Delta Variant – All you need to know

The Delta variant was identified in the ending of 2020 and was a result of a mutation to the original Covid-19 virus. It spread fast and soon became the dominant strain in both India and Britain. At this time the Delta variant is the dominant strain in over 100 countries including the Unites States and Europe.

This new variant has specific mutations on the ‘spike’ protein which make it easier for the virus to infect humans. This has resulted in the delta variant to be much more contagious than the alpha variant. Experts are recommending masking up even if you are vaccinated.

Symptoms of the delta variant are similar to the original strain and includes fever, headache, cough and runny nose. Loss of smell has a lower incidence with this strain. Vaccinated people have milder symptoms resembling a common cold or may even be asymptomatic.

Although breakthrough cases have been seen in vaccinated people, the numbers show cases rising in areas that have more unvaccinated people. People who have not yet been vaccinated are at a higher risk to become infected and spread the virus which is why it is our social responsibility to get vaccinated and protect ourselves and others

The World’s Most Expensive Medication- Zolgensma

The prices of medications are continuously rising in the United States and around the world. According to the CMS website, the healthcare spending in the United States for the year 2019 reached $3.8 trillion, which is approximately $11,500 per person per year.

With recent advances in technology, a new type of medication was made, Zolgensma, which functions through gene therapy used for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy. The cost of a 1 time treatment is $2.125 million.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a rare genetic motor neuron disease that leads to muscle weakness, causing difficulty in holding up the head, breathing, swallowing etc. Most patients do not survive past the age of 2 years due to respiratory failure.

Zolgensma works by using a vector to replace the missing/defective gene in the body. It does not reverse the damage already done but can prevent progression of the disease which is why this needs to be administered early in the course of the disease. It significantly improves the quality of life of the patient.

The reason the medication is so expensive is due to the fact that the market for the drug is very limited since it treats a very rare genetic disorder and has a potential to save lives. Its a highly specialized drug that required a lot of research around it.

How do mRNA Vaccines work

Messenger RNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that works different than the other types of vaccines that we are used to getting. Normally, vaccines are made by injecting a ‘deactivated’, harmless portion of the virus itself into the body to allow the body’s immune system to recognize the structure of the virus or of it’s associated proteins, without the risk of a harmful infection. The body identifies the foreign body and creates antibodies specific to it. These antibodies are what makes us immune to any disease. When the person catches the actual virus, the body is ready to fight off the infection with the antibodies that it made from the vaccine.

Messenger RNA vaccines work in a different manner. In this type of vaccine, we inject modified messenger RNA, that contains a sequence of bases that would be able to teach the cells of our body to make portions of viral proteins, into the muscles cells of our body. Normally mRNA in our body functions by taking instructions from the DNA, in bits and pieces and carries that information to the protein synthesis pathway for the synthesis of proteins. With the vaccine mRNA in the muscle cells, the protein synthesis pathway now starts making viral proteins but due to modified nature of the vaccine mRNA, the protein made is harmless.

The body recognizes the protein being made as foreign and starts creating antibodies against that protein structure, which is similar to the actual viral protein structure and effectively makes us immune to the virus itself.

Some of the COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer vaccine, uses this mechanism of action. These vaccines have been rigorously tested and have been held to high standards before allowing emergency use in the United States and other countries. MRNA vaccines do not use the live virus and therefore you cannot get infected with the vaccine.

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting is practiced around the world for two main reasons. The first reason is due to religion where many different faiths practice some form of fasting, including the Christians and the Muslims. The second main reason for fasting is to lose weight or as part of a dieting plan. The question that arises is if fasting is beneficial at all for us? What are the benefits if any? Is it harmful to fast? Let’s look at this practice in detail to determine the answers to these questions.

