While many people are focused on the threat of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, medical experts say seasonal influenza poses a much greater concern for those in North America.
Alberta Health Services says another patient who was admitted to hospital for treatment of influenza died this past week.
The patient, in the Central Zone, is the 20th person to die in the province this season because of the illness.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw says the province is prepared with a response in the instance coronavirus does appear here.
“I know that Albertans have been feeling anxious about the novel coronavirus,” she said. “When people feel worried, it’s important they get their information from reliable sources.”
Hinshaw says there are no probable and no confirmed cases of the disease in Alberta.
“At this time, the risk to Albertans is still considered to be low, even though the World Health Organization has made this declaration (of a global health emergency).”
She says the WHO’s new policy on the virus is a “significant step” in the fight against it, but resources in Alberta have been ready for weeks.
“Front-line health care staff have the information they need to monitor and respond to any potential cases,” she said. “Both the Alberta government and AHS have are using existing emergency response processes to help coordinate communication and planning to ensure we are ready to respond if any travel-related cases do occur in Alberta.
“The risk remains low, but we are prepared.”
International medical experts, who are keeping a close watch on the spread of the coronavirus in China, agree there is a very low risk to residents in Canada and the United States.
Influenza is the main concern for people living in North America, says Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an interview with CTV News.
“We’re in the middle of a flu season – that is what you should be worried about right now. If you’re in China, that’s different. If you may have contact with someone from China, that may be a little bit different.”
Adalja says we should not be buying masks because doing so is having a “negative impact” on the problem.
“There may be a time when we need them or other countries that may need them and that’s creating a supply shock that’s really not warranted because there is no general risk to the public in Canada or the United States right now from this virus.”
The World Health Organization declared the Wuhan novel coronavirus a global health emergency Thursday.
The disease has already killed 170 people and infected thousands of people around the world.
Canada has three confirmed or presumptive cases of the disease; two in Toronto and one in Vancouver.
The number of doses of the flu vaccine administered in Alberta so far this year (1,346,999) has already surpassed the total given out during the last flu season (1,305,470).
Health officials say the best defence against influenza is through immunization.
No additional measures are expected to be put in place, Hinshaw says, but health professionals in Alberta will be working with federal and provincial partners to determine when and if further steps are needed.
Anyone who feels they have symptoms of coronavirus are advised to call HealthLink at 811.
Biogen trial of ALS drug fails main goal, but company says data are encouraging
A late-stage trial of Biogen Inc’s experimental treatment for an inherited form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) failed to reach its main goal, but secondary measures and biomarkers showed favorable trends, the company said on Sunday.
Biogen will engage with regulators and other stakeholders “to understand the meaningfulness of this data and potential paths forward,” Toby Ferguson, head of the neuromuscular development unit at Biogen, told Reuters. The company is treating trial patients in a follow-on study and recently launched a Phase 3 trial of the drug, tofersen, in patients who are not yet experiencing ALS symptoms.
Tofersen, administered directly into the spinal canal each month, is designed to suppress the production of SOD1, a protein that can accumulate to toxic levels in ALS patients with mutations in a specific gene. Around 2% of ALS cases are believed to be caused by the genetic mutation.
After 28 weeks of treatment, the 108-patient trial showed a 1.2-point difference on a scale evaluating functional status for patients with fast-progressing ALS who were given tofersen compared to placebo patients, which was not statistically significant. In the group of patients with slower-progressing disease, the difference was 1.4 points.
An improvement of at least 2 points would be clinically meaningful, Guggenheim Partners said in a recent research report.
Biogen also detailed results from secondary trial endpoints, including breathing ability and muscular strength, indicating that patients treated with tofersen fared better than placebo patients, and that placebo patients switched to the drug in the extension phase of the study experienced similar gains.
“Despite the fact that there was no statistically significant difference in the primary endpoint, there is a clinical signal here,” said Dr. Timothy Miller, the study’s lead investigator and ALS Center Director at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. He presented the tofersen data at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.
The trial also showed that patients given tofersen had lower levels of SOD1 protein compared to placebo patients, as well as lower levels of plasma neurofilament light chain, a potential marker of nerve cell degeneration.
“That suggests that there is an effect on clinical function of the person,” Dr. Miller said.
Most side effects in trial patients were mild to moderate, including headache and back pain, but two patients experienced spinal cord inflammation, and 5.6% of tofersen patients dropped out of the study.
Globally, around 168,000 people have ALS, a fatal neurological disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Around 10% of cases are linked to genetic mutations, including SOD1.
Biogen, which licensed tofersen from Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc, now plans to open early access to the drug to all patients with SOD1-associated ALS. In countries allowing such programs, patients can access a medicine free of charge before it is licensed commercially.
