Author Archives: Joseph Burns and Bara Vaida

About Joseph Burns and Bara Vaida

Joseph Burns, a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. Bara Vaida is AHCJ's topic leader on infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

The Monkeypox threat and what we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

An electron microscopic (EM) image depicting a monkeypox virion. (Image courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library.)

The world isn’t done with the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic, and now another pathogen has public health officials on high alert: the monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease seldom detected outside of west and central Africa, where the disease is endemic. Recently, it has emerged in places globally where it isn’t endemic and impacted populations that aren’t typically vulnerable to the virus, which causes a rash, skin pustules, fever and body aches.

As of May 21, the World Health Organization reported 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases in 12 countries where the disease isn’t endemic, including the United States. On May 23, the CDC said there has been one laboratory-confirmed case in Massachusetts and four suspected cases in three U.S. states — Florida, New York and Utah. Those infected are mostly men, but in the past, monkeypox cases have mostly occurred in children.

Monkeypox showing up in places where it isn’t endemic and affecting a different population is concerning public health officials. The initial sequencing of the monkeypox cases shows the strain is similar to the endemic virus in west Africa — raising questions about how it was transmitted — as many of those who have become sick never traveled to Africa.

“The emergence of the virus in separate populations across the world where it doesn’t usually appear has alarmed scientists — and sent them racing for answers,” wrote Max Kozlov in a  May 20 Nature article. Much of what scientists know about monkeypox is based on 1,500 cases as of 2018.

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AHCJ webcast to feature Harvard pathologist on coronavirus testing

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThis is the CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections and deaths due to the COVID-19 disease increase daily nationwide, journalists are asking why the United States lags so far behind other countries in introducing clinical laboratory tests for the virus that causes the illness.

Some strong examples of such coverage in the last few days include “11 to 100,000: What went wrong with coronavirus testing in the U.S.?,” by Meg Kelly, Sarah Cahlan and Elyse Samuels at The Washington Post on March 30, and “The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19,” by Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thoma s and Noah Weiland at The New York Times on March 28. Continue reading

Congress, regulators offer financial relief for Americans seeking tests, treatment for new coronavirus

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThis is the CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The just-passed multibillion-dollar Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes free diagnostic testing for the new COVID-19 illness — for those fortunate enough to get a test if needed. The law also includes paid sick leave, nutrition assistance and boosts unemployment benefits for Americans out of work due to the pandemic, as Barbara Sprunt reported for NPR.

President Trump signed the bill into law after the U.S. Senate passed it on Wednesday. The House of Representatives had approved it the previous week. Continue reading