For years, Brett Finlay has been encouraging people to get comfortable being surrounded by germs.
Dr. Finlay, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, has led studies and written papers and books about the importance of the human microbiome – the universe of microbes that live in and among us – and the need to expose ourselves to a diversity of microorganisms to keep us healthy.
But just as people began embracing probiotics and fermented foods, discarding antibacterial soaps and getting over our collective fear of germs, along came the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and stay-at-home rules have become the order of the day.
While such measures are critical in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Finlay and other experts worry they could have a harmful effect on our microbiomes, with lasting consequences for our health.
“Suddenly, hand sanitizer goes through the roof, we all wear masks and we don’t touch anyone or anything. And from what we know is that generally, that’s probably not good from just an ordinary microbial exposure point of view,” he said, saying that measures such as getting outside and eating a healthy diet can help counteract this.
Over the past decade, researchers including Dr. Finlay have found dysbiosis, or an imbalance of the composition of microbes in the body, is associated with an array of chronic conditions and diseases, including obesity, diabetes, asthma and various auto-immune diseases.
And so while emphasizing that pandemic control measures are necessary in the near term, Dr. Finlay and his colleagues anticipate they’re also preventing people from acquiring a diversity of microbes, and accelerating the loss of microbes, potentially contributing to higher rates of these health issues in the long term. In response, they recommend spending time outdoors to increase one’s exposure to microbes, and eating balanced, high-fibre diets instead of highly processed foods.
Dr. Finlay and a team of scientists with the Humans and the Microbiome program at CIFAR, a Canadian-based global research organization, wrote a recent paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to draw attention to this issue. They noted societal changes over the past century, such as urbanization, hygiene practices and increased consumption of processed foods, have led to a loss of microbial diversity. Moreover, when microbial species with which humans have evolved are wiped out, the loss may be permanent.
It’s yet unknown what the cost of the pandemic will be to the human microbiome, they said. However, they suggested sweeping changes over the past year likely contribute to microbial loss. These changes include intensive disinfection, physical inactivity and consumption of highly processed foods during lockdowns, a decline in social interaction and mobility and the use of antimicrobial treatments because of misdiagnosis or to treat secondary infections from COVID-19.
The consequences are also expected to be “very uneven,” as efforts to control transmission of the coronavirus and access to treatments differ, depending on where people live, their income levels and the size of their households, said co-author Tamara Giles-Vernick, a director of research at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.
Faced with pandemic-related economic hardship and in some parts of the world, food shortages, for example, people now relying on food-assistance programs are experiencing changes to their diet, she said. This, at least in the short term, is expected to cause shifts in their microbiome, explained Dr. Giles-Vernick, head of the non-profit foundation’s anthropology and ecology of disease emergence unit.
Dr. Finlay said he expected any changes to the microbiome would have the most profound effects at “the bookends of life” – that is, among young children and older adults.
“We know that for a child to develop normally, you need microbial exposure,” he said, saying there’s a concern “kids just are not getting the normal microbes that they would have gotten pre-COVID.”
Microbes also influence healthy aging, he explained. After around the age of 65, one’s microbes become more inflammatory, while the gut becomes more permeable, and gut microbes can seep into the body, he said. This causes inflammation associated with tissue damage and aging.
This effect can be intensified when people are not exposed to normal microbes, he said.
Separately, at the University of California, San Diego, professor and infectious disease epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee pointed to another potential unintended consequence of the pandemic: a worsening crisis of superbugs, or drug-resistant microbial pathogens.
This is, in part, because the pandemic has shifted resources away from fighting superbugs, she said. For instance, many hospital antibiotic stewards, usually infectious disease pharmacists who advise doctors how to use certain antibiotics, have now been diverted to deal with COVID-19, she said.
Moreover, doctors around the world have been overprescribing antibiotics as a way to thwart secondary bacterial infections among COVID-19 patients, added Dr. Strathdee, co-author of The Perfect Predator, a book about her own husband’s near-fatal infection with a superbug.
To control superbugs, which by some estimates will cause 10 million deaths globally a year by 2050, Dr. Strathdee said there is a need to adopt a “one health” conceptual model to achieve health for people, animals and the environment.
“It isn’t enough to just tell doctors, ‘Limit your prescribing of antibiotics,’ ” she said. Rather, the fight against superbugs also requires limiting the use of antibiotics in farming and managing effluent from antibiotic manufacturing plants. It also requires international and multisectoral collaboration, she said.
When it comes to mitigating the effects of the pandemic on the human microbiome, Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files, advised getting into nature, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and fermented foods, opening windows and practising “targeted hygiene” instead of indiscriminately disinfecting everything.
With COVID-19, “we have been shocked by a microbe,” he said, but it’s important to remember the vast majority of microbes out there “are harmless to us and many of them can actually provide us with benefits for our health.”
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Delta variant of COVID-19 now makes up nearly 4 in 10 cases in B.C., data shows – Global News
New data from the BC Centre for Disease control shows that the highly-transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 has grown to nearly four in 10 cases in the province, up from fewer than one in 10 just two weeks before.
The data comes as the province reported more than 100 new cases in a 24-hour period for the first time in five weeks.
The BCCDC released the data Friday, which covers the week of July 11 to July 15.
