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Leadership Through Unprecedented Uncertainty

Being an early career professional in health and science means moving along a continuum of learning and leading. The moment you clear a hurdle, you’re a mentor for people following you. Remember “see one, do one, teach one”? There’s the learning-leading continuum in action. Every day of our working lives, we are becoming leaders as we continue to learn.

For the past month, give or take, the U.S. has been in the midst of a panicked response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have been scrambling to respond to rapidly changing conditions with scarce information and mixed messages from government and global bodies. Schools and healthcare organizations, where many of us work, have been particularly impacted. I have felt this stress acutely, as I’m sure many of you have. Will we be caring for affected patients? Will our PPE and medical supplies last? Will our research be put on hold? Will our students be able to graduate? Will we or our loved ones fall ill?

Even as our own anxiety ramps up, we may find ourselves needing our fledgling leadership skills more than ever. The public looks to us as experts. Patients look to us for guidance and comfort. Our students look to us for direction. Staff who work in our facilities look to us for instructions. How can we be there for these folks, even if we don’t feel all there ourselves? Here are some ideas:

  • Be present: find safe ways to be available, whether you’re on the ground, on video chat, sending emails, or anything else you dream up. Let people know they can talk to you and you’re there.
  • Be informed: Stay up to date, find sources of information you trust, and read with intention. This practice can help you be a source of authority and comfort when so much around us is chaotic.
  • Be honest: it’s OK to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know— especially if the next part is “but I promise to do my best.”
  • Be kind: Every person you interact with is facing stress now. Treat them kindly. Ask how they are, and listen to the answer. Allow a little grace where you might otherwise stick to strictly business.
  • Be transparent: If you are working on a plan, say so. If things might change, say so. If you are waiting on a person or a step that can’t be rushed, say so.
  • Be human: you don’t have to be a robot. People can see that you, too, are anxious or uncertain, and that doesn’t undermine your ability to lead. People can see that you have kids, or pets, or a partner, or dirty dishes. Sharing your self can be one of the most powerful ways to connect.

Ultimately, everyone is seeking stability, comfort, and connection. Much of this is beyond our control, but even a little leadership presence goes a long way.

Stay safe, friends, and may you come through these hard times with grace and wisdom.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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#COVID-19: Universal Mask Policy, Universally, Now.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc in major American cities over the past few weeks, particularly in New York City, a common refrain from health care workers (HCWs) on the front line continues to be: “Get Us Personal Protective Equipment (#GetUsPPE).” Yet intertwined in this tragedy of a gross undersupply of PPE has been the problem of mixed messages about the level of PPE that should be used by HCWs, which stemmed from dynamically changing recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Ultimately, the current CDC recommendations, which advise the use of surgical masks when with a symptomatic COVID-19 patient and N95 masks only during aerosolizing procedures, were borne primarily out of an anticipated shortage of PPE, and these recommendations differ from earlier ones that recommended N95-level masks whenever with a patient with suspected COVID-19. Justification for this effective reduction in PPE levels stemmed from the CDC’s thought that COVID-19 is primarily spread via droplet transmission.

In light of this CDC guidance, many hospitals implemented policies that similarly aimed to preserve PPE supply, anchoring on the notion that COVID-19 is transmitted by symptomatic patients via droplets. Many of these policies restricted hospital staff from wearing masks outside of patient rooms, and ultimately led to numerous reports of staff (including house staff trainees) being reprimanded for doing so.

Yet as hospitals in countries like Italy and Spain and in major American cities such as Boston are experiencing alarming numbers of their HCWs test positive for COVID-19, it is crucial for us to reassess whether our current PPE policies are adequate to protect HCWs from infection and to prevent nosocomial spread. Indeed, prominent academic medical centers such as Partners Healthcare, University of Pennsylvania, New York Presbyterian, and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have already adopted a “Universal Mask Policy” to help address this vital issue.

In order for us to more effectively contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our communities, I strongly believe that all hospitals should adopt a Universal Mask Policy, in which hospital staff are required to wear surgical masks in all areas of the hospital. This step is crucial for the safety of our team members, our colleagues, and our patients.

