Vaccinated people with prior COVID infection had strongest protection during delta, CDC study finds

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(ATLANTA) — Both vaccination and a prior infection provided protection against another infection and hospitalization due to COVID-19 during the United States’ delta wave, according to a study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between May and November 2021, researchers analyzed data from New York and California to determine the impact of vaccination and previous COVID-19 infection on cases and hospitalization rates.

The study focused on four core groups of people — those who were unvaccinated, without a previous infection; those who were unvaccinated, with a previous infection; vaccinated people, without a previous infection; and vaccinated people, with a previous infection.

The analysis found that before delta became the predominant variant in June, vaccination offered better protection against breakthrough infections than prior infection offered against reinfection. But after delta became dominant, this trend shifted, with prior infection offering slightly better protection. However, this also coincides with a time when many Americans were several months out from their shots, and before boosters were authorized.

Notably, the study was conducted prior to the emergence of the omicron variant, and before the widespread availability of booster shots, thus, researchers warned that results cannot be directly applied to the nation’s current surge. In addition, the analysis did not include data pertaining to the severity of initial infections, and hospitalization data was only pulled from California.

During the delta wave, two doses of a vaccine offered excellent protection against hospitalization, and notably, researchers stressed that getting vaccinated remains a safer option than contracting COVID-19.

Vaccine immunity does fade over time, the study found, and the further out an individual is from one’s last vaccine shot, or a prior infection, the more likely it is that they will experience a breakthrough infection.

When asked repeatedly on Wednesday during a press briefing whether the data were showing that when delta was prominent, having had an infection provided greater protection against a subsequent infection than from being vaccinated, a CDC representative insisted that vaccination is still the safest way to protect oneself.

Scientists also suggest the study reinforces the evidence that “vaccination remains the safest strategy for protecting against COVID-19.”

The CDC also cited a recent study, which demonstrates that as time increases after an infection, vaccination still provides greater protection against COVID-19 compared to prior infection alone, thus underscoring “the importance of being up to date on COVID-19 vaccination.”

Later this week, the CDC said it will publish additional data on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters while omicron has been circulating.

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Three easy food and beverage swaps to level up health at home and reduce inflammation

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(NEW YORK) — Registered dietician and author Rachel Beller joined “Good Morning America” to share tips that will help others level up their nutrition and may help reduce the risk of chronic illness through food.

Beller showed three simple food swaps that can potentially reduce inflammation and lower the risk for certain chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes. She prefaced that while no single food can cure or prevent chronic disease, overall nutrition over time may help reduce a person’s risk.

Healthier morning beverage

Her first swap and recipe tackles a very popular drink, the chai latte, which can contain over 40 grams of sugar.

Beller said that’s equivalent to drinking 10 teaspoons of sugar, or about 10 lollipops. With excess sugar linked to increased systemic inflammation, she shared a healthy swap to add spices that will give the body a boost of nutrition and flavor.

Golden Chocolate

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 cups non-dairy milk
3 dried Medjool dates, pitted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground coffee, or 1 shot of organic espresso (optional)
Pinch of sea salt (option)

Directions

Stir ingredients into warm plant-based milk. OR if using a date place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and heat up. For an extra boost of caffeine, you can add an optional shot of espresso.

Benefits of this swap:

Use spices for flavor and for an antioxidant boost and dates for natural sweetness
Turmeric and cacao have anti-inflammatory properties
Ceylon cinnamon contains antioxidants and adds sweet flavor

Squeeze test to swap out better-for-you bread

Most breads, including ones made with whole wheat flour, can still cause a spike in a person’s blood sugar which can contribure to inflammation.

Beller suggests the squeeze test to check, so if you can easily roll a slice of whole wheat bread into a ball, it’s mostly flour and doesn’t contain intact grains and could therefore spike blood sugar faster. High fiber content in carbohydrates slows down glucose absorbtion.

Instead, swap for something that “resists the squish” and has intact, whole grains and seeds in each slice. That will mean it contatins more fiber and will help your body work harder, which is better for blood sugar control, energy balance and staying full longer.

Rethink your oils

Most of us get too much highly refined and processed oils in common snack foods, such as soybean, safflower, sunflower and canola oil which are low in antioxidants and nutrients.

