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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.”

SCIENCEMAG

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N95 masks are a must as COVID-19 spreads via airborne transmission too: AIIMS Chief

(Asian News Hub) – AIIMS chief Randeep Guleria said on Sunday that the fact that coronavirus can be transmitted through aerosols makes it more contagious since these are much smaller and lighter particles than droplets.

Because of their small size, aerosols can hang in the air and travel a distance of even up to 10 metres. He emphasised the need to use N95 masks for staying safe from the deadly disease.

Until now the emphasis has been that coronavirus is transmitted predominantly through droplets while coughing or sneezing. However, a study published in the reputed British medical journal The Lancet this week concludes that coronavirus spreads predominantly through airborne transmission.

Since the disease is airborne a social distance of 3 metres is not enough to keep you safe and you can get infected even after a person has left the immediate vicinity as the virus could be lingering in the air.

Speaking on NDTV, Dr Guleria said the debate of droplets versus aerosols has been going on for the last eight or nine months but the fact that the disease can be transmitted through aerosols which can travel through longer distances in the air makes the disease more contagious.

He said the virus from an infected person can linger in the air for much longer when it is carried in aerosols as these are much smaller particles than droplets which drop to the ground in the immediate vicinity.
Thus while a social distance of 3 metres is enough in the case of droplets, when it comes to aerosols the distance which the virus can travel could go up to 10 metres.

He said it is essential, therefore, to keep all rooms well ventilated so that aerosols are not left hanging in the air. The doors and windows of a room should be kept open, he added.

Guleria also said that meetings should not be held in closed rooms as if there is an infected person he can leave aerosols in the air. These are left floating in the air even after the person has left.

The AIIMS chief said it was also important to wear N95 masks as these can effectively stop the virus. But he emphasised that the mask should be worn properly so that it completely seals the nose and mouth. One must ensure that no air enters from the sides of the mask. N95 masks are a must.

He also said that in the case of a surgical mask or cloth masks, which are not as effective as N95 masks, wearing two masks helps as this provides a double layer of protection.

But if it is an N95 mask worn properly, then one mask is enough, he added.

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Covid-19 is primarily airborne: Lancet

(Asian News Hub) – A report in The Lancet journal has dismissed the predominant scientific view that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is not an airborne pathogen.

Areport published in the journal The Lancet has dismissed the predominant scientific view that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is not an airborne pathogen. The authors of the report have listed 10 reasons for their claim that “SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted primarily by the airborne route”.

The paper, written by six experts from the UK, the US and Canada, argues that there are “insufficient grounds for concluding that a pathogen is not airborne” while “the totality of scientific evidence indicates otherwise”. The experts called for urgent modification in the Covid-19 safety protocol.

CORONAVIRUS IS AIRBORNE: 10 REASONS CITED BY THE RESEARCHERS

  1. “Superspreading events account for substantial SARS-CoV-2 transmission; indeed, such events may be the pandemic’s primary drivers,” they said. Detailed analyses of human behaviours and interactions, room sizes, ventilation, and other variables, the authors said, are consistent with airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the same cannot be adequately explained by droplets or fomites.
  2. Long-range transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between people in adjacent rooms but never in each other’s presence has been documented in quarantine hotels, the paper said.
  3. The experts argued that from 33 per cent to 59 per cent of all Covid-19 cases could be attributed to asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from people who are not coughing or sneezing. They said this supported a predominantly airborne mode of transmission.
  4. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher indoors than outdoors and is substantially reduced by indoor ventilation.
  5. The paper said nosocomial infections (those that originate in a hospital) had been documented even at places where healthcare professionals used personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect against droplet but not aerosol exposure.
  6. The experts said viable SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in the air. In laboratory experiments, SARS-CoV-2 stayed infectious in the air for up to 3 hours. They rejected the argument that SARS-CoV-2 was bit cultivated from air arguing that measles and tuberculosis, two primarily airborne diseases, had never been cultivated from room air.
  7. SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in air filters and building ducts in hospitals with COVID-19 patients; such locations could be reached only by aerosols, they said.
  8. The experts cited studies involving infected caged animals that showed transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via an air duct.
  9. Another argument of the experts was that no study to our knowledge provided strong or consistent evidence to refute the hypothesis of airborne SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
  10. Their final argument was that there was limited evidence to support other dominant routes of transmission- i.e. respiratory droplet or fomite.

The claim of the experts, if proven and accepted, could have massive implications on counter-Covid-19 strategy across the world. This may require the people to wear mask even inside their homes, and possibly at all times.

The current understanding is that SARS-CoV-2 spreads through smaller aerosols that stay suspended in air or through fomites, the surfaces where the virus gets deposited, and could be picked by a health person. Gravity pulls down heavier droplets reducing the chances of infection considerably.

But if an infectious virus is mainly airborne, an individual could potentially be infected when they inhale aerosols produced when an infected person exhales, speaks, shouts, sings, sneezes, or coughs, the experts said. This changes the way the world should fight coronavirus pandemic.

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AstraZeneca woes grow as Australia, Philippines, African Union curb COVID shots

(Asian News Hub) – Australia and the Philippines limited use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, while the Africa Union dropped plans to buy the shot, dealing further blows to the company’s hopes to deliver a vaccine for the world.

The vaccine – developed with Oxford University and considered a frontrunner in the global vaccine race – has been plagued by safety concerns and supply problems since Phase III trial results were published in December, with Indonesia the latest country forced to seek doses from other vaccine developers.

The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZeneca shots for people below 60 after Europe’s regulator said on Wednesday it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients although the vaccine’s advantages still outweighed its risks.

Australia recommended people under 50 should get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s, a policy shift that it warned would hold up its inoculation campaign.

The African Union is exploring options with Johnson & Johnson having dropped plans to buy AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India’s Serum Institute, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters.

AstraZeneca’s shot is sold at cost, for a few dollars a dose. It is by far the cheapest and most high-volume launched so far, and has none of the extreme refrigeration requirements of some other COVID-19 vaccines, making it likely to be the mainstay of many vaccination programmes in the developing world.

But more than a dozen countries have at one time suspended or partially suspended use of the shot, first on concerns about efficacy in older people, and now on worries about rare side effects in younger people.

That, coupled with production setbacks, will delay the rollout of vaccines across the globe as governments scramble to find alternatives to tame the pandemic which has killed more than 3 million.

Reuters

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