My belief stems from the following:

  • Precedent from countries with effective control: On March 18th, the American College of Cardiology held a joint teleconference with the leadership from the Chinese Cardiovascular Association, which included a section on recommendations from their physician leaders on how to adequately control COVID-19 spread at our hospitals in the U.S. They strongly urged us to wear surgical masks in all areas of the hospital, and they also used N95 masks during all encounters with patients with suspected COVID-19. They felt these measures were pivotal in their ability to protect their staff members and control the rampant spread of the virus throughout their hospitals. Further, the Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. George Gao, told Science that it is a “big mistake” that people in the U.S. are not wearing masks everywhere in public, let alone not wearing them everywhere in the hospital. Similar public masking policies are in place in South Korea, Japan, and Singapore, where COVID-19 disease spread has also been more effectively controlled.
  • Likelihood of asymptomatic spread among HCWs in the hospital: It is becoming increasingly clear in the literature that a large portion of the disease spread is from asymptomatic individuals (Li et al, Science, March 16, 2020; CDC MMWR March 27, 2020),  with a long incubation time of 5 days median (Lauer et al, Ann Intern Med, March 10, 2020). Hospital staff, who are only advised to stay home from work if symptomatic, may still present to work asymptomatic but infected and contagious. Without at least wearing a surgical mask throughout the hospital, we are at increased risk of spreading infection among each other.
  • Transmission by talking: By the nature of our work, we are not used to routinely standing 6 feet away from each other in the hospital as we communicate; in a small Twitter survey, >60% of respondents said that #SocialDistancing is not currently practiced in their hospital. Further, we are all touching common surfaces (e.g., keyboards, computer mice, phones) that will inevitably carry droplets that are inevitably spread from unmasked mouths when we talk. While surgical masks are not the perfect solution to filter out the droplets emitted from our mouths when we talk, cough, or sneeze, they undoubtedly reduce emission into the ambient air around us (Figure 1) and should reduce the likelihood of asymptomatic hospital staff from transmitting infection among each other and to our patients.

 

Figure 1: Two-way protection provided by masks (from Medium blog post by Sui Huang, MD, PhD at the Institute for Systems Biology)

In summary, I urge all hospitals to implement a Universal Mask Policy to account for these data and expert recommendations. As mentioned above, the lack of a clear, effective message has led to conflict between care teams, leading to discord at a time when unity is so critical. Although no randomized clinical trial has yet to show that a Universal Mask Policy is the most effective way to reduce nosocomial transmission of COVID-19, the “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

When there is enough reason to believe that a Universal Mask Policy should help to protect our staff and patients, we need to err on the side of safety when the consequences are life- and livelihood-threatening. While anticipated mask shortage is clearly an issue, the remarkable resourcefulness, philanthropy, and ingenuity of our communities will come through.

In the meantime, we need a Universal Mask Policy to protect us. We need a Universal Mask Policy to unite us. We need a Universal Mask Policy now.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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Social distancing in the time of COVID-19

I was just getting to work when I received a text from one of my chiefs, “can you call me?”. Not usually the start of a conversation you want to have. A person I had been exposed to had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and they suggested I put a facemask on and head home to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms. Walking to my car, I realized I couldn’t stop at a friend’s apartment or my parent’s house for coffee or to decompress. The social distance hit me.

At home we had already been staying in, washing our hands, and seeing the “flatten the curve” graphs floating around twitter and online. But going to work still provided a sense of normalcy, and my social distancing felt more like a choice than an obligation. Over the next few days, keeping in touch with friends, family, and co-workers via iMessage, Whatsapp, or Zoom really helped close that social gap I felt as I was driving home. Keeping my social distance from others has given me a new found respect for what our global community is really doing to fight this thing.

 

[1]           

This past week I’ve been amazed not only at how empty the roads have been, but by how many more people I’ve seen out walking their dogs, jogging, or riding bicycles. When I get back into the clinic, I’m looking forward to talking to patients about how they’re incorporating physical activity among the other AHA Life’s Simple 7 lifestyle changes into their new routines [2]. Unfortunately, in many places around the world curves aren’t flattening yet. All the more reason to stay home and give our healthcare workers and their patients a fighting chance.

