Highly Dangerous COVID Mutation Could Emerge in Cats

The recent suggestion that ministers may have to consider culling or vaccinating animals to prevent the coronavirus from picking up another dangerous mutation and jumping back to humans may sound like sudden panic, but it’s just part of a long debate among scientists.

Evidence that cats could be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, emerged as early as April 2020 from Wuhan, China. Evidence that they could also transmit the infection to other cats under particular conditions appeared in the same month. Since then, infections have been confirmed in mink in Denmark and the Netherlands, in big cats in zoos, in dogs, ferrets and a range of other species. It’s also worth remembering that the source of SARS-CoV-2 is probably bats and that other species of wildlife may also be infectable.

Infection of some of these species with SARS-CoV-2 can cause actual disease, creating veterinary, welfare or conservation problems. However, transmission to or from companion animals that spend a lot of time in close contact with people also presents extra problems for trying to control a pandemic in humans. For example, if transmission between humans and cats happens easily, then controlling the pandemic in people might require measures to prevent it, and that might include vaccinating and quarantining cats.

There is good evidence for transmission from humans to cats but very little evidence for transmission from cats to humans. Nor is there much evidence for transmission between cats in normal situations (that is, not in a laboratory). At the moment, there’s no real reason to be concerned that infections in cats are a major problem. You’re at much greater risk from your family and friends with COVID than from their cats, although you should take normal hygiene precautions you use to reduce the risks of catching other diseases (such as toxoplasmosis) from cats.

Source: https://theconversation.com

Hunting for the Coronavirus’s Origin

More than a year after Covid-19 touched off the worst pandemic in more than a century, scientists have yet to determine its origins. The closest related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 were found in bats over 1,000 miles from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease erupted in late 2019. Initially, cases were tied to a fresh food market and possibly the wildlife sold there. An investigation in early 2021 has highlighted the possibility that they acted as a vector, transferring the virus from bats to humans. More politically charged theories allege the virus accidentally escaped from a nearby research laboratory, or entered China from another country via imported frozen food. Amid all the posturing, governments and scientists agree that deciphering the creation story.

Three closely related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 that had been collected during the previous 15 years. The closest, about 96% identical, was isolated from a species of horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus affinis, in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan in 2013. Some researchers have linked that particular virus to a mineshaft in Mojiang county there, where six men contracted a pneumonia-like disease in 2012 that killed three of them. Although they may share a common ancestor, the two are not similar enough to indicate SARS-CoV-2 was derived from the Yunnan virus. Sampling of bats in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, haven’t found any positive for the pandemic strain. Coronaviruses sharing genetic features with SARS-CoV-2 have been found in other bat species and pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal, elsewhere in Asia, highlighting the broad distribution that may have contributed to its evolution.

https://www.bloomberg.com/

Single Dose Nanoparticle Vaccine Efficient To Produce Covid Antibodies

Across the world, health care workers and high-risk groups are beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccines, offering hope for a return to normalcy amidst the pandemic. However, the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. require two doses to be effective, which can create problems with logistics and compliance. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Central Science have developed a nanoparticle vaccine that elicits a virus-neutralizing antibody response in mice after only a single dose.

The primary target for COVID-19 vaccines is the spike protein, which is necessary for SARS-CoV-2’s entry into cells. Both of the vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. are mRNA vaccines that cause human cells to temporarily produce the spike protein, triggering an immune response and antibody production.

Peter Kim and colleagues wanted to try a different approach: a vaccine consisting of multiple copies of the spike protein displayed on ferritin nanoparticles. Ferritin is an iron storage protein found in many organisms that self-assembles into a larger nanoparticle. Other proteins, such as viral antigens, can be fused to ferritin so that each nanoparticle displays several copies of the protein, which might cause a stronger immune response than a single copy.

The researchers spliced spike protein and ferritin DNA together and then expressed the hybrid protein in cultured mammalian cells. The ferritin self-assembled into nanoparticles, each bearing eight copies of the spike protein trimer. The team purified the spike/ferritin particles and injected them into mice. After a single immunization, mice produced neutralizing antibody titers that were at least two times higher than those in convalescent plasma from COVID-19 patients, and significantly higher than those in mice immunized with the spike protein alone. A second immunization 21 days later produced even higher antibody levels. Although these results must be confirmed in human clinical trials, they suggest that the spike/ferritin nanoparticles may be a viable strategy for single-dose vaccination against COVID-19, the researchers say.

Source: https://www.acs.org/

The U.S. has vaccinated just 1 million people out of a goal of 20 million for December

Just over 1 million people in the U.S. have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday morning, a far cry from the federal government’s goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of the year.