Beller suggest choosing oils to add to your diet that are less processed and retain valuable phytonutrients and antioxidants like olive, avocado, flaxseed and walnut oils, all of which are high in monosaturated fats or mmega-3 fatty acids and could help lower inflamation and risk of chronic disease.

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Biden administration speaks out on federal blood donation policy impacting gay men amid national blood shortage

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(WASHINGTON) — For the first time, the Biden administration is commenting on the Food and Drug Administration’s long-time blood donation guidelines, which are impacting the LGBTQ+ community by preventing gay and bisexual men from being eligible blood donors.

The statement, made by a White House official exclusively to ABC News, acknowledges the painful origins of the policy and comes on the heels of the American Red Cross declaring their first-ever national blood crisis last week, as supplies at hospitals and blood banks become dangerously low.

Current U.S. policy holds that sexually active gay or bisexual men must abstain from sex for at least three months before they’re allowed to donate blood. The rule applies to gay and bisexual men who are monogamous and those who test HIV negative and are practicing safe sex. It also includes gay and bisexual COVID-19 survivors who wish to donate convalescent plasma, rich with antibodies, for research.

The restriction on blood donations came out of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, when limited testing technology and capacity existed to screen blood for HIV. In 1983, the FDA implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from all men who had sex with men after 1977.

The FDA removed the lifetime ban and enacted a 12-month deferral period in 2015, meaning gay or bisexual men had to abstain from having sex with other men for at least 12 months before donating blood. That deferral period was reduced to three months in April 2020 amid blood supply shortages in the beginning months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite cutting of deferral periods in recent years, the current federal policy remains a blanket policy covering LGBTQ+ people, and does not take into account individual risk.

“The legacy of bans on blood donation continues to be painful, especially for LGBTQI+ communities,” the White House official told ABC News in a statement. “The President is committed to ensuring that this policy is based on science, not fiction or stigma. While there are no new decisions to announce at the moment, the FDA is currently supporting the ‘ADVANCE’ study, a scientific study to develop relevant scientific evidence and inform any potential policy changes.”

In 2020, ABC News broke the story that several major blood donation organizations — including the American Red Cross, Vitalant and OneBlood — announced that they were working together in an FDA-funded study (ADVANCE: Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility) to provide data to determine if eligibility based on an individual’s risk could replace the time-based deferral system while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

While the lead researchers involved in the study previously told ABC News their goal was to present their findings to the FDA in late 2021, the FDA revealed to ABC News that the study is ongoing, amid what the American Red Cross is calling “the worst blood shortage in over a decade.”

While the American Red Cross said that there is no clear data that would suggest that changing the current blood donation policy would significantly increase the number of blood donations, if the deferral period were lifted, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate, “which could help save the lives of more than a million people,” according to LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD.

In what seems like a clash over risk vs. stigma, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and many in the medical community are aligned on the idea that the current federal policy on LGBTQ+ blood donor eligibility is largely discriminatory.

“We believe blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation and we’re committed to achieving this goal,” the American Red Cross said in a statement to ABC News.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, also told ABC News, “Just like other individuals throughout the country, many people have sex on a regular basis, including with partners and spouses.”

And in 2020, Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, told “Good Morning America”: “The AMA has been a long-term advocate of using a risk-based approach, rather than stigmatizing one group of people. So we believe there should not even be the three-month deferral, but that we should use a risk-based approach.”

ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.

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Tennis legend Chris Evert reveals ovarian cancer diagnosis

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(NEW YORK) — Former world No. 1 tennis player Chris Evert revealed she is battling Stage 1 ovarian cancer.

Evert shared the news in a Tweet on Friday.

“I wanted to share my stage 1 ovarian cancer diagnosis,” she said. “Thanks to all of you for respecting my need to focus on my health and treatment plan.”

The tennis legend, who made her debut at age 16 at the 1971 U.S. Open and is an 18-time Grand Slam winner who took home 157 singles titles and 32 doubles titles during her career, opened up in depth about her diagnosis in an ESPN article she co-wrote with friend and ESPN journalist Chris McKendry.

In the article, McKendry talks about the moment she learned Evert was diagnosed in a conversation she had with her over text.

“It was short, simple and yet so damn complicated. I got a text on Dec. 7,” McKendry wrote. “My friend Chrissie has cancer. The disease had killed her sister Jeanne. My god.”

McKendry details how Evert was nervous about her diagnosis, which was discovered following a preventive hysterectomy in early December.