 

References:

  1. Attribution: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Covid-19-curves-graphic-social-v3.gif
  2. The American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” cardiovascular health risk factors that people can improve though lifestyle changes https://www.heart.org/en/professional/workplace-health/lifes-simple-7

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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COVID-19 Pandemic: 5 lessons about the way we practice medicine

I know that this blog was supposed to be Part 3 of the “building an academic portfolio during medical training” series, however, it’s very difficult these days to talk about anything other than COVID-19. This pandemic that has taken the whole world by storm, and reminded us all about how fragile our whole world is! Amidst all the angst and frustration, it is important to focus on positively learning from such an unprecedented experience in our lifetime. The lessons are innumerable, yet I wanted to share with you 5 points that, in my humble opinion, were highlighted by these extraordinary circumstances:

  1. Telehealth is no longer a luxury. Despite having the technology available for years, the health industry has been lagging behind when it comes to telehealth. It took a pandemic and thousands of lives for us to realize that most of the outpatient services we provide (and arguably some of the inpatient ones even) can safely be delivered virtually. The degree of disruption to one’s life and the time wasted outside the actual doctor’s visit, between taking time off from work, physically making it to the medical facility, parking, checking-in, and so forth, can easily be omitted by a technology that is readily available but we have been reluctant to use (or don’t have insurance approval to do so). There will always be a place for in-person visits, but at least we would have more time for patients that actually need to be seen in-person.
  2. Many hospitalizations and tests are unnecessary. As the pandemic worsens, physicians started to be judicious with ordering tests that require moving patients around the hospital. They also started thinking twice about who needs to be in the hospital, to begin with. We are now realizing how many tests and hospitalizations can safely be avoided, and I am hoping that we will carry these revelations with us as we move past the current circumstances.
  3. Incorporating research into clinical practice needs to be seamless. Despite major advances, the way we conduct research has not yet been optimally incorporated into our daily clinical activities. We are in desperate need to develop the necessary infrastructure that instantaneously translates patient-care input into organized data that can be used to improve the way we manage our patients. Ideally quickly enough to potentially help some of the patients who generated these data. This necessary infrastructure also extends to research regulations, which need to strike the appropriate balance between scrutiny and practicality.
  4. In a world of “evidence-based medicine”, clinical acumen remains paramount. The sudden exposure to this COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all that often times, as physicians, we are required to operate in evidence-free zones. As much as we need to always look for evidence behind everything we do in medicine, it is essential not to forget that taking care of patients is both a science and an art. And this is why physicians can never be replaced by computers.
  5. Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure. With the great technological and pharmaceutical advances, we tend to develop great confidence in our ability to improve life expectancy. This is particularly true in procedural fields such as Cardiology. Then comes a sobering pandemic, to remind us that when it comes to public health, prevention always wins! Fortunately, we rarely need drastic measures such as quarantines and social distancing. But addressing smoking, obesity and blood pressure control will always have much more impact on our community than stents and ablations.

We will continue to learn from this world tragedy – lessons in medicine, philosophy and life in general. But, above all, this is a reminder of how noble and unique our healthcare profession is. Stay safe everyone!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

 

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The COVID-19 pandemic: In this together, a call for collective responsibility

On March 11 2020, following a 13-fold rise in COVID-19 cases outside China, the WHO declared the disease a pandemic. The novel coronavirus is now spreading in exponential proportions across the globe, crippling even some of the best healthcare systems. There are unprecedented events: there’s a sense of uncertainty, and for most of my generation, this is the “war” of our time. Times like these also call for a collective responsibility, for each of us to do our part. We are in this together, for the long haul. And I mean that in the most literal, least metaphorical way possible.

The epidemiology explained

An epidemiological study of the outbreak in China estimated the basic reproduction number (R0) of COVID-19 to be 2.68. 1 That essentially means that early on, every COVID-19 infected person can transmit the disease to an average of 2.5 others.

The epidemic doubling time of COVID-19 is 6.4 days.1 That means every 6-7 days, the number of cases increases by a factor of two. Exponential growthThis is the reason why the spread can be seemingly slow initially, only to lead to a sudden outbreak in a matter of days to weeks. It’s also why reducing transmission as early on in the outbreak as possible can dramatically reduce this exponential explosion of cases.

