The World Health Organization supports coming up for a new name for monkeypox amid a call from a group of scientists to use less discriminatory terminology to describe the infections popping up in more and more places around the globe.
Scientists calling for a shift in how we talk about the virus point to its clades — or strains — having pre-existing names relating to African regions (West African and Congo Basin), which are both stigmatizing and inaccurate in reflecting the nature of the current spread of the virus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that the UN health organization is “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.”
The scientists believe changing how we communicate about the disease would promote more sharing of knowledge about outbreaks and could help minimize negative impacts.
Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bern’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, is among the scientists calling for changes in how the clades are described.
“The main harm here is for African people, who are stigmatized by the association that monkeypox is endemic in humans in the regions where the old clades are named after,” Hodcroft told CBC News in an email.
Hodcroft and the other scientists pointed to media reports that have used stock images of African monkeypox patients as part of coverage of the outbreak occurring in Europe as “an obvious manifestation” of this stigmatization.
The scientists are proposing that the clades be named numerically in their order of discovery — for example, MPXV 1, MPXV 2 or MPXV 3 — rather than with a geographic identifier.
Not like prior outbreaks
Well over 1,000 monkeypox cases have been confirmed so far in a widening outbreak that has seen the virus detected in more than two dozen countries — including in Canada — where it has not been endemic to date.
But that’s just one way the current outbreak differs from previous ones.
The scientists advocating for the change in clade names point out that the virus is currently spreading from human to human and not via spillover events from animals to humans, as it typically has in the past.
That rings true for Stephen Hoption Cann, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.
“This is completely different in how it’s spreading,” he told CBC News in an interview, noting prior spread of the virus has been much more limited geographically.
Separate from the consideration of the future name of the virus, WHO is set to meet next week to assess whether the current outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.
Where does the current name come from?
WHO told CBC News that the name for human monkeypox was assigned before the current best practices for naming disease existed.
Under these naming practices, WHO said the aim is to “minimize unnecessary negative impact” on people, places and cultures, among other considerations.
Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, said the process of renaming of the disease “may not be as straightforward” as it would be for a disease that the world is otherwise unfamiliar with.
“It’s a disease that has been commented on, published on for, well, 50 years now or more,” Lewis told CBC News Network in an interview on Friday.
Heidi Tworek, an associate professor in international history and public policy at the University of British Columbia, believes a renaming push could proceed smoothly, particularly after WHO’s efforts in naming various COVID variants.
“The WHO’s success in renaming COVID variants from place-based into the Greek alphabet shows that it is possible to change how journalists write about a disease,” Tworek told CBC News in an email.
The precise timeline for any renaming of the monkeypox virus is unclear.
According to WHO, “the naming of viruses is the responsibility of the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses.” They said the process to rename the wider group of orthopox virus species — which includes both smallpox and monkeypox — is already underway.
In terms of changing the names of monkeypox clades, which is what the group of scientists are formally calling for, WHO says it is consulting “with experts and technical advisory groups in poxvirology and viral evolution.”
Hodcroft, the molecular epidemiologist, said the existing naming method may have seemed “reasonable” at one time, but it isn’t now.
“We now know these aren’t even very useful geographical descriptions — cases can be found outside of these areas, and not all places within these areas have cases,” she said.
“What they do leave behind however, is stigma attached to the fear of monkeypox and who may be ‘to blame.’ ”
People with COVID-19 can infect and sicken cats and dogs by cuddling them, says study – CHEK News
Cat and dog owners who cuddle their pets when infected with COVID-19 could end up making the animals sick with the virus, according to a Canadian study.
The study said that while it was already known that animals including cats, dogs, ferrets and hamsters seem to be susceptible to COVID-19, transmission may be happening more often than previously thought.
The research, published this month in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, involved 69 cats and 49 dogs, including pets and animals from shelters and neuter clinics.
Pet owners were also asked to fill out an online survey about the nature of their interaction with their animals.
“These data indicate relatively common transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and that certain human-animal contacts — example, kissing the pet, pet sleeping on the bed — appear to increase the risk,” said the study.
“We inferred that infections in dogs and cats reflect direct transmission from humans to animals, given the pandemic nature of this virus in humans and limited contact of most household pets with other animals.”
Dogs and cats that lived in shelters showed lower rates of COVID-19 infection compared with those that lived with humans, said study co-author Prof. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
“It was a fairly substantial difference as we would have expected,” said Weese.
Lead author Prof. Dorothee Bienzle from the University of Guelph’s pathobiology department said results suggest that cats have a higher rate of COVID-19 infection than dogs.
