Newswise — Gaming Helps Front-Line Health Care Workers Recharge from Pandemic Stress
During the lockdown with COVID-19 restrictions in place, an interactive gaming room built to accelerate stroke patient recovery in The Johns Hopkins Hospital wasn’t getting much use. The therapists and neurologists running the gaming room decided to make the room available to staff treating COVID-19 patients to allow them to decompress.
Once in the immersive treatment room, it’s easy to forget you’re in a hospital. On one wall is a projected underwater seascape where a user’s arm movements maneuver dolphins and whales to eat fish and fight off sharks. The music from the game blocks out the chatter, shuffling steps, beeping machines and other typical noises heard around a hospital ward.
“We recognized that staff could be stressed at this time, and opening up the room gave them an opportunity to exercise, meditate and just have some time away from the hospital setting,” says Kelly Jordan, a physical therapist with the team. “This escape gives staff a mental boost and relaxes them so they can be better providers.”
The gaming room originally was set up to expedite patient recovery and reduce disability following a stroke. The team effort between engineers, neurologists and therapists is funded by the Sheikh Khalifa Stroke Institute. The game used in the treatment room was originally designed by the Kata Design Studio at Johns Hopkins, and is available as an app, too.
Occupational therapists Jordan and Sandra Deluzio can speak with media on opening up the game room to health care workers. Nurse Chevel Brown can discuss how the room has helped her de-stress during the pandemic.
Mona Bahouth, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Brain Rescue Unit and early stroke recovery group, is available to speak with reporters about the stroke unit of the future and innovative efforts to improve patient recovery.
Flu Season Returns As the Covid-19 Pandemic Continues
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues with no end in sight, the annual flu season emerges once again. Cases of the flu have already begun to surface around the nation, and there are some reports of co-infection with COVID-19. Johns Hopkins Medicine experts say now is the time to take action to fight against the flu. Doctors recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get the flu vaccine each year to prevent infection from the virus or reduce the severity of the illness.
“The merging of the COVID-19 pandemic and the annual flu season this fall and winter is a cause for concern and preparation,” says Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “By ensuring all of us take necessary precautions, such as getting a flu vaccine now, we will be prepared before the peak of the flu season. This will also help reduce the amount of flu spreading, which in turn, reduces the burden on the overall health care system already dealing with COVID-19.”
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious viral respiratory illness caused by different strains of the influenza virus. It is spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with an infected person. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but generally include coughing, congestion, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint aches and fatigue.
Maragakis says the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but they have similar symptoms, are highly contagious, spread in a similar manner and can affect your lungs and breathing.
Cases of the flu and COVID-19 can range from mild to serious, and both can lead to hospitalization or even death.
Maragakis and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center pediatrician Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S., associate hospital epidemiologist for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, are available to speak with media about the flu and COVID-19 as well as the importance of prevention measures, such as getting a flu vaccine.
Wear a Face Mask; Lock up Your Guns
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to learn new habits, such as wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the disease. Here’s another important practice: safely locking up your guns.
While the school year has started again, many children are continuing to learn virtually — and may not be attending classroom sessions for as long as they would be if they were going to school in person.
Katherine Hoops, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, who specializes in pediatrics, says the pandemic has brought forth challenges in which many children are finding themselves with more unsupervised time at home than ever before. “Many children are still socially isolated and may be struggling with anxiety or depression,” she says.
During the pandemic, gun sales, especially among first-time buyers, have also surged. The FBI reports completing a record number of firearm background checks required to purchase a gun so far this year. March, June and July 2020 each had the most checks for one month on record. Hoops also says several large cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, are reporting increases in gun-related violence.
Research shows that only about 46% of gun owners safely store all their guns. Safe gun storage has been proven to reduce suicide and unintentional injuries by teenagers, children and others.
“The safest home for children is a home without guns,” Hoops says. “But for homes where guns are present, at a minimum, guns should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition.” Guns can also be stored with an external locking device, such as a cable lock, or by placing the unloaded gun into a locked gun safe.
