How Did the New Omicron Variant Develop? Why Did it Develop So Quickly?

The Omicron variant spread quickly, but how did it develop?

In November 2020, scientists discovered the Omicron variant of coronavirus, it has since been detected in 23 countries. The discovery of Omicron alarmed the world, provoked international border closures, and tighter travel restrictions.

Omicron is a heavily mutated variant of COVID-19, which leaves scientists wondering where exactly did this variant come from? Scientists have a database with genetic maps of all previous variants of COVID-19 that they use to trace the variants back to a location or source. Omicron is challenging scientists because it is not similar to any current strains of COVID-19. The closest variant to Omicron was circulating in mid-2020.

Another concern with the Omicron variant is how heavily mutated it is. Scientists are baffled at how many mutations Omicron has, since it developed so quickly and is closely related to an old strain.

There are a few scenarios that could have caused Omicron to develop so many mutations so quickly.

One theory is that this variant developed in an isolated group of people and has been circulating among them until now. This would allow the variant to mutate repeatedly until it reached its current form and was introduced into society. This theory is sometimes called “cryptic spread”.

A second theory suggests that the variant was travelling among animals. Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, proposed this theory. Bedford also proposes that this theory is unlikely because there is no animal material in the variants genetic make-up.

A third theory is that Omicron developed in an immunocompromised person, for example, a person living with HIV. This theory has gained the most traction amongst scientists because there has been an HIV positive woman under study after contracting COVID-19. She remained positive for COVID-19 for over six months. A time frame like that would allow for the variant to mutate repeatedly over time before infecting another host.

Pinpointing the origin of Omicron is important to help scientists better understand the virus. If the virus was living among the animal population, it would suggest that the virus can jump species at will. Meanwhile, if this variant lived among a secluded population until recently, then it would mean that the virus is not very transmissible.

On the other hand, if the virus was living in a single host, silently mutating, and recently leaked into society, this would propose the virus is highly transmissible. If the virus was able to jump from one person to 23 countries in a matter of weeks, it could signify a major problem.

While the cases of Omicron are thought to be mild, there is still a lot of uncertainty circulating this variant. At this time, it is unknown how the vaccines affect this virus, or if the cases of Omicron are mild because of the vaccine. As research continues on Omicron, we should remain vigilant in our fight against COVID-19. Getting vaccinated helps reduce the chance of an outbreak, reducing the chances for more variants.

Passport Health offers COVID-19 testing and vaccination options before your trip. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Brittany Evans. Brittany is a freelance writer and photographer in North Carolina. She has a passion for the outdoors, health information, and traveling. You can find her at her website.

When to Get the Twinrix Vaccine Before Traveling Abroad

Twinrix vaccination plays a key role in helping individuals avoid hepatitis infection.

Hepatitis A and B are both very contagious diseases that can cause serious liver infections if the proper preventative methods aren’t taken. These two viruses are somewhat uncommon in the US, but there are many popular travel destinations where both hepatitis A and B are prominent.

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a disease that can cause liver infection, according to Hastings Prince Edward Public Health. When the disease infects the liver, it can create difficulties with digestion and waste removal. In areas with poor water sanitation, the disease can easily be spread through contaminated food or water.

Not everyone who becomes infected with the disease shows symptoms, especially if the patient is a young child. But those that do experience symptoms may have nausea, vomiting, fever and jaundice. Most who come down with the disease recover within six weeks and also build an immunity to Hepatitis A.

What is Hepatitis B?

Much like hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a disease that infects the liver. It can cause discomfort in your abdominal, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and jaundice. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B can be found worldwide, especially since it is spread through bodily fluids, which can include saliva, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. It can also be spread through needles since the infection can live for days on other surfaces.

Not everyone who has hepatitis B always shows symptoms. Although there is no treatment for the disease, most people do recover, with some becoming carriers for hepatitis B after recovery.

