Cases of unexplained hepatitis have risen to at least 429 in 22 countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The number of countries reporting at least five cases has doubled since the last WHO briefing in April, from six to 12. Nine of these countries are in Europe.
A further 40 possible cases of acute liver disease are awaiting classification, officials told a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
Six children have died and 26 have required transplants, according to Prof Philippa Easterbrook of the WHO’s global hepatitis programme. About 75 per cent of cases are in children aged under five years.
Although the cause remains unclear, scientists are still investigating whether the cases were caused by an adenovirus activating an inflammatory response, possibly after a previous Covid-19 infection.
In Ireland, one child has died after being treated for the disease, and a second has received a liver transplant, the Health Service Executive reported last week.
Six probable cases of children with hepatitis of unknown cause have been detected in Ireland since the UK issued an alert in April.
The six children were aged between one and 12 years of age. All were hospitalised.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases rose in four out of six regions of the world last week, according to WHO secretary general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. With testing and sequencing programmes being reduced in many countries, he said it was increasingly difficult to know “where the virus is and how it’s mutating”.
Officials expressed concern about virus outbreaks in North Korea, where state media has said there are about 1.4 million suspected cases, and Eritrea, which has yet to start vaccinating its population.
High levels of transmission of the coronavirus among unvaccinated people, such as in North Korea, creates a higher risk of new variant, a WHO official said.
“Certainly it’s worrying if countries . . . are not using the tools that are now available,” said WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan in response to a question about the outbreak in North Korea.
“WHO has repeatedly said that where you have unchecked transmission there is always a higher risk of new variants emerging,” he said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said the notion that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is mild was false and this narrative needed to be corrected. Omicron, in all its sublineages, can cause anything from asymptomatic infection to death, she pointed out, though vaccination provides protection. – Additional reporting: Reuters
WHO adviser says G7 leaders must prioritize COVID-19 or face economic harm, unrest
G7 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, must make ending the COVID-19 pandemic a critical part of their summit in Germany, said a senior adviser to the director general at the World Health Organization.
Dr. Bruce Aylward said failing to keep COVID-19 at the top of the agenda risks further economic harm and unleashing more civil unrest.
Aylward is a Canadian infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist who has worked for WHO since 1992. In an interview, he said if getting control of the pandemic by investing in vaccines and treatments for all countries isn’t important to the G7, it won’t be important to anyone.
“The first thing the G7 has to say is, ‘We have an opportunity to beat this pandemic, we need to turn the burners on now,’” Aylward said.
That includes funding investments in vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and, when the updated vaccines are released later this year, not repeating the 2021 cycle in which rich countries snapped up all the initial doses.
The leaders of the world’s leading economies are in the midst of their annual summit where the Russian invasion in Ukraine and food insecurity are the top issues.
But Aylward said the pandemic is forgotten at the peril of all nations. Economic growth is being hindered by supply chain issues linked not just to the Russian war in Ukraine, but also to ongoing COVID-19 impacts.
And the civil unrest unleashed in wealthy countries — including the anti-COVID-19 restriction convoys that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and multiple border crossings earlier this year — will only get worse if the economy and inflation aren’t stabilized, he said.
The World Health Organization was aiming for 70 per cent of the world’s population to be vaccinated by now, but more than 130 countries and territories are below that goal, and in Africa, fewer than one in five people have been fully vaccinated and fewer thanone in 100 have had a booster dose.
Aylward said initially less wealthy countries couldn’t get the needed doses, but that’s not the issue anymore. Now it’s overcoming vaccine hesitancy, a problem he said has been worsened by the actions of people in wealthy nations.
“We had this window of opportunity when the low-income countries were really worried about this disease and they would have vaccinated, you know, gangbusters with the (global) north,” Aylward said.
But then the rich nations hoarded doses for themselves, and then made available initially only doses of viral-vector vaccines like Oxford-AstraZeneca, which countries like Canada decided it didn’t want.
There were also conspiracy theories arising about mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that had no basis in truth but have been exported around the world, said Aylward.
“So they’ve made it incredibly hard for political leaders in low-income countries to get coverage up,” he said. “It’s a grind.”
The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or ACT-A, is a global collaboration launched in April 2020 to generate the financing needed to get the diagnostics, treatments and vaccines needed for the COVID-19 pandemic.
New vaccines able to better protect against current variants of the virus behind COVID-19 will soon be available, and the wealthy countries cannot repeat the fiasco of 2021, said Aylward.
But Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance over the weekend said it appears more than half the doses of the next round of vaccines have already been reserved by the same countries that hoarded the first time.
Canada has contracts to get 35 million doses of Moderna and as many as 65 million doses of Pfizer in 2022.
There is also a huge need in lower-income countries for antivirals and tests, areas Aylward said were the least funded in the first year of the program.
ACT-A is asking 55 high and higher-middle income countries to jointly contribute nearly $17 billion this year. More than a third is to be allocated to vaccines, about one-quarter to testing and diagnostics, one-sixth to therapeutics including antiviral medicines and the rest to health systems.
Last year, only six of those countries, including Canada, met or exceeded what WHO determined to be their fair share of contributions, largely based on the size of economies. Germany is the only other G7 country among the six.
Both Germany and Canada have said they will meet their fair share in 2022 as well. Trudeau said last month Canada would commit $732 million to ACT-A this year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
People with COVID-19 can infect and sicken cats and dogs by cuddling them, says study – CHEK News
Cat and dog owners who cuddle their pets when infected with COVID-19 could end up making the animals sick with the virus, according to a Canadian study.
