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Small children getting less sick from Omicron; Genetic mutation protects against severe COVID

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The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review.

Small children are getting less sick from Omicron

In very young children, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus causes less severe disease than the Delta variant, according to a new study.

Researchers reviewed data on nearly 80,000 U.S. children under age 5 with a first infection, including 7,201 infected in late December or early January when Omicron was causing more than 90% of cases. After accounting for other risk factors, including medical conditions and socioeconomic circumstances, researchers found children infected during the Omicron surge had a 29% lower risk of emergency department visits, a 67% lower risk of hospitalization, a 68% lower risk of needing intensive care, and a 71% lower risk of needing machines to breathe, compared to children infected with Delta. However, “because of Omicron’s increased transmissibility, the overall number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mechanical ventilator use in children may still be greater” with Omicron than with Delta, according to a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review.

The investigators have also observed that infection rates were disproportionately higher in Black and Hispanic children for both Omicron and Delta for this age group, and the gap widened for infections with Omicron, said study leader Rong Xu of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Not yet published data shows that “children under 5 had the highest infection rate with Omicron” compared to older children and adults in all age groups, she said.

Genetic mutation protects against severe COVID-19

New findings add to evidence that people with a certain version of a gene are less likely to develop severe COVID-19.

Earlier research had identified a specific group of genes, called the OAS1/2/3 gene cluster, as being involved in the risk for severe COVID-19. One version of a gene in that cluster – passed down from Neanderthals – appeared to protect against severe disease, reducing the risk by about 23%. The earlier research was done mainly in people of European ancestry. According to a report published in Nature Genetics, researchers now see the same association of this genetic variant with less severe COVID-19 in people of African ancestry.

“The fact that individuals of African descent had the same protection allowed us to identify the unique variant in the DNA that actually protects from COVID-19 infection,” coauthor Dr. Jennifer Huffman of said in a statement. OAS genes are involved in a cascade of effects that help cells fight viruses, the researchers said. Understanding of these genes and their effect on COVID-19 risks could aid development of future drugs, they added.

Fewer Delta breakthroughs with Moderna vs Pfizer/BioNTech

When the Delta variant of the coronavirus was prevalent in the United States, recipients of two doses of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine were less likely to experience a breakthrough infection – and if they did, were slightly less likely to be hospitalized – than recipients of two doses of the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, a large study found.

Researchers analyzed health records of more than 637,000 vaccine recipients who were not previously infected with the virus and had not gotten a booster shot. As reported on Thursday in JAMA, breakthrough infections steadily increased every month from July to November 2021, with higher rates in the Pfizer/BioNTech group. In November, there were 2.8 cases among every thousand people vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots, compared to 1.6 cases per thousand recipients of the Moderna vaccines. The vaccines protected equally well against death, but the hospitalization rate was 12.7% for infected Moderna recipients and 13.3% for Pfizer/BioNTech recipients. When the researchers compared 62,584 Moderna recipients to a closely-matched equal-sized group of Pfizer/BioNTech recipients, the risk for breakthrough infection was 15% lower in the Moderna group.

“Although there is a difference in breakthrough infections, both vaccines are highly protective against SARS-COV2 infection and especially against the most severe consequences of infection,” said coauthor Pamela Davis of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in a statement.

Click for a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.

 

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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Quebec health officials confirm 25 monkeypox cases now in province – Global News

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Quebec public health officials are reporting a total of 25 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the province as of Thursday.

Dr. Luc Boileau, interim public health director in the province, described it as a “serious outbreak” of the virus. Officials are investigating several more suspected cases.

“We had about 20 to 30 suspected cases under investigation so far,” Boileau said.

The province will also begin administering the Imvamune vaccine to close contacts of confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox as soon as Friday. A single dose will be provided within four days of exposure to the virus.

Quebec’s Health Ministry said in a statement that a second dose of the vaccine could be administered, but only if the risk of exposure is “still present 28 days later” and “only following a decision by public health authorities.”