 Social distancing & “flattening the curve”

Social distancing is key to slowing down rates of transmission and might very well be the most responsible act in the face of this pandemic. This includes keeping a safe distance (at least six feet) between others, avoiding social gatherings, public transport, non-essential travel/ commutes and working from home, if one can. Needless to say, these measures must be accompanied by the consistent practice of healthy hygiene.

And it works: these simulation graphics by Harry Stevens of the Washington Post are a superb demonstration of the impact of social distancing on halting disease transmissions.2

The concept of “flattening the curve” alludes to reducing the number of cases over time by slowing the rate of transmission of the disease so that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed beyond capacity. COVID -19 can be fatal in anyone, with the elderly and those with comorbidities such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases at higher risk of severe infection.3 Latest reports from the WHO now emphasize that young people are not off the hook either, with data from countries showing that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization.4

The fundamental idea of social distancing is to reduce disease transmission to EVERYONE, not just oneself. The incentive is not just preventing oneself from catching it. Even seemingly healthy individuals might develop a milder or asymptomatic form of the disease, retaining the ability to transmit it to the elderly (the worst hit) and other vulnerable groups they encounter, including young people. This leads to a rapid growth of the pandemic, overwhelming the healthcare systems beyond their capacities. An overwhelmed health care system will not be able to treat all the COVID-19 cases coming its way, and will also be limited in resources to care for someone who has a heart attack, an accident or cancer.

However, turns out staying at home is easier said than done, with some still struggling to grasp the concept. “I’ll just be a while, what can happen?” they’ll say. At a time, where testing for COVID-19 is also rationed, staying away from large gatherings is ever so much more important, especially when one shows symptoms. In the fascinating case of Patient 31 of South Korea, we see the dangerous potential of a “super-spreader” phenomenon, in a 61-year-old woman who by virtue of attending religious gatherings prior to testing positive for COVID-19, transmitted the disease in large clusters, leading to a sudden surge of cases in South Korea.5

Sharing information: Responsible information, not misinformation

In a pandemic such as this, there’s also a tendency for rampant misinformation, easily transmitted through social media channels. This calls for the responsible dissemination of information, and while this is applicable to everyone, the onus is more so on healthcare personnel.

Social media can be used positively and responsibly to educate the public and refute myths: platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are proving to be a great way for healthcare personnel to reach out to communities, explain epidemiology and create awareness of healthy practices during this pandemic. The WHO website has also detailed some of the more common myth-busters: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

Keep updated

With the volatility of the situation and the torrent of information flooding in from multiple sources, it can be difficult to sift between what’s reliable and what isn’t. These are some reliable channels you can turn to for correct information and updates. It’s also important to seek out your local source of information depending on geographic location.

Show solidarity

Check on your elderly friends and relatives. Refrain from hoarding essential items, thereby potentially creating a shortage, making things difficult for senior citizens and those living on a daily wage.

 Donate

The economy has taken a hit, but the hit on health care is bigger. With severe shortages of essential items, those of us with the capacity to donate locally, in whatever way we can, should be doing so. The WHO also has a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/donate

 Check on your colleagues

For healthcare personnel and their families, this can be a particularly overwhelming time. Some of us may not be on the frontlines, but have friends and family who are. Just those words, “on the frontlines”, sends a chill down my spine.

But that’s exactly what this is. War. War against a common enemy. And when you’re going to war, you don’t make light of the prep.

Which brings to mind this brilliantly appropriate quote by Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007:

 “Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate. This is the dilemma we face, but it should not stop us from doing what we can to prepare. We need to reach out to everyone with words that inform, but not inflame. We need to encourage everyone to prepare, but not panic.”

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. In this global healthcare crisis and the ultimate test of our times, it is on all of us to be responsible.

