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Health unit recommends booster shots, with province in 7th wave of infections – Tbnewswatch.com

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THUNDER BAY – Health authorities are urging Ontarians who aren’t fully vaccinated to catch up on booster doses as the province faces a seventh wave of infections tied to the BA.5 Omicron sub-variant.

While local and provincial public health leaders are optimistic the newest wave will be less severe than those past, Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille said severe outcomes like hospitalizations are expected to rise in the coming weeks.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said this week the province is in a seventh wave of infections, pointing to a rise in cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and test positivity.

“Looking at the numbers across the province, the wastewater [data] across the province, and hospitalizations, for example, it definitely seems like we’re starting to enter that seventh wave of this pandemic,” DeMille agreed.

The wave is being driven by the BA.5 sub-variant of Omicron, which appears to be more transmissible than previous Omicron variants, and comparably severe.

Locally, DeMille pointed to a small uptick in COVID-19 numbers, but said the trend isn’t yet clear.

“Our numbers do fluctuate, and there’s a lot of limitations in the data, so while it might be just starting to [trend] up , I would wait for at least a week before confirming [that].”

Moore expressed optimism this week the newest wave will see hospitalizations and deaths peak lower than in previous waves.

Waves of infections typically last for between six and ten weeks, DeMille said. While Moore said the province is likely three weeks into the seventh wave, Thunder Bay typically lags provincial trends by one or two weeks, DeMille noted.

While the seventh wave may prove less severe than others, DeMille said it’s a good time for residents to pay attention to layers of protection against infection, such as masking in indoor spaces, staying home when sick, and vaccination.

“I would particularly recommend at this time that people who are at higher risk make sure they have their second booster if they’re due,” she said. “We [also] know there are many people who still [haven’t] had their first booster.”

Those over the age of 60 and those of any age who are immunocompromised are particularly vulnerable, she said.

Many of those people haven’t yet gotten the full run of booster shots for which they’re eligible, she noted.

Across the Thunder Bay District, there are over 32,000 people aged 60 and older who are eligible for a fourth dose but haven’t yet gotten it. There are another roughly 10,000 people aged 50 and older eligible for a third dose.

COVID-19 booster shots are particularly important given accumulating evidence that protection from vaccines tends to wane month-by-month, she said.

Booster shots increase protection from severe outcomes from COVID to around 90 per cent initially, but that falls to around 70 per cent by month five, provincial health authorities say. Older individuals tend to see immunity wane even more quickly.

“As we see this next wave coming our way, and with this highly infectious variant, it’s important to have that protection,” DeMille said. “People can still get an infection even if they’re vaccinated, but they’ll likely get some protection against any infection over the next couple of months, and it actually really increases the protection against severe illness and hospitalization.”

Moore hinted this week the province may expand eligibility for second booster doses to those under 60.

 DeMille also raised concerns over how the latest wave will impact already strained emergency rooms and other health care settings.

“Staffing gets impacted in any organization when we have a wave, because [employees] get sick and are unable to attend to work. That can put a lot of pressure on health care organizations… That’s a big reason why we’re really encouraging people to take on those additional layer of protection.”

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UBC researchers say they've found 'weak spot' in all COVID-19 variants that could lead to better treatment – CBC.ca

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered what they describe as a “weak spot” in all of the major variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 — a revelation they believe could open the door for treatments to fight current and future mutations.

In a peer-reviewed study published Thursday, the research team said they found a largely consistent soft spot — like a dent in the virus’s spike protein armour — that has survived the coronavirus’s mutations to date. Scientists determined a certain antibody fragment was able to “effectively neutralize” all the variants, to some degree, because it exploited the vulnerability.

“What’s exciting is what it tells us we can do now. Once you know the [weak] spot, it’s a bit like the gold rush analogy. We know where to go,” said Sriram Subramaniam, the study’s senior author and a professor with UBC’s faculty of medicine.

“We can now use this information … to design better antibodies that can then take advantage of that [weak] site.”

Looking for the ‘master key’

Antibodies are naturally produced by the body to fight infection, but can also be created in a laboratory to administer as treatment. Several antibody treatments already exist to fight COVID-19, but their effectiveness fades against highly mutated variants like the recently dominant Omicron. 

“Antibodies attach to a virus in a very specific manner, like a key going into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” Subramaniam wrote in a statement.

“We’ve been looking for master keys — antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after extensive mutations.” 

A nurse provides information to parents and children during the first week of COVID-19 immunization for children over six months at a Vancouver Coastal Health clinic in Vancouver on Aug. 4. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Subramaniam said the antibody fragment identified in the paper would be that “master key.”

Matthew Miller, director of the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., described the findings as “a really important development” in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s been able to show that this antibody works against all of them and that’s really unique…. It certainly raises the hope that this [weak] area they’re targeting would be an area the virus would have a lot of trouble changing — even going forward, because if it were easy to change, it’s very likely [the virus] would have tried to change it already,” said Miller, who was not involved in the study.

“Now … viruses can always trick us,” he noted in an interview Thursday. “They’re smart. There’s always ways out. But what we want to do is make it as hard as possible to do that.”

High-tech imaging used to study virus

As part of the study, published in Nature Communications, the research team used a process called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to examine the weak spot on the virus’s spike protein, called an epitope.

