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New York deer infected with Omicron, finds study – Deccan Herald



White-tailed deer on Staten Island have been found carrying the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus, marking the first time the variant has been reported in wild animals.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that white-tailed deer are easily infected by the virus. The results are likely to intensify concerns that deer, which are widely distributed across the United States and live near humans, could become a reservoir for the virus and a potential source of new variants.

Researchers have previously reported that the virus was widespread in deer in Iowa in late 2020 and parts of Ohio in early 2021.

The US Department of Agriculture has confirmed infections in deer in 13 additional states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia — Lyndsay Cole, a spokesperson for the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said Thursday. Those animals were infected with earlier variants of the virus.

Research suggests that deer are catching the virus from humans and then spreading it to other deer, and there is no evidence that the animals are transmitting it back to people. But longer term, widespread circulation of the virus in deer would give the virus more opportunity to mutate, potentially giving rise to new variants that could spill over into people or other animal species.

“The circulation of the virus in deer provides opportunities for it to adapt and evolve,” said Vivek Kapur, a veterinary microbiologist at Penn State University, who is part of the Staten Island research team. “And it’s likely to come back and haunt us in the future.”

The researchers also found that one deer with Omicron already had a high level of antibodies to the virus, suggesting that it may have been previously infected. Omicron has proved able to evade some of the immune system’s defenses in humans. If it is similarly immune-evasive in deer, animals infected during earlier outbreaks may be vulnerable to reinfection.

The news that Omicron had breached white-tailed deer populations was not unexpected, experts said.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising,” said Dr Scott Weese, an infectious diseases veterinarian at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

“Omicron is quite ubiquitous,” said Dr Samira Mubareka, a virus expert at Sunnybrook Research Institute and the University of Toronto

The new research, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, is a partnership among the Penn State researchers, conservation nonprofit White Buffalo, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and other institutions.

As part of a deer population-control study, White Buffalo has been working with the city to capture local deer and sterilize some of the young males.

Between mid-December and the end of January, the field workers collected blood samples from 131 captured deer, as well as nasal and tonsillar swabs from a smaller subset of animals.

Nearly 15 per cent of the deer had antibodies to the virus in their blood, the researchers found, suggesting that the animals had previously been infected with it.

Polymerase chain reaction testing of the swabs from 68 deer also revealed that seven of the animals were actively infected with the virus at the time of sampling.

The PCR tests also revealed that viral samples from all seven deer had a pattern of mutations that was suggestive of the omicron variant.

The researchers have now sequenced four of those samples and confirmed that at least four deer were infected by omicron, which spread rapidly through New York City’s human population in December.

“The recent wave is spilling over,” Kapur said.

The researchers cautioned that it was impossible to make sweeping conclusions based on the single deer that tested positive for the virus and also had high levels of antibodies in its blood. They could not rule out the possibility that the animal had developed those antibodies during the course of its current infection. But if the findings hold up, and deer can be repeatedly reinfected by new variants, it raises the risk that the animals could become a reservoir for the virus, the scientists said.

“You can imagine this could be a never-ending, perpetual cycle of deer constantly circulating the virus among themselves and picking up the new variants,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, a veterinary microbiologist at Penn State who led the research team.

How humans are spreading the virus to deer remains unknown. People could spread the virus to the animals directly — perhaps by hand-feeding deer in parks or yards, the researchers noted — or indirectly, through wastewater or contaminated trash.

Mubareka emphasised the need for longitudinal surveillance of the Staten Island deer to determine how the variant evolves, whether it spills over into other wildlife, and what level of illness it causes. Deer have appeared asymptomatic when infected with earlier variants.

The researchers are hoping to conduct laboratory studies of the antibodies they detected in the Staten Island deer to try to determine which version of the virus each animal was infected by — and how much those antibodies might protect against other variants.

Does a Delta infection protect deer from being reinfected by Delta? Does it protect against Omicron? Does an Omicron infection protect against a future Delta infection?

“These are all open questions,” said Kurt Vandegrift, a disease ecologist at Penn State and a member of the research team. “We’re brand-new in finding these infections in the wild. And so that’s why we’re taking data, and that’s why we need to do more surveillance.”

