NIHCM Newsletter / August 2022
Monkeypox is a Public Health Emergency
Released: August 9, 2022
The Latest on Monkeypox
The World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency as the number of confirmed cases has increased to over 30,000 across 88 countries with more than 8,900 cases in the U.S. (as of August 9th, 2022). On August 4th, President Biden declared monkeypox a national public health emergency.
- Vaccines: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that nearly 786,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine will be made available for distribution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 1.5 million people are eligible for the vaccine.
- Not a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI): While monkeypox cases have predominately been found among men who have sex with men, it is neither an STI nor does it only impact specific communities. Transmission can occur through skin-to-skin contact, touching contaminated objects, respiratory secretions, and during pregnancy. Experts have warned that stigmatizing messaging reinforces stereotypes and can undermine response efforts, as was the case during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
- Impact on Health Clinics: Sexual health clinics, which have already been under pressure from years of underfunding and COVID-19, are now on the frontline of the growing monkeypox outbreak.
- Outlook: Many have compared the response to monkeypox in the U.S. to that of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite recent expansions in testing capacity, areas are still facing shortages, delays in getting results, and a lack of reliable ways to test.
Q&A on the Overdose Crisis
The CDC estimates that more than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year - a record high. Learn more about the overdose crisis:
Q: How are racial disparities widening in overdose deaths?
A: According to a CDC report, overdose deaths are increasing fast among Black and Indigenous people. Black people ages 15 to 24 had an 86% increase in death rates compared to a 34% increase among White people of the same age group. The disproportionate increase among Black and Indigenous people may be due to health inequities, like unequal access to treatment.
Q: What is the role of fentanyl in the overdose crisis?
A: Deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl are on the rise, which is often mixed with other illicit drugs without the user’s knowledge. Fentanyl-related deaths in the U.S. occur more often than gun and auto-related deaths combined. The Drug Enforcement Agency warns of a nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass-overdose events.
Q: How does harm reduction reduce overdose deaths?
A: The Biden administration’s strategy to address the overdose crisis is the first to incorporate harm reduction strategies, which include access to naloxone (the antidote to opioid overdoses), sterile needles, drug test strips, and supervised injection sites.
Q: Are people with addiction able to receive treatment?
A: A recent study found that 87% of people with opioid use disorder (OUD) do not receive evidence-based treatment. Medications for OUD can reduce opioid overdoses by 50%.
Q: What about people with chronic pain?
A: The 2016 CDC guidelines for prescribing opioids for pain have been credited with leading to harmful consequences for patients with chronic pain. The 2022 proposed guidelines remove the upper limits for prescription opioids, emphasize a patient-centric approach, and expand on alternative treatments.
Resources & Initiatives:
- NIHCM Grantee, STAT, is releasing a series on addiction in 2022.
- Florida Blue Medicare created a pilot program identifying members who have been prescribed opioids and are at risk for addiction.
- Visualize the impact of the opioid overdose crisis in nine charts created by NIHCM.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is part of the Michigan Opioid Partnership, which awarded nearly $500,000 in grants to four SUD recovery community organizations.
- The Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health awarded more than $600,000 in substance use disorder program grants.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders is 1-800-662-HELP.
Keeping COVID at Bay
People who previously had COVID-19 are becoming reinfected from new omicron subvariants. The pace of COVID-19 deaths has plateaued since May, with 12,500 Americans dying of COVID-19 in July. The Pfizer antiviral Paxlovid keeps high-risk COVID-19 patients out of the hospital.
- Boosters: Second boosters for people under 50 are on hold for shots reformulated to target the omicron subvariants. The Biden administration recently purchased 66 million doses of Moderna’s variant-specific booster.
- Long COVID: Federal reports on long COVID provide information on getting help and highlight the need for further research on the condition. About one in eight adults develop symptoms of long COVID. Risk factors include socioeconomic deprivation and smoking.
- Children and COVID: Over 40% of parents of children under five say they will definitely not vaccinate their child against COVID-19. A recent study found omicron is better at invading children’s noses than previous variants. Fortunately, children have stronger antibodies than adults.
Resources & Initiatives:
- Learn how many lives a fall booster campaign could save in the U.S.
- A medical analyst explains what precautions families should take as children return to school.
- Kaiser Health News released a Q&A on everything you need to know about Paxlovid.
- Learn more about children’s vaccinations and getting vaccinated against COVID-19 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Independence Blue Cross.
A recent poll reported that 53% of U.S. adults have personally felt the implications of climate change. In the months ahead, federal agencies project more abnormally hot weather, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and hurricane activity which threaten human health.
- Flooding: In Kentucky, recent severe flooding has left at least 38 people dead. A 2021 study found that climate change is likely causing extreme flooding events to be more frequent and intense.
- Extreme Heat Waves: High temperatures have blanketed Europe, China, India, and the U.S. throughout the summer. Experts warn that global, concurrent heat waves can threaten the world’s food supply.
- Fires: Wildfires have already burned over 5.6 million acres across the U.S. this year, with more than 60 currently burning across the country. Exposure displaces thousands of people and can negatively impact both mental and physical health.
- New Legislation: The Senate recently passed a health, climate, and tax package. This legislation would be the most ambitious climate action ever taken by Congress, allotting billions towards climate and energy.
Resources and Initiatives:
- Track dangerous heat and wildfires nationwide. and learn how to keep yourself, children, and pets safe during periods of extreme heat and wildfires.
- Anthem Blue Cross (Elevance Health) provided relief to members impacted by California’s wildfires.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana reminded everyone to be aware of risks from high sun and heat exposure, and steps to beat the heat.
In Other Public Health News…
- Poliovirus: The U.S. had not reported a case of polio since 1979 but in July, an unvaccinated individual in New York tested positive for poliovirus and is now paralyzed. Based on wastewater surveillance, the NY Health Department believes hundreds may be infected.
- Reproductive Care: Many experts believe that health inequities will be exacerbated in the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade. Learn more about the uneven burden of maternal mortality in the U.S. with our recent infographic.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Roughly 4 out of every 10 Americans are now considered obese. Learn more about helping children avoid the risks of obesity from BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma.
- Physical Activity: A study found the lowest mortality rate among those who performed nearly double the amount of recommended physical activity. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently hosted the Blue & You Fitness Challenge which encourages people to get active.
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