References

  1. Wu JT, Leung k, Leung GM. Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study. Lancet 2020; 395: 689–97
  2. Stevens H. Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”. The Washington Post March 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/?fbclid=IwAR1ALnyJWXEcBIIh1qFvz1a3JMCtAQP0_jvYIKIRqBnrKpjDKn-sEo1J39A
  3. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness? https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html
  4. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 20 March 2020. https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—20-march-2020
  5. The Korean Clusters. How coronavirus cases exploded in South Korean churches and hospitals. Via Reuters Graphics. Updated March 3, 2020. https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-SOUTHKOREA-CLUSTERS/0100B5G33SB/index.html

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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COVID-19; Patients with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)

This week, the ACHA (American Congenital Heart Association) hosted a webinar in regards to Coronavirus aka SARS-CoV-2, and the illness it causes, COVID-19, 3,000 attended (view the recording here.) CHD patients, parents of CHD patients and CHD providers had the same question, how does this virus affect this special population? Unfortunately, the data is lacking on coronavirus those with CHD and there is a lot we don’t know.

A recent study1 in China looked at 2143 pediatric patients with COVID-19, the majority (94.1%) were asymptomatic or mild, more severe cases, were seen in infants (<1 year old) than older children, and there was only one death. This study lacks details, such as what other medical conditions they may have. Severe cases were 5.9% compared to 18.5% in adult population studies. Although reassuring for the general pediatric population, we still don’t know how this applies to pediatric patients in the United States and those with CHD.

What we do know.

There is a trend toward overgeneralization of “heart disease,” particularly in the media. It has been noted that the COVID-19 affects older adults and those with “heart disease,” meaning cardiovascular disease(CVD), such as coronary artery disease and hypertension, more severely.2 This does not include Congenital Heart Disease.

The virus may also cause myocardial injury, with reports of myocarditis and arrhythmias in those with severe cases.2-4 The effect is thought to be related to Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2(ACE2), which, in animal studies, has a role in the cardiovascular, and immune system and has been identified as a functional receptor for coronaviruses.2,3

Many patients with CVD and CHD take a medication known as ACE inhibitors or an Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs). The use of these medications is common in both populations, but for different indications, as their “heart disease” is not the same. There are trials assessing the use of these medications and effect on COVID19 in adults, and varying theories on whether they are protective or not, with that said, the HFSA/ACC/AHA currently recommends continuing these medications as prescribed.5

Are patients with CHD considered high risk?

The answer is we don’t know. With a wide range of congenital heart disease, from repaired/“normal” hearts, to those with altered blood flow, lung abnormalities, and arrhythmias. As  mentioned, the CDC places those with “heart disease,” meaning those with CVD, and older adults, at high risk of severe illness,6 this does not include CHD, however, CHD patients aren’t immune to CVD and if a patient has CVD and also CHD they are considered high risk.

With data lacking in many populations, it is important for those considered at high risk for other viruses, like influenza, such as CHD, asthma and those who are immunocompromised, to take appropriate precautions. It is better to be over prepared and over cautious.

Follow up and Communication.

CHD patients should keep in close contact with their medical team and stay updated with recommendations of their team and the CDC (found in detail here), like social distancing, good hand hygiene and staying home if you are sick. Concerning symptoms that require further evaluation include shortness of breath (or fast breathing in infants), chest pain, and palpitations.

 As far as visiting your doctor, you will likely be asked to either re-schedule or have a telephone visit. You can ask your medical team about this option and even anticipate it for the next few months. Elective procedures, catheterizations and imaging will likely be delayed. If one good thing comes out of this pandemic, it may be better options and availability for telemedicine in the future.

Keep your Mind Healthy

Use this time to support your mental health— pay attention to the news and social media, but set timers so you don’t over-saturate yourself. Find the book you’ve had on your shelves that you’ve been too busy for and set aside time every day to read, call or FaceTime friends, and maybe even fill up your bathtub and relax!

Meditation and exercise are also great options, and many apps offer free trials. Calm and Headspace have some free mediation content and free trials. Peloton & DailyBurn offer free day trials with a variety of classes(Tip: If you do choose a free trial, be sure to set an alarm on your calendar before the free trial is over so you can choose if it’s worth continuing for a fee or not.) There are also options to support your local gyms and studies virtually with on demand classes, just check out their websites and/or Instagram.

There is so much unknown, which causes us to worry and discomfort, but we are learning more each day. Stay informed, stay safe, wash your hands and try to keep your mental health in check.

For more on coronavirus and heart health, read Noora Aljerhi’s blog (3/9/2020) on the early career voice.