In the meantime, the researchers said, New Yorkers should not fear their local deer, but keeping a safe distance away from wildlife is always a good practice.

Several states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, have recommended additional measures for hunters butchering animals in the field, such as avoiding the head, lungs and digestive tract, in addition to general hygiene practices. “Get vaccinated, wear a mask, gloves, wash your hands, but assume that you could be exposed,” Mubareka said.

The best way to prevent deer from becoming a reservoir for the virus is to curb its spread in humans, the scientists emphasised.

The discovery of Omicron in deer, Kuchipudi said, “is a reminder and probably call for action that the pandemic’s not over yet.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Kingston, Ont., area health officials examining future of local vaccination efforts – Global News



More than 455,000 people in the Kingston region have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Now health officials say they’re using the summer months, with low infection rates, to look ahead to what fall might bring, urging those who are still eligible to get vaccinated do so.

Read more:

Kingston Health Sciences Centre to decommission COVID-19 field site

“Large, mass immunization clinics, mobile clinics, drive-thru clinics and small primary care clinics doing their own vaccine,” said Brian Larkin with KFL&A Public Health.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Gerald Evans says those who are still eligible for a third and fourth dose should take advantage and roll up their sleeves during the low-infection summer months.

“Now in 2022, although you still might get COVID, you’re probably not going to be very sick. You are less likely to transmit and ultimately that’s one of the ways we’re going to control the pandemic,” added Evans.

He expects another wave of COVID-19 to hit in late October to early November and that a booster may be made available for those younger than 60 who still aren’t eligible for a fourth dose.

Read more:

Kingston, Ont. COVID assessment centre cuts hours for the summer

“The best case scenario is a few more years of watching rises in cases, getting boosters to control things and ultimately getting out of it with this being just another coronavirus that just tends to cause a respiratory infection and worst-case scenario is a new variant where all the potential possibilities exist to have a big surge in cases and hopefully not a lot more serious illness,” said Evans.

Public Health says they’re still waiting for direction from the province on what’s to come this fall.

“We’re expecting that we would see more age groups and younger age groups be eligible for more doses or boosters but about when those ages start, we have yet to have that confirmed,” said Larkin.

The last 18 months of vaccines paving the way for the new normal could mean a yearly COVID booster alongside the annual flu shot.

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

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Monkeypox detected in Norfolk County | – Hamilton Spectator



The monkeypox virus has found its way to Norfolk County.

The health unit announced on Friday that a Norfolk resident has tested positive and is currently isolating at home.

Contacts of the infected resident have been notified, according to a media release from the health unit.

“There is no increased risk of monkeypox to the general public stemming from this case,” acting medical officer of health Dr. Matt Strauss said in the release.

“Outside of an emergency situation, if you have symptoms of monkeypox, it is important to stay home and call your doctor to be assessed. When seeking medical care, you should wear a high-quality medical mask and cover up all lesions and open sores.”

Monkeypox is spread by direct physical contact, most often by touching a rash on an infected person’s skin but sometimes through “respiratory secretions” if in close proximity for a prolonged period, the health unit said.

“Most people infected with monkeypox will have mild symptoms and recover on their own without treatment,” said the release.

Symptoms lasting between two and four weeks can include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, low energy, muscle aches, skin rash or lesions, sometimes starting on the face or genitals and spreading elsewhere.

The health unit says symptoms usually start between six and 13 days of exposure to the virus.

The Halton region recorded its first confirmed case of monkeypox earlier this month.

Close contacts of monkeypox patients are eligible to receive the smallpox vaccine, which also provides protection against monkeypox.

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Mass vaccination campaign against Monkeypox needed, experts say – Global News



As the World Health Organization calculates whether to declare monkeypox a global health emergency, infectious disease experts are urging health officials to be more proactive and start ramping up vaccinations and surveillance — especially in African nations where the virus is most prevalent.

The WHO convened its emergency committee Thursday to consider whether the spiralling outbreak of monkeypox should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” the WHO’s highest level of alert.

But the United Nations agency is facing criticism over its treatment of monkeypox — jumping into action only after the disease started to spread in rich western nations.

