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Major coronavirus variant found in pets for first time

The variants of SARS-CoV-2 that keep emerging aren’t just a human problem.

(Asian News Hub) – Two reports released this week have found the first evidence that dogs and cats can become infected by B.1.1.7, a recent variant of the pandemic coronavirus that transmits more readily between people and also appears more lethal in them.

The finds mark the first time one of the several major variants of concern has been seen outside of humans.

B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom and that’s where some of the variant-infected pets were found. The U.K. animals suffered myocarditis—an inflammation of the heart tissue that, in serious cases, can cause heart failure. But the reports offer no proof that the SARS-CoV-2 variant is responsible, nor that it’s more transmissible or dangerous in animals.

“It’s an interesting hypothesis, but there’s no evidence that the virus is causing these problems,” says Scott Weese, a veterinarian at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College who specializes in emerging infectious diseases.

Since December 2020, scientists have identified multiple variants of concern that appear more transmissible or are able to evade some immune response.

B.1.351, for example, was first detected in South Africa, and a strain called P.1 was first found in Brazil. The B.1.17 variant drew early attention because of its rapid rise in the United Kingdom; it now comprises about 95% of all new infections there.

So far the impact of these variants on pets has been unclear. Though there have now been more than 120 million cases of COVID-19 around the world, only a handful of pets have tested positive for the original SARS-CoV-2—probably because no one is testing them. Infected pets appear to have symptoms ranging from mild to nonexistent, and infectious disease experts say companion animals are likely playing little, if any, role in spreading the coronavirus to people.

The new variants might change that equation, says Eric Leroy, a virologist at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development who specializes in zoonotic diseases. In one of the new studies, he and colleagues analyzed pets admitted to the cardiology unit of the Ralph Veterinary Referral Centre in the outskirts of London.

The hospital had noticed a sharp uptick in the number of dogs and cats presenting with myocarditis: From December 2020 to February, the incidence of the condition jumped from 1.4% to 12.8%.

That coincided with a surge of the B.1.1.7 variant in the United Kingdom. So the team looked at 11 pets: eight cats and three dogs. None of the animals had a previous history of heart disease, yet all had come down with symptoms ranging from lethargy and loss of appetite to rapid breathing and fainting. Lab tests revealed cardiac abnormalities, including irregular heartbeats and fluid in the lungs, all symptoms seen in human cases of COVID-19.

Seven of the animals got polymerase chain reaction tests, and three came back positive for SARS-CoV-2—all with the B.1.1.7 variant, team reported yesterday on the preprint server bioRxiv. SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests on four of the other animals picked up evidence that two of them had been infected with the virus. Earlier this week, researchers at Texas A&M University detected the B.1.1.7 variant in a cat and a dog from the same home in the state’s Brazos county.

The Texas owner was diagnosed with COVID-19, and owners of five of the 11 U.K. pets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—all before their animals developed symptoms. The Texas pets showed no symptoms at the time they were tested, though they both began to sneeze several weeks later. All of the U.S. and U.K. animals have since recovered, though one of the U.K. cats relapsed and had to be euthanized.

Leroy says it’s unclear whether B.1.1.7 is more transmissible than the original strain between humans and animals, or vice versa. It’s “impossible to say” that pets infected with B.1.1.7 might play a more serious role in the pandemic, he adds, but “this hypothesis has to be seriously raised.”

Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, points out that the researchers have shown only a correlation between B.1.1.7 infection and myocarditis, and that they didn’t rule out other causes for the condition. “There is no evidence pets were sick because of the virus,” she says.

Weese agrees that neither the Texas nor U.K. findings should sound any alarms about pets endangering their owners. “The risk of them being a source of infection remains very low,” he says. “If my dog has it, he probably got it from me. And I’m much more likely to infect my family and neighbors before he does.”

Still, he says scientists and veterinarians should do studies on what role, if any, SARS-CoV-2 and its variants play in myocarditis among pets.

There is evidence that the virus can cause the condition in people, Weese notes, so it’s worth exploring in companion animals. “It might be real,” he says, “but there’s no reason for people to freak out right now.”