  1. Dong, Yuanyuan, et al. “Epidemiological Characteristics of 2143 Pediatric Patients with 2019 Coronavirus Disease in China.” Pediatrics, 2020, doi:10.1542/peds.2020-0702.
  2. Hui, Hui, et al. “Clinical and Radiographic Features of Cardiac Injury in Patients with 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia.” 2020, doi:10.1101/2020.02.24.20027052.
  3. Zheng, Ying-Ying, et al. “COVID-19 and the Cardiovascular System.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 5 Mar. 2020, nature.com/articles/s41569-020-0360-5?code=85e25438-46d1-4753-bfdd-84496a98b564.
  4. Hu, Hongde, et al. “Coronavirus Fulminant Myocarditis Saved with Glucocorticoid and Human Immunoglobulin.” European Heart Journal, 2020, doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa190.HFS/ACC/AHA statement
  5. “HFSA/ACC/AHA Statement Addresses Concerns Re: Using RAAS Antagonists in COVID-19.” American College of Cardiology, 17 Mar. 2020, acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2020/03/17/08/59/hfsa-acc-aha-statement-addresses-concerns-re-using-raas-antagonists-in-covid-19.
  6. “If You Are at Higher Risk.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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When the band stops….

If you don’t normally read my Early Career columns you should know two things about me to understand the context of this piece:  1) I am a nurse and 2) My day job is as a researcher examining how to improve heart health in adults living with HIV.

The first time I heard of HIV was when my middle school health teacher played the movie “And the Band Played On”. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, it’s the story of early years of the HIV crisis in America. Yes, it’s about the intersection on politics and health in the face of an unknown virus spreading among marginalized and vulnerable people. But it’s also about how scientists, health care professionals, advocates, and people from all walks of life come together to create a groundswell of tangible support and change for those infected with and affected by HIV.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this film these days in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. When every day I wake up wondering what the headlines will be and every song on the radio, speech, and swing of the stock market seems fraught with apocalyptic symbolism. There is a pervasive, and understandable, fear of the unknown, desire for control, and for some an insidious need to blame others for disease.  And then there is the grief. The grief not only for those who have and will succumb to this virus. But the widely felt grief that life will never be the same as it was before COVID-19 came into our consciousness.  It reminds me of how patients and caregivers have described the early years of the HIV epidemic.

But in the 40 years since the HIV epidemic what have we learned that can help us today? I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this but here those I’ve been thinking about.

  • Trust science. It’s a very human instinct to believe in quick cures and conspiracy theories but the only thing that will help us understand how to prevent, mitigate, and treat COVID-19 is science. Science is a careful, systematic, data-driven and rigorous process by which hypotheses are developed, tested, refined and re-tested until we have the answer. This is how we developed the first HIV tests and highly effective HIV medications, and it is also how we are slowly inching forward towards an HIV vaccine. This is how we are now developing a test for COVID-19, how we will develop treatments, and eventually how we will develop a vaccine. Do your best to ignore any advice, product, or theory you hear that is not grounded in the scientific method and widely shared by reputable scientists.
  • Be kind. People are going to say and do things you don’t agree with a lot over the next few months. People are going to be stressed out with new family, work, financial and social pressures. We are undoubtedly going to be asked to give more up than we have had to give in maybe a generation. Some of us are going to have to work more hours than we thought possible (at least since work hour restrictions were enacted). So, while it’s going to be hard, we need to take extra care to be kind to one another—to say kind things; restrict the sarcasm, judgment and unsolicited advice (in person and on social media); drive a little more calmly; and simply find ways to share kindness to your family, community, team, and neighbors at a responsible distance.
  • The band is more than the conductor. To get through this pandemic, we will need to draw on the skill sets of many. We need those skilled laborers who work to manufacture personal protective equipment, delivery teams who make sure the equipment gets where it needs to go, we need people to sanitize and stock grocery stores, we need musicians and artists to remind us to see the beauty in the world around us, and telecommunications staff to make sure the internet works. And in health care settings—the epicenter of the pandemic—we need food service workers, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff, administrators, pharmacists, social workers, schedulers, faith leaders, nurses, advanced practice professionals, and physicians.  They are part of a health care machine that will keep us safe and ensure that many of us never see the worst of this disease. Few chose these jobs anticipating high salaries, professional autonomy, or glory, and many will not be publically acclaimed as heroes for their critical contribution during this time. But like all front line soldiers, they deserve our respect, honesty, protection and acknowledgment; and we must encourage those who are leading during this time to recognize this valuable work.

