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Omicron may hang around longer on surfaces than original virus, early findings suggest – CBC News

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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt like the virus was everywhere — and on everything.

Some people washed their mail or wore gloves to the grocery store, while policymakers cordoned off playgrounds and encouraged businesses to scrub every surface.

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But as the months passed, scientific consensus began to crystallize, suggesting some of those precautions might be missing the bigger picture of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus transmits.

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The main way people get infected, most leading public health officials and scientists now agree, is through exposure to this virus through the air, not through contaminated surfaces known scientifically as “fomites.”

Yet Omicron, the highly contagious variant known for slipping around some of our best defences, might be surviving longer on everyday objects than its early predecessor — raising questions about which basic precautions to prevent surface-based transmission might still be warranted. 

That’s a key finding from a new pre-print paper from researchers at the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health, which is published online but has not yet been peer-reviewed.

After conducting lab-based research, the team found Omicron “is more stable than the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 on different surfaces.”

“Our findings imply that (Omicron) has an increased likelihood to be transmitted by the fomite route,” the researchers concluded.

“Hand hygiene and frequent disinfection of common touch surfaces in public areas are highly recommended.”

In the early days of the pandemic, some people washed their mail or wore gloves to the grocery store, while policymakers cordoned off playgrounds and encouraged businesses to scrub every surface. (Etienne Laurent/EPA/Shutterstock)

‘More evidence is needed’

Building off other recent research which showed Omicron’s heavily-mutated spike protein is more stable than the ancestral strain, and their own previous findings on SARS-CoV-2’s level of infectiousness on various surfaces, the Hong Kong team explored what would happen if droplets containing Omicron — the BA.1 lineage, specifically — were applied to surfaces like stainless steel, paper, and glass.

In each instance, infectious amounts of Omicron were recovered for longer amounts of time than the samples of the original virus.

On several types of paper, infectious amounts of ancestral SARS-CoV-2 were only recoverable for five to 15 minutes — compared to more than 30 minutes for Omicron.

On smooth surfaces, Omicron lasted more than a week, while infectious amounts of the original virus were recovered up to just four days on polypropylene plastic and stainless and up to seven days on glass.

“More evidence is needed to account for the increased transmissibility of (Omicron) observed in various community studies,” the researchers wrote. 

“The extra virus stability on surfaces may be one possible factor and should be taken into consideration when recommending control measures against the infection.”

Linsey Marr, a researcher on the airborne transmission of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and a professor at Virginia Tech, agreed that the results show Omicron seems to survive better, which could be contributing to its heightened transmissibility. 

“This might affect the balance of transmission routes favouring more fomite transmission than we saw before,” she said.

But Marr stressed the study’s conditions don’t reflect real-world scenarios. The volume of droplets used in the lab research — five microlitres — might sound small, but it’s “actually huge compared to droplets we usually spew out,” she said.

That means the exact timings might not pan out for people living their daily lives, though Marr did feel the comparison between the ancestral virus and Omicron was notable.

WATCH | Omicron surge triggers new lockdowns in China: 

China locks down cities to stop Omicron surge

2 days ago

Duration 2:00

Millions of people in China have been forced into lockdown, ordered to stay home to protect themselves from the country’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak in two years. 2:00

Virus ‘fragile’ outside controlled settings

Other members of the scientific and medical community also had mixed views on what this new study actually tells us about how Omicron spreads.

Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at the New Jersey Medical School of Rutgers University, said in an article published in The Lancet journal in 2020 that the risk of COVID-19 infection from surfaces at that time was “exaggerated.”

When asked about the new Hong Kong results, he said any findings based on the “same old techniques” in a laboratory don’t change that, since figuring out transmission is about more than just how viruses survive within controlled settings.

“You’re never going to find that much virus in a small area that you touch,” he said.

“The virus is fragile; these mutations haven’t changed that. It’s still going to die very quickly in the environment.”

‘Hand hygiene and frequent disinfection of common touch surfaces in public areas are highly recommended,’ say a team of Hong Kong researchers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist working with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, echoed that.

