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Sharon Nachman

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News Flash: Generated by ChatGPT, edited by our staff

• FDA approves RSV vaccines for the first time. These vaccines target the respiratory syncytial virus, a seasonal lung-related illness, with recommendations for adults over 60 and pregnant women in specific gestational weeks.

• Infants under eight months born to mothers without the RSV vaccination can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, providing immunological protection against severe RSV symptoms.

• There are challenges in accessing RSV shots, including delayed processing by insurance companies and pharmacy shortages. Health officials urge residents to advocate for themselves, emphasizing the importance of timely vaccinations given the approaching RSV season.

For the first time, vaccines against the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV — a lung-related illness that crops up during the fall and winter — have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA recommends that adults ages 60 and older receive a dose of the vaccine, either Pfizer’s Abrysvo or GSK’s Arexvy, within the next few weeks.

Women in their 32nd to 36th week of pregnancy at some point during September through January are also urged to receive Abrysvo.

For babies born to mothers who didn’t receive a dose of the RSV vaccine, the FDA has approved a monoclonal antibody treatment for infants eight months old and younger that will offer immunological protection against a common and prevalent respiratory condition that can lead to severe symptoms and hospitalizations.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a dose of RSV antibody for children between eight and 19 months entering their second RSV season if they have chronic lung disease, are severely immunocompromised, have a severe form of cystic fibrosis or are American Indian or Alaska Natives.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. File photo from Stony Brook Medicine

While local doctors welcomed the opportunity to inoculate residents, they said finding these treatments has been difficult.

“People are having a hard time getting” the vaccine, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Some pharmacies have told patients to come back, which decreases the likelihood that they will return for vaccinations in time, Nachman said.

Additionally, insurance companies have not immediately processed requests for vaccinations, which also slows the process, she said.

Nachman recommended that residents “continue to go back and advocate for yourself” because that is “the only way you’ll get what you need.”

RSV season starts around November, which means residents qualified to receive the vaccine or parents with infants need to reach out to their health care providers now to receive some protection against the virus.

Childhood illness

According to recent data, RSV caused 2,800 hospitalizations per 100,000 children in the first year of life, Nachman said. The range can go as low as 1,500 per 100,000.

However, that only captures the number of hospitalized people and doesn’t include all the times anxious parents bring their sick children to doctor’s offices or walk-in clinics.

“Hospitalizations are the worst of the group, [but] it’s a much bigger pyramid” of people who develop RSV illnesses, Nachman said.

In addition to recommending monoclonal treatment for children under eight months old, the CDC urges parents to get this treatment for vulnerable children who are under two years old.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. File photo

Like other vaccinations, the RSV vaccine won’t prevent people from getting sick. It will, however, likely reduce the symptoms and duration of the illness.

“In trials, RSV vaccines significantly reduced lower respiratory tract lung infections serious enough to require medical care,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Health Commissioner, explained in an email.

At its worst, the symptoms of RSV — such as fever, cough and serious respiratory illness — are problematic enough that it’s worth putting out extra effort to receive some immune protection.

“If you’re a little kid or an elderly patient, this is a disease you don’t want to get,” Nachman said.

Pigott said that data analysis shows that RSV vaccines are 85% effective against severe symptoms of the virus.

While people can receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccines simultaneously, doctors recommend getting the RSV vaccine two weeks later.

According to preliminary data, eligible residents may benefit from the RSV vaccine for two seasons, which means they would likely need to receive the shot every other year, according to Pigott.

With two vaccines approved for adults, Pigott recommended that people receive whichever shot is available.

“Both reduce a person’s chances of getting very serious lung infections,” Pigott explained, adding that several measures can help people protect themselves from the flu, RSV and COVID.

Getting a vaccine, washing hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoiding close contact with people who are sick with respiratory symptoms and wearing a mask in places where respiratory viruses are circulating can all help.

Those who are symptomatic should stay home when they are sick and wear masks when they are around other people.