The following are the proven benefits of fasting:

  1. Fasting may help in the prevention of cancer. Studies in animals have shown that intermittent fasting and alternate day fasting both have shown to reduce the chances of cancer development in animals. It also reduces the growth of cancer and can cause regression in some types of cancer.
  2. Fasting increases the amount of Growth Hormone many folds. Growth hormone is required for bone and muscle growth and strength.
  3. Fasting helps with weight loss as it limits the intake of calories, forcing the body to switch to fats as a source of energy. This in turn results in the loss of body fat and which is one of the most common reasons for people to fast.
  4. Fasting reduces insulin resistance and improves the glucose metabolism of the body. It reduces the amount of glucose in the blood by increasing the sensitivity to insulin, which assists in the transport of glucose from the blood into the cells. The reduced intake of glucose from the diet also plays its part in reducing the blood glucose levels.
  5. Studies in animals have shown that fasting improves brain function. These studies are limited to animals and would require more research to see the effect on humans, however the rats studied showed improvement in brain function after fasting.
  6. Fasting may be beneficial for your heart as it reduces the LDL cholesterol from the blood as well as the levels of triglycerides. This in turn has a beneficial effect on heart disease.
  7. The discipline and self-control required for fasting increases our mental health and focus. It gives us the ability to control and compartmentalize our hunger while continuing our daily activities.

These are just some of the benefits of fasting. Prolonged fasting for longer period of times may be harmful. Intermittent or alternate day fasting for a limited period of time is beneficial. We need to make sure we do not get dehydrated and are taking in all the necessary nutrients required by our body. If you suffer from diabetes or any other medical illness, please consult your doctor before deciding to fast.

COVID-19 Mental Health Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to drag itself along as we move forward in 2021. Some countries such as India are facing devastating new waves which just shows how important it is to stick with the guidelines even if the numbers are going down. Some of these guidelines include social distancing and wearing masks, limited gatherings, limited indoor activities etc. Over a prolonged period, this can lead to isolation, anxiety, stress and depresion.

Due to the circumstances of this pandemic, it is natural to feel stress and anxiety. We should find ways in which we can cope with these symptoms. Some of the ways to cope with the mental health affects of the pandemic include:

1. Connect with people virtually:
While social distancing is still in place, connect with your community virtually via social media, phone and/or messages or even by mail. This would help you keep your social connections intact and is important for our mental health. We can still follow social distancing guidelines while staying connected to the world.

2. Take out time for yourself:
Take some time out for yourself to relax and do something that you enjoy. Maybe something like reading a book, cooking your favorite recipe, photography or any other hobby that you never previously had the time to follow. Keeping the brain occupied is a good way to keep the brain healthy.

3. Physical health:
Take care of your physical health by excersizing, eating a balnced diet and getting adequate amounts of sleep. Also dont stop your routine visits to your healthcare provider for routine vaccinations, screenings and other appointments. You should also get your COVID vaccination whenever it is availble to you.

4. Follow Authentic News:
Choose your news sources wisely. Only trust authentic sources for information regarding the pandemic. Stay updated onthe news once or maybe twice a day and then disconnect yourself fromt he news at other times. Constant negative news can also lead to depression, stress and anxiety.

If you are struggling to cope with the stress, call your healthcare provider immediately. There are ways to help you with the stess and if you know of a friend or family member who is struggling, advise them to seek help. There are many cofidential crisis resources that can help you get through these hard times.

Post COVID Recovery Symptoms

It has been observed that not everyone fully recovers from COVID infection. Some people continue to experience certain symptoms many weeks and even months after infection. Health issues that persist more than 4 weeks after being first infected with COVID-19 are classified by the CDC as Post-COVID conditions.  This occurs due to the fact that the virus can damage some of our major organs like the lungs, brain and heart causing long term symptoms.

Studies have shown that even months after COVID infection, lasting muscle damage can be seen in the heart muscle which may cause complications later in life. Damage to the lung alveoli are also seen which can cause breathing problems. COVID can also cause strokes and seizures and increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

People that have co-morbidities and are older in age, are more likely to have long term symptoms although younger people can also have long term symptoms. Some the symptoms that can persist for months are fever, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, memory, sleep problems and concentration issues. Other symptoms may also occur along with these.

There are treatments available for Post-COVID conditions. Most of the symptoms get better with time. You should seek medical help to know the options available for recovery. Numerous centers are being opened across the US in major hospitals to address this issue.

For those that have not been infected yet, it is recommended that you get vaccinated to prevent infection and or severity of infection. Research is currently under way to study the longer-term effects of COVID infection.

Source:

COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects – Mayo Clinic

Post-COVID Conditions | CDC

Why We Should Exercise

We have all heard that we should exercise by a friend or family member and we all know that it is good for us. Some say it helps you lose weight, others say it helps you stay healthy. Today we will dive into what exactly exercise does to help us live healthier lives.