“Doing experiments inside a lab where humidity is controlled is one thing. Applying that to real life is an entirely different thing,” he said.

Sunlight and humidity, for instance, can both contribute to how long viruses are able to survive on surfaces outdoors, he noted. 

The study authors themselves did note the limitations at play, including the controlled, lab-based setting and differences in the droplets used in the research compared to respiratory droplets, which may all impact the stability of the virus.

It’s also not clear exactly how much virus is needed for a productive SARS-CoV-2 infection, Banerjay said, with more research needed.

Even so, he said the findings suggest it’s worth being cautious.

“I think we shouldn’t drop our guard against SARS-CoV-2, period.”

Hand washing, basic cleaning still matter, experts say

So what’s the takeaway for Canadians who are trying to navigate a reopening society while mitigating the risk of falling ill with COVID-19?

“We’ve been so focused on airborne transmission and masks that, maybe, we’ve kind of neglected to wash our hands,” Marr said.

Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., agreed that alongside other personal protections like mask-wearing and vaccinations, basic hand hygiene remains a smart way to ward off this virus. 

Regular sanitization of toys and other items in daycares and schools where children are at play may also be helpful, Dr. Gerald Evans said. (Robert Short/CBC)

Regular sanitization of toys and other items in daycares and schools where children are at play may also be helpful, he said, given how often kids put items directly in their mouths. 

But he warned the public not to panic, and avoid resorting to heavy-handed precautions.

“If you wash your hands — not obsessively, but just thoughtfully and carefully — that’s going to reduce any transmission you see out there,” Evans said.

“Certainly I don’t want to see people going back to wiping their groceries down with disinfectants and leaving things sitting for days on end in the hope that what virus might be there isn’t going to infect them. We know that this is not in any shape, manner, or form a major transmission route for this virus.”


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Good Dental Health Essential in Sickle Cell Anemia, Study Finds |… – Sickle Cell Anemia News

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Good oral health is essential in people with sickle cell anemia (SCA), according to a new study from Saudi Arabia that found that several disease-causing bacteria species — including Enterobacteriaceae — were significantly more abundant in a group of patients with poorer dental health than in those with better oral care.

“A healthy mouth has a balance of bacteria, but inadequate oral health narrows the range of bacteria, resulting in oral dysbiosis, a state in which beneficial bacteria decrease and potentially pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria increase,” the researchers wrote.

The findings also indicated that patients with low levels of hemoglobin F — a type of hemoglobin normally produced during fetal development — had a significantly higher prevalence of harmful bacteria species than those who had higher levels of the protein.

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“Our data further emphasise the importance of routine oral hygiene visits for patients with SCA,” the team wrote, adding, “This is especially important for patients with SCA and low [hemoglobin F], who have a higher probability of hospitalisation and clinical complications compared to patients with SCA and high [hemoglobin F].”

The research’s findings were reported in “Oral microbiota analyses of Saudi sickle cell anemics with dental caries,” a study published in the International Dental Journal

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Examining good versus poor dental health in SCA

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is caused by mutations in the HBB gene that lead to the production of a faulty version of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen through the body. This faulty version is called hemoglobin S.

People with sickle cell anemia or SCA, the most common and often the most severe form of SCD, have two faulty gene copies encoding hemoglobin S.

Complications of dental caries or tooth decay, including acute pain, are often observed in patients with SCA — and have been associated with poor quality of life.

In a healthy mouth, different bacteria species co-exist in a balanced ratio. However, in cases of inadequate oral health, the number of beneficial bacteria decreases, while that of potentially harmful ones increases. This can lead to dental caries, which often result in cavities and other oral health problems.

“Although ample evidence indicates a causative correlation between the disruption of the oral [bacteria] and dental caries, the effect in SCA has not been investigated,” the researchers wrote.

Now, a team from the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia conducted a study to examine oral bacteria composition in people with SCA. Their aim was to compare bacteria species in patients with a high decayed, missing, and filled permanent teeth (DMTF) index — a measure of dental health — compared with others who had a low index.

