Issued on: 26/02/2020 – 04:13
The new coronavirus epidemic swelled on Wednesday with cases in South Korea surging past 1,000 after deaths soared in Iran and infections appeared in previously untouched countries, prompting dire warnings that the world was not ready to contain it.
The virus has rapidly spread in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, even as the number of deaths and fresh cases decline at the disease epicentre in China.
Towns and cities have been sealed off in an attempt to stop the contagion, while hotels in the Canary Islands and Austria were locked down on Tuesday because of suspected cases.
In Iran, which has reported 15 deaths out of nearly 100 infections, even the country’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi said he had contracted the virus.
At the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Bruce Aylward, who headed an international expert mission to China, hailed the drastic quarantine and containment measures taken by the country.
But he told reporters that other nations were “simply not ready” to contain the outbreak.
“You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale… and it has to be done fast,” Aylward said.
The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected over 78,000 in China. There were 52 more deaths reported on Wednesday — the lowest in three weeks — with no fatalities outside the epicentre in central Hubei province.
The National Health Commission also reported a drop in new infections to 406, with only five outside Hubei — a figure that will boost confidence that the rest of the country is containing the epidemic.
In the rest of the world, there have been more than 40 deaths and 2,700 cases.
The disease has now reached dozens of countries, with Austria, Croatia and Switzerland the latest to declare cases.
The epidemic’s disruption has also grown, with stock markets tumbling around the world, restrictions imposed on travellers and sporting events cancelled.
The WHO, the UN health agency, has called for countries to “prepare for a potential pandemic” — a term used to describe an epidemic that spreads throughout the world.
Poor countries are particularly at risk, the WHO has warned.
– South Korea surge –
South Korea reported 169 new infections on Wednesday, raising its total tally to 1,146 — by far the largest outside China — while an 11th person died.
The vast majority — 90 percent — of the new infections were in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city and the epicentre of the outbreak, and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang.
The streets of Daegu — which has a population of 2.5 million — have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
Authorities urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
China quarantined 94 air passengers arriving in Nanjing from Seoul after three people, all Chinese, on the flight were discovered to have fevers on Tuesday.
– Iran, Italy hotspots –
In the Middle East, Iran has emerged as a major hotspot, with three more people dying from the COVID-19 disease on Tuesday.
The country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week when it announced its first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose country came to the brink of war with Iran earlier this year, said Washington is deeply concerned Tehran “may have suppressed vital details” about the outbreak there.
Gulf countries announced new measures to cut links with Iran in an attempt to stop the spread.
Meanwhile Italy — which has reported 10 deaths and more than 300 cases — has locked down 11 towns and ordered Serie A football games to be played to empty stadiums.
A young man who returned to Croatia from Italy became the first case in the Balkans region.
In the United States, which has a few dozen cases, health authorities urged local governments, businesses, and schools to develop plans like cancelling mass gatherings or switching to teleworking as the country braces for the virus to spread further.
© 2020 AFP
UBC researchers say they've found 'weak spot' in all COVID-19 variants that could lead to better treatment – CBC.ca
Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered what they describe as a “weak spot” in all of the major variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 — a revelation they believe could open the door for treatments to fight current and future mutations.
In a peer-reviewed study published Thursday, the research team said they found a largely consistent soft spot — like a dent in the virus’s spike protein armour — that has survived the coronavirus’s mutations to date. Scientists determined a certain antibody fragment was able to “effectively neutralize” all the variants, to some degree, because it exploited the vulnerability.
“What’s exciting is what it tells us we can do now. Once you know the [weak] spot, it’s a bit like the gold rush analogy. We know where to go,” said Sriram Subramaniam, the study’s senior author and a professor with UBC’s faculty of medicine.
“We can now use this information … to design better antibodies that can then take advantage of that [weak] site.”
Looking for the ‘master key’
Antibodies are naturally produced by the body to fight infection, but can also be created in a laboratory to administer as treatment. Several antibody treatments already exist to fight COVID-19, but their effectiveness fades against highly mutated variants like the recently dominant Omicron.
“Antibodies attach to a virus in a very specific manner, like a key going into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” Subramaniam wrote in a statement.
“We’ve been looking for master keys — antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after extensive mutations.”
Subramaniam said the antibody fragment identified in the paper would be that “master key.”
Matthew Miller, director of the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., described the findings as “a really important development” in the fight against COVID-19.
“It’s been able to show that this antibody works against all of them and that’s really unique…. It certainly raises the hope that this [weak] area they’re targeting would be an area the virus would have a lot of trouble changing — even going forward, because if it were easy to change, it’s very likely [the virus] would have tried to change it already,” said Miller, who was not involved in the study.
“Now … viruses can always trick us,” he noted in an interview Thursday. “They’re smart. There’s always ways out. But what we want to do is make it as hard as possible to do that.”
High-tech imaging used to study virus
As part of the study, published in Nature Communications, the research team used a process called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to examine the weak spot on the virus’s spike protein, called an epitope.
Cryo-EM technology involves freezing samples of the virus and taking hundreds of thousands of photos — similar to X-rays — used to recreate a 3D model of the molecule from an atomic level.