Shares of Biogen have fallen by about a third after hitting $414 in early June on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s controversial approval of Alzheimer‘s drug Aduhelm. The agency’s decision to approve the drug based on evidence that it removes protein plaques associated with the brain-wasting disease, rather than proof that it improves cognition, led to a backlash that has curtailed use of the medication while Medicare, the U.S. health plan for seniors, works to develop payment terms.
(Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
NBA-Irving’s vaccination stance looms large over NBA season
The 75th season of the NBA tips off on Tuesday with fans focused on Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, whose refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine in defiance of New York City’s mandate led the Nets to announce he would not suit up for the championship contender.
The loaded Nets roster includes Kevin Durant and James Harden but the team will be at a disadvantage without sharp-shooting point guard Irving, a seven-time All-Star who won a title with Cleveland in 2016.
Irving, 29, framed his decision as one of personal choice in an Instagram Live video last week.
“Nobody should be forced to do anything with their bodies,” Irving said.
“You only get one of these (bodies). If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. If you choose to be unvaccinated, I support you.”
More than 700,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19. Vaccination rates have risen more than 20 percentage points after multiple institutions adopted vaccine requirements, while case numbers and deaths from the virus are down, the White House said last week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the widely available vaccines can keep the recipient from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 while protecting others, particularly those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
“It was a bold move by Brooklyn,” former NBA coach and current ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy told reporters on a call.
“I’m sure it came after great deliberation and speaking to Durant and Harden to see how they felt.”
New York’s Mandate requires proof of at least one shot of the vaccine to enter large indoor spaces. The NBA has said players who are unable to compete due to local mandates will miss out on pay.
Van Gundy said Brooklyn has accumulated enough talent to win a championship even without Irving but said he expects to see the situation get worked out one way or another.
“I think it will get resolved, and I don’t know how,” he said.
“I think we’ll see him play this year, and I’m hopeful for Brooklyn and really for NBA fans that we do, because he’s a special, special talent.”
POINT GUARDS ON THE MOVE
Irving is not the only point guard who has generated attention during a busy offseason, which saw a flurry of moves at the sport’s most important position.
The dynamic Russell Westbrook has joined the Los Angeles Lakers, the rapidly improving Lonzo Ball has gone to the Chicago Bulls, and the tenacious Kyle Lowry is now a member of the Miami Heat.
Former player and coach turned ESPN commentator Mark Jackson said it will be fascinating to see those players adapt to their new environments.
Playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook gives the Lakers a “legitimate chance” to win it all, Jackson said.
Ball brings size and shooting ability to the Bulls and will benefit from playing alongside veteran forward DeMar DeRozan while Lowry is an elite point guard who adds “toughness” to the Heat squad, he said.
“I think across the board as a fan of the NBA, it’s an awesome time, and teams have really put themselves in position to improve, some to have a chance to win it all, some to make the playoffs,” Jackson said.
“It’ll be an entertaining season.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis)
Yukon announces mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for a wide range of workers – Richmond News
WHITEHORSE — A wide range of workers in Yukon will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help slow the spread of the Delta variant, says Premier Sandy Silver.
He said Friday that all government employees and front-line health-care workers, along with employees of partner groups that receive funding from the territory, will be required to be fully vaccinated as of Nov. 30.
Proof of vaccination will also be required to attend non-essential businesses including bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms and sports facilities.
“We absolutely recognize that these measures may pose hardships to some and bring relief to others. My sincere hope is this will prompt vaccine-hesitant Yukoners to roll up their sleeves,” Silver told a news conference.
The territory is targeting a vaccination rate of 90 per cent among eligible people, a milestone Silver said no other Canadian jurisdiction has hit.
The Delta variant, and the ease with which it spreads and causes patients to become sicker, is behind the changes, he added.
“The Delta variant is different, it’s aggressive, it’s a game-changer. I’ve had two chief medical officers of health now saying if you’re unvaccinated it’s just a matter of time (to contract the virus),” Silver said.
“As we start to see increases to people being hospitalized, good people being hospitalized, these are things that are necessary to keep everybody safe.”
Acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Catherine Elliott said she understands some residents may be frustrated by the announcement, and she urged those who are upset not to take their frustrations out on health workers.
“I know not everybody will be happy about these recommendations. It’s normal to have these feelings, but what is not acceptable is to take out your feelings on the people around you,” she said.
She added that social gatherings should be limited to 20 people indoors and only if everyone is fully vaccinated, or a maximum of six if there are some who are not fully vaccinated.
Elliott said the spike in COVID-19 cases in northern British Columbia, which has led the Northern Health authority to transfer patients out of the region due to hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, highlights the importance of vaccinations.
The vaccination clinic in Whitehorse will be open five days a week, starting Monday, in an effort to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
There were 59 active cases of COVID-19 in the territory as of Thursday evening, bringing the total number of cases in Yukon since March 2020 to 831.
— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.
The Canadian Press
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