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Opioid tapering does more harm than good, flu shot protects against COVID-19 and autistic children respond to puppets over people

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Below is a round up of the top health headlines for the week of Aug. 2, 2021.

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Opioid tapering does more harm than good

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid epidemic continues in the U.S. and it’s only getting worse. The CDC’s latest data shows more than 70,000 Americans are dying each year as a result of an overdose — a number that has quadrupled since 1999. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers say part of the problem is tapering — or slowly reducing — the dose when it’s time to come off the pain medication.

Researchers at UC Davis assessed approximately 150,000 patients who were prescribed opioids. They followed them for one year and two months following complete drug elimination. Researchers found a 68% increase in overdose events in those patients who were tapered off the medication and a doubling of mental health crisis among those weaning off compared to those who came off the drug immediately.

Senior author, Dr. Joshua Fenton said in a statement “Our study results support the CDC guidelines for clinicians considering opioid dose reduction for patients. But I fear that most tapering patients aren’t receiving close follow-up and monitoring to make sure they’re coping on lower doses.”

An illustration of opioid painkiller Oxycodon delivered on medical prescription taken on Sept. 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)

Flu vaccine protects against COVID-19

Believe it or not, flu season is quickly approaching. When the time comes for vaccination, researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are encouraging all Americans to get the shot, not only for flu protection but also to protect against severe complication should a person become infected with COVID-19.

Researchers assessed about 75,000 patients and divided them into two groups. Those who had COVID and did not get the flu shot were 23% more likely to end up in the intensive care unit because of the coronavirus; 60% more likely to need hospitalization. They were also 58% more likely to suffer a stroke and 40% more likely to suffer from blood clots compared to those who did get the vaccine.

Authors aren’t quite certain why the flu vaccine offers added protection against severe COVID complications, but they suspect it strengthens the body’s innate ability to ward off all types of illnesses.

Photo of someone getting a flu shot. (Provided Photo/CNN)

Autistic children respond better to puppets than people

Yale University researchers have found that children with autism are more likely to pay attention to puppets than people.

Children with autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD, and those without were shown a video featuring a puppet named Violet. Scientists observed both groups and found the attention span and engagement with the puppet was nearly identical in terms of attention and engagement between the two groups. The benefits were similar between mild and severe cases of ASD.

The findings they say “lend scholarly weight and suggest puppets could be a powerful tool to help children with ASD improve…engagement, which is very exciting.”

Study authors worked in collaboration with 1984 Yale alum and daughter of the late puppeteer Jim Henson, Cheryl Henson.

Ernie and Bert of “Sesame Street” pose May 9, 2006 in front of the Queen Mary II in the harbor of Hamburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Fabian Bimmer)

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