Suffolk County Department of Health Services officials indicated they are aware of the challenges of getting shots and monoclonal antibodies and “ask people to be patient.”

Starting soon, all newborns in New York state will receive testing for congenital cytomegalovirus. Photo by Farajiibrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Starting later this month or early next month, all children born in New York state will receive testing for congenital cytomegalovirus, an infection that can cause hearing loss and learning deficits.

The state will track children who test positive for this virus, which is related to the virus for chickenpox, herpes and mononucleosis, over the years after their birth to provide early intervention amid the development of any symptoms and to provide a baseline for understanding how the virus may affect the growth and development of other children born with the virus.

Mothers who contract CMV, which is the most common congenital virus and the leading nongenetic cause of deafness in children, for the first time while they are pregnant can transmit the virus to their developing child.

Local doctors suggested that this testing, which other states would likely examine closely, provided a welcome opportunity to gather information about their children, even if the test raised questions or concerns about what the diagnosis means.

“Knowledge is power,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “The more you can tell a parent about what’s going on, the more they can make informed decisions.”

To be sure, Nachman anticipated that more parents initially might opt out of having their child’s screen result reported in their newborn record, until pediatricians and obstetricians have had a chance to talk with them.

There will be a “lot more opting out in the beginning” until parents understand what the test means and how it might help in understanding a virus that could affect their children’s health and development, Nachman said.

One in 200 babies

New York State recently received a contract from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to add screening for this virus for a period of a year.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Parents of babies who test positive will receive referrals to infectious disease specialists across the state for follow-up and evaluation.

The state predicts about one out of every 200 newborns may test positive for the virus, according to the New York State Department of Health website.

Over half of the adults in the U.S. have had CMV, while most people don’t know they’ve had it because they show no symptoms.

Those who develop symptoms have sore throats, fever, fatigue and swollen glands, which are the kind of nonspecific conditions that characterize the body’s response to infections from other viruses.

Opt-out options

While all babies will receive a congenital CMV test, parents can choose to opt out of having their children’s screen result reported in their newborn screen record.

The state urges parents who would like to opt out to do so quickly, as newborn screen reports are complete five to seven days after birth.

Parents have several ways to opt out. They can scan the QR code found on their brochure, which will bring them to the Newborn Screening Program website and opt out portal. They can also remove and fill out the opt-out form in the parent brochure and give it to the hospital to submit with the newborn screen specimen.

Alternatively, parents can email a picture of the completed opt-out form to [email protected] or they can call the program at 518-473-7552 and press option five. Finally, parents can mail the opt-out form to the NYS Newborn Screening Program in Albany.

First steps

Nachman is co-leading one of the 11 units across the state in pediatric infectious disease with Dr. Andrew Handel.

The teams will meet once a month to discuss issues around CMV.

“One of the goals of the project, which is why it’s funded by NICHD is can we identify who is at risk” to develop problems such as hearing loss.

Among the numerous unanswered questions the group hopes to address is whether early treatment would be a way to prevent problems from developing, even among children who test positive but are asymptomatic. Giving medication to all children who test positive comes with its own problems, as the medication for CMV has side effects, said Nachman.

It’s not like “taking a dose of Tylenol, given several times a day for weeks at a time,” said Nachman. 

While women who have had CMV prior to pregnancy are unlikely to transmit the virus, Nachman discourages people from intentionally contracting the virus before becoming pregnant.

“We don’t encourage people to go out and get CMV so they’ll be cleared by the time they’re pregnant,” in part because people can develop symptoms, conditions and secondary infections after having the virus.

By monitoring the health of children after their diagnosis, the state hopes to understand more about the virus and its effects.

“We need to follow enough children long enough” to be able to address those medical questions and concerns, Nachman said.

The study might be able to find markers that could predict who might be at risk for hearing loss in the early years of a child’s life, she said.

During hearing screens that could occur every six months, children born with CMV can receive early intervention.

“The sooner we see something, the sooner we can act on it,” Nachman said.