READ MORE: Mass vaccinations for monkeypox not needed, WHO official says

Boileau said the majority of confirmed cases in the province are tied mostly to men who have had sexual relations with other men. There has been one case in a person under 18.

Last week, Quebec recorded the first cases of the virus in the country. The first suspected cases were reported on May 12 in Montreal.

Monkeypox is a rare disease that comes from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated around the globe in 1980.

The virus spreads through prolonged closed contact. It can cause fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and lesions.

— with files from Global News’ Dan Spector and the Canadian Press

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

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Quebec to start monkeypox vaccination of contacts as officials confirm 25 cases

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s interim public health director says the province could start vaccinating people against monkeypox as soon as Friday.

Dr. Luc Boileau says there are now 25 confirmed cases of the disease in the province and about 30 suspected cases are under investigation.

He says the province has received supplies of smallpox vaccine from the federal government, and it will be administered to people who have been in close contact with confirmed cases of the disease.

Dr. Caroline Quach, the chair of Quebec’s immunization committee, says the vaccine has been shown to prevent monkeypox in animal studies if it is administered within four days of an exposure and can reduce severity if it is administered up to 14 days after an exposure.

She says the disease is transmitted only through prolonged close contact.

Boileau says the majority of cases are in adult men who have been in sexual contact with people who have the disease, and there has been one case in a person under 18.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Monkeypox Warnings Ignored; Dominant COVID Strain Emerges; Better Paxlovid Access – Medpage Today

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Warning signs of the current monkeypox outbreak may have been ignored. (STAT)

The CDC issued a monkeypox travel alert encouraging “enhanced precautions” after cases were reported in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Roche announced it has developed three PCR test kits to detect the monkeypox virus.

The U.S. has a new dominant COVID-19 strain — BA.2.12.1 — a highly contagious sublineage of the BA.2 omicron subvariant that now accounts for 57.9% of all cases, according to CDC estimates.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, as well as Lt. Gov.Denny Heck, both tested positive for COVID-19, as did U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). (Seattle Times, The Hill)

As of Thursday at 8:00 a.m. EDT, the unofficial U.S. COVID toll was 83,697,199 cases and 1,004,558 deaths, increases of 218,146 and 913, respectively, compared with this time Wednesday morning.

The Biden Administration, projecting COVID infections will continue to spread during the summer travel season announced additional steps to make nirmatrelvir/ritonavir (Paxlovid) more accessible. (ABC News)

The White House also reported the launch of the first federally-supported test-to-treat COVID site.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior leaders of the government are to blame for booze-filled parties that violated the country’s COVID-19 lockdown rules, according to an investigative report. (NPR)

A mouse study suggested that maraviroc (Selzentry), a FDA-approved drug used to treat HIV, may be able to reverse middle-aged memory loss. (Nature)

The University of California system will be paying nearly $700 million to women who said they were sexually abused by a UCLA gynecologist over the course of several decades. (AP)

The parents of a 4-year-old girl spoke out about her mysterious case of pediatric hepatitis that required a liver transplant, one of 180 similar cases under investigation in the U.S. (Today)

Teva Pharmaceuticals has issued a voluntary nationwide recall of one lot of anagrelide capsules, which are used to treat thrombocythemia secondary to myeloproliferative neoplasms, due to dissolution test failure during routine stability testing.

Servier announced the FDA approved ivosidenib (Tibsovo) in combination with azacitidine for certain patients with newly diagnosed IDH1-mutated acute myeloid leukemia.

A report from the American Medical Association shows that payers are not following the prior authorization reforms agreed to in 2018. (Fierce Healthcare)

The mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this month is a reminder that millions of Americans don’t have easy access to grocery stores. (NPR)

COVID-era misinformation is leading a wave of parents to reject ordinary childhood immunizations. (New York Times)

The FDA issued guidance spelling out rules for states that want to import certain prescription drugs from Canada.

  • Mike Bassett is a staff writer focusing on oncology and hematology. He is based in Massachusetts.

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