Twinrix Vaccine

While there are no treatments or medications to cure hepatitis A or B, there is a vaccine available called Twinrix. This immunization is a dual vaccine, preventing both hepatitis A and B and can be given to infants, children and adults. Since the vaccine is given in multiple doses, it’s important to start your doses with enough time between your first dose and the time of your trip abroad.

Before traveling, you should complete the Twinrix series of doses. This includes a total of three doses. The doses need to be given in at least a 6 month period before travel to allow time for the patient to receive all three doses. If you don’t have the time to wait 6 months, there is a Twinrix rapid dosing schedule, which can be given within a time period of one month.

Passport Health offers Twinrix and other hepatitis A and B vaccines for travelers. Make sure you are prepared with Passport Health. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Elle Johnson. Elle is a freelance journalist and social media content creator in Florida. Not only does she enjoy working as a freelancer, but in her free time she enjoys working on fictional stories.

Will There Ever Be a Cure For HPV?

HPV vaccination is key to preventing the spread of the virus.

HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus, is a common infection spread through skin-to-skin contact. There is currently no cure for HPV. Vaccination is the best form of protection against the virus.

Causes of HPV

HPV is spread through close skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual. This mainly happens through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Some people may not show signs and symptoms of being infected but are still able to spread HPV to those that they have sex with.

HPV infections are immensely common and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), almost everyone will get HPV at a point in their lives. The CDC reported that more than 42 million individuals in the United States were infected with HPV. Each year, around 13 million additional individuals become infected.

Symptoms of HPV

The body’s immune system is often strong enough to fight the virus that causes HPV before it results in symptoms. But when symptoms do arise, they often present in the form of warts. These warts cannot be cured and will simply heal on their own. Warts caused by HPV can appear on genitalia, hands, feet or the face. They aren’t painful, but may cause some common discomfort such as itchiness or tenderness.

HPV Can Cause Cancer

While 90% of the types of HPV will usually resolve on their own, some forms of HPV can lead to cancer. Infections from specific types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women as well as cancers of the vagina and vulva. These cancer-causing types of HPV can also result in cancer of the penis in men and cancers of the anus and throat in both genders.

HPV Prevention

As previously mentioned, there is no cure for HPV. The only way to prevent HPV and the possible cancer that can result is to get the HPV vaccine. The CDC recommends that children between the ages of 11 and 12 receive two doses of the HPV vaccine. It’s important that the vaccine is administered before exposure to the virus for the best level of protection.

Did you know individuals up to 45-years-old can receive the HPV vaccine to help prevent contracting the virus and the cancers it can cause? Passport Health offers HPV vaccination at its locations nationwide. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Ese Agboh is a student nurse who wants to specialize in pediatric nursing and wound care. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing articles related to medicine and the pathophysiology of communicable diseases. Ese currently lives and studies on the east coast of the United States.

The History of AIDS

AIDS has had a giant affect on individuals throughout the world.

Initially, numerous people were afraid to hear the term AIDS. There was so much mystery and vast misinformation circulating that made it difficult to understand what was happening. But, the world has reached a point where more information about AIDS is accessible, and people understand it more.

While there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, there are ways to manage the condition due to advancements in science and technology.

Misunderstandings & Discovery

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the outbreak of HIV and AIDS spread across America and the rest of the world. Today, more than 70 million people have been infected with HIV. And about 35 million have died from AIDS since the start of the pandemic.

In the beginning, doctors noticed that mainly young healthy males acquired HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). This virus attacks the immune system, specifically CD4 or T cells. Over time, the body cannot fight as many diseases or infections due to the erasure of CD4 cells. That leads to the most severe form of HIV infection – AIDS. People with AIDS are especially vulnerable to cancer and life-threatening illnesses, such as pneumonia.

At first, doctors believed only gay men acquired HIV. Numerous individuals affected identified as gay males. Over time, doctors realized that they were not the only victims of HIV. Drug users and immunocompromised people were also affected by the disease. This discovery led to more research and determination to find solutions.

