VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The death toll from the novel coronavirus has now hit triple digits as more and more cases pop up in over a dozen countries.
Just this week, the first presumptive case of the virus was confirmed in B.C., after two others were confirmed in Ontario days earlier.
Watch: Presumptive case of coronavirus in Vancouver
Around 6,000 people have been infected in mainland China and a number of other countries thus far, surpassing the number of people infected by the SARS outbreak in the country back in the early 2000s. At least 132 people have reportedly died.
In an effort to contain the outbreak, China has cut off all access to Wuhan — the epicentre of the outbreak — as well as dozen other cities.
This comes as some airlines have moved to cancel select flights to the region. Air Canada has cancelled some flights to China over the coming weeks, while several other airlines said they were reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel to the area drops because of the outbreak.
British Airways announced it was suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak.
Back in Canada, images have been circulating online, showing people with large water bottles worn on their heads and faces, some suggesting to protect against coronavirus.
While Vancouver International Airport hasn’t confirmed this was actually happening, it did say in a tweet, “Obviously not an effective measure.”
— Vancouver International Airport (@yvrairport) January 28, 2020
As airlines and travellers adjust their schedules because of the outbreak, the federal government is mulling over just how to get Canadians who want to come home out of China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says that every Canadian who has reached out for consular assistance will receive it, adding about 250 Canadians have registered with Global Affairs Canada to say they are in Wuhan. The federal government says 126 of them have asked for help to get home.
Canada is “looking at all options,” Champagne says. Meanwhile, Canada’s health minister says she doesn’t yet know whether any of the Canadians in quarantine in China are sick or would be quarantined if they do come home.
The spread of the new form of coronavirus has even impacted some international sporting events. A number of them have been postponed in China and Olympic qualifying tournaments are being taken elsewhere as a precaution.
-With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
Flu shots are now free for everyone in Quebec due to overwhelmed hospital ERs
While the campaign for flu shots has already been underway in Quebec for several weeks, the provincial government announced on Friday that immunization will now be free of charge for any Quebecer over the age of six months.
Previously, only people who met certain criteria (babies, seniors, the chronically ill, etc) were able to get the influenza immunization free of charge, and the vaccination sites set up for COVID-19 were only handling free flu shots. Meanwhile, the general population in Quebec was previously only able to get vaccinated at pharmacies, for a fee.
The decision was made due to the critical state of hospital ERs in the province, particularly at children’s hospitals in Montreal, where kids are being brought in by parents in larger numbers than usual due to rising rates of flu, COVID-19 and RSV infections.
“With the trio of viruses currently circulating, the influenza vaccine is now available free of charge to all Quebecers who wish to take advantage of it. It’s one more tool to limit the pressure on our network.”
—Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé
To schedule an appointment for a flu shot and/or a COVID-19 shot, please visit the Clic Santé website.
Deadly Bird Flu Outbreak Is The Worst In U.S. History
An ongoing outbreak of a deadly strain of bird flu has now killed more birds than any past flare-up in U.S. history.
The virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, has led to the deaths of 50.54 million domestic birds in the country this year, according to Agriculture Department data reported by Reuters on Thursday. That figure represents birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys from commercial poultry farms, backyard flocks and facilities such as petting zoos.
The count surpasses the previous record of 50.5 million dead birds from a 2015 outbreak, according to Reuters.
Turkeys in a barn on a poultry farm.
On farms, some birds die from the flu directly, while in other cases, farmers kill their entire flocks to prevent the virus from spreading after one bird tests positive. Such farmers have occasionally drawn condemnation from animal welfare advocates for using a culling method known as “ventilation shutdown plus,” which involves sealing off the airways to a barn and pumping in heat to kill the animals.
The virus has raged through Europe and North America since 2021. A variety of wild birds have been affected worldwide, including bald eagles, vultures and seabirds. This month, Peru reported its first apparent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza after 200 dead pelicans were found on a beach.
Pelicans suspected to have died from highly pathogenic avian influenza are seen on a beach in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 24.