“It has to do with how well the virus latches on to the receptor in the cat or dog’s respiratory system,” said Bienzle.
The high prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in cats surprised researchers, she said.
“We did not expect quite that many,” she said. “Over half of the cats that live in a household of a person who had COVID had antibodies. That’s very high.”
Animals infected with COVID-19 show symptoms similar to humans who fall sick with the virus, she said.
“They don’t have any appetite, they feel crummy, they sleep more, they might sneeze and cough,” she said.
Weese said cats are able to pass on the infection to each other, and also to humans.
A veterinarian in Thailand was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August 2021, after being sneezed on by an infected cat owned by a patient who had tested positive for the virus, he said. Genetic analysis showed that the virus was transmitted from the cat owner to the pet and onto the veterinarian, Weese said.
There is also evidence that minks infected by humans can pass the virus on to other people, he said.
Transmission from humans to animals can be minimized by owners keeping their distance, wearing a mask and taking other precautions, just as they would to prevent infecting a person, he said.
“Ideally, what we want to do is keep it from spreading as much as possible so people can limit the contact they have with animals when they’re infected,” he said. “That’s ideal.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.
Saskatchewan HIV, HCV education program continuing at USask College of Medicine – USask News
The education program helps address the complexities driving sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI) rates in Saskatchewan and their impact on patient care. Content will include the clinical treatment and management of infections and will feature the involvement of HIV/HCV experienced care providers, organizations, and community members to create made-in-Saskatchewan solutions to the province’s unique environment and challenges.
Critical to the past and continuing success of this program are faculty and staff in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases at the USask College of Medicine. Infectious disease specialists Dr. Alex Wong (MD) and Dr. Beverly Wudel (MD) will oversee the creation and delivery of the medical education, with additional guidance provided by an advisory group of family physicians experienced in providing HIV and HCV care in clinics across the province.
“We’re very pleased to have worked with our partners and colleagues already involved in delivering this important program to now be able to continue this critical work,” said Dr. Jim Barton (MD), CME associate dean. “This would not have been possible without the support of our provincial government. And we are happy to make this announcement today, on National HIV Testing Day in Saskatchewan.”
For the past 10 years, Saskatchewan has had the highest rate of new HIV and Hepatitis C diagnoses in Canada and the fastest growing rate of syphilis infections in the country, resulting in an urgent need to educate primary care providers to recognize, test, treat, and manage these infections in their clinical practices.
“The government is pleased to fund initiatives and programs that improve the capacity and confidence of health-care providers to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs),” said Minister of Health Paul Merriman. “Programs like the STBBI Treatment Education Program for Saskatchewan (STEPS) will help improve access to health-care professionals in more communities across the province, and reduce the stigma many feel around testing and treatment.”
Up to March 2022, the STBBI primary care provider education program was delivered by the Saskatchewan Infectious Disease Care Network (SIDCN) as the Primary Care Capacity Improvement: Treatment as Prevention Project, with four years of funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Harm Reduction Grant. This new STBBI program, renamed STEPS, will feature the continuation and growth of education originally offered by the SIDCN.
“I am so grateful that the amazing work that was being done will continue—now with the educational leadership of CME, the involvement of experienced medical experts and staff, the important guidance of existing project stakeholders, and the support of the Ministry of Health,” said Dr. Satchan Takaya (MD), infectious diseases specialist.
STEPS will build from and utilize resources used by SIDCN’s past project. This will include the continuation of the popular HIV and HCV Virtual Classrooms that discuss testing, treating, and managing these infections in Saskatchewan. Based on feedback, a new Syphilis Virtual Classroom will be launched along with several other new presentations all related to addressing and managing STBBIs in the province.
The program will be targeted to primary care providers, family medicine residents, nurse practitioners and registered nurses, as well as other allied health-care professions. A limited number of clinical mentorship opportunities will be available for physicians and nurse practitioners who can benefit from applying virtual classroom content in a clinical setting under the guidance of experienced HIV and HCV specialists and physicians.
By housing a new STBBI program within CME, there is an opportunity to reach more learners and showcase the expertise and support of faculty from the Infectious Disease Department and Family Medicine. The program will also provide opportunities for collaborating with other STBBI stakeholders and strengthen the efforts needed to support front-line providers and improve access to clinically informed and stigma-free STBBI health care.
Health Minister Adrian Dix must come clean on why B.C. is restricting fourth COVID-19 vaccinations – The Georgia Straight
Former senior civil servant and diplomat Norman Spector shared a fascinating article with me this weekend from the Ottawa Citizen.