Where Did AIDS Come From?

Scientists traced the origin of HIV to chimpanzees and the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV). SIV is an HIV-like virus that attacks the immune system of monkeys and apes. In earlier decades, people were hunting chimpanzees for meat and came in contact with the blood containing the virus. Researchers believe the virus mutated into a human form of HIV years later.

Hunters in Africa likely ate infected chimps or had close contact with the infected blood. The virus spread from Africa to Haiti, then the Caribbean, and finally came to New York and San Francisco in the late 1970’s.

The Epidemic

While HIV arrived in America in the late 1970’s, it did not receive public attention until the early 1980’s. The CDC published various articles about healthy men becoming infected with pneumocystis pneumonia. It is a type of harmless pneumonia that does not affect people with un-compromised immune systems.

By September of 1982, the CDC coined the term AIDS to describe the disease for the first time.

Current Research and Developments

2012: The FDA approved pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). It is a preventive drug treatment plan for individuals at high risk of HIV. About 54% of people eligible for HIV treatment that year received it. Today, healthcare professionals treat about 19.5 million people with antiretroviral medications.

2015: The CDC announced that diagnosis and treatment could prevent about 90% of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.

2017: Several organizations (including the CDC) endorsed the Undetectable = Untransmittable initiative. Due to robust evidence, people who receive antiretroviral medication and have an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV on to others.

The 2020’s: Currently, only one form of PrEP exists. People can take it once a day if they have a high risk of contracting HIV. Doctors mainly recommend PrEP if someone recently received a negative HIV test result.

Passport Health offers a variety of options that can help prevent STD’s, blood infections and other related diseases. These include hepatitis B, HPV and more. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Shelbi Jackson. Shelbi is a freelance writer from Illinois. She enjoys writing about various topics from health care to music and book reviews. In her free time, you can find her at a live event, taking a stroll outside, or playing with the family dogs.

How To Stay Healthy On A Cruise Ship

Cruises can be fun, just make sure you are prepared for your trip.

A cruise is meant to be a very relaxing experience for you and anyone else traveling with you. With the beautiful ocean water surrounding you, and that sweet and salty sea breeze, it can be an exciting and wonderful experience. Even though you are on vacation, you can still maintain healthy habits while you voyaging between beautiful locations. Here is how to stay healthy on a cruise ship.

Do A Pre-Cruise Physical

This will make sure that your body is in good condition to set sail. Plus, your doctor will be able to give you insight into any vaccinations that you may need, depending on the area of the world that you are headed to. Once you get a clean bill of health, you are ready to head out on your luxurious journey.

Traveling in such close quarters with others can always pose a risk of passing around stomach bugs or respiratory viruses. It is important to also speak to your doctor about what medications that you could bring on the ship with you. For example, they might advise you to bring something like cold medicine to help reduce symptoms. Make sure that you have packed the proper medications, as well as a first-aid kit for you or your family.

Wash and Sanitize Frequently

The importance of washing your hands can never be stressed enough. This is usually how viruses are spread when someone who doesn’t wash their hands touches a surface. When you touch it, you can contract what they have. But with plenty of hand washing and sanitizing, you can keep yourself as safe as possible.

You’ll want to make sure that your hand sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol for disinfecting properties. Another item to keep with you is also sanitizing wipes. This way, you can bring them to tables and chairs that you want to use, and wipe them down before you do.

Take The Stairs

On a cruise ship, where you’re only really walking short distances, taking the stairs is a great option to get a little bit of cardio in. Plus, nine times out of ten, the stairs are often much faster than waiting for an elevator.

If you are looking for a little bit more exercise than just taking the stairs, you can also utilize the ship’s gym. While many cruise ships don’t often advertise a gym, many have one that is meant to be utilized by the passengers of the ship.

Find Travel Insurance

You never know when something could go awry. That is why it is important to have travel insurance in place. Many provide emergency extraction from the cruise ship, should you need to be transported to a local hospital.

