Pandemics do eventually end, even if Omicron is complicating the question of when this one will. But it won’t be like flipping a light switch: the world will have to learn to coexist with a virus that’s not going away, experts say.
The ultra-contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus is pushing cases to all-time highs and causing chaos as an exhausted world struggles, again, to stem the spread. But this time, we’re not starting from scratch.
Vaccines offer strong protection from serious illness, even if they don’t always prevent a mild infection. Omicron doesn’t appear to be as deadly as some earlier variants. And those who survive it will have some refreshed protection against other forms of the virus that still are circulating — and maybe the next variant to emerge, too.
The newest variant is a warning about what will continue to happen “unless we really get serious about the endgame,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health.
“Certainly COVID will be with us forever. We’re never going to be able to eradicate or eliminate COVID, so we have to identify our goals.”
At some point, the World Health Organization will determine when enough countries have tamped down their COVID-19 cases sufficiently — or at least, hospitalizations and deaths — to declare the pandemic officially over. Exactly what that threshold will be isn’t clear.
Some parts will struggle
Even when that happens, some parts of the world still will struggle — especially low-income countries that lack enough vaccines or treatments — while others more easily transition to what scientists call an “endemic” state.
They’re fuzzy distinctions, said infectious disease expert Stephen Kissler of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He defines the endemic period as reaching “some sort of acceptable steady state” to deal with COVID-19.
The Omicron crisis shows we’re not there yet, but “I do think we will reach a point where SARS-CoV-2 is endemic much like flu is endemic,” he said.
For comparison, COVID-19 has killed more than 800,000 Americans in two years while flu typically kills between 12,000 and 52,000 a year.
Exactly how much continuing COVID-19 illness and death the world will put up with is largely a social question, not a scientific one.
“We’re not going to get to a point where it’s 2019 again,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’ve got to get people to think about risk tolerance.”
British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week that she believes the province will eventually see the end of the pandemic.
“The way the virus is changing with Omicron — that is leading us to that place sooner,” she said in a year-end interview. “The type of illness it’s causing, with most of us being protected through vaccination, means that we are going to get to that place.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, is looking ahead to controlling the virus in a way “that does not disrupt society, that does not disrupt the economy.”
Already the U.S. is sending signals that it’s on the road to whatever will become the new normal. The Biden administration says there are enough tools — vaccine boosters, new treatments and masking — to handle even the Omicron threat without the shutdowns of the pandemic’s earlier days. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reduced to five days the time that people with COVID-19 must stay in isolation so they don’t sicken others, saying it’s become clear they’re most contagious early on.
Cases on the rise again
India offers a glimpse of what it’s like to get to a stable level of COVID-19. Until recently, daily reported cases had remained below 10,000 for six months but only after a cost in lives “too traumatic to calculate” caused by the earlier Delta variant, said Dr. T. Jacob John, former chief of virology at Christian Medical College in southern India.
Omicron now is fuelling a rise in cases again, and the country in January will roll out vaccine boosters for front-line workers. But John said other endemic diseases, such as flu and measles, periodically cause outbreaks and the coronavirus will continue to flare up every so often even after Omicron passes through.
Omicron is so hugely mutated that it is slipping past some of the protection of vaccinations or prior infection. But Dr. William Moss of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health expects “this virus will kind of max out” in its ability to make such big evolutionary jumps. “I don’t see this as kind of an endless cycle of new variants.”
Third COVID-19 outbreak declared this month at Cambridge Memorial Hospital – TheRecord.com
Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) has declared its third COVID-19 outbreak of the month.
The outbreak was announced on Jan. 18 in medicine B (wing B, level 4) with two patients and one staff member testing positive.
A hospital outbreak is declared when two or more patients and/or staff test positive for a respiratory illness that was acquired in hospital within a time frame that is consistent with the epidemiology of the disease, and when there is a link between the cases.
According to CMH, safety precautions added include: enhanced surveillance by increased swabbing and testing non-infected patients and staff; enhanced cleaning, especially to high touch areas; and visits to inpatients have been paused for the entire hospital as of Jan. 8.
Virtual visits and phone connections for patients and families can be arranged.
The outbreak in medicine B could be declared over on Jan. 28 after 10 consecutive days with no new infections.
The hospital is still in outbreak in two other units, rebab and inpatient surgery.
The rehabilitation unit outbreak was declared Jan. 4.
As of Jan. 19, 12 patients and three staff have been infected, with the last positive test detected on Jan. 16, targeting the earliest possible end date at Jan. 26 if there are no new cases.
The inpatient surgery outbreak was declared Jan. 7 and at this time, seven patients and six staff have been infected. The last positive test was detected on Jan. 15, which targets the outbreak’s end date at Jan. 25 should there be no new cases.