The first and most noticeable benefit from exercise is that it helps us lose weight. Exercising requires energy and in order for us to exercise, we have to burn calories to meet the additional energy requirements for exercise. When we start using more calories than we can intake, we start losing weight. Weight reduction has many benefits including preventing early onset diabetes, preventing bone problems and reducing cardio vascular risks

The body is amazing in how it works. Once we start exercising, the body realizes that the muscles are starting to require more oxygen and nutrients. The heart compensates by beating faster and stronger to get more blood to the muscles that are active. The blood vessels dilate to accommodate more blood and the blood vessels constrict from areas that are not requiring the extra blood. This redirects blood to the muscles that require the extra nutrients. This whole process leads to a stronger heart, better circulation and better oxygen perfusion of the tissues which in turn reduce the risk of heart diseases and heart attack.

Another amazing way in which exercise is beneficial for us is in the management of our blood sugar levels. Under normal circumstances, blood sugar requires insulin to be transported into the different cells of the body. When a person’s body makes a decreased amount of insulin or no insulin at all, for example in Type 2 diabetics, the blood sugar cannot enter into the cells and therefore gets trapped in the blood leading to an increased sugar level in the blood. Here is the amazing part and where exercise plays its role. Once we start exercising, the skeletal muscles of the body no longer require the insulin to take up the blood sugar. In a state of activity, the skeletal muscles can suck up all the glucose from the blood without requiring insulin and therefore for type 2 diabetic patients, regular exercise can significantly lower the blood sugar levels and reduce complications.

These are just some of the benefits of exercise. Almost every bodily function gets strengthened including muscles, bones, respiratory system, brain, sleep and it even plays a part in preventing certain types of cancer. If you are living the sedentary lifestyle, try to add in some exercise into your routine.

To get you started, take a look at some of the handpicked products below from Amazon. Please note that the author does get a commission from Amazon if you make a purchase from the Amazon website at no cost to you.

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Phases of Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D has 4 different phases that each member passes through during each year. Each of these phases have different coverage benefits for the member. It is important to understand these phases to know the financial impact that your health expenses can have on you and also when you should opt for that elective surgery.

1. Deductible Phase

This is the first phase and in this phase, the member is responsible for the entire dollar amount of the medication/s up to the Plan’s deductible amount. For example, the Plan’s deductible amount is $400. The member goes to the pharmacy to pick up his/her medication and the total cost of the medication is $600. The member will have to pay the entire amount up to the plan deductible which in this case means the member will have to pay $400 for the deductible phase. The remaining $200 goes into the next phase called the Initial Coverage Phase. If the total cost of the drug is less than the Plan’s deductible amount, then the member pays the full amount and remains in the deductible phase. For example, at the pharmacy, the total cost of the drug is $300 and the Plan’s deductible is $400. The member would have to pay the full cost of the drug $300 and would remain in the deductible phase. The next time the member picks up a medication, the remaining deductible would be $100 after which the remaining amount goes into the Initial Coverage Phase.

Please note that some plans may choose not to have a deductible phase and in that case, when the member goes to pick up their medication at the pharmacy, they start off the year being in the Initial Coverage Phase. The standard deductible amount for 2021 is $445.

2. Initial Coverage Phase

In the Initial Coverage Phase, the member pays a fixed copay or a coinsurance, depending on the plan. The standard coinsurance for the Initial Coverage Phase is 25% which means that the member pays only 25% of the drug cost in this phase and the remaining 75% is paid by the plan. For example if the member already met the deductible amount and is in the Initial Coverage Phase, and goes to pick up a medication that costs $100, the member would only be required to pay $25 for the medication.

Two dollar amounts that the plan keeps a count on is the total drug cost and the amount the member paid (True Out of Pocket TROOP). In the deductible phase, these 2 values would be equal due to the fact that the member pays the total drug cost until the deductible is met. So the total drug cost would be equal to the TROOP in the deductible phase. In the initial coverage phase, since the member is only paying 25% of the total drug cost, the TROOP would be 25% of the total drug cost.

The member remains in the initial coverage phase until the total drug cost accumulates to $4,130 for the year 2021. Once the total drug cost accumulates to $4,130, the member moves into the next phase known as the Coverage Gap Phase

3. Coverage Gap Phase

Once the member enters the Coverage Gap Phase, as the name suggests, there is a gap in coverage resulting in the member responsible for 95% of the total drug cost and the plan responsible for only 5%. In lay man terms, this phase is also called the ‘Donut Hole’ phase of coverage.

