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Study: Unvaccinated drivers are more likely to crash

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Could COVID-19 vaccinations be related to traffic safety? While the dots definitely haven’t been connected directly between those two, a new study suggests that people unwilling to get vaccinated may be more at risk of a serious traffic crash.

The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, was written by three Toronto-based researchers and doctors. They studied records on more than 11.2 million Ontario residents — and of those, 84 per cent had received a COVID-19 vaccine, while 16 per cent had not. All of them combined accounted for 6,682 traffic crashes requiring emergency medical care for drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. Of those crashes, 25 per cent involved unvaccinated individuals.

The researchers extrapolated that those who hadn’t been vaccinated had a 72 per cent increased relative risk versus those who had been. That’s about equal to the traffic risks of people who suffer from sleep apnea. The study looked at those 18 and older, ensuring they were eligible for both a driver’s licence and a vaccine. It did not look at such factors as driver skill, personality traits, traffic infractions, political affiliation, or self-identified ethnicity, the study confirmed.

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Now, to be fair, those are the numbers the researchers crunched, but they’re not saying that the vaccine itself determines whether you’re going to make it to your destination without incident. Rather, it’s whether people who have vaccine hesitancy – defined by the World Health Organization as refusing a vaccine, or delaying acceptance of it, despite there being an adequate supply, access and awareness of the vaccine – may also be the type to engage in behaviours shown as the primary causes of most crashes, including speeding, inattention, tailgating, disobeying signals, passing improperly or failing to yield right-of-way, or driving while impaired.

Simply getting vaccinated “has no direct effect on traffic behaviour or the risk of a motor vehicle crash,” the researchers said. “Instead, we theorized that individual adults who tend to resist public health recommendations might also neglect basic road safety guidelines.”

A doctor gives a dose of the Moderna vaccine to the driver of a car in a drive-in vaccination station in an IKEA car park on the third day of the #HierWirdGeimpft (Get Vaccinated Here) COVID-19 vaccination campaign on September 15, 2021 in Berlin, Germany
A doctor gives a dose of the Moderna vaccine to the driver of a car in a drive-in vaccination station in an IKEA car park on the third day of the #HierWirdGeimpft (Get Vaccinated Here) COVID-19 vaccination campaign on September 15, 2021 in Berlin, Germany Photo by Carsten Koall /Getty

The study found that those who hadn’t received a vaccine were more likely to be younger, living in a rural area, and in the lower fifth overall for income. Unvaccinated individuals were also more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol misuse or depression, and with untreated sleep apnea, diabetes, cancer, or dementia.

But that said, the researchers also suggested that since unvaccinated patients “are overrepresented in the aftermath of a traffic crash,” that “the observed risks might also justify changes to driver insurance policies in the future.” Most people agree that insurance companies will jump on just about any tidbit to raise your rates or deny a claim — and perhaps your status with the vaccination clinic could result in some nasty surprises when it’s time to renew your policy.

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Bird flu keeps spreading beyond birds. Scientists worry it signals a growing threat to humans, too

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As a deadly form of avian influenza continues ravaging bird populations around much of the world, scientists are tracking infections among other animals — including various types of mammals more closely related to humans.

Throughout the last year, Canadian and U.S. officials detected highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu in a range of species, from bears to foxes. In January, France’s national reference laboratory announced that a cat suffered severe neurological symptoms from an infection in late 2022, with the virus showing genetic characteristics of adaptation to mammals.

Most concerning, multiple researchers said, was a large, recent outbreak on a Spanish mink farm.

Last October, farm workers began noticing a spike in deaths among the animals, with sick minks experiencing an array of dire symptoms like loss of appetite, excessive saliva, bloody snouts, tremors, and a lack of muscle control.

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The culprit wound up being H5N1, marking the first known instance of this kind of avian influenza infection among farmed minks in Europe, notes a study published in Eurosurveillance this month.

“Our findings also indicate that an onward transmission of the virus to other minks may have taken place in the affected farm,” the researchers wrote.

Eventually, the entire population of minks was either killed or culled — more than 50,000 animals in total.

That’s a major shift, after only sporadic cases among humans and other mammals over the last decade, according to Michelle Wille, a researcher at the University of Sydney who focuses on the dynamics of wild bird viruses.

“This outbreak signals the very real potential for the emergence of mammal-to-mammal transmission,” she said in email correspondence with CBC News.

It’s only one farm, and notably, none of the workers — who all wore face shields, masks, and disposable overalls — got infected.

But the concern now, said Toronto-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, is if this virus mutates in a way that allows it to become increasingly transmissible between mammals, including humans, “it could have deadly consequences.”

“This is an infection that has epidemic and pandemic potential,” he said. “I don’t know if people recognize how big a deal this is.”

 

‘Explosive’ avian flu surge hits global bird populations

Global bird populations are being ravaged by a deadly strain of avian flu, wiping out flocks of domestic poultry and killing wild birds. Some researchers warn the virus could eventually evolve to better infect humans and potentially start a future pandemic.

H5N1 has high mortality rate

Among birds, the mortality rate of this strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza can be close to 100 per cent, causing devastation to both wild bird populations and poultry farms.

It’s also often deadly for other mammals, humans included.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 240 cases of H5N1 avian influenza within four Western Pacific countries — including China, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam — over the last two decades. More than half of the infected individuals died.