“We thought we were being proactive,'” Evert told McKendry. But following the surgery, doctors told Evert that she would need to go back for lymph nodes and tissue samples. The pathology revealed malignant cells and a tumor in Evert’s left fallopian tube.

She had surgery again on Dec. 13 to see if the cancer was in its first or third stage.

During this period of waiting to see what the results were, Evert shared that it reminded her of her younger sister, Jeanne Evert Dubin, who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

For Dubin, also a former professional tennis player, it was late-stage ovarian cancer and it had spread. She died in February 2020 at the age of 62 after battling the disease for over two years.

Evert said that Dubin tested negative for harmful mutations of the BRCA1 gene.

Mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes increase the likelihood for developing breast or ovarian cancer in women, and, to a lesser extent, breast cancer in men, according to the National Cancer Institute, although the BRCA genes are not the only genes associated with breast/ovarian cancer.

The increasing likelihood of developing cancer from a BRCA mutation depends on the type of mutation.

After Jeanne’s diagnosis, the Evert family was notified of a change in the interpretation of Jeanne’s genetic report, which prompted Evert to send her blood for genetic testing. It revealed that she had a variant of the BRCA1 gene, which led her to undergo the preventive hysterectomy.

Evert learned she has stage 1 ovarian cancer, which after chemotherapy, could mean there is a 90% chance the cancer doesn’t return.

“I feel very lucky that they caught it early and expect positive results from my chemo plan,” she wrote on Twitter.

Evert, who is also an analyst for ESPN, will be covering the Australian Open remotely.

She said she hopes her story inspires women and men to be aware of their bodies and to get screened for cancer before it’s too late.

“‘We need to have these conversations,'” Evert told McKendry. “‘Ovarian cancer is a very deadly disease. Any information is power.'”

“‘Be your own advocate. Know your family’s history. Have total awareness of your body, follow your gut and be aware of changes,'” Evert added. “‘Don’t try to be a crusader and think: This will pass.'”

What women should know about ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries, which make female hormones and produce eggs, or in the nearby areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum, the tissue that lines your abdominal wall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78, while her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Ovarian cancer can affect females of all ages and races but is most common in women ages 63 and older and is more common in white women than Black women, according to the ACS.

While early signs of ovarian cancer can be vague, the main symptoms are abdominal pain or pelvic pain, bloating and an increase in urination, according to the CDC.

It is particularly important for women to pay attention to symptoms of ovarian cancer and speak openly with their doctor because there is currently no reliable way to screen for the disease.

In some cases, targeted use of pelvic scans and sonograms or a CA-125 blood test may be used to detect ovarian cancer, but additional testing is “not one size fits all and it is not recommended for all women,” said ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OBGYN.

Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, according to the CDC.

While there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are things associated with lowering the risk of getting ovarian cancer, including using birth control for five or more years, having given birth, breastfeeding, having had a hysterectomy, having had your ovaries removed and having had a tubal litigation, according to the CDC.

ABC News’ Katie Kindelan contributed to this report.

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CDC warns loosely woven cloth masks are ‘least protective’ against COVID

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(ATLANTA) — Any mask is better than no mask. But loosely woven cloth masks provide the least amount of protection and Americans in some cases might want to opt for higher quality masks like KN95 and N95 respirators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote Friday in updated online guidance.

“Wearing a highly protective mask or respirator may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease,” the CDC stated.

The updated guidance comes after weeks of health experts urging Americans to upgrade their masks in the face of omicron, warning that cloth masks are not effective enough at stopping the highly transmissible variant from spreading.

But with much of the public reluctant to wear a mask at all, the CDC recommendation stops short of calling on Americans to choose one mask over the other, maintaining that any mask is better than no mask. The CDC also argues that higher quality masks can be less comfortable, and if a person takes it off, they are left with no protection.

“What I will say is the best mask that you can wear is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long that you can tolerate in public indoor settings and tolerate where you need to wear it,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, told reporters this week.

N95 and K95 masks can be costly and harder to find, even as the U.S. government has built up a stockpile of 737 million N95s to ensure first responders don’t fun out. President Joe Biden said this week he is developing a plan to make the higher quality masks more widely available.

“Next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to the American people for free,” Biden said.

