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Highly-contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant will likely be dominant strain in Ontario by March, modelling suggests – CTV News Atlantic

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TORONTO —
New modelling data released by Ontario health officials suggests that while COVID-19 cases are declining, the new highly-contagious U.K. variant poses a significant threat and will likely be the dominant strain of the disease in the province by March.

Officials released updated modelling on Thursday that suggested while testing for COVID-19 is down slightly, cases and positivity rates across the province are on the decline.

According to the government, hospitalizations have also decreased across Ontario but the number of patients in the province’s strained intensive care units (ICU) has not fallen yet.

Health officials expect that ICU capacity will decrease to between 150 and 300 patients by the end of February.

The government has previously said that when there are more than 300 patients being treated for COVID-19 in the ICU it becomes nearly impossible to treat the needs of non-COVID-19 patients.

There are currently 358 patients in Ontario’s ICU being treated for COVID-19.

According to the data, “modelling and international examples” suggest that despite the U.K variant of COVID-19 spreading in Ontario, if the province maintains public health interventions it should see a continued reduction in cases, even with a return to school.

“The new mutated SARS-CoV-2 are clearly spreading in the community and will likely be the dominant version of the virus by March,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science table, said on Thursday. “The new variants give us less room to relax and less room for error.”

“The variant will be the dominant source of infection by March.”

The modelling data also found that Ontario’s stay-at-home order, which came into effect on Jan. 12, has resulted in only a small reduction in overall mobility in the province.

According to the modelling, if cases fall at a daily rate of one per cent, Ontario would report about 1,700 new cases per day by the end of February.

If it were to drop three per cent, cases would drop under 1,000 per day by then.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has previously said Ontario would need to see less than 1,000 COVID-19 cases per day before lifting the lockdown.

Brown said that COVID-19 vaccines are likely still effective against the U.K. strain of the disease.

“I think it’s important to note that these are not the only variants that will emerge as the disease continues to spread.”

Brown said it is “quite possible” that a future COVID-19 variant may not work with the current vaccines being distributed. 

COVID-19 cases are also declining across long-term care homes but deaths continue to rise, the province said. There have been 215 long-term care deaths associated with COVID-19 in the previous seven days.

According to the data, Ontario is likely surpass the total number of deaths from the first wave during the second wave.

Ontario surpassed 6,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, with more than 1,400 of those deaths were logged since the beginning of January. 

When should Ontario lift the stay-at-home order?

Brown said that deciding on when to lift the stay-at-home order is a decision that still needs to be made by the government on a region-by-region basis, but added he worries about relaxing it – even if the case numbers are low.

“As the prevalence of the new variant of concern increases, it can really lead to a sort of almost kind of vertical-type takeoff in terms of numbers of cases, with doubling time really shrinking way down,” Brown said. “I think I’d be urging that in any place where we have concern the cases may take off, you maintain the public health measures.”

In terms of students returning to class, Brown said that in order for that to happen safely there needs to be “really strong surveillance of the disease across the province.”

“Which means more testing in these places where we’re worried that infections will spread … I think the testing is a critical issue.”

According to the modelling data, sending students back to the classroom across the province would result in a slight increase in COVID-19 cases in Ontario.

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Canada considering smallpox vaccine for monkeypox cases, says Dr. Theresa Tam

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OTTAWA — The risk posed by monkeypox is low, but nearly everyone in Canada is susceptible because routine vaccination against smallpox ended decades ago, top public health officials said Friday.

Monkeypox is a rare disease that comes from the same family of viruses as variola. That virus causes smallpox, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated around the globe in 1980. It is also linked to the vaccinia virus used in the smallpox vaccine.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which is investigating about two dozen possible cases of monkeypox on top of two confirmed cases in Quebec, says it is spread through prolonged close contact. That includes through direct contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets, bodily fluids or sores, and is not very contagious in a typical social setting.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said Friday that it is not investigating any suspected cases or possible contacts of monkeypox in the province after having ruled out two potential contacts.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the federal public health agency does not know how widespread the disease has become in the country.

