Mystery virus found in Wuhan resembles bat viruses but not SARS, Chinese scientist says – Science Magazine
SHANGHAI—A new coronavirus identified by Chinese scientists is the putative cause of an outbreak of unusual pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan, according to Chinese news reports yesterday. In an interview today with Science, Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government, confirmed that scientists have a complete sequence of the novel virus’s genome.
The World Health Organization on 9 January requested sequence data, a spokesperson in Geneva says, and many scientists urge the country to make the sequence public quickly, but the decision is up to the top leadership of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says Xu, who is director of the Beijing-based State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, part of China CDC. (The center’s head, George Gao, did not respond to emails from Science seeking comment.)
Xu says the investigation is being led by China CDC but numerous groups in other government agencies are involved. “Plenty of people are working on the outbreak,” he says. The role of the evaluation committee Xu leads is to review all the findings and make recommendations to the National Health Commission. Xu also said the novel coronavirus resembles known bat viruses, but not the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: The virus has been isolated from one patient, is that correct?
A: Correct. Two groups isolated the virus from samples from one patient. The viruses are nearly identical in morphology under electron microscopy. Researchers did laboratory investigations of 34 patients. A total of 15 were positive for the novel virus, [based on] sequencing samples of [fluid injected into the lung and collected for examination]. The teams got complete genome sequence data from about 10 patients. They are now attempting to isolate the virus from those samples as well. There are 19 cases with no evidence of the virus. There is no information available for the results of the remaining 25 cases.
Q: How close is this new virus to the SARS coronavirus?
A: The virus is similar to some of the published viruses collected from bats. But it is not close to SARS and not close to MERS.
Q: Are close contacts of patients and market workers being tested for antibodies to the new virus?
A: [Investigators] have just gotten the virus, they now need the chance to prepare reagents for antibody tests, but there are no data yet.
Q: The 5 January report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, the latest available, says a total of 59 pneumonia patients have been identified as possibly carrying the virus. Have more patients been found?
A: It should be mentioned that the 59 reported pneumonia patients in Wuhan were clinically diagnosed; of those, 15 were confirmed to be infected by the new coronavirus. No new patients have appeared, as far as I understand. It’s good news. People fear something like SARS in 2003, but this is a different case. The outbreak is limited, but we should test patients one by one [to identify] pneumonia caused by other pathogens.
Q: Are researchers trying to replicate the disease in lab animals to prove that it is really the cause of the outbreak?
A: People have recommended that [investigators] do tests to see if the virus can cause the infection in animals, but they need time.
Q: Is there any progress in tracing the original source of the virus?
A: I have no information. Personally, I’m interested, too. The virus looks like viruses isolated from bats, but how it was transmitted from bats to people is still a question. Several groups in China have been working on bat coronaviruses for years. I imagine they’re working on this but so far there is no information.
Q: Are other live animal markets being checked?
A: The Wuhan market has been closed. I have no information about other [markets]. Wild animals carry the risk of exposing people to new viruses. I think we should have more strict regulations and inspections of markets that sell wild animals, especially since the source of the new coronavirus has not been identified and eliminated.
With reporting by Jon Cohen.
WHO advisers to consider whether obesity medication should be added to Essential Medicines List
Advisers to the World Health Organization will consider next month whether to add liraglutide, the active ingredient in certain diabetes and obesity medications, to its list of essential medicines.
The list, which is updated every two years, includes medicines “that satisfy the priority health needs of the population,” WHO says. “They are intended to be available within the context of function health systems at all times, in adequate amounts in the appropriate dosage forms, of assured quality and at prices that individuals and the community can afford.”
The list is “a guide for the development and updating of national and institutional essential medicine lists to support the procurement and supply of medicines in the public sector, medicines reimbursement schemes, medicine donations, and local medicine production.”
The WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines is scheduled to meet April 24-28 to discuss revisions and updates involving dozens of medications. The request to add GLP-1 receptor agonists such as liraglutide came from four researchers at US institutions including Yale University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
These drugs mimic the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone, GLP-1, and stimulate the release of insulin. This helps lower blood sugar and slows the passage of food through the gut. Liraglutide was developed to treat diabetes but approved in the US as a weight-loss treatment in 2014; its more potent cousin, semaglutide, has been approved for diabetes since 2017 and as an obesity treatment in 2021.