Whether it is required vaccines for your trip or routine immunizations like influenza, Passport Health is here to help. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Jennifer Passmore is a stay-at-home mom, writer and beader. She loves creating art with her words and through her jewelry. She is also a passionate mental health advocate. You can find more writing at her website Positivity In Pain.

Is Typhus Deadly?

Typhus is still present in many parts of the world.

Typhus is a group of bacterial diseases caused by rickettsia bacteria infection. It is zoonotic, meaning that the illness passes from infected animals to humans. Fleas, mites, and lice are some examples of typical carriers.

Typhus is more common in underdeveloped areas, but it can be found worldwide. One thing people are still unclear about is if typhus is deadly. Can this disease kill you? Discover more about typhus and its effects below.

How Deadly Is Typhus?

The earlier you visit a doctor and receive proper treatment for typhus, the better your recovery period will be. There are three types of typhus – epidemic, endemic, and scrub. Endemic and epidemic are the two main types. The longer you wait to receive a diagnosis or treatment, the more damage you cause to your health.

Untreated endemic typhus has a death rate of under .2% of patients. In contrast, untreated epidemic typhus has a death rate of 10% – 60% of infected patients. People over 60 years old have the highest death rates. Even if someone does not die from typhus, complications can make things very difficult. Some examples are renal insufficiency, pneumonia, and central nervous system problems.

Generally, physicians recommend antibiotic therapy for endemic, and epidemic typhus infections since early treatment can cure most infected individuals. Some antibiotics you may be placed on include azithromycin, doxycycline, and tetracycline. If treatment is delayed and complications become very severe, patients may die.

Prevention

To avoid typhus, the best thing to do is stay away from rodents and wild animals. Also, be wary of any animals that may carry mites, fleas, and ticks on their bodies. If you have pets, ensure that they avoid contact with rodents or animals that may spread fleas or mites. You can lower your risk of infection by limiting how pests can enter your home.

There was a vaccine for typhus during World War II, but the shrinking number of cases halted its production. The easiest way to prevent typhus is by shielding yourself from pests.

Some prevention tips are:

  • Maintain adequate hygiene (guards against infected lice)
  • Control the rodent population (rodents carry arthropods)
  • Avoid traveling to regions where typhus exposure has occurred, or low sanitation is a high risk
  • Take advantage of medicine (Ex. chemoprophylaxis)

Passport Health can advise you on what you may need to avoid typhus while abroad. Make sure you are protected by calling or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Shelbi Jackson. Shelbi is a freelance writer from Illinois. She enjoys writing about various topics from health care to music and book reviews. In her free time, you can find her at a live event, taking a stroll outside, or playing with the family dogs.

Countries With the Best Street Food for Diabetics

Having diabetes doesnt mean you have to avoid great foods abroad.

If you’re a diabetic, eating foods high in fiber at regular intervals is important to maintaining good health. It’s also important to limit foods high in simple carbohydrates and saturated fats. Keeping up with this type of lifestyle while traveling doesn’t have to be frustrating. Many countries offer delicious street food options that fit nicely into a diabetic diet and won’t cause uncomfortable spikes in blood sugar.

Malaysia

Malaysia may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of countries with diabetic-friendly street food. Though many traditional Malay dishes are served with or over rice, there are a host of other low-carb, high fiber options . Take Rojak, for example. Rojak is a typical Malaysian salad made of a variety of fruits and vegetables mixed in shrimp sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. Depending on the season, fruits and vegetables that make up Rojak usually consist of beets, cucumbers, mangoes, bean sprouts and green apples. Free of added sugars and filled with fiber, Rojak is a great dish for diabetics. Its high fiber content helps to metabolize carbohydrates while its low sugar content won’t cause spikes and crashes.

The streets of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, are also consistently decorated with engaging and exciting food vendors. This makes it easy to have easy access to food, helping you maintain stable blood sugar levels.