Monkeypox is typically milder than smallpox and can cause fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and lesions all over the body.

There is global evidence that smallpox vaccines can offer protection against monkeypox.

But Canada stopped routinely immunizing people against smallpox in 1972.

Tam’s deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, said this means everyone is susceptible to monkeypox.

“I would say, generally, the entire population is susceptible to monkeypox,” Njoo said Friday.

Canada does keep a small stockpile of smallpox vaccine in case of a biological incident, like a laboratory exposure.

A smattering of cases in the United Kingdom prompted that country to begin offering the vaccine to health workers and close contacts of confirmed cases.

Tam said Canada is considering a similar strategy.

“Quebec had some interest in terms of the contacts so that is under discussion right now, but of course we need to know some of the epidemiology as quickly as possible,” Tam said.

She would not say how many doses of the smallpox vaccine Canada has available, citing security reasons.

Public Services and Procurement Canada put out a tender last month to purchase 500,000 doses of the Imvamune smallpox vaccine on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada from 2023 to 2028.

“Although smallpox disease is currently considered to be eradicated, PHAC is procuring a stockpile of the vaccine to immunize Canadians against smallpox disease should a risk ever arise where smallpox is intentionally or unintentionally released,” the tender read.

Health Canada has also approved that vaccine, from Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic, for use to prevent monkeypox.

The company announced Thursday it had secured a deal with an unnamed European country to supply its vaccine in response to monkeypox cases.

There is still a sense of mystery surrounding the sudden appearance of the virus in Canada, the U.S., Australia and several parts of Europe.

“Not many of these individuals are connected to travel to Africa where the disease is normally seen, so this is unusual. It’s unusual for the world to see this many cases reported in different countries outside of Africa,” Tam said.

Canadian health systems are casting a wide net in their search for more cases, she said, because there is not enough known about why the virus is suddenly cropping up around the globe.

“There’s probably been some hidden chains of transmission that could have occurred for quite a number of weeks, given the sort of global situation that we’re seeing right now,” she said.

Njoo said global public health authorities need to be open to the idea that monkeypox is evolving, and transmission may have changed as well.

For now, samples from suspected cases are being sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, but PHAC is working with provinces to set up more local diagnostics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Persisting coronavirus could drag out COVID-19 symptoms – National Geographic

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Most COVID-19 patients recover from their acute infection within two weeks, but bits of the virus don’t always disappear from patients’ bodies immediately. Now a new study, one of the largest focusing on hospitalized COVID-19 patients, shows that some patients harbor these viral remnants for weeks to months after their primary COVID-19 symptoms resolve.

The study suggests that when the genetic material of the virus, called RNA, lingers in the body longer than 14 days, patients may face worse disease outcomes, experience delirium, stay longer in the hospital, and have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with those who cleared the virus rapidly. The persistence of the virus may also play a role in long COVID, the debilitating suite of symptoms that can last for months. Estimates suggest between 7.7 and 23 million people in the United States alone are now affected by long COVID.

Without immunity from vaccination or a previous infection, SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—replicates and spreads throughout the body and is shed through the nose, mouth, and gut. But for most infected people, virus levels in the body peak between three and six days after the original infection, and the immune system clears the pathogen within 10 days. The virus shed after this period is generally not infectious.

Even after accounting for disease severity, whether the patients were intubated, or had underlying medical comorbidities, “there is something here that signals that patients who are persistently PCR positive have worse outcomes,” says Ayush Batra, a neurologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who led the new study.

Batra’s study shows that patients who had prolonged shedding during an acute infection risk more severe outcomes from COVID-19, says Timothy Henrich, a virologist and immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the new research. But the study doesn’t investigate whether this persistent virus is directly responsible for long COVID.