The migration of infected wild birds has been a major cause of the spread. Health and wildlife officials urge anyone who keeps domestic birds to prevent contact with their wild counterparts.
While health experts do not generally consider highly pathogenic avian influenza to be a major risk to mammals, a black bear cub in Alaska was euthanized earlier this month after contracting the virus. Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen told the Juneau Empire newspaper that the young cub had a weak immune system.
Over the summer, avian flu also spread among seals in Maine, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believed contributed to an unusually high number of seal deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the risk “to the general public” from the bird flu outbreak is low. However, the agency recommends precautions like wearing personal protective equipment and thoroughly washing hands for people who have prolonged contact with birds that may be infected.
In April, a Colorado prisoner working at a commercial farm became the first person in the U.S. to test positive for the new strain, though he was largely asymptomatic.
Successful tests in animal models pave way for strategy for universal flu vaccine
An experimental mRNA-based vaccine against all 20 known subtypes of influenza virus provided broad protection from otherwise lethal flu strains in initial tests, according to a study.
This could serve one day as a general preventative measure against future flu pandemics, the researchers from University of Pennsylvania, US, said.
According to the study, tests in animal models showed that the vaccine dramatically reduced signs of illness and protected from death, even when the animals were exposed to flu strains different from those used in making the vaccine.
The “multivalent” vaccine, which the researchers described in a paper published in the journal Science, used the same messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology employed in the Pfizer and Moderna SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the study said.
This mRNA technology that enabled those Covid-19 vaccines was pioneered at Penn, the study said.
“The idea here is to have a vaccine that will give people a baseline level of immune memory to diverse flu strains, so that there will be far less disease and death when the next flu pandemic occurs,” said study senior author Scott Hensley.
Influenza viruses periodically cause pandemics with enormous death tolls. The best known of these was the 1918-19 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed at least tens of millions of people worldwide.
Flu viruses can circulate in birds, pigs, and other animals, and pandemics can start when one of these strains jumps to humans and acquires mutations that adapt it better for spreading among humans.
Current flu vaccines are merely “seasonal” vaccines that protect against recently circulating strains, but would not be expected to protect against new, pandemic strains. The strategy employed by the Penn researchers is to vaccinate using immunogens – a type of antigen that stimulates immune responses – from all known influenza subtypes in order to elicit broad protection, the study said.
The vaccine is not expected to provide “sterilizing” immunity that completely prevents viral infections. Instead, the new study showed that the vaccine elicited a memory immune response that can be quickly recalled and adapted to new pandemic viral strains, significantly reducing severe illness and death from infections.
“It would be comparable to first-generation SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines, which were targeted to the original Wuhan strain of the coronavirus.
“Against later variants such as Omicron, these original vaccines did not fully block viral infections, but they continue to provide durable protection against severe disease and death,” said Hensley.
The experimental vaccine, when injected and taken up by the cells of recipients, started producing copies of a key flu virus protein, the hemagglutinin protein, for all twenty influenza hemagglutinin subtypes—H1 through H18 for influenza A viruses, and two more for influenza B viruses.
“For a conventional vaccine, immunizing against all these subtypes would be a major challenge, but with mRNA technology it’s relatively easy,” Hensley said.
In mice, the mRNA vaccine elicited high levels of antibodies, which stayed elevated for at least four months, and reacted strongly to all 20 flu subtypes. Moreover, the vaccine seemed relatively unaffected by prior influenza virus exposures, which can skew immune responses to conventional influenza vaccines.
The researchers observed that the antibody response in the mice was strong and broad, whether or not the animals had been exposed to flu virus before.
Hensley and his colleagues currently are designing human clinical trials, he said. The researchers envision that, if those trials are successful, the vaccine may be useful for eliciting long-term immune memory against all influenza subtypes in people of all age groups, including young children.
“We think this vaccine could significantly reduce the chances of ever getting a severe flu infection,” Hensley said.
In principle, he added, the same multivalent mRNA strategy can be used for other viruses with pandemic potential, including coronaviruses.
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