As for developmental issues, children who show even a glimmer of a developmental delay can also receive early intervention.

At this point, Stony Brook has been participating in clinical trials for a vaccine, which, if approved, could be administered to adolescents.

The trials for the vaccine, which could last for 10 years, are still in the early stages of development.

Photo by Katja Fuhlert from Pixabay

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new COVID-19 booster, which will protect against the virus’s circulating strain.

With hospitalizations and cases rising in Suffolk County and nationwide, single booster shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna should be available soon.

Local doctors recommended that people at the highest risk consider getting the shot.

That includes those with other medical issues, such as a 45-year-old smoker or a 65-year-old with diabetes.

Health care providers generally believe people who recently had COVID have at least three months of protection, although no definitive rule exists.

“If you had it in August, you probably don’t need to get a booster now,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “If you had it in January and you’re high risk, you should get it now.”

Nachman added that no study has indicated the age at which patients should get a booster shot.

People should consult their physicians to determine how their underlying health can affect the decision to get an updated vaccine.

“That gets back to the doctor-patient relationship,” Nachman said.

People who are 70 years old and planning a cruise that stops in several ports might want to get a shot at least two weeks before they travel because “the last thing you want happening is to be hospitalized in a foreign country,” Nachman said.

Nachman suggested that this vaccine, like the others that people have taken, won’t prevent illnesses but will keep people from shedding the virus and can reduce the symptoms and duration of an infection.

The FDA approval of the current vaccine is welcome news because it is a “good match” for the current strain, Nachman indicated.

It’s difficult to predict how much protection the current vaccine will provide for whatever strain might be circulating in February.

When a higher percentage of the population receives the vaccine, the likelihood of new variants declines, she added.

As children return to school this fall, doctors in Suffolk County expect COVID-19 cases to rise. Photo by Ronny Sefria from Pixabay

People may think COVID-19 is out of sight and out of mind, but the virus, which is still around and is making people sick, doesn’t care. 

The new variant of COVID, EG.5, or “Eris,” is making people sick in the area, with hospital admissions and visits creeping up over the last few weeks.

Left, Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Right, Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Left file photo; right file photo from Stony Brook Medicine

As of Aug. 9, 105 patients were hospitalized with COVID across the entire Northwell system, including 82 people on Long Island. That compares with 63 hospitalized patients on July 9, with 46 on Long Island exactly a month earlier.

That’s also the case for other area hospitals, doctors said.

“The numbers are definitely going up,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “That’s probably a snapshot of what we expect in the fall and the winter.”

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, explained that COVID-19 is “no longer an emergency” but is “still with us and we continue to see new variants.”

In an email, Pigott explained that the county has seen a “slight uptick in hospitalizations” that is still low in comparison to the earlier days of the pandemic.

He urged those at high risk to take precautions that could include avoiding crowded places, wearing a mask and meeting people at outdoor venues rather than indoors.

While the numbers of people sick with COVID are substantially lower than they were during the worst of the pandemic in 2020, health care professionals suggested that the fall and winter could be challenging for families, particularly as children return to school.

“The first two weeks of school, every kid is sick,” said Nachman. “Come November-ish, that’s when we see” that increase.

Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician in Infectious Disease at Northwell Health, also anticipates a rise in COVID-19 cases coming this fall and early winter.

“I think there’s a very good chance that a lot of people will be having COVID,” he said.

Hirsch added that the symptoms for those people who don’t have underlying medical conditions, such as cardiac or lung-related problems, are likely to be considerably milder than they had been in the early stages of the disease, when no one had resistance.

“The sickness will not have the severity and mortality except in those of us who are unfortunate to have weak immune systems, other health problems or who are elderly or frail,” Hirsch said.

Pigott added that Eris, which is a subvariant of omicron, is not a variant of interest or concern, according to the World Health Organization.

Vaccine options

Doctors urged people to consider getting vaccines for COVID, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus for this coming fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are expected to approve the latest booster for COVID in late September or early October.