India

With its impressive size, diverse culture and invigorating cuisine, the streets of India are calling all diabetics. In the south of India, the diabetic traveler can find an impressively flavorful midday snack known as Masala Vada. Masala Vada is a traditional lentil fritter made of a combination of chana dal, onions, ginger, curry leaves, fennel seeds, dried red hot peppers, vegetable oil and salt. With such a heavy caliber of flavors, there’s no need for any added sugars in this tasty tea time snack. Plus, the lentils offer a great amount of fiber without an overload of carbohydrates.

Venture north and you’ll find Pav Bhaji. Pav Bhaji is a thick vegetable curry made of potatoes, tomatoes and varieties of seasonal vegetables. Though slightly higher in carbohydrates than some other dishes due to the potatoes, Pav Bhaji is still suitable in moderation for diabetics. The vegetables added in the curry offer a nice serving of fiber that will help properly metabolize the carbs from the potatoes. Pav Bhaji is usually served with a roll of bread on the side. Make sure to keep the carb content low by asking the vendor for no bread.

Japan

Japan is known for having some of the healthiest food in the world. Rice is a constant in most Japanese dishes and this may cause diabetics to shy away. But, there are Japanese street foods that are served without rice, low in carbohydrate and high in fiber. Yaki Imo, a simple Japanese roasted sweet potato, is a great option for diabetics. Sweet potatoes provide complex carbohydrates that supply essential energy and won’t cause sudden changes in blood sugar. Besides Yaki Imo, you can also find sukiyaki on the streets of some Japanese cities. Sukiyaki is a dish of beef and vegetables both cooked in one pot. When eaten without white rice, sukiyaki is a great low-carb option for diabetics.

Diabetes and Travel

Traveling as a diabetic doesn’t have to be an ordeal. By making sure you eat regularly, you can avoid dangerous drops in blood sugar levels. It’s also important to choose meals and snacks that provide enough fiber to help with carbohydrate metabolism. This will help you to avoid fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Never forget to travel with your insulin. Following these and other directions from your healthcare provider will help you make a success of your vacation!

Planning on trying street foods? Up to 70 percent of travelers will contract travelers’ diarrhea. Stay healthy and keep bathroom visits to a minimum with a travelers’ diarrhea kit from Passport Health. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Ese Agboh is a student nurse who wants to specialize in pediatric nursing and wound care. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing articles related to medicine and the pathophysiology of communicable diseases. Ese currently lives and studies on the east coast of the United States.

Could Advances in AI Healthcare be the End of Incurable Disease?

AI could play an important role in ending rare diseases

As healthcare rapidly advances, so does technology. Separately, these two fields tackle the world’s problems every day. Together, these two fields can tackle the world’s most overlooked healthcare issues.

With everything else that is going on in the world, it is all too easy to delay research and funding for rare diseases. As major companies turn their focus to larger, more impactful concerns, there are a few small companies working on AI in healthcare. Companies like DeepMind and Healx have recently made advancements in the AI healthcare fields.

In December 2020 DeepMind released AlphaFold 2, a unique AI system that explains how proteins fold. With this information, healthcare researchers can accurately and quickly model proteins for future reference. Knowing the structure of proteins allows scientist to discover what medications work best against them. With this information, experts will have a wealth of information at their fingertips to help discover cures and treatments for rare disease.

The release of AlphaFold 2 is a major breakthrough in healthcare, and was hailed the solution to a 50-year-old problem. There are an estimated 7000 rare diseases, affecting 350 million people worldwide. The Drugs for Neglected Disease institute (DNDi) develops life-saving treatments for neglected diseases. This is where companies like Healx step in with their AI programs.

Healx created the Healnet platform, a comprehensive rare disease knowledge base. It allows providers to make accurate predictions when treating rare diseases. Predictions about treatments enable providers to make decisions quickly, which could be life-saving.