In its earlier guidance, the CDC urged Americans not to purchase surgical N95 masks so as to save them for health care workers. However, it noted that “basic disposable” respirators can be an option so long as supplies are available.

While this latest guidance stops short of calling on people to wear a certain type of mask, it includes more information about why a person might opt for a nonsurgical N95 or a KN95. It also suggests wearing a disposable surgical mask with a cloth mask over it to improve the fit.

“Some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection than others, and some may be harder to tolerate or wear consistently than others,” the CDC stated in the updated guidance. “It is most important to wear a well-fitted mask or respirator correctly that is comfortable for you and that provides good protection.”

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Debunking the idea viruses always evolve to become less virulent

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(NEW YORK) — As evidence mounts that the omicron variant is less deadly than prior COVID-19 strains, one oft-cited explanation is that viruses always evolve to become less virulent over time.

The problem, experts say, is that this theory has been soundly debunked.

The idea that infections tend to become less lethal over time was first proposed by notable bacteriologist Dr. Theobald Smith in the late 1800s. His theory about pathogen evolution was later dubbed the “law of declining virulence.”

Simple and elegant, Smith’s theory was that to ensure their own survival, pathogens evolve to stop killing their human hosts. Instead, they create only a mild infection, allowing people to walk around, spreading the virus further afield. Good for the virus, and, arguably, good for us.

But over the past 100 years, virologists have learned that virus evolution is more chaotic. Virus evolution is a game of chance, and less about grand design.

In some cases, viruses evolve to become more virulent.

Continued virus survival, spread and virulence are all about the evolutionary pressures of multiple factors, including the number of people available to infect, how long humans live after infection, the immune system response and time between infection and symptom onset.

Unfortunately, that means it’s nearly impossible to predict the future of the pandemic, because viruses don’t always evolve in a predictable pattern.

There have been thousands of identified COVID variants, each with unique mutations. But most new variants emerge and then quickly die out, unable to compete with the reigning dominant variant.

Some variants, however, have clear “advantages to continued survival, such as those that evade the immune system and spread easily,” said Dr. Abir Hussein, associate medical director for infection presentation and control at University of Washington Medical Center.

Experts warn that it is important to assess the severity of omicron in the context of existing immunity through vaccines and prior infections.

“It is difficult to determine with new variants like delta and omicron if variants are evolving to be more or less virulent. This is because these variants emerged at a time when we had a good deal of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in certain countries,” said Andrew Pekosz, a professor of microbiology at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

People who are vaccinated or recently infected will have milder symptoms if they experience a breakthrough infection or a reinfection, studies show.

“This is not because the variant is less virulent, but because your immune system was primed from prior vaccination and infection,” said Pekosz.

Experts say omicron should not be taken lightly or thought of as a less lethal form of COVID. Even if less deadly, the omicron variant is also significantly more transmissible, leading to more deaths overall.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that 22,000 more people could die of COVID-19 over the next two weeks.

People who are unvaccinated remain significantly more at-risk, with officials estimating they are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized and 20 times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared to people who are vaccinated.

“The available COVID vaccines provide immunity for a range of variants and continue to be the first line of defense,” said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

As for the future of the pandemic, experts say new variants may emerge in the future, but they won’t be easy to predict.

Jess Dawson, M.D., a masters of public health candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

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High school sports feel impact of omicron surge, from paused games to mask mandates

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(NEW YORK) — High school athletics are feeling the impact of the omicron surge, from paused games to restricted fans, amid a winter season that coaches and administrators already anticipated would pose challenges for indoor, close-contact sports.

Amid record COVID-19 cases in the U.S., schools are revisiting coronavirus protocols and guidelines to safely keep students playing in person. Teams have had to limit out-of-state travel due to transmission risks, or postpone in-league games due to cases. The Los Angeles school district, the second largest in the country, returned from winter break in person this week with a pause on all sports competitions due to surging cases.

Despite omicron, school officials are optimistic districts won’t experience the same level of disruption as last school year — when some programs saw abbreviated seasons, if any at all — thanks to measures like vaccination and social distancing.

“It has not risen to the level that high school sports across the nation are being disrupted to the point where they can’t go on,” Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities, told ABC News. “There’s never been an expressed need for shutdown because people know how to deal with it now.”