The newest booster, which should be available from Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna, should include protection against the latest COVID strain.

“The new booster formulation is much more similar and much more protective [against] the current strains,” Hirsch said. “The booster available now is protective against a couple of strains ago.”

Pigott urged people to get the new vaccines in the fall when they become available and before the holidays.

The vaccination may not prevent infection or all symptoms, but doctors suggested it would make illnesses shorter and less severe and could make the virus less infectious.

That could be particularly helpful for those who might otherwise develop more significant symptoms as their bodies attempt to fight off the virus.

Health care professionals suggested residents could receive several vaccines at the same time, enabling their immune systems to build resistance to a host of potential health threats.

“Our immune systems can chew gum and walk at the same time,” said Hirsch. “They are miraculous at reacting to all kinds of things every day anyway. The immune system is more than up to the challenge of handling two [shots] at the same time.”

Receiving several shots at once could give people a sore arm and a short-term fever that will likely respond to Tylenol, Nachman said.

“The science has shown that if you give a bunch of vaccines, you get a great response to everything,” Nachman added.

People who would prefer to get the vaccines in separate doses should space them out over several weeks, rather than getting one after another on consecutive days, she said.

Warning to pregnant women

Apart from viral infections, doctors warned pregnant women and those who might get pregnant  this winter about the ongoing shortage of a form of penicillin to treat syphilis.

Penicillin G benzathine, or Bicillin, is expected to be in short supply through the start of the summer of 2024.

The medicine is not only the only treatment recommended for pregnant people with syphilis, but is also the only one recommended for infants.

“We are prioritizing that medicine specifically only for that vulnerable population,” said Nachman.

The dangers of syphilis in pregnant women are significant, with the CDC estimating that about 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection.

Other dangers from syphilis include bone damage, anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, nerve problems causing blindness or deafness, meningitis and skin rashes.

With cases of congenital syphilis more than tripling in recent years, the demand for Bicillin has exceeded the supply.

“It has been a concern for those in our Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Pigott explained. “They have been in consultation with the state. We defer to the state regarding supply.”

Locally, hospitals have been exploring other options without much success.

“We are looking for alternatives” to Bicillin, said Nachman, but “we are not necessarily finding them.”

Doctors urged pregnant women who think they might have syphilis to get tested to protect themselves and their unborn children.

The Pediatric Infectious Diseases Group at Stony Brook Medicine’s new regional tick-borne disease center, located in the Hampton Bays Atrium. From left, Dr. Andrew Handel, Dr. Dalia Eid, Dr. Christy Beneri and Dr. Sharon Nachman. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stony Brook University is planning to open the first and only dedicated tick clinic in the northeast on Monday.

Supported by doctors from Stony Brook Medicine’s Meeting House Lane Medical Practice and Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, the new regional tick-borne disease center, which is located in the Hampton Bays Atrium, will provide by-appointment treatment for children and adults for tick bites and diagnose tick-borne illnesses.

The timing could be especially important for people with tick bites, as the previous warm winter allowed more ticks and their eggs to survive.

“They are out there, happily laying eggs and the eggs will hatch,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Brian Kelly of East End Tick and Mosquito Control donated the center’s suite which includes a reception area, two exam rooms, two private offices for consults and a nurse’s station, for 10 years.

“Between the beautiful weather in the winter and the nice weather in the summer, ticks are outside,” Nachman said. “I’m thrilled we’re doing it now. There’s no time like the present to move forward and work with the community to get this done.”

Tick checks

Health care providers urged parents, caregivers and anyone who spends quality time in nature to do regular tick checks.

Ticks can be so small that they look like a little freckle. These ticks can harbor diseases beyond the dreaded and oft-discussed Lyme Disease. Other diseases include babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.

In general, Nachman urged patients not to send ticks they pulled off themselves into the center.

“It’s the tick that they didn’t see that’s also putting them at risk,” she said. The clinic will determine the type of tests to run based on the symptoms.

For tick bites, as with many other health challenges, time is of the essence.