Now that two Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use, the biggest hurdle to  the pandemic in the U.S. is getting the doses to the roughly 331 million Americans across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,008,025 shots had been administered as of Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET.

https://www.cnbc.com/

Paper-based Sensor Detects COVID-19 in Five minutes

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, testing remains a key strategy for tracking and containing the virus. Bioengineering graduate student, Maha Alafeef, has co-developed a rapid, ultrasensitive test using a paper-based electrochemical sensor that can detect the presence of the virus in less than five minutes. The team led by professor Dipanjan Pan reported their findings in ACS Nano

“Currently, we are experiencing a once-in-a-century life-changing event,” said Alafeef. “We are responding to this global need from a holistic approach by developing multidisciplinary tools for early detection and diagnosis and treatment for SARS-CoV-2.” 

There are two broad categories of COVID-19 tests on the market. The first category uses reverse transcriptase real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and nucleic acid hybridization strategies to identify viral RNA. Current FDA-approved diagnostic tests use this technique. Some drawbacks include the amount of time it takes to complete the test, the need for specialized personnel and the availability of equipment and reagents. The second category of tests focuses on the detection of antibodies. However, there could be a delay of a few days to a few weeks after a person has been exposed to the virus for them to produce detectable antibodies.

n recent years, researchers have had some success with creating point-of-care biosensors using 2D nanomaterials such as graphene to detect diseases. The main advantages of graphene-based biosensors are their sensitivity, low cost of production and rapid detection turnaround. “The discovery of graphene opened up a new era of sensor development due to its properties. Graphene exhibits unique mechanical and electrochemical properties that make it ideal for the development of sensitive electrochemical sensors,” said Alafeef. The team created a graphene-based electrochemical biosensor with an electrical read-out setup to selectively detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material.

There are two components to this biosensor: a platform to measure an electrical read-out and probes to detect the presence of viral RNA. To create the platform, researchers first coated filter paper with a layer of graphene nanoplatelets to create a conductive film. Then, they placed a gold electrode with a predefined design on top of the graphene as a contact pad for electrical readout. Both gold and graphene have high sensitivity and conductivity which makes this platform ultrasensitive to detect changes in electrical signals.

Source: https://pubs.acs.org
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https://bioengineering.illinois.edu/

Operation Warp Speed chief predicts coronavirus vaccines for all Americans by June

Over the next six months there will be enough coronavirus vaccine produced to immunize every American, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui is predicting. “Hopefully, by the middle of the year, I hope most Americans will have been immunized,” Slaoui, head of the Trump administration’s vaccine initiative, said at a Post Live event yesterday. “If enough people are immunized, we should have this pandemic under control in the second half of 2021.”

It requires not only manufacturing of more than 600 million doses of the two-shot vaccine, but also transporting it to all corners of the country, making it accessible to Americans of all stripes, and persuading them it’s safe.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Russia’s Sputnik V Coronavirus Vaccine 92% Effective

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 92% effective, its developers said as the global race heats up over mass vaccination to slow the spread of the pandemic that has killed nearly 1.3 million people and battered economies worldwide.

Interim results showed that 20 of the 16,000 volunteers who received both Sputnik V doses have contracted Covid-19, the Russian Health Ministry, state-run Gamaleya research center and Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a statement.

As a result of a statistical analysis of 20 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the case split between vaccinated individuals and those who received the placebo indicates that the Sputnik V vaccine had an efficacy rate of 92% after the second dose,” the statement said.

More than 20,000 volunteers have received the first dose of Sputnik V as of Wednesday, according to Gamaleya, the Health Ministry and RDIF.

The developers said that “some” of the volunteers experienced short-term “pain at the injection site [and] flu-like syndrome including fever, weakness, fatigue and headache.” They noted that these adverse effects were expected. Sputnik V’s final, or Phase 3, trials involve a total of 40,000 volunteers at around two dozen Moscow clinics.

Separate Sputnik V injections being administered to medics and other at-risk groups outside Moscow demonstrated the vaccine’s efficacy rate of over 90%, the developers said. Officials in the Altai region of Siberia reported earlier that three out of the 42 medics who received the adenovirus vector-based vaccine there ended up contracting Covid-19.

Source: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/

Covid-19: Type O blood Divides By 2 The Risk Of Intubation

Research is coalescing around the idea that people with Type O blood may have a slight advantage during this pandemicTwo studies published this week suggest that people with Type O have a lower risk of getting the coronavirus, as well as a reduced likelihood of getting severely sick if they do get infected. One of the new studies specifically found that COVID-19 patients with Type O or B blood spent less time in an intensive-care unit than their counterparts with Type A or AB. They were also less likely to require ventilation and less likely to experience kidney failure.