Cryo-EM technology involves freezing samples of the virus and taking hundreds of thousands of photos — similar to X-rays — used to recreate a 3D model of the molecule from an atomic level.

“Imagine you were the size of an atom and you could watch exactly what was going on,” Subramaniam explained.

Through the process, the team saw how antibodies interacted with virus. The antibody fragment, called VH Ab6, was able to latch on to the weak spot and neutralize the virus.

Subramaniam said drug companies could exploit the weakness to create a potentially “variant-resistant” treatment.

  • Do you have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at ask@cbc.ca

The researcher noted that developments resulting from the team’s discovery won’t be part of COVID-19 treatment in clinics for some time, but he described it as one more step in understanding the coronavirus itself and the illness it causes.

“We never know if this antibody will suddenly not be effective against the next variant or not…. But we’re just saying that it stood up really well to being able to neutralize the variants we’ve seen to date,” Subramaniam said.

The UBC team collaborated with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who have been screening large antibody libraries and testing their effectiveness against COVID-19.

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U.S. offers extra monkeypox vaccine doses for gay pride events – CTV News

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NEW YORK –

The U.S. is setting aside an extra 50,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine for places with upcoming gay pride events, health officials said Thursday.

The number of doses sent to each place will be based on factors like the size of the event, how many health workers will be available to give shots, and how many of the attendees are considered at highest risk for catching the virus.

“More shots in arms is how we get the outbreak under control,” Bob Fenton, the White House monkey pox response coordinator, told reporters Thursday. He said the effort is an attempt to “meet people where they are.”

At least a dozen U.S. pride events are scheduled over the next two months, including large gatherings in Atlanta and New Orleans in early September. U.S. officials said they will send up to 2,000 additional doses to North Carolina, where the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade will be held this weekend.

Southern Decadence, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ events, is expected to attract 200,000 or more people to New Orleans over Labour Day weekend. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert held amid the event, has been cancelled over monkey pox concerns, organizers said this week.

Frank Perez, a former grand marshal of the parade that’s the centrepiece of Southern Decadence, said a number of New Orleans gay bars have already had vaccine events. He said so far officials have done an adequate job with the vaccine campaign although “more is better.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned: “While we are offering the vaccine at these events to those at high risk, this is a two-dose vaccine series, and receiving the vaccine at the event will not provide protection at the event itself.”

Health officials also are urging other steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including temporarily limiting sexual partners.

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, but it wasn’t considered a disease that spreads easily among people until May, when infections emerged in Europe and the U.S.

There have been more than 39,000 cases reported in countries that have not historically seen monkey pox. The vast majority have occurred in men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkey pox.

The U.S. has the most infections of any country – more than 13,500. About 98% of U.S. cases are men and about 93% were men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.

Officials say the virus has been spreading mainly through skin-on-skin contact, but they warn it might also transmit in other ways, including through touching linens used by someone with monkey pox.

People with monkey pox may experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. Many in the outbreak have developed extremely painful zit-like bumps. No one in the U.S. has died, but deaths have been reported in other countries.

The U.S. has a limited supply of what is considered the main weapon against the virus – a vaccine called Jynneos. The doses are currently being given to people soon after they think they were exposed. Scientists are still trying to establish how well the shots are working.

The government last week moved to stretch the supply by giving people one-fifth the usual dose, injected just under the skin, instead of a full vial injected into deeper tissue.

Many health workers may have little experience giving shots using the just-under-the-skin method, which requires different needles and syringes. Some health departments have started doing that, but some local officials have said they may need a week or more to make the change.

Officials this week announced the release of 442,000 of the smaller doses for order by state, local and territorial health departments. On Thursday, they said more is coming next week – 1.8 million doses, or 360,000 vials.

Officials also announced a new agreement with a Michigan manufacturer to help speed production of 5.5 million vaccine vials recently ordered by the U.S. government.

Under the deal, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing will help package raw vaccine ingredients currently stored at an overseas facility owned by Bavarian Nordic, which makes the Jynneos vaccine. Officials said the extra capacity should help speed up U.S. vaccine orders, most of which weren’t expected to be delivered until next year. The Biden administration has faced weeks of criticism for not ordering more vaccine sooner.

Also on Thursday, health officials said next week they will boost the supply of TPOXX, a drug for treating monkey pox infections, by 50,000 treatment courses.

——

AP reporters Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Matthew Perrone in Washington contributed to this report.

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‘Weak spot’ in virus responsible for COVID-19 could mean new treatments: researchers

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VANCOUVER — Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered what they are calling a “weak spot” in the virus that causes COVID-19.

A study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications says the “key vulnerability” is found in all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Researchers say exploiting that weakness could pave the way for new treatments that would be effective against all strains of the illness that has killed almost 6.5-million people across the globe since it was identified more than two years ago.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, says the team studied the virus at an atomic level, found the weak spot and identified an antibody fragment that can attach to it and all other variants, including the surging Omicron subvariants.

Antibodies counteract viruses by attaching like a key in a lock and are no longer effective when the virus mutates quickly, but Subramaniam says the weak spot is constant in all seven major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing one antibody to act as a “master key” capable of overcoming extensive mutations.

Subramaniam says the weak spot and master key identified in the study “unlock a whole new realm of treatment possibilities” that have the potential to be effective against current or future variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

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