Read more:

WHO to discuss declaring monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency

The viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions is endemic in parts of Africa, which means it is consistently present in certain regions. The continent has registered just over 1,500 suspected cases since the start of 2022, of which 70 have been fatal, according to the WHO.

By comparison, Canada has confirmed over 200 cases, the majority of which are in Quebec, and has had no deaths.

“There are more cases that occur in Africa on a yearly basis than have already been reported outside of Africa right now. And there are more deaths that have occurred in Africa from monkeypox than have occurred in the rest of the world,” said Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious disease physician and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University.

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That’s why he believes Africa should be getting the lion’s share of resources to deal with monkeypox — and that should include mass vaccinations, he says.

“I think Africa needs to be looked at with high, high priority,” he said.

“It needs to be a mass vaccination campaign for monkeypox with the newer vaccines for people in the African continent, especially in the high endemic areas.”

He’s not alone.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a physician and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, says she also believes more people living in regions where monkeypox is more prevalent should be vaccinated.

“That will actually stop it in endemic regions in this non-endemic outbreak.”

That the WHO is only now taking monkeypox seriously is “profoundly problematic,” Gandhi says, given that the disease has been spreading and killing people in Central and West Africa for years.

Click to play video: 'Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll'

Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll

Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll – Jun 17, 2022

“It’s been circulating since 1958. There are increasing outbreaks — a severe one in Nigeria, for example in 2017 — and it’s only really essentially when this has affected high-income countries that the WHO is jumping on it.”

Experts who have worked on monkeypox in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo have long taken note of rising cases while population immunity to pox viruses has been decreasing, due to lack of vaccination. This is why the world shouldn’t be surprised at the current outbreaks, said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California, who has studied monkeypox for two decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how quickly a deadly virus can spread across the globe when the right conditions are present, so health officials ought to learn from this and start being more proactive, she said.

“When it comes to infectious diseases, in particular those viruses that have the potential for global spread, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble than it is to have to get out of trouble.”

In addition to providing vaccines, health officials should also be ramping up resources to study this disease and do more surveillance to get a better understanding of monkeypox and learn why it is spreading in new and unusual ways, Rimoin said.

Read more:

Monkeypox outbreak: Case count rises to more than 3,200 globally, says WHO

“We’ve given this virus a lot of runway to be able to spread. We have not been looking for it as vigilantly as we should be,” she said.

“I think we have to learn the lessons that we’ve learned with COVID-19 and that it is much better to invest ahead of time to get in front of these viruses, to do the kind of surveillance it’s necessary to be regularly updating our knowledge about viruses.”

Good disease surveillance is just as important in poorer countries as it is in “high-resource settings,” she added.

Like many countries around the world, Canada and the United States stopped vaccinating the general population against smallpox by around 1972, which means many on this continent are highly susceptible to pox viruses like monkeypox.

Given that scientists expect to see more emerging infectious diseases due to factors such as climate change, deforestation and globalization, the world should start getting better prepared for new outbreaks, Elsayed said.

Read more:

Monkeypox has Canadian researchers scrambling. Why, and how contagious is it?

This is why, in addition to calling for vaccinations and more resources to fight monkeypox in Africa, Elsayed believes governments in developed nations should also consider more options to protect citizens from pox viruses, including possibly re-introducing mass smallpox vaccinations.

“I believe that these vaccines should come on board again for the general population … but not (just) for monkeypox, but also to protect the world against perhaps a smallpox pandemic that can happen in the future, or even another virus that’s closely related to monkeypox but hasn’t reached humans,” Elsayed said.

He stressed this should only be considered after addressing the more pressing needs in Africa first.

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WHO looks into reports of traces of monkeypox found in semen

WHO looks into reports of traces of monkeypox found in semen – Jun 15, 2022

Rimoin noted that when the world stopped vaccinating against smallpox, it opened a “gap of immunity” for populations to once again be vulnerable to it. And with the emergence of a number of new pox viruses in different parts of the globe, including mousepox, cowpox and camelpox, the world is not immune to new outbreaks, she said.

“We now have to really think about, How important is it for us to be able to keep pox viruses out of the population?” she said. “What are the stakes of allowing this virus to spread? And then acting accordingly.”

-With files from Global News reporter Reggie Checcini and Reuters.

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

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