A tick that’s attached itself to a human for fewer than 48 hours likely won’t lead to an infection. Someone with a tick bite for about 48 hours might get a single dose of an antibiotic. People who had a tick bite for over that period might develop a rash or even facial palsy, in which one side of the face droops for an extended period of time.

Doctors work with patients to try to hone in on the date of a possible tick bite.

“We do pretty good guessing,” said Nachman. “We don’t need to be perfect: we need to be pretty close.”

Ticks are present throughout Suffolk County.

Health care workers urge people to spray their clothing with DEET. While ticks aren’t always easy to see, people can find them by feeling a new lump or bump on their skin.

Removing ticks

Nachman advised people to wipe an area with a tick down with alcohol before trying to remove an embedded insect.

Using a flat edged tweezer, the tick removers should grasp the insect and slowly back it out.

“Don’t grab the tick and yank,” Nachman cautioned. The mouth parts of the tick have an adhesive, which can leave some of the parts inside the infected person.

Nachman, who will be at the center on Mondays, also urged people not to use petroleum jelly or match sticks.

The hours at the center will adjust to the demand. In the winter, when ticks are less prevalent, the center may have more limited appointment times.

One of the advantages of the center is that the health care providers can track patients over time who have been infected.

Doctors can also sign patients up to become a part of a registry. By tracking people who have tick-borne infections, doctors might also address questions that are part of the science of diseases like Lyme.

“There may be better treatments or better tests” down the road, Nachman added.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. File photo from Stony Brook Medicine

With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the rearview mirror, residents have been returning to the open road and the open skies, visiting places and people.

In addition to packing sunscreen, bathing suits and cameras, local doctors urge people to check the vaccination status for themselves and their children, which may have lapsed.

“During COVID, many people did not keep up with their vaccines,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “That has led to a decrease in the amount of children who are vaccinated.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory to remind doctors and public health officials for international travelers to be on the lookout for cases of measles, with cases rising in the country and world.

As of June 8, the CDC has learned of 16 confirmed cases of measles across 11 jurisdictions, with 14 cases arising from international travel.

Measles, which is highly contagious and can range from relatively mild symptoms to deadly infections, can arise in developed and developing nations.

Measles can be aerosolized about 60 feet away, which means that “you could be at a train station and someone two tracks over who is coughing and sneezing” can infect people if they are not protected.

The combination of increasing travel, decreasing vaccinations and climbing levels of measles in the background creates the “perfect mixture” for a potential spread of the disease, Nachman said.

Typical first symptoms include cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis, which includes red, watery eyes, can be a symptom of numerous other infections.

“Many other illnesses give you red eyes,” Nachman said, adding, “Only when you start seeing a rash” do doctors typically confirm that it’s measles.

People are contagious for measles when they start to show these symptoms. Doctors, meanwhile, typically treat measles with Vitamin A, which can help ease the symptoms but is not an effective antiviral treatment.

As with illnesses like COVID, people with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms. Those with diabetes, hypertension, have organ transplants or have received anticancer drugs or therapies can have more problematic symptoms from measles.

In about one in 1,000 cases, measles can cause subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE. About six to 10 years after contracting the virus, people can develop SSPE, which can lead to coma and death. 

In addition to children who need two doses of the measles vaccine, which typically is part of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR, doctors urge people born between 1957 and 1985 to check on their vaccination status. People born during those years typically received one dose of the vaccine. Two doses provide greater protection.

Two doses of the MMR vaccine provide 97% protection from measles. One dose offers 93% immunity, explained Dr. David Galinkin, infectious disease specialist at Port Jefferson-based St. Charles Hospital.

People born before 1957 likely had some exposure to measles, which can provide lifelong immunological protection.

Nachman also urged people to speak with their doctor about their vaccination status for measles and other potential illnesses before traveling. People are protected against measles about two weeks after they receive their vaccine.

Doctors suggested that the MMR vaccine typically causes only mild reactions, if any.

