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Major coronavirus variant found in pets for first time

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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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COVID19 vaccines effective enough, no need for third booster jab: Lancet

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(Asian News Hub) – Vaccines are effective enough at preventing severe cases of Covid-19 that there is no current need for the general population to be given third doses, according to a report in The Lancet published Monday.

Some countries have started offering extra doses over fears about the much more contagious Delta variant, causing the World Health Organization to call for a moratorium on third jabs amid concerns about vaccine supplies to poorer nations, where millions have yet to receive their first jab.

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The new report by scientists, including from the WHO, concluded that even with the threat of Delta, “booster doses for the general population are not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic”.

The authors, who reviewed observational studies and clinical trials, found that vaccines remain highly effective against severe symptoms of Covid-19, across all the main virus variants including Delta, although they had lower success in preventing asymptomatic cases of the disease.

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“Taken as a whole, the currently available studies do not provide credible evidence of substantially declining protection against severe disease, which is the primary goal of vaccination,” said lead author Ana-Maria Henao-Restrepo, of the WHO.

She said vaccine doses should be prioritised to people around the world still waiting for a jab.

“If vaccines are deployed where they would do the most good, they could hasten the end of the pandemic by inhibiting further evolution of variants,” she added.

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COVID-19: Samba becomes first district to complete vaccination for all above 18 years

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Instead of waiting for people to come, we reached out to them: DC Samba; LG congratulates for achieving milestone

(Asian News Hub) – Amid the ongoing Covid vaccination drive in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, Samba has become the first district in giving the first dose of Covid vaccine to all above 18 years of age.

A top health official told news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO) that there are around 241,000 persons in the district in between 18-44 age group and all of them have already got their first dose of Covid vaccine.

Also Read: DAK urges flu vaccination for children ahead of third Covid wave

He said that around 78,000 (33 percent) people have also got second dose of Covid vaccine and the process of vaccinating more and more people is going on. “It was possible only due to the efforts of health workers and front line workers who have worked tirelessly to achieve this milestone,” the official said.

District Magistrate Samba Anuradha Gupta said that since the beginning Samba district started the vaccination process strategically and Samba was among first few districts which completed vaccination process of all above 45 years of age.

“Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we went to them. We had constituted mobile teams to reach everyone. We were vaccinating above 45 age group the positivity and mortality rate started declining and people understood the importance of vaccination,” Gupta said.

Also Read: WHO says Covid will mutate like the flu and is likely here to stay

She said that then people above 18 years came on their own without need of any mobilisation and “our efforts are on complete second dose process at an earliest.”

Meanwhile LG Manoj Sinha has congratulated the Covid management team of Samba and health care workers for their tireless efforts in completing 100 percent vaccination of above 18 years of age. He hoped that other districts will catch up soon and complete this process as well.

“Congratulations to Covid mgmt team of Samba & health care workers for their tireless effort to ensure 100% vaccination of above 18 yrs of age.Samba becomes first distt. of J&K to achieve this milestone & I am sure other districts will catch up soon,” Office of LG tweeted.

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DAK urges flu vaccination for children ahead of third Covid wave

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(Asian News Hub) – Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Wednesday urged parents to get their children vaccinated against flu ahead of third Covid wave which is predicted to happen sometime in the fall of this year and is expected to affect kids the most.

“Receiving a flu shot could make it easier to tell if your child has Covid-19 in the event he/she gets sick as both illnesses have similar symptoms,” said DAK President and influenza expert Dr Nisar ul Hassan.

Also Read: WHO says Covid will mutate like the flu and is likely here to stay

“This year’s flu season will likely coincide with the predicted third Covid wave. Administering flu vaccine would reduce the number of unnecessary Covid-19 tests that would limit the burden on hospitals and healthcare workers,” he added.

Quoting a recent study conducted at the University of Missouri School of Medicine Columbia, Dr Hassan said flu vaccination may offer some protection against Covid-19 in the pediatric population.

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“The study found that those Covid-19 positive patients who had been administered the flu vaccine in the 2020 flu season had reduced odds of experiencing symptoms, respiratory complications and severe disease,” he said.

The DAK President said we would be facing a double whammy of flu and Covid this fall.

​ “You can catch the flu and Covid at the same time which could increase your risk of ending up in ICU or on a ventilator. That makes this season’s flu vaccine vitally important,” he said.

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“Everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine before the start of flu season which begins in October and can last late into May. Since it takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become fully effective, it is best to get the vaccine in September,” said Dr Nisar.

“This season’s flu vaccine has been updated to better match currently circulating viruses. This year a quadrivalent influenza vaccine containing H1N1, H3N2 and two B viruses – Victoria and Yamagata is recommended,” he said.

“While the vaccine is recommended for all, it is especially needed in young children, elderly, pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions.

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Vaccination to expectant mothers is critically important to protect their new born babies’ upto 6 months who are too young to receive the vaccine,” he added.

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