“There are multiple leading hypotheses out there about the cause of long COVID, including viral persistence, and it may be that there are multiple pathways at play, perhaps to some varying degree in any one person,” says Linda Geng, a doctor at Stanford Health Care who co-directs a newly opened Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome Clinic for treating long COVID sufferers.

Persisting virus causes worse COVID-19 outcomes

Batra and his team began studying persistent coronavirus infections after observing that some patients who were returning to the hospital were still testing positive for the virus four or five weeks after they were diagnosed with the initial infection.

For their new study, the team analyzed 2,518 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Northwestern Medicine Healthcare system between March and August 2020. They focused on PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard, because such tests detect genetic material from the virus and so are highly sensitive and less likely to return false negatives.

The team found that 42 percent of patients continued to test PCR positive two weeks or longer after their initial diagnosis. After more than 90 days, 12 percent of the persistent shedders were still testing positive; one person tested positive 269 days after the original infection.

Viral persistence has been noted before in previous smaller studies. Researchers showed that even patients without obvious COVID-19 symptoms harbored SARS-CoV-2 for a couple of months and beyond. In some immunocompromised patients, the virus may not be cleared for a year. Four percent of COVID-19 patients in a trial on chronic COVID-19 infection at Stanford continued to shed viral RNA in feces seven months after diagnosis. However, Batra’s study illustrates that a larger number of patients take longer to clear the virus than previously realized.

“Persistent RNA shedding would mean that there still is a reservoir of virus somewhere in the body,” says Michael VanElzakker, a neuroscientist affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Tufts University. Such reservoirs are thought to allow the virus to persist over a long period of time and could trigger the immune system to act aberrantly, perhaps causing long COVID.

“Some patients, for variety of reasons, are not able to clear this reservoir, or their immune system reacts in some abnormal way that results in these persistent symptoms that have come to be termed as long COVID,” says Batra.

Still, many scientists don’t think there is sufficient evidence yet to link the persistence of viral RNA to long COVID.

Sleeping viruses

The list of human tissues where SARS-CoV-2 hides long after the initial infection is growing. Studies have identified the virus, or genetic material from it, in the intestines of patients four months after initial infection, and inside the lung of a deceased donor more than a hundred days after recovery from COVID-19. One study that’s not yet peer reviewed also detected the virus in the appendix and breast tissues 175 and 462 days, respectively, after coronavirus infections. And research from the U.S. National Institutes of Health that’s also not yet peer reviewed detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisting at low levels across multiple tissues for more than seven months, even when it was undetectable in blood.

“It is not surprising to find viruses encountered during the lifetime” surviving in human tissues, says Kei Sato, a virologist at the University of Tokyo. Indeed, Sato’s work has shown that humans frequently accumulate viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, varicella zoster virus (which causes chicken pox), and many herpes viruses in dormant forms. These persisting viruses are typically present at low levels, so only extensive genetic sequencing can identify them.

This highlights how complicated it is to prove or disprove the association between persisting SARS-CoV-2 and long COVID. Shingles, for example, occurs decades after a chickenpox infection, when the latent virus gets reactivated during immune stress.

Likewise, lingering SARS-CoV-2 could cause long-term health problems. Henrich thinks when the virus is seeded in deep tissues, it potentially causes the immune system to shift into a dysregulated inflammatory state. Such a state is “probably evidence that the virus is capable of persisting, and maybe getting down into sort of an uneasy truce with the body,” says VanElzakker.

Still, associating any lingering virus with long COVID will require extensive studies. “We still don’t know enough to make strong conclusions about any of the current proposed mechanisms, but research is actively underway to answer those questions,” says Geng.

Clearing up persistent virus might cure long COVID 

Both Geng and Henrich’s groups have reported preliminary case studies that show an improvement in long COVID symptoms after patients were treated with Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral Paxlovid. Paxlovid stops the virus from replicating, which is why some experts think it can clear any lingering virus. But both authors urge caution before assuming that Paxlovid will be safe, effective, or sufficient and thereby a reliable cure for long COVID.