A family physician in the national capital, Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, hoped to conduct mass vaccinations for people who want a fourth dose of COVID-19 but don’t qualify under Ontario’s rules.
She reportedly wanted to create a large outdoor “jabalooza” clinic but health officials refused to provide her with vaccines.
Ontario restricts access to fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines to those who are 60 years of age or older.
Next door in Quebec, people can get fourth shots if they are 18 and older.
“I am receiving lots of individual requests for help,” Kaplan-Myrth tweeted on Sunday (June 26). “I can’t give you the vaccine at this time, but hands up (and DM) if you as plaintiffs want to bring this to court as a group. Would require a litigation team.”
There’s a tremendous amount of scientific data showing that COVID-19 vaccines lessen the severity of COVID-19. They reduce the likelihood of dying or being hospitalized from the disease.
However, COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness wanes over time. This is why Kaplan-Myrth is such a strong advocate for booster shots. She believes that these boosters are particularly important when so many people are not wearing masks indoors.
Keep in mind that COVID-19 initially presents as a respiratory infection.
In some cases, however, it causes serious brain injuries and cardiovascular problems. It’s especially dangerous for the immunocompromised, who are at higher risk of suffering severe COVID-19.
That’s because the virus that causes COVID-19 not only damages blood vessels and triggers blood clots, but also disrupts the immune system. Researchers have even linked immune dysfunction to serious brain injuries, which is explained in the video below.
B.C. doesn’t want most under-70s to get fourth shots
In the face of all of this, B.C. continues adopting a hard line on the distribution of fourth vaccine doses.
This is the case even after Global News B.C. reporter Richard Zussman revealed that 226,000 doses intended for the vaccine-hesitant will expire at the end of July.
In B.C., you have to be 70 years of age or older and have gone six months since a previous COVID-19 vaccination to qualify for a fourth dose.
There are exceptions: Indigenous people, for example, can get a fourth dose if they’re 55 or older.
Below, you can read other exceptions listed by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for those between the ages of 60 and 69.
However, when the Georgia Straight asked the Ministry of Health about who qualified for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination, it did not include what’s written after the letter “d”: “Caregiver of a frail elderly or moderately to severely immunosuppressed person”.
So it remains unclear in B.C. if a person between 60 and 69 who is a caregiver for either a frail elderly person or a moderately to severely immunosuppressed person is able to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.
Yet it seems pretty clear from the exemptions above that if you are a cancer survivor or have kidney disease or have heart disease or have multiple sclerosis or have had a transplant and you’re under 70 in B.C., you will not qualify for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination under existing rules.
Why is B.C. being more restrictive with COVID-19 booster shots than Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan (where you only need to be 50-plus), as well as the entire United States?
Health Minister Adrian Dix needs to come clean on that.
What possible justification is there for withholding a fourth COVID-19 shot for British Columbians under 70, especially the immune-compromised, when 226,000 vaccine doses are set to expire next month?
Why is Dix so convinced that he knows better than the governments of Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan?
We don’t know the answer.
That’s in part because our pusillanimous B.C. Liberal MLAs refuse to hold the provincial NDP government accountable for its COVID-19 policies.
Some on social media are speculating that the booster shots are being withheld as part of a population-level experiment—conducted without the people’s consent—on the efficacy of delaying second booster shots.
Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, through their actions, are giving oxygen to this hypothesis.
Who knows? There might even be a scientific justification for withholding booster shots.
But in the absence of evidence provided by the B.C. government, the health minister must get in front of a microphone on Monday (June 27) and provide a coherent explanation.
Failure to do so will only fuel more suspicion about the motives behind the government’s policy.
Perhaps it’s worth noting that in January 2021, Science published a study involving 188 people, which offered a glimmer of hope.
It showed that more than 95 percent of those who had recovered from COVID-19 had immune systems demonstrating “durable” memories of the virus, lasting up to eight months.
This prompted speculation on the National Institutes of Health website that the immune systems of those who are vaccinated would have lasting memories of the virus.
But a study of 188 people is insufficient as the basis for an entire provincewide policy.
Some might wonder if the government isn’t making fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to those under 70 because of the cost of distribution or due to the labour shortage in the health-care sector.
Others might suspect it’s because the B.C. government thinks everyone is going to get COVID-19 anyway, so why bother?
If that’s the real reason, it’s a monumental disservice to those with compromised immunity. This should demand a response from Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender that goes well beyond writing a letter to Henry. Like by holding a public inquiry under section 47.15 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
In the meantime, show us the evidence, Minister Dix, for why so many British Columbians are being denied a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.
And if you’re unwilling to do that, then please step aside so another health minister can do this in your place.
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