The study said that while it was already known that animals including cats, dogs, ferrets and hamsters seem to be susceptible to COVID-19, transmission may be happening more often than previously thought.
The research, published this month in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, involved 69 cats and 49 dogs, including pets and animals from shelters and neuter clinics.
Pet owners were also asked to fill out an online survey about the nature of their interaction with their animals.
“These data indicate relatively common transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and that certain human-animal contacts — example, kissing the pet, pet sleeping on the bed — appear to increase the risk,” said the study.
“We inferred that infections in dogs and cats reflect direct transmission from humans to animals, given the pandemic nature of this virus in humans and limited contact of most household pets with other animals.”
Dogs and cats that lived in shelters showed lower rates of COVID-19 infection compared with those that lived with humans, said study co-author Prof. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
“It was a fairly substantial difference as we would have expected,” said Weese.
Lead author Prof. Dorothee Bienzle from the University of Guelph’s pathobiology department said results suggest that cats have a higher rate of COVID-19 infection than dogs.
“It has to do with how well the virus latches on to the receptor in the cat or dog’s respiratory system,” said Bienzle.
The high prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in cats surprised researchers, she said.
“We did not expect quite that many,” she said. “Over half of the cats that live in a household of a person who had COVID had antibodies. That’s very high.”
Animals infected with COVID-19 show symptoms similar to humans who fall sick with the virus, she said.
“They don’t have any appetite, they feel crummy, they sleep more, they might sneeze and cough,” she said.
Weese said cats are able to pass on the infection to each other, and also to humans.
A veterinarian in Thailand was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August 2021, after being sneezed on by an infected cat owned by a patient who had tested positive for the virus, he said. Genetic analysis showed that the virus was transmitted from the cat owner to the pet and onto the veterinarian, Weese said.
There is also evidence that minks infected by humans can pass the virus on to other people, he said.
Transmission from humans to animals can be minimized by owners keeping their distance, wearing a mask and taking other precautions, just as they would to prevent infecting a person, he said.
“Ideally, what we want to do is keep it from spreading as much as possible so people can limit the contact they have with animals when they’re infected,” he said. “That’s ideal.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.
Saskatchewan HIV, HCV education program continuing at USask College of Medicine – USask News
The education program helps address the complexities driving sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI) rates in Saskatchewan and their impact on patient care. Content will include the clinical treatment and management of infections and will feature the involvement of HIV/HCV experienced care providers, organizations, and community members to create made-in-Saskatchewan solutions to the province’s unique environment and challenges.
Critical to the past and continuing success of this program are faculty and staff in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases at the USask College of Medicine. Infectious disease specialists Dr. Alex Wong (MD) and Dr. Beverly Wudel (MD) will oversee the creation and delivery of the medical education, with additional guidance provided by an advisory group of family physicians experienced in providing HIV and HCV care in clinics across the province.
“We’re very pleased to have worked with our partners and colleagues already involved in delivering this important program to now be able to continue this critical work,” said Dr. Jim Barton (MD), CME associate dean. “This would not have been possible without the support of our provincial government. And we are happy to make this announcement today, on National HIV Testing Day in Saskatchewan.”
For the past 10 years, Saskatchewan has had the highest rate of new HIV and Hepatitis C diagnoses in Canada and the fastest growing rate of syphilis infections in the country, resulting in an urgent need to educate primary care providers to recognize, test, treat, and manage these infections in their clinical practices.
“The government is pleased to fund initiatives and programs that improve the capacity and confidence of health-care providers to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs),” said Minister of Health Paul Merriman. “Programs like the STBBI Treatment Education Program for Saskatchewan (STEPS) will help improve access to health-care professionals in more communities across the province, and reduce the stigma many feel around testing and treatment.”
Up to March 2022, the STBBI primary care provider education program was delivered by the Saskatchewan Infectious Disease Care Network (SIDCN) as the Primary Care Capacity Improvement: Treatment as Prevention Project, with four years of funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Harm Reduction Grant. This new STBBI program, renamed STEPS, will feature the continuation and growth of education originally offered by the SIDCN.
“I am so grateful that the amazing work that was being done will continue—now with the educational leadership of CME, the involvement of experienced medical experts and staff, the important guidance of existing project stakeholders, and the support of the Ministry of Health,” said Dr. Satchan Takaya (MD), infectious diseases specialist.
STEPS will build from and utilize resources used by SIDCN’s past project. This will include the continuation of the popular HIV and HCV Virtual Classrooms that discuss testing, treating, and managing these infections in Saskatchewan. Based on feedback, a new Syphilis Virtual Classroom will be launched along with several other new presentations all related to addressing and managing STBBIs in the province.
The program will be targeted to primary care providers, family medicine residents, nurse practitioners and registered nurses, as well as other allied health-care professions. A limited number of clinical mentorship opportunities will be available for physicians and nurse practitioners who can benefit from applying virtual classroom content in a clinical setting under the guidance of experienced HIV and HCV specialists and physicians.
By housing a new STBBI program within CME, there is an opportunity to reach more learners and showcase the expertise and support of faculty from the Infectious Disease Department and Family Medicine. The program will also provide opportunities for collaborating with other STBBI stakeholders and strengthen the efforts needed to support front-line providers and improve access to clinically informed and stigma-free STBBI health care.
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