“There are some interesting hypotheses about how Paxlovid may be useful in the treatment of long COVID, but we’d need further investigation and clinical trials before coming to any conclusions,” says Geng.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against off-label uses of Paxlovid, which is not approved for long COVID treatment. The agency has given Paxlovid an emergency use authorization to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in those who are at risk of developing severe disease, twice daily for five days soon after a positive test.

“It would be important to consider the optimal duration of treatment [of Paxlovid] to ensure long-term and sustained results,” says Geng.

President Joe Biden has directed the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a national action plan on long COVID, and the NIH has launched a multi-year study called RECOVER to understand, prevent, and treat long-term health effects related to COVID-19.

In the meantime, vaccines not only continue to protect against severe disease, but evidence is also emerging that they can prevent many long COVID symptoms. One new study compared 1.5 million unvaccinated COVID-19 patients to 25,225 vaccinated patients with breakthrough infections, and it found that vaccines significantly reduced the risk of developing long COVID symptoms 28 days after an infection. The protective effect of vaccination got even larger at 90 days post-infection.

“Although a majority of people do not develop long COVID, it’s certainly a risk, and COVID doesn’t stop after the first 10 days of becoming infected,” says Henrich. “For those who don’t take COVID seriously, it can be life changing.”

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No suspected cases of monkeypox in B.C., CDC says – Global News

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The BC Centre for Disease Control has confirmed there are no suspected cases of monkeypox in the province.

“Public health interviewed two individuals but upon investigation, it was determined that they were not considered contacts of cases as they had not been exposed,” the BCCDC said in a statement.

“No suspect cases or contacts of monkeypox are under investigation in B.C. at this time.”

Canada’s chief public health officer said earlier Friday there are now just under two dozen cases of monkeypox in Canada and there were some suspected cases in B.C.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that “people under investigation by local authorities are following up in Quebec but then in British Columbia as well.”

So far, only two cases have been confirmed in Quebec, which are the first cases in Canada.

Read more:

Monkeypox spread ‘unusual’ but risk to Canadians is ‘low,’ officials say

“A communication has gone out to regional health authorities and medical microbiologists about monkeypox with information on symptoms, laboratory testing and diagnosis, infection control precautions, treatment and notification/reporting requirements,” the BCCDC said in a statement. “Clinicians are asked to notify their regional health authority and local microbiologist about any possible cases.”


Click to play video: 'Canada’s top doctor discusses vaccine strategies for monkeypox'



3:47
Canada’s top doctor discusses vaccine strategies for monkeypox


Canada’s top doctor discusses vaccine strategies for monkeypox

Monkeypox is a zoonotic infectious disease that results in occasional human infections usually associated with exposure to infected animals or contaminated materials, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

“Limited cases have been identified in other regions in the past, including the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Singapore, but never before in Canada,” the agency said.

While human-to-human spread of monkeypox is uncommon, close contact with an infected individual through bodily fluids, lesions on skin like blisters and/or respiratory droplets can transmit the virus, PHAC said.

Read more:

Canada confirms first 2 cases of monkeypox in Quebec

Sharing clothing, bedding or common items that have been contaminated with the infected person’s fluids or sores can also spread the virus.

On Wednesday, the U.S. confirmed its first case of monkeypox this year in a man who recently travelled to Canada.

Health officials in European countries where monkeypox cases have been found this month said the majority of the cases were men who have sex with men.


Click to play video: 'Monkeypox: What is it and is it a cause for concern?'



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Monkeypox: What is it and is it a cause for concern?


Monkeypox: What is it and is it a cause for concern?

Tam said Friday there could be more cases announced in the days ahead as tests are still being conducted.

“There are samples under processing at the National Microbiology Lab as we speak, so we might expect to hear more confirmations in the upcoming hours and days,” Tam told reporters during a news conference on Friday.

—with files from Saba Aziz

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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