“Imagine you were the size of an atom and you could watch exactly what was going on,” Subramaniam explained.
Through the process, the team saw how antibodies interacted with virus. The antibody fragment, called VH Ab6, was able to latch on to the weak spot and neutralize the virus.
Subramaniam said drug companies could exploit the weakness to create a potentially “variant-resistant” treatment.
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The researcher noted that developments resulting from the team’s discovery won’t be part of COVID-19 treatment in clinics for some time, but he described it as one more step in understanding the coronavirus itself and the illness it causes.
“We never know if this antibody will suddenly not be effective against the next variant or not…. But we’re just saying that it stood up really well to being able to neutralize the variants we’ve seen to date,” Subramaniam said.
The UBC team collaborated with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who have been screening large antibody libraries and testing their effectiveness against COVID-19.
U.S. offers extra monkeypox vaccine doses for gay pride events – CTV News
NEW YORK –
The U.S. is setting aside an extra 50,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine for places with upcoming gay pride events, health officials said Thursday.
The number of doses sent to each place will be based on factors like the size of the event, how many health workers will be available to give shots, and how many of the attendees are considered at highest risk for catching the virus.
“More shots in arms is how we get the outbreak under control,” Bob Fenton, the White House monkey pox response coordinator, told reporters Thursday. He said the effort is an attempt to “meet people where they are.”
At least a dozen U.S. pride events are scheduled over the next two months, including large gatherings in Atlanta and New Orleans in early September. U.S. officials said they will send up to 2,000 additional doses to North Carolina, where the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade will be held this weekend.
Southern Decadence, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ events, is expected to attract 200,000 or more people to New Orleans over Labour Day weekend. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert held amid the event, has been cancelled over monkey pox concerns, organizers said this week.
Frank Perez, a former grand marshal of the parade that’s the centrepiece of Southern Decadence, said a number of New Orleans gay bars have already had vaccine events. He said so far officials have done an adequate job with the vaccine campaign although “more is better.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned: “While we are offering the vaccine at these events to those at high risk, this is a two-dose vaccine series, and receiving the vaccine at the event will not provide protection at the event itself.”
Health officials also are urging other steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including temporarily limiting sexual partners.
Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, but it wasn’t considered a disease that spreads easily among people until May, when infections emerged in Europe and the U.S.
There have been more than 39,000 cases reported in countries that have not historically seen monkey pox. The vast majority have occurred in men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkey pox.
The U.S. has the most infections of any country – more than 13,500. About 98% of U.S. cases are men and about 93% were men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.
Officials say the virus has been spreading mainly through skin-on-skin contact, but they warn it might also transmit in other ways, including through touching linens used by someone with monkey pox.
People with monkey pox may experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. Many in the outbreak have developed extremely painful zit-like bumps. No one in the U.S. has died, but deaths have been reported in other countries.
The U.S. has a limited supply of what is considered the main weapon against the virus – a vaccine called Jynneos. The doses are currently being given to people soon after they think they were exposed. Scientists are still trying to establish how well the shots are working.
The government last week moved to stretch the supply by giving people one-fifth the usual dose, injected just under the skin, instead of a full vial injected into deeper tissue.
Many health workers may have little experience giving shots using the just-under-the-skin method, which requires different needles and syringes. Some health departments have started doing that, but some local officials have said they may need a week or more to make the change.
Officials this week announced the release of 442,000 of the smaller doses for order by state, local and territorial health departments. On Thursday, they said more is coming next week – 1.8 million doses, or 360,000 vials.
Officials also announced a new agreement with a Michigan manufacturer to help speed production of 5.5 million vaccine vials recently ordered by the U.S. government.
Under the deal, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing will help package raw vaccine ingredients currently stored at an overseas facility owned by Bavarian Nordic, which makes the Jynneos vaccine. Officials said the extra capacity should help speed up U.S. vaccine orders, most of which weren’t expected to be delivered until next year. The Biden administration has faced weeks of criticism for not ordering more vaccine sooner.
Also on Thursday, health officials said next week they will boost the supply of TPOXX, a drug for treating monkey pox infections, by 50,000 treatment courses.
AP reporters Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Matthew Perrone in Washington contributed to this report.
‘Weak spot’ in virus responsible for COVID-19 could mean new treatments: researchers
VANCOUVER — Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered what they are calling a “weak spot” in the virus that causes COVID-19.
A study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications says the “key vulnerability” is found in all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Researchers say exploiting that weakness could pave the way for new treatments that would be effective against all strains of the illness that has killed almost 6.5-million people across the globe since it was identified more than two years ago.
The study’s senior author, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, says the team studied the virus at an atomic level, found the weak spot and identified an antibody fragment that can attach to it and all other variants, including the surging Omicron subvariants.
Antibodies counteract viruses by attaching like a key in a lock and are no longer effective when the virus mutates quickly, but Subramaniam says the weak spot is constant in all seven major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing one antibody to act as a “master key” capable of overcoming extensive mutations.
Subramaniam says the weak spot and master key identified in the study “unlock a whole new realm of treatment possibilities” that have the potential to be effective against current or future variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.
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