[COLUMN] COVID resurges!

THE COVID-19 pandemic is obviously not done with us – clearly far from over, as it continues to mutate to new variants. The unvaccinated and those who had lowered their guards are more prone to get infected these days.

People who were fully vaccinated, with two booster shots of the bivalent vaccines for COVID-19 and still got infected recently, are wondering why. Were the vaccines not effective? Actually, there is nothing wrong with the vaccines. The vaccines saved billions of lives around the world during this pandemic. New strains need new vaccines!

Each strain differs

The answer is not complex; it is really simple. An analogy: If a person has been vaccinated for shingles and developed tetanus (a disease he was not vaccinated for), it is easy to understand why. The vaccine for shingles protects against shingles not tetanus, a distinctly different disease. There is a separate vaccine for tetanus.

Since COVID-19 viruses come in various strains, I suggested in this column in 2020 for people to consider each strain or variant as a “different illness, different disease entity, which requires a different vaccine.” The original vaccines did not cover Omicron. Hence the massive Omicron cases that followed. When the bivalent vaccines (the boosters) were developed, which protect against Omicron and its subvariants also, the pandemic ebbed, and everybody relaxed, thinking the pandemic was over. Those who completed their 4 shots, including the two boosters, are protected against Omicron and their subvariants…but not guaranteed for future new strains.

EG.5 and FL 1.5.1

Then recently comes this summer, EG.5, informally nicknamed Eris (after the Greek goddess of strife and discord), a result of mutation, as expected. Cases went up once more and hospitalization increased. It is now a dominant strain the United States. Eris seems to be more transmissible than the XBB.1.16 Omicron subvariant, but not more severe. At the end of August 2023, Eris was responsible for 20.6 percent of cases, compared to the many other various strains circulating in the U.S. From July to August 2023, there were 15,067 hospitalized for COVID-19 in the United States. The next one is FL 1.5.1 (or, Fornax) which surged and accounted for 13.3 of all cases. The booster shots people received will be effective for both the EG.5 and FL 1.5.1.

BA.2.86

But then, comes “Pirola” (nickname of BA.2.86), with the greatest evolutionary leap thus far, which made itself prominent in August 2023, as a highly mutated variant, spreading in multiple countries around the world and in at least 3 different states in the U.S. The medical community is racing to study this new strain with great concern. New vaccines to protect people from BA.2.86 are now being developed, to come out in September this year.

If anyone, especially those who just returned from a travel abroad, get infected with this new strain, it does not mean the two boosters they received were useless or ineffective. And no more “why?” question. BA.2.86, while also COVID-19, is what I termed “a different disease entity” (a term I coined just to make the issue easier for my readers to understand). But BA.2.86 so far does not appear to be as deadly as the original COVID-19 virus from Wuhan, China, and the Delta variant, especially for those who are fully vaccinated with two boosters.

Masking/distancing

While masking and distancing are not required, wisdom and prudence dictate that it is best to mask-up and keep the usual 6-foot distance in the presence of someone who is coughing or sick-looking or someone who tested positive for COVID-19, even a family member, and especially for those immunosuppressed or seniors (or younger people) with several health issues. Health is wealth. It is safer to be pre-emptive and proactive against these “invisible” treacherous enemies 600 times smaller than a grain of salt.

If you test positive

If one is exposed to COVID-19, wait at least 5 full days after exposure before doing the test. Anyone testing positive with the rapid antigen home test kit, should notify his/her physician for consultation, especially if seniors. The physician will consider if Paxlovid is indicated (must be taken within 5 days from the first symptom, not later), and if antibiotic is needed. If the test is negative, and the person is having cough or malaise, the best is to repeat the antigen test (Blow the nose hard, but wipe only the outside of the nose, not inside, and twirl the nasal foam tipped-stick applicator deep, five times or more, in both nostrils, and follow the instruction in the test kit.). If still in doubt, take the PCR test, which will provide a more reliable result, but is expensive.

Laugh for health

Most of us know that laughter is a “good medicine,” but do not know why and how. New studies reveal that even after only 12 weeks of laughter therapy, where a group of subjects watched two different hour-long comedies on TV each week, results showed a 10 percent improvement in oxygen delivery to the cardiovascular system, among others, and increased the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system.

Blood tests also showed that there was a reduction in the inflammatory biomarkers, the lower, the better for our body. A different study has revealed that even the physical act of laughing alone, even without hearing anything funny, even when alone in a room, was healthy and relaxing.

If you see me on the street laughing loudly (without any earbuds), don’t report me to the mental asylum; I am just trying to lower my inflammatory biomarkers and improve my blood oxygen delivery system.

Try laughter therapy. A smile on your face also makes you look handsomer/prettier and younger.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, presented by then Indiana Governor, later Senator, and then presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].

 

Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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