The title “And The Band Plays On” refers to a society that by and large ignored the early AIDS epidemic which led to increased transmission of HIV and countless deaths. Despite some similarly notable fumbles by political leaders, the COVID-19 epidemic is not the early HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the span of less than a week, hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe have listened, learned, and stopped in an effort to decrease transmission and reduce deaths. We don’t yet know if these actions will work, and we may never fully understand their impact.  That we collectively acted (or in this case stopped acting) tells me that we will weather the next few months as long as we do so together.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

 

 

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How Coronavirus (COVID-19) can affect your heart health?

The rapid spread of the coronavirus (now known as COVID-19) has sparked a global alarm. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a state of public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), as many countries are grappling with a rise in the number of confirmed cases. As of March 5th 2020, data from WHO have shown that more than 95,499 confirmed cases have been identified in 84 countries/territories with more than > 99% of the cases emerging from China1. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have increased the risk from Coronavirus spread to level 3 and advised against non-essential travels to China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea. “It is not so much a questions of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness” said Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus (CoV) are a large family of viruses that causes illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-Cov). A novel coronavirus (nCov) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronavirus are zoonotic, meaning they can transmit between animals (such as bats, cats, camel, and cattle) and human.

What is the clinical profile of COVID-19 infection?

 Coronavirus infection is spread from human-to-human via droplets or direct contact. The infection is estimated to have a mean incubation period of 6.4 days (0-27 days), and a basic reproduction number of 2.24-3.58. Fever was the most common clinical feature followed by cough, shortness of breath, body ache, headache, and sore throat. There have been reports of gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) before respiratory symptoms occur, but this is largely a respiratory virus. Those who have the virus may not have obvious symptoms (asymptomatic), or may have symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In some cases, the virus could be life-threatening. Older adults are less likely to present with fever, thus close assessment of these group of patients with other symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath is critical.

What are the cardiac Implications of COVID-19?

Early reports show that 50% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had an underlying chronic medical illness, 80% of which are cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) issued a bulletin recently to warn patients with heart disease about their potential risk for complications if they contracted the disease. This does not mean that patients with cardiovascular disease or with cerebrovascular disease are at increased risk of getting coronavirus. However, they should practice additional precautions, since they are at great risk for complications. Nearly 20% of people developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) according to a case report of Wuhan hospitalized patients. In addition, 7.2% of patients developed acute cardiac injury, 8.7% shock, 3.6% developed acute kidney injury, and 16.7% developed arrhythmia. Several unpublished first-hand reports suggest at least some patients develop myocarditis. Therefore, it would be reasonable to triage patients with COVID-19 infection according to the presence of underlying cardiovascular disease, renal disease, respiratory and other chronic diseases for prioritized treatment.

Several experts suggested rigorous use of guideline-directed plaque stabilizers (such as ACE-inhibitors, Statin, Beta-blockers, Aspirin) as it could protect cardiovascular patients during wide-spread outbreak of the virus. Furthermore, it is important for patients with cardiovascular disease to remain up to date with vaccination, including pneumococcal vaccine given the risk of secondary bacterial infection. It would be also crucial to receive the influenza vaccine to prevent any other sources of fever which could be initially confused with coronavirus infection.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has become a global clinical and public health threat. Knowledge about this novel virus remains limited. What we can do now is aggressively implement infection control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via human- to- human transmission.

References:

  1. World Health Organization declares Global Emergency: A review of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), International Journal of Surgery, (March 2020)
  2. Travel Health Notices: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices#travel-notice-definitions
  3. Chen H, Zhou M, Dong X, et al. Epidemiological and Clinical Characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study. Lancet 2020; published online January 29. https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930211-7
  4. Wang D, Hu B, Hu C, et al.Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients with2019 Novel Coronavirus- Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China. JAMA. Published online February 07, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1585
  5. Cardiac Implications of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): https://www.acc.org/~/media/665AFA1E710B4B3293138D14BE8D1213.pdf

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”