Tetanus, Lyme

In addition to MMR vaccines, doctors urged residents to check on their tetanus vaccination, which protects for 10 years.

“The last thing you want to do is look for a tetanus vaccination in an international emergency room,” Nachman added.

During the summer months, doctors also urged people to check themselves and their children, especially if they are playing outside in the grass or near bushes, for ticks.

Intermediate hosts for Lyme disease, a tick typically takes between 36 to 48 hours from the time it attaches to a human host to transmit Lyme disease.

Nachman suggested parents use a phone flashlight to search for these unwelcome parasites.

Pixabay photo

Amid an increase in adult and congenital infections, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is urging pregnant mothers to get tested for syphilis.

Untested and untreated, infants born with the congenital bacteria can appear normal and healthy but can encounter developmental delays and health challenges later in their lives.

The county recommends that pregnant women get tested for syphilis at their first prenatal visit, at the beginning of their third trimester and again at delivery.

“Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics,” Mary Pat Boyle, bureau chief for the Suffolk County STI Control Unit and member of the New York State Congenital Syphilis Elimination Strategic Planning Group, said in an email.

Pregnant New Yorkers can qualify for Medicaid at higher income levels. Uninsured pregnant residents may quality for a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in private health insurance through the NY State of Health Marketplace.

The county recognizes that “barriers to testing and treatment do exist,” Boyle said. “The county staff is aware that patients turning to urgent care for support find that the centers don’t treat syphilis and are referred to another provider causing delays in their treatment.”

At the same time, staff at Suffolk County, which has been social messaging about STIs during STI Awareness Week, has confronted issues with insurance companies that don’t cover benzathine penicillin G 2.4 million units, the medication needed in one to three doses as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the only treatment safe for pregnant women.

Suffolk County Department of Health Services brought this to the attention of NYSDOH, which is “looking into the matter,” according to county officials.

The incidence of syphilis for the population of the country has climbed dramatically. A report from the CDC showed that the number of cases of syphilis rose 32% to over 176,000 in 2021 from the prior year.

In New York State, pregnant persons with reported syphilis increased by 51% in 2020 to 53 from 35 in 2016.

In July 2022, Suffolk County’s Board of Sexually Transmitted Disease staff launched the Suffolk County Congenital Syphilis Prevention Initiative.

“The groups have been raising awareness of increased cases of maternal and congenital syphilis among those who work with at-risk women of childbearing age and mobilizing to implement evidence-based practices to prevent congenital syphilis,” Boyle said.

The bureau staff has visited over 167 Suffolk County OB/GYN providers to discuss best practices and distribute educational materials emphasizing the importance of STI testing and timely treatment.

The county’s STI unit is planning training for team members at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital, Southampton Hospital, Stony Brook University Hospital and Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, noted the increase in congenital syphilis and suggested that newborns don’t necessarily show clear signs of the infection.

“You sometimes don’t know until perhaps years later, when the baby is not growing, thriving and meeting developmental milestones” that it has syphilis, Nachman said. “There are no abnormal blood tests. The baby looks fine.”

Nachman said that parents and doctors don’t want to “be in a position where you’re picking it up late” because untreated and untested syphilis could have a “lifelong” effect on the growing child.

Nachman added that testing for syphilis in newborns often involves a spinal tap, in which doctors take a small amount of fluid through a spinal tap. Spinal tap procedures in newborns can involve pain and tenderness, but do not generally present risks to the developing child.

Penicillin shortage

At the same time, the supply of penicillin could become a concern. As a generic drug, the profitability of penicillin has decreased dramatically.

The injectable form of penicillin, which is used to treat syphilis, may become a problem later this year and will “definitely be a problem next year and afterwards,” Nachman said.

Researchers are checking to see if there are other drugs, they can fine tune instead of penicillin. They are exploring whether they can convert other therapies that are short acting into longer acting treatments.

“Everyone is aware of the question and [researchers] are carving out different ways to answer” it, Nachman said.