Global WHO figures show more than 870 human cases were reported from 2003 to 2022, along with at least 450 deaths — a fatality rate of more than 50 per cent.

Bogoch said the reported death toll may be an overestimate, since not all infections may be detected, though it’s clear people can “get very, very sick from these infections.”

Most human infections also appeared to involve people having direct contact with infected birds. Real-world mink-to-mink transmission now firmly suggests H5N1 is now “poised to emerge in mammals,” Wille said — and while the outbreak in Spain may be the first reported instance of mammalian spread, it may not be the last.

“A virus which has evolved on a mink farm and subsequently infects farm workers exposed to infected animals is a highly plausible route for the emergence of a virus capable of human-to-human transmission to emerge,” she warned.

Louise Moncla, an assistant professor of pathobiology at the University of Pennsylvania school of veterinary medicine, explained that having an “intermediary host” is a common mechanism through which viruses adapt to new host species.

“And so what’s concerning about this is that this is exactly the kind of scenario you would expect to see that could lead to this type of adaptation, that could allow these viruses to replicate better in other mammals — like us.”

Government workers wear protective gear to collect poultry for slaughter during an outbreak of avian influenza on the Ivory Coast. More than 70 countries have reported cases this year, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Government workers wear protective gear to collect poultry for slaughter during an outbreak of avian influenza on the Ivory Coast. More than 70 countries reported cases in 2022, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. (Legnan Koula/EPA-EFE)

Surveillance, vaccines both needed

What’s more reassuring is the ongoing development of influenza vaccines, giving humanity a head start on the well-known threat posed by bird flu.

Wille noted the earlier spread of H7N9, another avian influenza strain which caused hundreds of human cases in the early 2010s, prompted similar concern that the virus would acquire the mutations needed for ongoing human-to-human transmission.

“However, a very aggressive and successful poultry vaccination campaign ultimately stopped all human cases,” she added.

But while several H5N1 avian influenza vaccines have been produced, including one manufactured in Canada, there’s no option approved for public use in this country.

To ward off the potential threat this strain poses to human health, Bogoch said ongoing surveillance and vaccine production needs to remain top-of-mind for both policy makers and vaccine manufacturers.

Dr. Jan Hajek, an infectious diseases physician at Vancouver General Hospital, also questioned whether it’s time to wind down global mink farming, given the spread of various viruses, from avian influenza to SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.

“We’re closely related to minks and ferrets, in terms of influenza risks … if it’s propagating to minks, and killing minks, it’s worrisome to us,” he said.

In 2021, B.C. officials announced an end to mink farming across the province, saying the farms can be reservoirs for viruses and represent an ongoing danger to public health. All mink farm operations must be shut down, with all of the pelts sold, by April 2025.

However, other provinces — and plenty of countries — do intend to keep their mink farms operating.

“Is it responsible to have these kinds of farming conditions where these types of events can occur?” questioned Moncla. “If we’re going to keep having these types of farms, what can we do to make this safer?”

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6,654 students facing suspension due to out-of-date immunization records

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The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) has issued about 6,654 suspension orders to students who do not meet immunization requirements.

WECHU completed a review of all elementary student immunization records in December and more than 12,000 students received a notice.

These students were either overdue for one or more vaccines required to attend school, or their immunization records were not updated with the health unit.

“While many of these vaccines are normally administered by primary health care providers, parents and guardians of children who received their vaccines from their health care provider still need to report this information to the health unit,” said a WECHU news release.

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The Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) (1990), Section 11, Subsections (1) and (2) requires public health units to maintain and review vaccine records for every student attending school and to enforce a school suspension for incomplete immunization information. As the next step of the ISPA enforcement process, orders were mailed out to students that do not meet this requirement.

WECHU said this is the final notice.

The suspension order notifies parents and guardians that immunization records must be updated to the WECHU by Thursday, March 16, at 6 p.m. or their child will be suspended for up to 20 days from school, starting Monday, March 20, 2023. Once parents and guardians provide the missing immunization information to the WECHU, the student is removed from the suspension list and can attend school again.

Under the ISPA , children can be exempted from immunization for medical reasons or due to conscience or religious belief.

Families can book immunization appointments with their health care provider and are reminded to update their child’s immunization records online at immune.wechu.org.

Catch-up immunization clinics are also being offered at the WECHU Windsor and Leamington offices and will continue until the end of March. Families can book an appointment at a WECHU clinic by visiting wechu.org/getimmunized or by calling the WECHU at 519-960-0231.

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Another COVID-19 outbreak at Elliot Lake hospital

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St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake is facing yet another COVID-19 outbreak.

Jeremy Stevenson, the hospital CEO, says Algoma Public Health declared the outbreak on the third floor in acute care yesterday afternoon.

He says visitor restrictions remain in place allowing only essential caregivers and consideration of compassionate circumstances.

Stevenson adds he would like to remind everyone there are several things that can be done to protect themselves and others from respiratory viruses from washing hands to observing social distancing and respiratory etiquette.

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For more information on respiratory viruses, please contact Algoma Public Health at: (705) 942- 4646 ext. 5404 or contact your family health care provider. SJGHEL will update information on the Hospital outbreak as our information changes or more information becomes available.

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