The latter use has become well-known thanks to promotions from celebrities and on social media. It’s sold under the name Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss. Studies suggest that semaglutide may help people lose an average of 10% to 15% of their starting weight – significantly more than with other medications. But because of this high demand, some versions of the medication have been in shortage in the US since the middle of last year.
The US patent on liraglutide is set to expire this year, and drugmaker Novo Nordisk says generic versions could be available in June 2024.
The company has not been involved in the application to WHO, it said in a statement, but “we welcome the WHO review and look forward to the readout and decision.”
“At present, there are no medications included in the [Essential Medicines List] that specifically target weight loss for the global burden of obesity,” the researchers wrote in their request to WHO. “At this time, the EML includes mineral supplements for nutritional deficiencies yet it is also described that most of the population live in ‘countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.’ “
WHO’s advisers will make recommendations on which drugs should be included in this year’s list, expected to come in September.
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“This particular drug has a certain history, but the use of it probably has not been long enough to be able to see it on the Essential Medicines List,” Dr. Francesco Blanca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, said at a briefing Wednesday. “There’s also issues related to the cost of the treatment. At the same time, WHO is looking at the use of drugs to reduce weight excess in the context of a systematic review for guidelines for children and adolescents. So we believe that it is a work in progress, but we’ll see what the Essential Medicines List committee is going to conclude.”
Some pediatric surgeries may be postponed as pediatric ICU faces strain: Shared Health
Re-emerging levels of respiratory illness have caused increased patient numbers at the HSC Children’s pediatric intensive care unit over the last week, and some non-urgent procedures may be postponed, Shared Health says.
On Thursday morning, there were 17 pediatric patients in the intensive care unit, and a considerable number of which were already experiencing health issues that were aggravated by respiratory illness. The unit’s normal baseline is nine, Shared Health said in a Thursday media release.
The release said patient volumes at the children’s emergency department are stable but more children with flu-like symptoms have been recorded coming in over the last two weeks, going from a low of 22 in mid-March to 47 on Wednesday.
A variety of respiratory illnesses are spreading through the community and have contributed to the increased level of patients in the pediatric intensive care unit, according to Shared Health.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit was at 51 on Thursday morning, which is slightly above the unit’s normal baseline capacity of 50.
Ten staff are being temporarily reassigned to the pediatric intensive care unit to deal with the increased level of patients, the release said.
Some staff are being pulled from the pediatric surgical and recovery units, which means non-urgent procedures may be postponed due to the reassignments, Shared Health said.
Families of patients impacted by the postponements will be contacted, they said, and all urgent and life-threatening surgeries will go unhindered.
Families can protect their children from respiratory illnesses by limiting their contact with people exhibiting cold-like symptoms, washing their hands frequently and staying up to date on vaccinations, Shared Health said.
Patient volumes increased last month
While overall wait times at emergency and urgent care centres were stable in February, Shared Health said daily patient volumes in the province went up.
The daily average of patients seeking care was 750 last month, which is an increase from 730.4 in January, according to a separate Thursday news release.
The average length of stay for patients in emergency or urgent care units to be transferred to an inpatient unit went down to 21.77 hours last month, which is an improvement from 22.5 hours in January, the release said.
The overall number of people who left without being seen went down last month, from 13 per cent in January to 12.1 per cent in February, according to Shared Health. It also decreased at the HSC emergency department, from 25 per cent in January to 23.4 per cent last month.
Shared Health is reminding Manitobans to continue to call 911 in case of an emergency, and said the sickest and most injured patients will remain their priority.
Respiratory Outbreak Over: Southbridge Pinewood – Kingfisher and Sandpiper Units
March 30, 2023 – The Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) and Southbridge Pinewood confirm that the respiratory outbreak on Kingfisher and Sandpiper Units, located at 2625 Walsh St. E, has been declared over. All outbreak restrictions have been lifted.
TBDHU recommends the public refrain from visiting hospitals, long-term care facilities and other high risk settings when feeling unwell to avoid spreading infections to those most vulnerable and at higher risk of severe outcomes.
The Health Unit reminds the public that they can prevent getting and spreading infections by:
- Staying at home when sick.
- Wearing a well-fitted mask in indoor spaces, especially when around vulnerable people or when recovering from illness.
- Keeping up-to-date with influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Washing hands often, for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Covering coughs/sneezes with the upper sleeve if no tissue is available.
- Being familiar with the Ontario screening tool, to self-assess and know what to do next.
For more information on current outbreaks, please visit the following link: https://www.tbdhu.com/outbreaks.
For more information – TBDHU Media: email@example.com
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