If the county uncovers a shortage of syphilis treatment, it will work with the New York State Department of Health to address the problem, county health department officials said.

For adults, Nachman suggested that seeing an increase in syphilis among newborns suggest that the bacteria may be prevalent in the community.

“When I see an uptick in neonates, I think, ‘Oh, gosh, there are more adults out there’” with this infection, she said.

Stony Brook University Hospital

Previously invisible to most of the public, the infectious disease team at Stony Brook Medicine took center stage from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 through today as area residents have battled COVID-19 and other diseases.

With a peak of over 500 people hospitalized at Stony Brook University Hospital with COVID-19 in 2020, the combination of Drs. Bettina Fries, Susan Donelan and Sharon Nachman provided best practices to protect hospital staff and patients, gathered information about the developing virus and communicated through the media with a public desperate for information.

Working with teams of other dedicated health care professionals, these infectious disease doctors helped treat and save numerous patients.

TBR News Media is pleased to name Fries, Donelan and Nachman as People of the Year for 2022.

“Stony Brook Hospital got all kinds of kudos during the height of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jonathan Buscaglia, chief medical officer at Stony Brook University Hospital. “When you’re going through a hurricane crisis, you need somebody who has a clue about hurricanes to lead you. Those people were our leaders.”

At the time, the team of infectious disease doctors impressed their colleagues not only with their effectiveness, but also with their tireless work.

“When COVID happened, it was a calling” for these infectious disease experts, Buscaglia said.

In the beginning of the disease, little was known about the most effective treatment, which meant doctors from several departments came together to create a standard protocol.

The infectious disease faculty “contributed significantly” to develop these practices, said Dr. Vincent Yang, chair of Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU.

Dr. Bettina Fries. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Bettina Fries, the chief who served on the front lines

Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, Fries is a “nationally if not world-renowned physician scientist,” Buscaglia said.

As with her colleagues, Fries works directly with sick residents.

Fries “100% served on the front lines to care for all the hospitalized patients with COVID,” said Buscaglia, which included working seven days a week for weeks on end. She guided her staff and helped other physicians.

Early on, Fries was also “instrumental in getting a manufacturer of face masks to donate a significant number to the hospital,” Yang said. This was a key part of the personal protective equipment that had been scarce during the unsettled early part of the pandemic.

Yang described her as “highly motivated, energetic and forward thinking” and believes she is a “wonderful leader” who is detail oriented. Fries provides clear expectations for people who work for her and is an avid educator, Yang added.

As an expert in using monoclonal antibodies to treat various bacterial infections, Fries helped direct an effective therapy using these antibodies for COVID patients, according to Yang.

Fries and her team were also involved in consulting on patients, not just for COVID but also for secondary infections, Yang said.

Connie Kraft, emergency manager in the Emergency Management Office at SBUH, described Fries as “very personable” and appreciates how she studies scientific data to crunch the numbers.

Dr. Susan Donelan. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Susan Donelan, a ‘hero’ who lost sleep to help patients

Donelan, who earned her bachelor of science degree from SBU, is medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony
Brook Medicine.

In addition to caring for patients, Donelan also worked to avoid the spread of COVID at the hospital, reducing the risk to staff and to Long Islanders who came to the hospital for other medical needs.

“We don’t want patients coming in without COVID getting it while they’re here,” Buscaglia said. “It takes a special person to guide the rest of us.”

The hospital established a forward triage effort, which provided an initial assessment of COVID patients outside the hospital.

Kraft appreciated Donelan’s commitment to safety throughout the halls of the hospital.

“If you’re somebody who is walking down the corridor and your mask is hanging off your face, [Donelan] didn’t care who you are. She’s going to stop you and say, ‘Hey, pull your mask up,’” Kraft said.

As a subject-matter expert, Donelan was “our hero,” Kraft added.

Specializing in the latest treatments and symptoms, Donelan also helps faculty and staff with medical questions.

When Kraft’s grandson was sick, she asked Donelan for advice.

