Survey: More US workers out sick amid pandemic than any other time on record

More than 2 million American workers called in sick in a single week in mid-April, causing the highest absence rate on record and leading to suspicions that COVID-19 cases were substantially undercounted, according to a research letter published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Hunter College who analyzed the US Census Bureau's monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) found that 2,017,105 workers called in sick, more than double the number from the same time the year before. Absenteeism due to illness began rising in March, when the US epidemic began, and surged to 1.5% in April, nearly triple the percentage during that period in 2019.

More workers were out sick in April 2020 than in any other month since January 1976, the earliest time for which absenteeism data are available.

Immigrant workers—many of whom are essential workers at high risk of COVID-19 infection and are unable to work remotely—were the most affected, with five times the number out sick than the year before, when their absentee rate was 37% lower than other Americans. Other groups disproportionately affected included workers 55 years and older and those with less than a bachelor's degree.

The survey didn't contain information on which illnesses caused the work absences. The authors noted that routinely collected CPS data on work absences could be a rapidly accessible tool for surveillance on absenteeism due to public health crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Study coauthor Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH, said in a Physicians for a National Health Program news release that millions of immigrants and people of color have risked their lives to provide essential services during the pandemic. "Many are uninsured and have no income if they miss work," she said. "The least we can do to protect them is to assure paid sick leave and universal health care, benefits that workers in every other wealthy nation already enjoy."
Jul 27 JAMA Intern Med research letter
Jul 27 Physicians for a National Health Program news release


Collaborative AMR research projects announced involving India, Fiji

The United Kingdom and India today announced a new collaboration on five new research projects to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The projects, scheduled to begin in September, aim to develop a better understanding of how waste released from antibiotic manufacturing affects microbial systems and contributes to the spread of AMR in the environment. The British and Indian governments are each contributing £4 million (US $5.2 million) to the projects.

India is one of the world's leading manufacturers of antibiotics, along with China. Scientists and researchers have long worried that the release of inadequately treated wastewater from antibiotic manufacturing plants in India is contributing to the spread of AMR.

"Today's announcement is another demonstration of our excellent research relationship and will strengthen the important fight against antimicrobial resistance," Sir Philip Barton, the United Kingdom's High Commissioner to India, said in a press release.
Jul 28 press release

In other international AMR research news, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) announced the launch of a 3-year research project with the government of Fiji to monitor antibiotic use and AMR in humans, animals, and the environment.

Researchers from the two countries will collect data from hospitals, farms, and the environment in Fiji to identify AMR trends and hot spots. The project also aims to build local laboratory and research capabilities in Fiji.

"This research has the potential to be leveraged across the Pacific region, including Australia," CSIRO biosecurity research director Paul De Barro, PhD, said in a press release. "The opportunity for Australia being part of this collaborative project means we can take a proactive and coordinated approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance."
Jul 28 CSIRO press release


US FDA-approved vaccines 'remarkably safe' over 20 years, study shows

Over a 20-year span, vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have proven "remarkably safe," with any postapproval safety issues of little clinical significance, researchers in Israel have found.

The retrospective cohort study, published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined data from 57 vaccines approved by the FDA from Jan 1, 1996, to Dec 31, 2015, to identify any postapproval, safety-related vaccine label changes. Twenty-five vaccines had 58 label changes (49 warnings and precautions, 8 contraindications, and 1 safety-related withdrawal).

Initial FDA approvals of 53 vaccines (93%) were supported by randomized controlled trials with a median of 4,161 participants, and the trial characteristics were similar in vaccines that did and didn't undergo label modifications.

The most common safety issues behind the label changes included expansion of population restrictions (21 [36%]) and allergies (13 [22%]). Postmarketing surveillance was the most common source of safety data (28 of 58 vaccines [48%]).

"A large proportion of safety issues were identified through existing postmarketing surveillance programs and were of limited clinical significance," the authors wrote. "These findings confirm the robustness of the vaccine approval system and postmarketing surveillance."
Jul 28 Ann Intern Med abstract


Study: Climate changes likely to impact yellow fever burden in Africa

Changes in Africa's temperatures and rainfall could boost deaths from yellow fever by 25% by 2050, according to new modeling estimates from scientists at Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, published today in the journal eLife.

Weighing changes in temperature and rainfall, the researchers looked at four different scenarios, from carbon emissions peaking by 2030 then decreasing, to carbon emissions increasing through the next century. By 2050 under the best scenario, deaths could increase by 11% and, in the worst-case scenario, deaths could rise by 25%. By 2070 the numbers would be 10% and 40%.

They also found that increases varied by location, with East and Central African countries, which include Ethiopia and Somalia, hit hardest. West African countries currently have the highest yellow fever burden, and though the projections found smaller increases in those locations, the number of added deaths would still be large.

Katy Gaythorpe, PhD, one of the study authors who is with the school of public health at Imperial College London,  said in a press release from the college, "We could see yellow fever expanding into new areas and worsening in regions where it is already causing major outbreaks. To prevent this resulting in thousands more deaths, a programme of surveillance and appropriate mosquito control and vaccination will need to be sustained."
Jul 28 eLife study
Jul 28 Imperial College London press release

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