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Wastewater shows COVID's decline across region, despite appearance of Omicron subvariant – CambridgeToday

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Widespread immunity from the virus that has consumed our lives for the last two years means we can all look forward to “living differently” with COVID as the province relaxes health restrictions over the next few months. 

But it won’t mean a return to pre-pandemic norms anytime soon, said the region’s top doctor during Friday’s COVID-19 community update. 

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said our high vaccine coverage and the emergence of therapeutic drugs make it possible to transition to “living differently with COVID” than we have over the last two years.

And although hospitalizations remain high across the region and the province, there are promising signs the COVID pandemic is starting to wane.

“I’m grateful for the vaccines and for what our residents have done to get us to this place,” Wang said.

Wastewater signals showing the presence of COVID in Waterloo region have plateaued and are decreasing along with the rate of infection and the number of hospitalizations.

But although “COVID trends are slowly decreasing,” Wang does not expect to see a rapid fall in the number of cases like in other waves, and warned there may be some increases in short term.

Tempering the good news in Friday’s update was a warning that the Omicron sub variant BA.2 has been detected in local wastewater signals.

Wastewater samples collected from treatment plants in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, and monitored by a research team at the University of Waterloo, revealed the sub variant’s appearance late last month.

Wang said based on what has been seen internationally and across the province, the sub variant’s appearance was not unexpected and underlines the importance of continuing to increase our community immunity through vaccination.

While BA.2 appears more transmissible than the BA.1 Omicron variant, she added, there is no data yet to suggest it is more severe.

Increasing vaccination rates and following public health precautions has been effective at blunting the impacts of Omicron, but “residents should remain cautious as the province loosens restrictions,” she said. 

Ontario Science Table data shows the fifth wave has plateaued or is in decline, but there is an expectation that relaxed public health measures will result in a resurgence of the disease.

The degree of resurgence will depend on vaccinations, the spread of Omicron and changes in behaviour like contact patterns and masking practices, Wang said.

Hospital admissions remain at their highest level across the province, across all age groups, Wang warned.

Since PCR testing for the virus continues to be reserved for vulnerable groups, wastewater indicators and outbreak trends continue to serve as a proxy to monitor local spread.

Wastewater data up to Jan. 29 indicates the signal appears to be slowing across the region.

Although the Cambridge signal appears to show an increase in the latest graph, Wang explained that due to environmental factors and inherent variations in daily and short term readings, it should be interpreted with caution.

School absenteeism rates

Wang said monitoring in schools and daycares has not shown any concerning trends and the average daily absenteeism rate is under 13 per cent.

Five schools in the region reported absenteeism rates between 20 and 30 per cent this week.

Hospitals, however, are still caring for a very high number of people and the strain on the healthcare system is expected to remain high for the next few weeks, she said.

Friday’s COVID dashboard shows 98 people are hospitalized with COVID in the region and 22 in ICU.

Between Jan. 1 and 31, the region logged 42 deaths with ages ranging from people in their 50s to over 100 years old. 

The median age for those who died was 88 and those 80 and older accounted for 71 per cent of January deaths. 

Although 73 per cent of those deaths were among those who had received at least two doses, Wang said the numbers would have been much higher if we did not have overall high vaccination rates and efforts in place to reduce contacts.

The risk of severe outcomes remains highest among the unvaccinated.

Unvaccinated individuals who become infected with COVID are six times more likely to end up in hospital and 12 times more likely to end up in the ICU.

Thirteen people who died last month were in long term care or retirement home settings, 57 per cent listed COVID as the underlying cause while 43 per cent listed COVID as a contributing cause but not the primary cause.

Wang said the numbers represents the extraordinary spread of Omicron at the start of the fifth wave and the reason we had to be cautious and take the measures we did to slow the spread and ensure hospital capacity.

Vaccination rate

The director of the region’s vaccination roll out, Vickie Murray, said as of Friday’s update, 88.35 per cent of eligible residents over the age of five have received one dose of the vaccine, 83.62 per cent of eligible residents in the same age group are fully vaccinated, and 54.12 per cent of children aged 5-11 have had at least one dose.

The region has administered 279,488 third doses, or approximately 64 per cent of all eligible residents.

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First reported case of a person getting COVID from a cat – Nature.com

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Cats can catch and transmit SARS-CoV-2.Credit: Vachira Vachira/NurPhoto/Getty

First there were sneezing hamsters, now sneezing cats. A team in Thailand reports the first solid evidence of a pet cat infecting a person with SARS-CoV-2 — adding felines to the list of animals that can transmit the virus to people.

Researchers say the results are convincing. They are surprised that it has taken this long to establish that transmission can occur, given the scale of the pandemic, the virus’s ability to jump between animal species, and the close contact between cats and people. “We’ve known this was a possibility for two years,” says Angela Bosco-Lauth, an infectious-disease researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Studies early in the pandemic found that cats shed infectious virus particles and can infect other cats. And over the course of the pandemic, countries have reported SARS-CoV-2 infections in dozens of pet cats. But establishing the direction of viral spread — from cat to person or from person to cat — is tricky. The Thai study “is an interesting case report, and a great example of what good contact tracing can do”, says Marion Koopmans, a virologist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The feline finding, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases1 on 6 June, came about by accident, says co-author Sarunyou Chusri, an infectious-disease researcher and physician at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, southern Thailand. In August, a father and son who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were transferred to an isolation ward at the university’s hospital. Their ten-year-old cat was also swabbed and tested positive. While being swabbed, the cat sneezed in the face of a veterinary surgeon, who was wearing a mask and gloves but no eye protection.

