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Next Pandemic: Scientists Fear Another Coronavirus Could Jump From Animals To Humans

(Asian News Hub) – When the pandemic began last year, scientists went looking for the origins of the coronavirus. Right away, they made a huge discovery. It looked like the virus jumped from a bat into humans.

Now, scientists are worried that another coronavirus will strike again, from either a bat or some other animal. So they’ve gone hunting for potential sources — and the news is a bit concerning.

“Coronaviruses are under our feet in rodents. They are above our heads in bats. We live in a kind of coronavirus world,” says virologist Edward Holmes at the University of Sydney.

This past year, Holmes and his colleagues trapped several hundred bats in a tiny section of the Yunnan province in southern China — an area about the size of Los Angeles International Airport. They took samples of the bats’ saliva, urine and feces. Then they looked for coronavirus genes inside the samples.

What they found surprised him.
“So in this very small area that we sampled, about 1,100 hectare, there’s an amazing number of bat viruses,” says Holmes, who reported the findings online last week.

Holmes and his team found that the bats harbored 24 new coronaviruses, including four closely related to the virus that causes COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, and three viruses closely related to SARS-CoV, which caused a smaller outbreak back in 2003.

On top of that, Holmes says, the bat species carrying these viruses are common across most of Southeast Asia. “So imagine if you ran our experiment across the whole of Southeast Asia. You’d find an amazing diversity of coronaviruses,” Holmes says. “And there’s just an enormous number of them.”

And depending on how you define a virus species, Holmes says, there are likely thousands of different coronaviruses all around the world.

“We’re only just starting to scratch the surface,” he says. “The virusphere of coronaviruses is just immense.”

And these pathogens aren’t just hanging out in bats. Many types of animals carry these viruses, including dogs, cats, birds, chickens, pigs and rodents.

Now the two big questions are: How often do these viruses jump from animals into people and how often do they make people sick?

Back in 2018, scientists at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance tried to answer that question in communities from southern China, including villages in the same province where Holmes trapped the bats. The team drew blood from about 400 people and looked for signs of coronavirus antibodies in their blood.

In one area, they found that nearly 3% of people had been infected with an unknown coronavirus in the past few years. “That’s pretty high,” says Peter Daszak, who helped to lead the study.

If you expand those findings to all parts of Southeast Asia where people are exposed to these bats, Daszak estimates that more than a million people are infected with unknown coronaviruses each year.

In other words, new coronaviruses are constantly jumping from bats and other animals into people — a process scientists call “spillover.”

“It’s happening every day,” Daszak says. “I look at the spillover event a bit like rain or snow. These viruses are getting into and trickling across our populations.”

The vast majority of these spillover events do very little, he says. But each one gives the virus the opportunity to adapt and spread more easily from person to person. Every once in a while, a contagious virus infects a person who finds their way to a dense city, such as Wuhan.

Both Daszak and Edward Holmes agree: The next coronavirus outbreak could be right around the corner.

“I think we need to face reality here,” Holmes says. “Coronavirus pandemics are not a once in a hundred year event. “The next one could come at any time. It could come in 50 years or in 10 years. Or it could be next year.”

With Agencies

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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.”

AGENCY

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