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Serosurvey would determine impact of possible 3rd Covid wave on children: DAK

(Asian News Hub) – Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Saturday said serosurvey of pediatric population in the valley would determine the impact of possible third Covid-19 wave on children.

Serosurvey of children will give us a fair estimate of their vulnerability in predicted third wave,” said DAK President and influenza expert Dr Nisar ul Hassan.

“Serosurvey involves testing blood samples of individuals for antibodies that are developed after an infection,” he said.

“This will give us an idea about the percentage of pediatric population who might have developed natural immunity.”

Dr Hassan said recently, a serosurvey of general population including children aged 7 to 17 years has been completed in Kashmir, the results of which are awaited.  The sample size per district in the age group 7 to 11 was 40 and it was 80 in 12-17 age group.

“The survey needs to be extended to the age group of 0 to 6 years and the sample size per district should be 500 to 1000 to get a clearer picture of the actual percentage of children who have developed immunity against Covid-19,” he said.

Dr Hassan said there are speculations that children would be affected more than adults in possible third wave as this is the population group in which there is no vaccine yet.

“However, various serosurveys have dismissed the claim that the next wave will be affecting children exclusively,” he said.

“A pediatric serological study conducted by AIIMS, New Delhi at five different sites found that 55.7 percent children had developed antibodies,” DAK President said.

“The study found that seroprevalence of children and adults in the same regions were almost similar.”

“Another study conducted by PGI Chandigarh revealed that 69 percent of children had antibodies against Covid-19,” he said.

“These children had remained either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic during the infection.”

“The data of the two surveys prove that children have acquired natural immunity against the virus and it is highly unlikely that the third wave will affect children more than adults,” said Dr Nisar.

“This is a big relief. Because the apprehensions expressed by several health experts about the third wave primarily targeting children had left people worried,” he said.

“But, we can’t derive conclusions on the data from other regions. We need to have our own data based on which decisions can be made ahead of the feared third wave,” he added.

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Israel reports Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness against infection down to 40%

(Asian News Hub) – The Health Ministry said Thursday that the effectiveness of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms has dropped to 40%, according to new data collected over the past month as the delta variant spreads in Israel.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meanwhile called on Israelis who haven’t been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

“The Israeli government is investing billions so that there is a vaccine available in every location in the country, and there are still a million Israelis who simply refuse to be vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccine refusers are endangering their health, their surroundings and all Israeli citizens. If a million Israelis continue to be unvaccinated, this will force the others to shut themselves in at home.”

The effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms stands at 88% and 91%, respectively, the ministry said.

With inputs from Haaretz

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Scientists discover more than 30 viruses frozen in ice, most never seen before

(Asian News Hub) – A group of scientists discovered ancient viruses frozen in two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China, and most of them are unlike anything ever seen before.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Microbiome, came from ice cores taken in 2015 that scientists said began to freeze at least 14,400 years ago.

“These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice,” Zhi-Ping Zhong, lead author and researcher at the Ohio State University Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, said in a statement. “The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments.”

When researchers analyzed the ice, they found genetic codes for 33 viruses. Of the 33, genetic codes for four of them showed they are part of virus families that typically infect bacteria. Up to 28 were novel, meaning they had never before been identified.

The group said it doesn’t believe the viruses originated from animals or humans but came from the soil or plants. The scientists said roughly half of them survived because of the ice.

“These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments,” said Matthew Sullivan, co-author of the study and director of Ohio State’s Center of Microbiome Science.

“These viruses have signatures of genes that help them infect cells in cold environments – just surreal genetic signatures for how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions.”

Sullivan said the technology used to study microbes and viruses inside the ice would lead to looking for similar genetic sequences in other extreme ice environments, possibly on Mars.

Senior author of the study Lonnie Thompson said the discovery of the viruses in glaciers of ice will help researchers understand how they respond to climate change.

“We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments and what is actually there,” Thompson said. 

“The documentation and understanding of that is extremely important.”

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