adults living in France.

Participants, who were followed for close to a decade, provided three days’ worth of 24-hour diet records, which included brand names of products, at the start of the study and every six months thereafter. The researchers calculated participants’ intakes of total artificial sweeteners (from foods, beverages and tabletop sweeteners), as well as intakes of different types of artificial sweeteners.

Diet soft drinks accounted for half (53 per cent) of artificial sweeteners consumed. Other important contributors were tabletop sweeteners (30 per cent) and flavoured dairy products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese (8 per cent). Aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose represented most of the total artificial sweetener intake.

Participants who had a higher intake of total artificial sweeteners had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to non-consumers. The average daily artificial sweetener intake among people classified as “higher consumers” was 77 mg, equivalent to roughly two packets of tabletop sweetener or 200 mL of diet pop.

Aspartame intake was linked to a greater risk of stroke; sucralose and acesulfame potassium were associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The researchers accounted for several factors tied to cardiovascular risk including age, family history, smoking, physical activity and diet components.

Strengths, caveats

The study’s strengths include its large sample size and high quality dietary data. The researchers collected repeated 24-hour diet records, which are known to be more precise than food frequency questionnaires typically used in nutrition studies.

One limitation of this study is that the findings show correlations only; they don’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

As well, it’s possible that some participants assessed as higher consumers at the start of the study had increased artificial sweetener intake in response to having risk factors for cardiovascular disease and may have already been in poorer cardiovascular health.

Artificial sweeteners may activate sweet taste receptors in the gut, which can alter the body’s regulation of blood glucose.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

How artificial sweeteners may harm

These new findings are consistent with those from several other large observational studies that investigated the association between artificially sweetened soft drinks and cardiovascular disease risk.

There are plausible ways in which artificial sweeteners may increase heart risk. Previous studies have linked artificially sweetened beverages to metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that can include abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, increased blood sugar and low HDL (good) cholesterol.

Ultraprocessed foods tied to colorectal cancer risk, study finds

Artificial sweeteners may also activate sweet taste receptors in the gut, which can alter the body’s regulation of blood glucose.

And experimental studies have shown that some artificial sweeteners alter the composition of the gut microbiome in a direction that can lead to inflammation and glucose intolerance.

What to do?

Due to a lack of consensus on whether the habitual use of non-sugar sweeteners is effective for long-term weight loss, or tied to other long-term health effects, in July the World Health Organization proposed a draft guideline recommending that “non-sugar sweeteners not be used as a means of achieving weight control or reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases.”

If you’re a daily consumer of artificial sweeteners, I do advise cutting back. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to completely avoid them; there is no evidence that occasional use is harmful.

Replace soft drinks with sparkling water, unsweetened flavoured carbonated water or plain water with a wedge of citrus fruit.

If you add a packet of sweetener to coffee, tea or hot cereal, cut back gradually and incrementally. Ditto for real sugar.

Replace artificially sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt; sweeten it with fruit.

The good news: your taste buds will come to prefer a less sweet taste.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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Health unit hosting pop-up COVID vaccine clinics – BradfordToday

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NEWS RELEASE
SIMCOE MUSKOKA DISTRICT HEALTH UNIT
***********************
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is continuing to offer one-day pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics at locations throughout Simcoe Muskoka, with upcoming clinics taking place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2. Walk-ins for individuals aged 5 years and older will be available, including the bivalent booster dose for people 18 years of age and older, as capacity allows as follows:

Monday, Sept. 26

  • Clinic location:  POP-UP Clinic – Stayner Arena and Community Centre, 269 Regina St. Stayner
    Time: 1 – 6 p.m.
  • Clinic location:  POP-UP Clinic – Chappell Farms, 617 Penetanguishene Rd., Barrie
    Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept 27

  • Clinic location:  POP-UP Clinic – South Innisfil Community Centre, 1354 Killarney Beach Rd, Innisfil
    Time: 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept 28

  • Clinic location:  POP-UP Clinic – Huntsville Trinity United Church, 33 Main St. E., Huntsville
    Time: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 29

  • Clinic location:  POP-UP Clinic – Orillia Common Roof – Boardroom, 169 Front St. S., Orillia
    Time: 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

GO-VAXX bus and mobile clinics continue to operate on an appointment only basis. Appointments for the GO-VAXX clinics may also be booked up to four days prior to the clinic through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900. 