Readjusting schedules and protocols

Before the Los Angeles Unified School District returned to the classroom Tuesday following winter break, more than 65,000 public school staff and students had tested positive for COVID-19, for a positivity rate over 14%, according to district data. The school district temporarily paused all athletic competitions this week as it monitors cases, with student athletes allowed to practice outdoors while wearing a mask.

The district is also using this week to upgrade its health and safety protocols to be in compliance with stricter protocols from the county health department. Teams with four or more linked cases over a 14-day period are now required to suspend activities for a week.

“We will reevaluate our data and determine next steps before the end of the week,” the district said in a letter sent to families. “Our goal is to resume athletic competitions as soon as possible.”

As of Wednesday, the district did not have an update on its plans, a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson told ABC News.

Other entities have revised protocols amid the surge. In Washington state, all athletes and team personnel in high-risk sports are required to have regular COVID-19 testing regardless of vaccination status “in response to recent sports-related outbreaks,” health officials said. Testing frequency was also increased to three times weekly. Previously, schools were testing unvaccinated students twice a week.

The revised rules came after the state health department traced 200 COVID-19 cases to multiple wrestling tournaments in early December.

In Portland, Oregon, the school district made several changes to its COVID-19 protocols through at least early February to help stem the spread of the virus, including requirements that student-athletes wear masks at all times. For competitions, spectators ages 5 and up also now must show proof of being fully vaccinated or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.

Some schools have recently restricted the number of fans who can be in attendance. In Oahu, spectators are not allowed until further notice “based on the rising number of COVID-19 cases,” the Hawaiian island’s school sports association said.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, school officials are limiting crowds to just family members through Jan. 21 due to the uptick in cases in the community.

“The health department had anticipated the surge, and we’ve taken appropriate measures to try to limit as much of an impact as far as the spread of the virus,” Bill Curran, director of athletic programs for Fairfax County Public Schools, told ABC News.

Successes and challenges

Mitigation strategies have helped keep sports in play with only minor disruptions this year, Niehoff said. The measures have included protocols “big and small,” from widespread vaccination efforts to having multiple, sanitized basketballs at the ready during games, digital ticketing and concessions and frequent communication when potential postponements arise.

“If you’ve got a healthy school and then a school that can’t play, the healthy school goes and finds another healthy school and we get the game on,” she said. “We’ve been creative and supportive and a little safer, because we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”

Schools have gotten accustomed to being flexible during the pandemic, though it’s not without its challenges.

In New York City, sports programs this school year have had to react to evolving protocols around vaccination requirements, spectators and travel while seasons were about to start or underway.

For Shawn Mark, head coach of the South Shore boys’ basketball team in Brooklyn, limits on traveling to competitions outside the city have “hurt us.”

“To be the best you got to play against the best,” Mark told ABC News. “Sometimes it’s not always in New York City, you got to go out of town.”

All athletes in the New York City public school system — the largest in the nation — are required to be vaccinated in order to play.

The city’s public school enrollment has also dropped by about 17,000 students this year, according to preliminary data — posing another challenge as athletes have left the public school system or the city altogether, Mark said.

“They want to play, they don’t want any risk of what happened before, where a shutdown happens and then, you know, the season’s over,” he said.

Despite a couple postponements, Mark is optimistic that this season will continue.

Niehoff doesn’t expect schools to see the same level of disruption as last school year, as long as states and districts continue to exercise caution and vaccination numbers trend up.

“We are hearing a success story, obviously concerns as they arise, but they tend to be remediated pretty quickly,” Niehoff said.

Curran is “cautiously optimistic” as cases appear to be quieting down. After playing abbreviated schedules last school year, the school district has returned to its regular sports seasons.

“We are able to offer our program in a pretty meaningful way,” Curran said, noting that the impact on students’ overall health and well-being has been “phenomenal.” “We’ve seen some cancellations of games here and there throughout, but for the most part we’ve been able to keep things moving.”

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Gay men still face hurdles to donate blood amid national shortage

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(NEW YORK) — The U.S. is facing a national blood crisis, the “worst blood shortage in over a decade,” the American Red Cross warns. Despite this urgent need for donations, people who have sex with gay or bisexual men are still facing restrictions on their ability to give blood.

The Food and Drug Administration bars people who have had sex with gay or bisexual men from donating blood for three months following the most recent sexual contact because of fears of HIV in the blood supply.