In addition, they evaluated the effect of hemoglobin F levels on bacterial composition by comparing the profiles of patients with low and high levels of the protein. Fetal hemoglobin or hemoglobin F is considered a major modulator of disease severity in SCA.

This type of hemoglobin normally is found in fetuses and newborn babies, but is typically replaced by another hemoglobin variant after birth. However, hemoglobin F is more effective at transporting oxygen than its adult counterpart, and may, therefore, help to counteract the harmful effects of hemoglobin S on blood flow and oxygen transport.

In some individuals, the levels of hemoglobin F remain relatively high during childhood, and only start to decline later on in life, rather than immediately after birth.

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hygiene, self-care

High levels of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria found

This new study was conducted in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where the disease is highly prevalent. It included 100 patients, ages 5–12, from whom saliva was collected.

Among the patients, 27 had high dental caries — reflected by a high DMTF index of five points or more — and 73 had low dental caries, indicated by a low DMTF index of four points or fewer.

The research team identified 416 bacteria species in the patients’ samples. When analyzing their prevalence, seven were found to be significantly more abundant in patients with a high DMTF index than in those with a low index.

In addition, eight bacteria species were found to be significantly more prevalent in patients with low hemoglobin F levels compared with those with high levels of the protein.

In particular, the Enterobacteriaceae bacteria species, which have been associated with severe infections and high rates of antibiotic resistance, were found in great abundance in both patient groups, being the most significantly abundant bacteria species among those with low levels of hemoglobin F. 

“It has been suggested that the presence of the Enterobacteriaceae species in the oral cavity is favoured when an individual’s immunity is compromised,” the researchers wrote, adding that “patients with SCA are immunocompromised.”

Overall, these findings indicate that Saudi SCA patients with poorer dental health and low levels of hemoglobin F have a higher predominance of harmful bacteria in their mouth.

Our data further emphasise the importance of routine oral hygiene visits for patients with SCA.

“Our results provide a valuable addition to the global microbiome reference data set in an underexamined community,” the researchers wrote, adding, “These efforts are essential and warranted given the scarcity of [bacteria composition] data in Middle Eastern populations.”

Nevertheless, a study with a large sample size evaluating how oral bacterial species can relate to dental caries in SCA patients is required, the team noted.

The researchers said their findings indicate the important of good dental health in people with sickle cell anemia, given that the bacteria species otherwise found “are thought to drive the development and progression of dental caries.”

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Good Oral Health Crucial in People with Sickle Cell Anemia, Study Finds – Oral Health

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A new study from Saudi Arabia found that good dental health is vital for people with sickle cell anemia (SCA). The findings observed that multiple disease-causing bacteria were seen much more in the patients with poorer oral health than those with better oral health.

Patricia Valerio, PhD, noted, “The findings also indicated that patients with low levels of hemoglobin F – a type of hemoglobin normally produced during fetal development – had a significantly higher prevalence of harmful bacteria species than those who had higher levels of the protein.”

This research shows how important good oral hygiene is for patients with SCA and low hemoglobin F.

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Read more about this study from Sickle Cell Disease News.


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Respiratory viruses on decline: Province – Brandon Sun – The Brandon Sun

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Hospitalizations due to influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have all decreased in Manitoba, according to the province’s latest epidemiological respiratory virus surveillance report.

Data for the week of Jan. 15 to Jan. 21 indicates this respiratory virus season may finally be nearing its end, after it began earlier than usual and caused surges of severe illness and hospitalizations, particularly among babies and toddlers.

There were two flu-related hospital admissions that week, none requiring intensive care, while the Influenza A test positivity rate fell to 0.8 per cent, compared with 1.9 per cent the previous week. No cases of Influenza B have been detected provincially yet this season.

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There were 105 detected cases of RSV, with a weekly RSV test positivity rate of 8.3 per cent. The previous week, the test positivity rate for RSV was 8.7 per cent.

There were seven patients with COVID-19 in hospital, as well as three in intensive care. No new COVID deaths were reported, but the province retroactively updated its COVID-19 death toll. There were 15 deaths added to the total count last week, for an overall number of 316 Manitobans who lost their lives to COVID since this fall.

» Winnipeg Free Press

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