This may sound like a very high member responsibility in the coverage gap phase however this is not the case. Manufacturers for brand drugs are required to provide a discount to Medicare beneficiaries of 70%. This means that out of the 95% member responsibility in this phase, there is a 70% Manufacture discount resulting in a member pay of 25%. The plan counts the Manufacture discount as part of the TROOP. To put this in perspective, if the member picks up a brand medication in the coverage gap phase that costs $100, the manufacture discount would be $70, Member pay $25 and the TROOP that the plan keeps track of would be $95.

The member remains in this coverage gap phase till the TROOP reaches $6,550 for 2021. Note that the member moves on from this phase once the TROOP reaches the designated dollar amount and not the total drug cost as for the previous phases.

4. Catastrophic Coverage Phase

Once the member reaches this phase, the member is only responsible for 5% of the drug cost. This is the final phase and the member remains in this phase for the rest of the year. Once the year is over, the cycle repeats and the member starts back in the deductible phase and moves through these phases again.

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Types of Covid Vaccines

All over the world, you must have heard of many different vaccine names currently out there for Covid-19. Out of the many brands, 3 of them are authorized in the United States for the prevention of Covid-19 virus.

  1. Pfizer-BioNTech
  2. Moderna
  3. Johnson & Johnson

Another two are in phase 3 clinical trials as of April 5th 2021. Today I will go over some of the common questions we get regarding the approved vaccines for Covid-19. The CDC does not recommend one vaccine over the other. You should get the first vaccine that is available to you. The approved vaccines are safe, effective and reduces the risk of severe infection.

Pfizer-BioNTech

We will start with Pfizer-BioNTech. This vaccine can be administered to anyone over the age of 16. Two shots of the vaccine are required 21 days (3 weeks) apart. You are considered vaccinated 2 weeks after the second shot. This vaccine was the first to be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for the prevention of the Corona virus.

Moderna

The second vaccine to be approved is the Moderna vaccine. Anyone 18 years old and older can get this vaccine. Two shots of the vaccine are required 4 weeks apart. You will be considered vaccinated 2 weeks after the second dose.

Johnson & Johnson

The third vaccine is Johnson & Johnson. This vaccine can be given to anyone age 18 and over. It only requires 1 shot. You will be considered vaccinated 2 weeks after the first shot.

Source : https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html

Do these 4 things during Quarantine!

Do these 4 things during Quarantine!

In todays world, quarantine has become a part of traveling. If you travelled recently abroad or even domestically, it is recommended to quarantine for at least 10 days. The Centers for Disease Control CDC recommends quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This process of quarantine may take a toll on your physical and mental health, which is why I wanted to discuss some ways to spend quarantine that can keep you active and alert and keep everyone safe. 

Here are just a few of the activities you can do while during quarantine.

  1. Watch a movie or tv series

Now might be a good time to catch up with that movie you really wanted to watch but didn’t have time for. Sit back and relax and sign up for your favorite streaming service to watch all the shows you’ve been missing. 

2. Read a book

If you are into books, or even if you are not, now might be a good time to start reading that novel that’s been on the bookshelf for years. Or maybe pull out your kindle book and download an ebook of your choice. They’re tons of free ebooks available that will keep your mind occupied for hours and even days.  If you are a professional, it might be a good idea to read up on latest advances in your field, which would help you professionally. For any reason, pack your book with you on your travels to stay busy during quarantine.

3. Exercise

Never had time for the gym? Or too lazy for the gym? We have all had that moment. Well guess what. During quarantine, we have the time and we are not so lazy. It’s time to make those stretches and lift those weights and get some cardio in there. Staying physically active and fit is very important to remain healthy during quarantine. It refreshes the body and keeps us from getting bored.

Photo by Li Sun on Pexels.com

4. Social Media

Remember all your friends that you never had time to reach out to. Hop on to social media and connect with friends and family. Social distancing does not mean social media distancing! Call you friends and family and maybe even video call them. The more connected you feel, the less if would feel like a quarantine and more like home. If you have a lot of common friends, get on together in a group video call and connect. 

These activities will make quarantine go by really fast and keep you busy through out while keeping you productive and active. You can also add these activities to your daily routine even if you are not in quarantine.