The agency changed the deferral period from 12 months to three months in November 2020 as blood donations fell and hospitals faced critical shortages during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some advocates, including the HRC, say the FDA is moving too slowly on removing the restriction, saying that it’s an outright ban on the ability of people, particularly gay and bisexual men, to donate blood.

“Just like other individuals throughout the country, many people have sex on a regular basis, including with partners and spouses,” said Sarah McBride, the press secretary of the LGBTQ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign.

“It really amounts to being an effective ban, based on a person’s identity rather than an actual factor on the science,” she added.

In 2015, the guidance changed from a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral, and the FDA determines the guidance used by all U.S. blood collection organizations.

Restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, who are considered to be at high risk for HIV or AIDS transmission, date back to the 1980s.

Gay and bisexual men undergo individual risk assessments instead of time-based bans in countries around the world, recently including Greece and France, according to international reports. Italy, Israel, and several other countries have similar requirements.

In 2020, ABC News broke the story that several major blood donation organizations — including the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — announced that they are working together to study and provide data to the FDA to determine if eligibility based on an individual’s risk can replace the current time-based deferral system while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

Vitalant told ABC News in a new statement that researchers are halfway toward its goal of enrolling 2,000 participants across eight cities: Washington D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. They encourage gay and bisexual men who are 18 to 39 years old to participate in the research.

The FDA, in a statement to ABC News, said that this study could generate data that will help the agency determine if a donor’s individual risk assessment and questionnaire would be just as effective in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply as the time-based deferrals the FDA already has in place.

The FDA also said it does not have a specific timeline for when these studies will be completed but that it is “committed to gathering the scientific data that can support alternative donor deferral policies that maintain a high level of blood safety.”

The America Red Cross said that there is no clear data that would suggest that changing this blood donation policy would significantly increase the number of blood donations, but the organization says it does not intend to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

“We believe blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation and we’re committed to achieving this goal,” the American Red Cross said in a statement to ABC News.

However, according to the organization, doctors are now being forced to decide which patients receive blood transfusions and who is forced to wait due to the shortage. The organization says that “a lack of blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments.”

“Donors who are excluded solely on their membership in a group … doesn’t encourage safe sexual behaviors in the integrity of the population,” McBride, from HRC, said. “We want people to be engaged in safe sex practices. And we want to ensure that our blood supply is safe and sufficient.”

ABC News’ Tony Morrison contributed to this report.

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Study finds COVID-19 may increase risk of diabetes in kids: 3 things for parents to know

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(NEW YORK) — Kids who have recovered from COVID-19 may have an increased risk of developing diabetes, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, which looked at databases with information for over 2.5 million patients under 18, found that children diagnosed with COVID-19 were about 2.5 times more likely to receive a new diabetes diagnosis a month or more after infection.

The health care data, taken from the first full year of the coronavirus pandemic, showed that other, non-COVID-related infections were not found to be associated with increased risk of diabetes diagnosis, leading researchers to look for reasons for this possible link between COVID and diabetes diagnoses.

A possible link between COVID-19 and an increased risk of diabetes has also been found in adults. In June, two studies were released that showed the virus’s ability to infect pancreatic beta cells, decrease insulin secretion and effectively yield Type 1 diabetes.

In Type 1 diabetes, the body completely stops making insulin, requiring daily insulin injections, via shots or an insulin pump, to stay alive.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body continues to make insulin but develops insulin resistance, meaning the cells do not respond to insulin correctly.

The CDC’s new study on children ages 18 and under, released Friday, included cases of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in its analysis.

The new concern for kids comes as the United States continues to see its most significant COVID-19 infection surge yet, which is heavily impacting children.

Last week alone, 580,000 children tested positive for COVID-19, nearly three times more than two weeks prior, according to a weekly report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

Here are three things for parents to know about kids, COVID-19 and diabetes.

1. Not all kids with COVID will get diabetes.

Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., vice president of research for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on Type 1 diabetes research and advocacy, said parents should be aware that the new research shows an association between COVID-19 and diabetes, but does not identify how the virus could or whether it actually does increase the risk of diabetes in kids.

“I would not necessarily go about raising the alarm bell right now that it is increasing Type 1 diabetes,” said Dutta. “There is no mechanism yet to suggest that it is doing it or how it is doing it.”

The study did not include information about who may have had preexisting conditions that could lead to diabetes and did not include laboratory data confirming the new diagnoses.