“She was right there, giving me support,” Kraft said, which gave “everybody a sense of calm.”

A tireless worker, Donelan often appeared on Zoom calls even during her time off.

She “doesn’t stop thinking about ways to help patients,” Buscaglia said. She “literally loses sleep about it.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman. Photo by Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Sharon Nachman, active in front of the camera and behind the scenes

Nachman, who earned her medical degree at SBU, is chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s.

Often visible during her appearances on local broadcast news channels and in numerous local publications, including TBR News Media, Nachman is committed to ensuring the public receives accurate information.

“Giving people information about why it’s important to wear masks, wash their hands and get vaccinated, those are the things that affect the community,” said Dr. Carolyn Milana, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s.

Even though Nachman is a pediatrician and works at the children’s hospital, she, like so many other doctors, helps wherever it is needed, which in the early days included caring for adults.

Nachman was “instrumental from the adult and pediatric perspective making sure we had the latest and updated information about how to treat those patients,” Milana said. “She and her team were out there [checking] on all the patients to make sure they were all cared for the same.”

In addition to helping to get COVID vaccine trials up and running at Stony Brook, she has been active in trials to treat monkeypox.

Milana appreciates Nachman’s approach to children and their parents.

“She’s super friendly with kids,” Milana said. “She’ll tell you the facts as they are. She’s straightforward with parents. She wants them to have all the information they need to make the right decisions.”

Stock photo

People are using too much hand sanitizer. That’s one of several observations from Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Sharon Nachman of SBU’s pediatrics department. Photo from SBU

Nachman suggests that sanitizer requires only a small amount on people’s hands. If, after applying it, someone has wet and sticky hands, they have overdone it.

“When I see people using hand sanitizer, they glop it on,” Nachman said in an interview. She recommends not using more than the standard volume, even amidst a return to school during the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a wide-ranging conversation about the health of students who are returning to campus, Nachman urged students to pay closer attention to their health, to keep themselves and their classmates safe.

Students can tell if they’re too close to each other if they both reach out and can touch each other’s fingers.

The signs of COVID-19 in older teenagers and young 20-somethings are similar to the ones that occur in adults. They include fever, fatigue, feeling ill, loss of taste, and dry coughs. College students also have a high rate of being asymptomatic, which makes it difficult to find and isolate sick students.

While multi-symptom inflammatory disease in children, or MSI-C, cropped up during the worst of the pandemic in Suffolk County, the overall numbers of cases and infection rate on Long Island have fallen enough to reduce the likelihood of this COVID-related illness among children.

“Its all about how big the hit is in the community,” she said. “If you go to Texas or Florida, they are clearly seeing it. On Long Island, we aren’t seeing it” because of the way residents have helped flatten the infection curve among the population.

Nachman urged college students to be responsible when a contact tracer reaches out to them. In college campuses throughout the country, contact tracing will help mitigate the spread of the infection by quarantining people who might have been exposed to an active form of the virus. Isolating people will keep the spread of the virus in check.

Students, faculty and university administrators are well aware of the possibility that schools will need to return to an all-remote education model if infections reach a high enough level. Indeed, Nachman urged students to develop a plan for what they would pack and take home and where they would go if campuses closed. By being prepared for change, students can react to altered circumstances. High school students also need such preparation, in case any school that open need to close to protect students, faculty and staff.

As for the potential overlap of the flu and COVID, Nachman suggested students should get the flu shot by October, before the flu season begins.

Nachman is an advocate for masks.

“The smartest thing people can do is really wearing their masks,” she said. “Come to college prepared with enough masks that you can wash and wear them.”

The ideal number of masks is nothing fewer than two per day. She likes the washable ones, which are easy to put in the laundry and wash with the rest of a student’s clothing. The two-ply cloth masks work well and can be “personalized to reflect someone’s mood, to match clothing or to make a statement.”

Masks are important not only to protect other members of the student body, but also to protect the wearer.

“This idea that I’m wearing it to protect you is half right,” she said. “It’s protection for both of us.”