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Coronavirus

Strokes caused by Covid-19 under the spotlight in world’s largest research study

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The Stroke Association is funding the world’s largest research study to investigate worrying reports that Covid-19 is causing life-threatening strokes.

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise across the globe, this critical research may help to prevent Covid-19-related death and disability. The study will build on the work of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre at Health Data Research UK (HDR UK). 

The latest data shows there are currently almost 70,000 stroke survivors living in Wales, according to their GP practice record and a rate of 2.12% stroke prevalence across the country. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death across the UK.

Announced today, the study uses health data from nearly all UK adults. Having access to large amounts of data will allow the researchers to follow the health of Covid-19 patients. Data analysts will compare stroke in patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 with patients without the virus, to confirm if Covid-19 increases risk of stroke and by how much.

The researchers will also analyse stroke risk and characteristics including age, sex, ethnicity and geography to identify which Covid-19 patients may be most at risk of stroke. Stroke risk due to Covid-19 will be compared to increases in stroke risk due to other infections and cardiovascular conditions.

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Research Director, Stroke Association said: “Stroke already strikes every five minutes and we’re extremely concerned that Covid-19 may lead to more strokes, destroying more lives. Equally concerning are reports that stroke patients who have Covid-19 may be younger, and experience more severe effects of stroke, including death. Severe illness due to Covid-19 is a challenge enough– but it’s worrying that a deadly stroke might also be on the way. This new research can help guide the development of new treatments that can prevent life-threatening strokes.”

This research forms part of the CVD-COVID-UK flagship project consortium, which is led by the BHF Data Science Centre at HDR UK. This project consortium aims to understand the relationship between Covid-19 and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke in the UK population.

Dr William Whiteley, Reader in neurology at the University of Edinburgh and a lead on this research said: “Covid-19 may cause stroke in some patients.  So far studies of Covid and stroke have been small. More data will improve our understanding and give a better idea of the risks of stroke after Covid-19 infection.

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“With the funding of the Stroke Association and access to the data and research community brought together by the BHF Data Science Centre, the team can use health information from nearly all adults in the UK. By working with information specialists, we’ll be able to accurately detect even the smallest increase in risk of stroke across different groups of people.

“We’re incredibly grateful to have the support of charities to help get this urgent research underway, so that we can better inform patients and health care professionals about Covid-19 and risk of stroke.” 

Dr Rubina Ahmed continues: “We will be living with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future and we don’t want to see the pandemic leave more deadly strokes in its wake. Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the UK and the second biggest killer in the world. This research is crucial to our understanding of Covid-19 and strokes, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our income and is threatening life-saving breakthroughs. Now more than ever, we need the public’s support. If you can, please help us find a way through the research funding crisis by donating today, so that we can fund more life-saving research.”

Katie Chappelle, Associate Director, Wales of the Stroke Association said: “We’ve been supporting stroke survivors throughout the pandemic through our Helpline, our online community My Stroke Guide and through our local face-to-face Life after Stroke services – most of which we’ve moved online to be able to continue safely supporting people who’ve had a stroke. We also launched our Here For You project, to make sure stroke survivors aren’t isolated during lockdown.

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“Stroke changes lives in an instant and stroke survivors need support to recover, cope and adapt and those with Covid-19 may have additional needs. We need to be prepared with this new knowledge about links between Covid-19 and stroke to support people long into the future.”

Prof Cathie Sudlow, Director of the BHF Data Science Centre at Health Data Research UK said: “The BHF Data Science Centre is delighted to be providing the scientific and data access infrastructure to enable this important Stroke Association-funded research project.

“We look forward to working with and supporting Dr Whiteley and his research team as they generate insights to help people with stroke, their carers and health professionals understand the impact of Covid-19 on stroke risk, and make informed decisions about their treatment and care.”

Over the past 30 years the Stroke Association has played a crucial role in supporting stroke research in the UK. This year, as a result of the pandemic the charity has had to halve its budget for stroke research.

To find out more about research funded by the charity visit stroke.org.uk/research or to donate please go to: stroke.org.uk/donate-research 

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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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