Advances in AI healthcare go beyond the treatment of rare disease. These advances in AI can help personalize healthcare for individual circumstances. Healthcare is very in depth and goes far below the surface. Genetic subtypes, both for individuals and diseases, can sometimes stump physicians. AI databases are loaded with more information than a human can retain. This gives AI the ability to quickly and efficiently diagnose a problem. That’s not to say that you will soon be seeing an artificial physician, AI’s role in healthcare is intended to be supportive.

Alone AI is not able to efficiently care for a patient, the system has to learn through trial and error, which can be dangerous for patients. That is why the role of physician will remain in human hands, while the algorithms (a set of problem-solving rules) will be left to AI.

“The superpower of these AI systems is that they can look at all of these large amounts of data and hopefully surface the right information or the right predictions at the right time,” said Finale Doshi-Velez, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

We don’t know how long it will take for AI to fully launch into healthcare, but it offers a promising future to patients with rare diseases. Merging AI with healthcare will be one of the most beneficial to happen to healthcare, and will undoubtedly alter the profession forever.

Passport Health offers a variety of vaccination and physical services to help you stay safe and healthy at home and abroad. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Brittany Evans. Brittany is a freelance writer and photographer in North Carolina. She has a passion for the outdoors, health information, and traveling. You can find her at her website.

The Hidden Scientists That Proved the Polio Vaccine Worked

Polio vaccination played a key role in stopping the spread of the virus.

Polio is a virus that shook the United States during the 1940’s and 1950’s. The virus spiked during the summer months, causing paralysis in some cases. During the epidemic, most children were kept indoors away from others out of fear that they would contract polio.

Some cases of polio didn’t show any signs or symptoms of infection, making it hard to know whether a person was infected. In most cases, the infected person was able to recover without any complications. In rare cases, polio could leave a person with paralysis or other nerve conditions.

As polio devastated the US, with 57, 000 cases at its peak in 1952, Jonas Salk (the inventor of the polio vaccine) was hesitant to push the vaccine. Salk wanted to make certain that the vaccine was both safe and effective. Testing a vaccine’s effectiveness is not cheap, so Salk had to experiment with new techniques to prove the vaccine worked.

Russell W. Brown and Jimmy Henderson, two scientists who worked at the Tuskegee Institute, decided to help Salk with the polio vaccine. The scientists decided to use HeLa cells, cancerous cells that were taken from Henrietta Lacks, to test the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Using the HeLa cells didn’t come without challenges of its own. The pair needed to create a HeLa cell factory to reproduce the cells in large quantities. Salk’s trial required an estimated 10,000 tubes a week of HeLa cells. Both Brown and Henderson were knowledgeable scientists, but they had never experimented like this before. Growing, storing, and transporting cells required knowledge that neither Brown nor Henderson had.

Fortunately, they were able to connect with William F. Scherer, a young postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota. Scherer did early work on the poliovirus using HeLa cells and had instructed students on this topic. Scherer was able to teach both Brown and Henderson what they needed to know to grow their factory. Shortly after they met with Scherer, the HeLa factory was producing cells.

The team hit another roadblock when they tried to ship the cells across the US. The HeLa cells were very temperamental, and a change in temperature could kill them quickly. Brown and Henderson got help from Maria Telkes, a chemist at New York University. Telkes was able to create a type of cooler that could transport the cells for up to 96 hours.

Once the cells were successfully transported, the testing could begin.

Once cell testing was done, over 420,000 children were inoculated, and 200,000 were given placebo injections, with an additional 1.2 million other children observed in the study. The study was a success and the polio vaccine was given across the nation. The work that Brown, Henderson, and the other hidden scientists did, made it possible for polio to be eradicated in the US.

Passport Health offers polio and other key vaccines to help keep you healthy at home and abroad. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.

Written for Passport Health by Brittany Evans. Brittany is a freelance writer and photographer in North Carolina. She has a passion for the outdoors, health information, and traveling. You can find her at her website.