The study also did not include people without commercial health insurance, which excludes over one-third of children in the U.S.

2. Getting vaccinated remains important.

The study’s findings highlight the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Currently, all children ages 5 and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Children ages 12 and older, and certain immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11, are also now eligible to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Pediatricians say the safety of the vaccine is far more proven than the uncertainty of potential complications from COVID-19 for kids.

“We have never had a vaccine that we’ve ever given, going back 100 years, that long-term suddenly something showed up that didn’t show up within the first two to three or four months,” Dr. Stanley Spinner, chief medical officer and vice president of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, told ABC News earlier this month. “So we are very comfortable about the safety long-term of these vaccines.”

“What we don’t know is what the long-term effects of COVID can be to kids, even when they get over it now,” he continued. “Parents need to know that if your child gets COVID and seems to be OK with it, great, but what’s going to happen maybe six months or a year or five years down the road, because we definitely don’t know.”

3. There are warning signs of diabetes to look for.

The CDC is urging parents, pediatricians and caregivers to be aware of the warning signs of diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes include thirst, hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision and fatigue, according to the CDC.

Dutta added that parents should watch for unusual behavior patterns in their kids.

“Any unusual pattern of change in behavior in a short window of time is what I would look out for as a sign of needing to consult a doctor,” he said. “It’s not intentional, but it’s very easy to overlook some of the signs of a disease.”

Concerned parents should contact their child’s medical provider, or in the case of an emergency, seek immediate help. A delay in diagnosis can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious complication of diabetes that can be life-threatening, according to Dutta.

A diabetes diagnosis can typically be made through a blood test.

ABC News’ Sony Salzman and Robert Rowe, a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit, contributed to this report.

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CDC to weigh in soon on whether Americans should upgrade their masks

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(ATLANTA) — After weeks of health experts urging Americans to upgrade their masks to protect against the omicron COVID-19 variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that it was planning to update its mask guidance to “best reflect the multiple options available to people and the different levels of protection they provide.”

In a statement provided to ABC News on Wednesday, the agency said the goal is for Americans to have “the best and most updated information to choose what mask is right for them.”

The move by the CDC would be the first significant update to its mask guidance since last July when it urged all Americans to return to wearing masks, after the delta variant proved so transmissible that research found even vaccinated people could transmit the virus.

While vaccinated people are considered infectious for a shorter period of time than someone who is unvaccinated, and they are considerably less likely to end up hospitalized, the CDC urged everyone to return to masking indoors to prevent community cases from rising.

Since the arrival of omicron, however, health experts have urged caution with the usual cloth masks and cities like Los Angeles and New York have already recommended mask upgrades to their residents.

CDC would not say how soon it planned to update its online guidance, although one administration official said the goal was by week’s end. The Washington Post first reported that CDC was considering the update to its guidance.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, told reporters on Wednesday that the overall recommendation won’t change that “any mask is better than no mask” and that a mask should fit well.

The best mask, she told reporters, is “the one you can keep on all day long that you can tolerate in public indoor settings and tolerate where you need to wear it,” Walensky said.

“I recommend you get the highest quality mask that you can tolerate and that’s available to you,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President Joe Biden’s senior medical adviser, told CNN on Tuesday.

One problem with pushing higher grade masks is that they can be costly, harder to find and – in the case of surgical N95s – somewhat uncomfortable to wear. The CDC also warns customers against counterfeit masks that aren’t as effective.

Prior to omicron, Walensky resisted a call for Americans to wear surgical N95 masks for the average American because the agency didn’t want to discourage people from wearing any mask.

Walensky did not wear an N95 mask while testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday. According to a spokesperson, she wore a disposable mask with a cloth mask on top “to ensure a tight seal.” That would be in keeping with CDC’s current guidance that suggests Americans could opt for two masks for increased protection.

To address the issue of limited supply, the Biden administration says it’s planning to help ramp up production of N95s to make them more available to Americans who want one. Dawn O’Connell, a top official at the Health and Human Services Department, said Tuesday that the government planned to sign a contract within the next month or so that would identify a provider to produce 140 million N95 masks a month.

There are already 737 million N95 masks in the strategic national stockpile available for medical workers.

White House COVID Coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday the White House was seriously considering making “high quality masks” available to all Americans, although he did not provide additional details.

ABC News reporter Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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