Those who had COVID-19 and are vaccinated have best protection, study finds – National | Globalnews.ca – Globalnews.ca
A new study in two states that compares coronavirus protection from prior infection and vaccination concludes getting the shots is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19.
The study examined infections in New York and California last summer and fall and found people who were both vaccinated and had survived a prior bout of COVID-19 had the most protection.
But unvaccinated people with a past infection were a close second. By fall, when the more contagious delta variant had taken over but boosters weren’t yet widespread, that group had a lower case rate than vaccinated people who had no past infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the study Wednesday, noted several caveats to the research. And some outside experts were cautious of the findings and wary of how they might be interpreted.
“The bottom line message is that from symptomatic COVID infection you do generate some immunity,” said immunologist E. John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania. “But it’s still much safer to get your immunity from vaccination than from infection.”
Vaccination has long been urged even after a prior case of COVID-19 because both kinds of protection eventually wane — and there are too many unknowns to rely only on a past infection, especially a long-ago one, added immunologist Ali Ellebedy at Washington University in St. Louis.
“There are so many variables you cannot control that you just cannot use it as a way to say, `Oh, I’m infected then I am protected,”’ Ellebedy said.
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The research does fall in line with a small cluster of studies that found unvaccinated people with a previous infection had lower risks of COVID-19 diagnosis or illness than vaccinated people who were never before infected.
The new study’s findings do make sense, said Christine Petersen, a University of Iowa epidemiologist. She said a vaccine developed against an earlier form of the coronavirus is likely to become less and less effective against newer, mutated versions.
However, experts said, there are a number of possible other factors at play, including whether the vaccine’s effectiveness simply faded over time in many people and to what extent mask wearing and other behaviors played a part in what happened.
Another thing to consider: The “staunchly unvaccinated” aren’t likely to get tested and the study only included lab-confirmed cases, Wherry said.
“It may be that we’re not picking up as many reinfections in the unvaccinated group,” he said.
CDC officials noted other limitations. The study was done before the omicron variant took over and before many Americans received booster doses, which have been shown to dramatically amplify protection by raising levels of virus-fighting antibodies. The analysis also did not include information on the severity of past infections, or address the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
The study authors concluded vaccination “remains the safest strategy” to prevent infections and “all eligible persons should be up to date with COVID-19 vaccination.”
The researchers looked at infections in California and New York, which together account for about 18 per cent of the U.S. population. They also looked at COVID-19 hospitalizations in California.
Overall, about 70 per cent of the adults in each state were vaccinated; another five per cent were vaccinated and had a previous infection. A little under 20 per cent weren’t vaccinated; and roughly five per cent were unvaccinated but had a past infection.
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The researchers looked at COVID-19 cases from the end of last May until mid-November, and calculated how often new infections happened in each group. As time went on, vaccine-only protection looked less and less impressive.
By early October, compared with unvaccinated people who didn’t have a prior infection, case rates were:
— Six-fold lower in California and 4.5-fold lower in New York in those who were vaccinated but not previously infected.
— 29-fold lower in California and 15-fold lower in New York in those who had been infected but never vaccinated.
— 32.5-fold lower in California and 20-fold lower in New York in those who had been infected and vaccinated.
But the difference in the rates between those last two groups was not statistically significant, the researchers found.
Hospitalization data, only from California, followed a similar pattern.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
Over 1.2 million people died from drug-resistant infections in 2019 – study
More than 1.2 million people died in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics, higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria, according to a new report published on Thursday.
Global health officials have repeatedly warned about the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and other microbes due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages microorganisms to evolve into “superbugs”.
The new Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance report, published in The Lancet, revealed that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was directly responsible for an estimated 1.27 million deaths and associated with about 4.95 million deaths. The study analysed data from 204 countries and territories.
“These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide… Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from AMR by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought,” said Chris Murray, co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington.
Last year, the World Health Organization warned that none of the 43 antibiotics in development or recently approved medicines were enough to combat antimicrobial resistance.
Cornelius Clancy, professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said one of the ways to tackle AMR is to look at a new treatment model.
“The traditional antibiotic model that we’ve had for past number of decades since penicillin. I think it is tapped out.”
Most of 2019’s deaths were caused by drug resistance in lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, followed by bloodstream infections and intra-abdominal infections.
AMR’s impact is now most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, while around one in five deaths is in children aged under five years.
There was limited availability of data for some regions, particularly many low and middle-income countries, which may restrict the accuracy of the study’s estimates.
Clancy said the focus has been on COVID-19 for the past two years, but AMR is a “long-term kind of challenge”.
(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Devika Syamnath)
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