The health unit continues to offer COVID-19 vaccinations on an appointment only basis to individuals aged six months and older at the Georgian Mall, 509 Bayfield St. (upper level) in Barrie: 

  • Wednesday: 1 p.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Appointments are also available at the health unit office immunization clinic locations in Midland, Orillia, Cookstown, Collingwood, Huntsville and Gravenhurst and can be booked through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900.

In addition, the RVH COVID-19 Immunization Clinic at 29 Sperling Dr. in Barrie continues to offer booked appointments and walk-ins from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Appointments may also be booked with the Couchiching Ontario Health Team Clinic  located in the Orillia Soldier’s Memorial Hospital Kiwanis Building – West Entrance 170 Colborne St., W.

Individuals six months of age and older may also receive the vaccine at some local pharmacies or booked appointments through some primary care providers, and Family Health Teams who are offering the vaccine as part of their regular clinical practice. Pop-up and GO-VAXX mobile clinics will continue to be scheduled throughout Simcoe and Muskoka.

Staying up to date with all COVID-19 vaccine doses you are currently eligible for remains the best defense against infection, severe illness, long term COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization and death.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccination, dose eligibility and booking an appointment, please visit www.smdhu.org/GetVaccinated.

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Advancing care for burn patients | Queen's Gazette – Queen's University

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New research finds that glutamine, previously thought to help with burn injuries, does not improve patients’ time to discharge from hospital.

Dr. Daren Heyland, Director of the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit at Queen’s University and principal investigator and sponsor of the glutamine trial.

Queen’s researcher Daren Heyland (Medicine) has spent his career studying what nutrients are best for intensive care patients who cannot eat for themselves, trying to understand if certain nutrients assist with their recovery. Patients in intensive care who cannot eat for themselves are fed artificial nutrition through a feeding tube or an intravenous catheter. For over 20 years, Dr. Heyland has been evaluating the role of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is made in the body and is found in foods like fish, eggs, and nuts.  

Worldwide, burn injuries are among the most expensive traumatic injuries to treat and 50 per cent of burn patients are treated using glutamine. Before adopting this practice more broadly, however, the medical community wanted more evidence of the efficacy of glutamine.

Seeking to understand the role of the amino acid in burn recovery, Heyland has been involved in a decade-long scientific trial involving 1,200 patients around the world with severe burns. The study was recently published in the high-impact New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and marked the first time a clinical trial on burn patients was featured in the prestigious publication. It yielded some unexpected results – the glutamine did not appear to harm or help burn patients.

“In the past, small, single-centre trials had suggested that glutamine was beneficial in the recovery of patients with severe burns. However, our previous work with glutamine in stressed, sick patients suggested that glutamine might actually be harmful in critically ill patients with organ failure. The only way to resolve these conflicting data was to conduct a large trial evaluating glutamine in severe burns,” said Dr. Heyland.

Dr. Heyland is the Director of the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit at Queen’s University, which functioned as the coordinating centre for the trial. He also serves as the principal investigator and sponsor of the trial, partnering with over 60 hospital burn units in nearly 20 countries.

“It took us 10 years to complete the trial, including recruiting patients and securing funding,” said Dr. Heyland. “The results of this trial will hopefully cause burn units that were using glutamine to put a stop this unnecessary practice.”

The trial was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Department of Defense (DOD) in the U.S. through their competitive granting programs. About 20-30 per cent of wounded soldiers have burns, and the DOD is looking for new ways to manage burns.

Dr. Heyland’s research evaluating the use of nutrition or specific nutrients and their role in improving the recovery of critically ill patients is not over. With $1.5 million in new funding from the DOD, he is now looking at high-dose intravenous vitamin C in burn-injured patients, which may help reduce the amount of fluid burn patients require to stay alive.

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