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Unmasking the stealth virus behind COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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Scientists have discovered the pandemic-causing coronavirus is unique in short-circuiting the safest way our immune system kills off a virus, which could have implications for treating COVID-19 with interferon.

Interferon describes a family of proteins produced by the body’s immune system in response to an invading viral infection. As the name implies, interferon interferes with the virus’s ability to copy itself.

Interferon drugs are made in the lab and were used for years to treat hepatitis, a liver infection, as well as other diseases that involve the immune system, such as multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

In May, researchers in Hong Kong published the results of their Phase 2 trial on fewer than 150 people who were admitted to hospital with mild or moderate COVID-19. Participants were randomly assigned to a combination of potential antivirals, including interferon, or placebo injections for two weeks.

The findings lent support to the idea of continuing research efforts, including in Canada, to investigate interferon in larger, blinded trials designed to find more definitive answers.

Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at Toronto General Hospital and senior scientist at U of T, previously used interferon to treat people infected with hepatitis. He’s now leading a Phase 2 clinical trial to test a targeted form of the drug, called peginterferon lambda, in injections compared with saline placebo injections.

“It’s kind of like a stealth virus,” Feld said of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In this photo illustration, a replica of SARS-CoV-2 is placed next to test tubes with samples of blood being tested for COVID-19. (Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty)

Normally, when interferon in the body’s white blood cells responds to a viral invader, the interferon sends out a flare signal so nearby cells will work to stop the virus from copying itself or replicating if they, too, should be invaded.

In ferrets infected in the lab (a common animal model for studying respiratory viruses), healthy human lung cells, and in people with COVID-19, doctors and scientists say it seems like the natural interferon “flies under the radar” of the immune system and isn’t activated the way it should be.

Feld said the idea behind giving interferon medications is to provide the body with what it should be making to fend off the infection.

The potential therapeutic approach gained scientific backing last month when a study published in the journal Cell showed a “striking” feature of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Ben tenOever is a Canadian-born professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York who led the Cell study and has been flooded with e-mail requests from researchers the world over to test experimental drug compounds against the virus.

TenOever said every cell that gets infected has two major jobs:

  1. Fortify its defences and those around it with a “call to arms” mediated by interferon, like sending out an emergency flare for the immune system’s first responders.
  2. Send a “call for reinforcements” for a longer-term response by releasing proteins called chemokines.

Most viruses block both of those roles.

What makes SARS-Cov-2 unique is it blocks the call-to-arms function from interferon only.

Reinforce call to arms with drug?

“Treatment with interferon or drugs that induce interferon, the main character in the call to arms, is probably beneficial,” tenOever said.

“The secret is to do it early,” he said, when people have a mild cough and test positive for the virus and haven’t developed respiratory distress.

But there could also be mild side-effects.

When we’re fighting off a flu virus, blame interferon for feeling so crummy, feverish and achy as your immune system kicks into high gear.

Likewise, interferon drugs, could also lead to flu-like symptoms for a day or two.

Individuals enrolling in COVID-19 clinical trials of interferon based in Toronto, Hamilton, Ont., Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., Stanford in California, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and elsewhere will need to weigh whether that (potential) shortfall is worth the (potential) payoff of protection from the deadly damage and delivers key answers that only their participation can offer.

Dr. Jordan Feld says the idea behind giving interferon medications is to give the body back what it should be making to fend off COVID-19. (CBC News)

TenOever said what the enormous scientific interest in the publication shows is an incredible demand for biosafety Level 3 labs like his during the pandemic. Without that lab capacity, the fear is that medical researchers won’t be able to run all the experiments they need to do to guide vaccine efforts.

Matthew Miller is an associate professor of infectious disease and immunology at McMaster University who isn’t involved in the clinical trials or studies.

Miller said interferon is what cells use to try to kill off the virus by themselves.

“Its sort of the preferred route,” Miller said, adding interferon is also the safest way for the body to get rid of a virus.

Miller called tenOever’s paper “an important first step in understanding how our body is responding to this particular new virus.”

Speed up recovery

Dr. Sarah Shalhoub, a transplant infectious disease physician at Western University’s medical school, studied the use of interferon to treat another coronavirus infection called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.

While interferon hasn’t yet panned out to fight MERS, Shalhoub is optimistic for COVID-19.

“Patients that received interferon beta clear their viruses faster and the duration for hospital admission was also significantly lower,” Shalhoub said of the Hong Kong findings last month.

“It was encouraging in that sense that there might be an effective therapy that’s available on the market that can be repurposed.”

Shalhoub was quick to add a caution. Since no one in either the drug or placebo group died, the mild infections and response to them are difficult to interpret without more research.

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30 workers at Vaughan, Ont., mushroom farm test positive for COVID-19 – Canada.com

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VAUGHAN, Ont. — Health officials say they are looking into an outbreak of COVID-19 at a mushroom farm in Vaughan, Ont.

York Region Public Health says the “workplace cluster” involves 30 workers at Ravine Mushroom Farm.

The agency says it has determined the risk of transmitting the virus to the general public is low.

It is also following up with those who have come in close contact with the infected workers.

The public health agency says it has inspected the facility to review and reinforce infection prevention and control measures.

It says it has also reaffirmed the importance of not having employees work when they are sick.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 7, 2020.

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30 workers at Vaughan mushroom farm test positive for COVID-19 – Toronto Sun

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Health officials say they are looking into an outbreak of COVID-19 at a mushroom farm in Vaughan.

York Region Public Health says the “workplace cluster” involves 30 workers at Ravine Mushroom Farm.

The agency says it has determined the risk of transmitting the virus to the general public is low.

It is also following up with those who have come in close contact with the infected workers.

The public health agency says it has inspected the facility to review and reinforce infection prevention and control measures.

It says it has also reaffirmed the importance of not having employees work when they are sick.

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8 new coronavirus cases identified in Ottawa on Monday – Globalnews.ca

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Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) novel coronavirus case tally rose by eight on Monday as the city’s streak of days without a death related to the virus hit double digits.

The local public health unit says it’s identified 2,118 lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Ottawa since the pandemic was first declared in mid-March.

There are currently 54 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in Ottawa, but 85 per cent of previously identified cases are now marked resolved.

Read more:
Ottawa, surrounding regions make indoor masks mandatory as of Tuesday

Three people are currently in hospital with the disease.

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Some 263 people in the city have died as a result of COVID-19 — that figure has remained unchanged for the past 10 days.

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OPH also said Monday the outbreak at the Peter D. Clark long-term care facility ended on July 4, which marked at least 14 days since a resident or staff member last tested positive for the virus.

The outbreak at the city-run long-term care home was first declared on April 28. There were 45 coronavirus cases linked to the Peter D. Clark outbreak, with eight residents dying as a result of complications from COVID-19.

Staff at the home are now starting to schedule outdoor visits between residents and family members.

There is now only one Ottawa institution currently facing an outbreak: the Rideau building at the Perley & Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre.

Eleven people have tested positive for the virus at the long-term care home’s Rideau facility, with one resident dying in connection to COVID-19.






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Coronavirus: Ontario health minister says there’s ‘hope’ for move to stage 3 soon


Coronavirus: Ontario health minister says there’s ‘hope’ for move to stage 3 soon

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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