B.C. reports 112 new COVID-19 cases, four new deaths
Out of 376 cases recorded that week, the Delta variant, first identified in India, made up 39 per cent of cases, while the Gamma variant, first identified in Brazil, made up 40 per cent. The Alpha variant, first identified in the U.K., made up 17 per cent of cases.
Last week, the BCCDC reported the Delta variant made up 33 per cent of cases, while the week before it was just eight per cent.
Research has found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant, but only when people receive both doses.
Partially vaccinated people remain at a much greater risk of contracting it or becoming seriously ill.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that 96 per cent of new cases reported in B.C. between June15 and July 15 were among people who weren’t fully vaccinated.
As of Friday, more than 2.68 million people — 58.1 per cent of those eligible and 52.2 per cent of the population — have been fully vaccinated.
Could Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination drive slowdown fuel another surge?
There were strong regional variances in the prevalence of Delta.
In the Vancouver Island Health Region, all of the 14 cases reported over the week in question were found to be the Delta variant.
In the Interior Health Region, which has seen growing case numbers and lagging vaccination rates, Delta made up a whopping 74 per cent of the 122 cases over the week reported.
More than half of the new cases reported on Friday were in the Interior Health region.
Vancouver Coastal Health had the second highest prevalence of Delta, at 33 per cent, followed by the Fraser Health region at 15 per cent.
Officials said 97 per cent of all samples tested were at least one of the known variants of concern.
The BCCDC cautions that the data reported on Friday is subject to change due to a lag in sequencing some samples.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
COVID-19 in Ottawa: Fast Facts for July 24, 2021 – CTV Edmonton
Good morning. Here is the latest news on COVID-19 and its impact on Ottawa.
- The number of active COVID-19 cases in Ottawa continues to creep up as vaccination slows
- A new outbreak in Barry’s Bay has led to nearly two-dozen close contacts and forced businesses to close
- Ontario reported 192 new cases on Friday as the seven-day average jumped slightly
COVID-19 by the numbers in Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health data):
- New COVID-19 cases: Seven new cases on Friday
- Total COVID-19 cases: 27,768
- COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 3.9
- Positivity rate in Ottawa: 0.5 per cent (seven day average)
- Reproduction Number: 1.28 (seven day average)
Who should get a test?
Ottawa Public Health says you can get a COVID-19 test at an assessment centre, care clinic, or community testing site if any of the following apply to you:
- You are showing COVID-19 symptoms;
- You have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by Ottawa Public Health or exposure notification through the COVID Alert app;
- You are a resident or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified and informed by Ottawa Public Health;
- You are a resident, a worker or a visitor to long-term care, retirement homes, homeless shelters or other congregate settings (for example: group homes, community supported living, disability-specific communities or congregate settings, short-term rehab, hospices and other shelters);
- You are a person who identifies as First Nations, Inuit or Métis;
- You are a person travelling to work in a remote First Nations, Inuit or Métis community;
- You received a preliminary positive result through rapid testing;
- You require testing 72 hours before a scheduled (non-urgent or emergent) surgery (as recommended by your health care provider);
- You are a patient and/or their 1 accompanying escort travelling out of country for medical treatment;
- You are an international student that has passed their 14-day quarantine period;
- You are a farm worker;
- You are an educator who cannot access pharmacy-testing; or
- You are in a targeted testing group as outlined in guidance from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa:
There are several sites for COVID-19 testing in Ottawa. To book an appointment, visit https://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/shared-content/assessment-centres.aspx
- The Brewer Ottawa Hospital/CHEO Assessment Centre: Open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- COVID-19 Drive-Thru Assessment Centre at 300 Coventry Road: Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- The Moodie Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- The Ray Friel Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- North Grenville COVID-19 Assessment Centre (Kemptville) – 15 Campus Drive: Open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Centretown Community Health Centre: Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Sandy Hill Community Health Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 pm.
- Somerset West Community Health Centre: Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday
COVID-19 screening tool:
The COVID-19 screening tool for summer camp children and staff. All campers and staff must complete the COVID-19 School and Childcare screening tool daily.
Classic Symptoms: fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath
Other symptoms: sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, new or unexplained runny nose or nasal congestion
Less common symptoms: unexplained fatigue, muscle aches, headache, delirium, chills, red/inflamed eyes, croup
The number of active COVID-19 cases in Ottawa is back above 40 for the first time in two weeks, as the city’s vaccine administration pace slows down.
Ottawa Public Health reported seven new cases of the virus in Ottawa on Friday. There were no new resolved cases for the second straight day, so the number of active cases has climbed to 41.
It’s the most since July 9, when there were 43 active cases in the city.
A new outbreak of COVID-19 in Barry’s Bay, Ont. has resulted in two closed businesses and nearly two-dozen high-risk contacts.
The Renfrew County health unit is reporting three new confirmed cases that started with a visit from southern Ontario.
Twenty-one high-risk contacts now have to isolate, a fresh example that Canada is not yet out of the pandemic.
Ontario is reporting another jump in the number of new COVID-19 cases as health officials log just over 190 new infections and the seven-day average rises.
The province confirmed 192 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, which comes after officials logged 185 new infections on Thursday.
Before that, the province reported case numbers below the 150 mark for three days.
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