Even as many people are quarantining, Hoops recommends going the extra step to ask friends and loved ones whose houses your children may visit about firearms in their homes and whether they are safely stored.
“All parents want their children to be safe and healthy,” Hoops says. “As we continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must also remember to protect our children from other potential risks. Safely storing guns can keep children, teens and others from accessing guns and keep families from suffering a devastating loss.”
Hoops, who is also part of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is available for media interviews on the importance of gun safety.
Converting a Common Device to a COVID-19 Detector
A trio of Johns Hopkins scientists — a pharmacologist, a biomedical engineer and a biophysicist — are pooling their knowledge to design a device that can detect whether a person has antibodies linked to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are tiny proteins that the immune system produces to “remember” viral encounters and provide immunity to future infections.
To develop an antibody detector that can be deployed rapidly and inexpensively across the globe, the researchers got their inspiration from a test that is already used by millions of people: a glucose monitor.
People with diabetes use glucose monitors to measure their blood sugar levels by taking a tiny prick of blood from their finger and placing it on a paper test strip that is inserted into the monitor. This same type of tool could be reconfigured to detect glucose in a series of chemical reactions that occur when antibodies are detected in the blood, say the researchers, led by Netz Arroyo, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, Jamie Spangler, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Taekjip Ha, Ph.D., Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins.
First, the researchers developed a test strip that contains the “spike” protein from the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They add a drop of blood from a patient, and the spike proteins on the test strip bind with COVID-19-related antibodies present in the blood. Then, the researchers dip the strip into a tube with an enzyme that binds to the COVID-19 antibodies.
After washing off the excess enzyme, the scientists insert the strip into a solution containing a molecule that is transformed by the enzyme into glucose. Finally, a commercial glucose monitor reads the amount of glucose present on the test strip, which is a surrogate for COVID-19 antibodies present in the patient’s blood sample.
The researchers are continuing to refine and test the patent-pending technology.
Arroyo, Spangler and Taekjip are available to speak to media about this technology.
Experts Caution About Risks of Dehydration from Diarrhea Caused by COVID-19
COVID-19 can present a variety of symptoms, but one potentially dangerous symptom most people aren’t particularly excited to talk about is diarrhea. An estimated 20% of COVID-19 patients are likely to experience diarrhea soon after contracting the disease. The CDC notes that people with compromised immune systems, like those recovering from COVID-19, are at the greatest risk of developing diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting and nausea.
Diarrhea could be dangerous if untreated, particularly in children. The CDC says 1 in 9 children nationwide have died from complications from diarrhea.
When someone is experiencing diarrhea, their bodies are no longer maintaining the important balance of water and sodium, often leading to dehydration. This dehydration, coupled with COVID-19, can affect the function of a person’s lungs, which can result in pneumonia. In severe cases, diarrhea can affect a person’s kidney and liver function, mental state, heart rate and breathing. It can also lead to a full-body infection known as sepsis, and in some circumstances, can lead to death.
The best way to treat dehydration from diarrhea is to use proper oral hydration to restore fluid loss. These products are often sold over the counter. The right oral hydration product typically contains a balance of sodium, potassium, glucose, starch, citrate and bicarbonate acids. The World Health Organization says oral rehydration containing these ingredients are important to decrease the risk of water intoxication.
“For children and adults, it is important to monitor for dehydration caused by diarrhea before the illness becomes extreme. Starting oral rehydration within 24 hours of symptom onset can be lifesaving,” says William Greenough, M.D., infectious disease expert and professor emeritus of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Greenough also notes that foods such as bananas, rice and toast are good binding agents to help settle one’s stomach when they are experiencing diarrhea.
Greenough is available for comment on COVID-19, diarrhea and oral hydration.
For information from Johns Hopkins Medicine about the coronavirus pandemic, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/coronavirus. For information on the coronavirus from throughout the Johns Hopkins enterprise, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins University, visit coronavirus.jhu.edu.