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Power of the pooch: Dogs ease kids’ anxiety before medical scans

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When doctors suggested Mia Agostino get an MRI of her brain, her mother was worried about the test. How would the squirmy six-year-old cope? Would she need to be put under with anesthetic?

Enter Lucy, a 12-year old chocolate Labrador retriever. To help calm Mia’s nerves, the girl was introduced to the four-legged friend with a sweet personality and blue nail polish on her toes.

Mia’s mother Kara Agostino was thrilled when the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto offered Lucy’s help to get Mia into the MRI machine.

“I love it,” her mother said. “She’s such a dog lover — the idea of having a dog with her to have her comfortable through a process that’s completely unfamiliar to her is brilliant.”

Research suggests dogs help lower blood pressure, help children with autism to relate better to humans and increase levels of mood-improving hormones like serotonin.

Mia’s mother, Kara Agostino, right, called the idea of having a dog with Mia to keep her comfortable in the MRI ‘brilliant.’ Volunteer Joanne Somers, centre, is Lucy’s owner. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

That’s why dogs are used in nursing homes, hospitals, universities and even prisons to help with everything from anxiety to aggression. Now the dogs are being used to help to ease the experience for kids who must lie still inside a noisy, dark and narrow-tubed machine for an MRI scan, a procedure that can induce claustrophobia.

Earlier this month, doctors ordered a brain MRI for Mia to see if she’s a good candidate for cochlear implants — small electronic devices that are placed under the ears.

A few months after Mia was born, she was diagnosed with hearing loss. Since then, she’s been wearing hearing aids but her hearing has become worse.

Lucy sat with Mia before the MRI and headphones were put on the dog to demonstrate what Mia would be wearing during the scan.

Victoria Smith, a patient at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said petting Toulouse gave her some immediate relief from her depression and anxiety. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Lucy led Mia into the room with the MRI and sprawled out on the table before the young patient climbed in. It was all an effort to keep Mia calm and distracted. And it worked. Mia was able to complete the test without any medication or anesthesia.

When it was all over, the two new best friends enjoyed freezies together: blue for Mia and white for Lucy.

Mia was part of the PAWS program, the brainchild of Sick Kids radiologist Dr. Mary-Louise Greer. She said this is the first time in Canada that dogs have helped children into the MRI.

“If we can have the children more comfortable and relaxed … [then] they are able to potentially tolerate being in a very enclosed environment, which is quite noisy, for a long period of time,” said Greer.  

First Lassie, now Lucy

Through the PAWS program, doctors hope to avoid having to use medication to calm children before a scan. Once the kids are inside the machine, doctors also want to make sure the kids don’t move.

In a preliminary study titled First Lassie, Now Lucy, to be published in the journal Pediatric Radiology, Greer looked at the benefits of having dogs help in such situations.

She surveyed 10 patients and their caregivers. Most described themselves as being “slightly worried” before the MRI. After meeting Lucy, they described themselves as being “happy” and their caregivers agreed, rating the experience of being with the dog as either “good or excellent.”

‘At home with your animals’

Staff at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto are also convinced canines make a difference.

There are now 40 dogs volunteering throughout the hospital. CAMH hopes to increase the number of dogs to 50 by next year.

In the women’s trauma in-patient unit, 20 women who have PTSD, depression and anxiety are undergoing intensive treatment. Their days are filled with medication, doctor’s visits and therapy. But Wednesdays are special.

Toulouse, the Pomeranian pooch, is changing lives.

Toulouse, the nine-year-old canine, works his magic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 0:20

That’s the day Toulouse, the Pomeranian mix, makes his weekly visit.

As he entered the unit recently, he was surrounded by the patients and treated like a four-legged rockstar. He lapped up the attention and the women benefited, too.

Victoria Smith has depression and anxiety, but petting Toulouse gave her some immediate relief.

“I was feeling a bit anxious but now that I have Toulouse, I am feeling a lot more calm. He is definitely helping,” she said.

Debra Schlegel, a recreational therapist on the women’s ward, has also noticed the power of the Pomeranian.

“It’s amazing the difference you see with clients. Our population, they are going through a lot of challenges right now being in an acute setting,” she said.

“It is a really stressful time. It is a hospital but it makes it less institutional. You feel like you are at home with your animals as well.”

Schlegel has even noticed patients who were reluctant to leave their rooms come out to the lounge area for a chance to spend time with Toulouse and to socialize with other patients.

“We see the proof and we see the stress reduction and the lowering of anxiety and people smiling and it can be a really great treatment.”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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