Three days later, the vet developed a fever, sniffles and a cough, and later tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but none of her close contacts developed COVID-19, suggesting that she had been infected by the cat. Genetic analysis also confirmed that the vet was infected with the same variant as the cat and its owners, and the viral genomic sequences were identical.

Low risk

Researchers say that such cases of cat-to-human transmission are probably rare. Experimental studies have shown that infected cats don’t shed much virus, and shed for only a few days, says Leo Poon, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Still, Chusri says it is worth taking extra precautions when handling cats suspected of being infected. People “should not abandon their cats, but take more care of them”, he says.

Other animals suspected of infecting people include farmed mink in Europe and North America, pet hamsters in Hong Kong and wild white-tailed deer in Canada. Adding cats to the list “expands our understanding of the zoonotic potential of this virus”, says Poon.

But researchers say these are all rare events and animals don’t yet play a significant part in spreading the virus. “Humans are clearly still the major source of the virus,” says Bosco-Lauth.

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WHO warns of monkeypox risk to kids, pregnant people if spread continues – CBC News

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The World Health Organization said “sustained transmission” of monkeypox worldwide could see the virus begin to move into high-risk groups, such as pregnant people, immunocompromised people and children.

WHO said on Wednesday it is investigating reports of infected children, including two cases in the United Kingdom, as well as following up reports in Spain and France. None of the cases in children have been severe.

The virus has now been identified in more than 50 new countries outside the countries in Africa where it is endemic. Cases are also rising in those countries, said WHO, calling for testing to be ramped up.

“I’m concerned about sustained transmission because it would suggest that the virus establishing itself and it could move into high risk groups including children, the immunocompromised and pregnant women,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Sustained transmission is characterized by the World Health Organization as an illness that can transmit easily from one person to others in the population.

Monkeypox is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of western and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it is relatively easy to contain through measures such as self-isolation and hygiene. 

A monkeypox virus particle is seen in this coloured transmission electron micrograph. The World Health Organization is warning that the virus could pose a risk to vulnerable people if it continues to spread. (UK Health Security Agency/Science Photo Library)

There have been more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox and one death since the outbreak began in May, largely in Europe among men who have sex with men, according to a WHO tally. There have also been more than 1,500 cases and 66 deaths in countries this year where the disease more commonly spreads.

At least 275 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Canada. Those include 202 cases in Quebec, 67 cases in Ontario, four in Alberta and two in British Columbia.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) declined to comment on WHO’s warning on Wednesday.

Health officials will likely face questions about Canada’s monkeypox response at a media conference scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Not a global health emergency ‘at this stage’

WHO’s warning comes days after it said the global outbreak of the virus should be closely monitored, but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.

In a statement Saturday, a WHO emergency committee said many aspects of the outbreak were “unusual” and acknowledged that monkeypox — which is endemic in some African countries — has been neglected for years.

“While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise the WHO director general that at this stage the outbreak should be determined to not constitute” a global health emergency, WHO said in a statement.

WHO nevertheless pointed to the “emergency nature” of the outbreak and said controlling its spread requires an “intense” response.

The committee said the outbreak should be “closely monitored and reviewed after a few weeks.” But it said it would recommend a re-assessment before then if certain new developments emerge, such as cases among sex workers, spread to other countries or within countries that have already had cases, increased severity of cases or an increasing rate of spread.

The UN agency said it was also working on a mechanism to distribute vaccines more equitably, after countries including Britain and the United States suggested they were willing to share their stockpiled smallpox vaccines, which also protect against monkeypox.

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Heart Attack Drug Proves Effective at Treating Stroke – Technology Networks

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In the largest stroke clinical trial ever run in Canada, researchers have shown Tenecteplase (TNK), a safe, well tolerated drug, commonly used as a clot buster for heart attacks, is an effective treatment for acute ischemic stroke. Led by researchers with the University of Calgary at the Foothills Medical Centre and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, the study included 1600 patients at hospitals throughout Canada.

“It is truly an important finding that I share with my colleagues from coast to coast. Through this collaboration these findings could revolutionize stroke treatment throughout the world,” says Dr. Bijoy Menon, MD, professor at the University of Calgary, neurologist at the Foothills Medical Centre and co-principal investigator on the study. “Tenecteplase is known to be an effective clot dissolving drug. It is very easy to administer which makes it a game changer when seconds count to save brain cells,”

Based on current guidelines, Alteplase (tPA) is the recommended drug for acute ischemic stroke patients. The challenge is that the drug is more complex to administer. It takes up to an hour and requires an infusion pump that needs to be monitored. The pump can be cumbersome when transporting a patient within a hospital, or to a major stroke center for treatment.

“One of the reasons Tenecteplase is so effective is that in can be administered as a single immediate dose,” says Dr. Rick Swartz, MD, PhD, clinician-researcher at the University of Toronto, co-principal investigator, and stroke neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “That’s a big advantage, saving critical time and complication. TNK could potentially be administered wherever the patient is seen first, at a medical centre or small hospital,”

The AcT Trial compared TNK to tPA in a randomized trial. The results published in The Lancet show that TNK worked as well as, if not better than, the current recommended drug, tPA. TNK attaches itself to the clot for a longer period of time than tPA which means that blood flow is restored faster and for a longer period of time. Along with discovering a better way to treat acute ischemic stroke, the team also established a more cost effective, and efficient way to conduct clinical trials. 

Reference: Menon BK, Buck BH, Singh N, et al. Intravenous tenecteplase compared with alteplase for acute ischaemic stroke in Canada (AcT): a pragmatic, multicentre, open-label, registry-linked, randomised, controlled, non-inferiority trial. The Lancet. 2022;0(0). doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01054-6

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

 

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