These new findings echo similar findings about Type O blood seen in previous research, creating a clearer picture of one particular coronavirus risk factor. Both new studies came out Wednesday in the journal Blood AdvancesOne looked at 95 critically ill COVID-19 patients at hospitals in Vancouver, Canada, between February and April. They found that patients with Type O or B blood spent, on average, 4.5 fewer days in the intensive-care unit than those with Type A or AB blood. The latter group stayed, on average, 13.5 days in the ICU. The researchers did not see any link between blood type and the patient’s total hospital stay, however. They did, however, find that only 61 percent of the patients with Type O or B blood required a ventilator, compared to 84 percent of patients with Type A or AB.

Patients with Type A or AB, meanwhile, were also more likely to need dialysis, a procedure that helps the kidneys filter toxins from the blood.

“Patients in these two blood groups may have an increased risk of organ dysfunction or failure due to COVID-19 than people with blood types O or B,” the study authors concluded.

A June study found a similar link: Patients in Italy and Spain with Type O blood had a 50 percent reduced risk of severe coronavirus infection (meaning they needed intubation or supplemental oxygen) compared to patients with other blood types.

The second new study found that people with Type O blood may be at a lower risk of getting he coronavirus in the first place relative to people with other blood types. The team examined nearly half a million people in the Netherlands who were tested for COVID-19 between late February and late July. Of the roughly 4,600 people who tested positive and reported their blood type, 38.4 percent had Type O blood. That’s lower than the prevalence of Type O in a population of 2.2 million Danish people, 41.7 percent, so the researchers determined that people with Type O blood had disproportionately avoided infection. “Blood group O is significantly associated with reduced susceptibility,” the authors wrote.

In general, your blood type depends on the presence or absence of proteins called A and B antigens on the surface of red blood cells – a genetic trait inherited from your parents. People with O blood have neither antigen. It’s the most common blood type: About 48 percent of Americans have Type O bloodaccording to the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

The new studies about blood type and coronavirus risk align with prior research on the topic. A study published in July found that people with Type O were less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with other blood types. An April study, too, (though it has yet to be peer-reviewed) found that among 1,559 coronavirus patients in New York City, a lower proportion than would be expected had Type O blood.

And in March, a study of more than 2,100 coronavirus patients in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Shenzhen also found that people with Type O blood had a lower risk of infection.

Past research has also suggested that people with Type O blood were less susceptible to SARS, which shares 80 percent of its genetic code with the new coronavirusA 2005 study in Hong Kong found that most individuals infected with SARS had non-O blood types. Despite this growing body of evidence, however, Mypinder Sekhon, a co-author of the Vancouver study, said the link is still tenuous.

I don’t think this supersedes other risk factors of severity like age and comorbidities and so forth,” he told CNN, adding, “if one is blood group A, you don’t need to start panicking. And if you’re blood group O, you’re not free to go to the pubs and bars.”

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/

Diabetics die 3 times more of Covid-19

From the outset of the pandemic, data coming out of early coronavirus hot spots like China, Italy, and New York City foretold that certain groups of people would be more vulnerable to Covid-19. The disease hit older people and people with underlying medical conditions the hardest. As early as February, diabetes had emerged as one of the conditions associated with the highest risk. In one large study out of China, people with diabetes were more than three times as likely to die of Covid-19 than the overall population.

But that’s not what brought four diabetes experts from Australia and the United Kingdom onto a Zoom call back in April. They were supposed to just be catching up—a virtual tea among friends. But talk soon turned to something strange that they’d been seeing in their own hospitals and hearing about through the grapevine. The weird thing was that people were showing up in Covid-19 wards, after having tested positive for the virus, with lots of sugar in their blood. These were people with no known history of diabetes. But you wouldn’t know it from their lab results.

After that call, the experts reached out to colleagues in other countries to see if they’d seen or heard of similar cases. They had. Acute viral infections of all sorts can stress the body, causing blood sugar levels to rise. So that in itself wasn’t unusual, says Francesco Rubino, a bariatric surgeon and diabetes researcher at King’s College in London, who was on that first Zoom call. “What we were seeing and hearing was a little bit different.”

Doctors around the world had described to him strange situations in which Covid-19 patients were showing symptoms of diabetes that didn’t fit the typical two-flavor manifestation of the disease. In most people with type 1 diabetes, their immune cells suddenly turn traitorous, destroying the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin—the hormone that allows glucose to exit the bloodstream and enter cells. People with type 2 diabetes have a different problem; their body slowly becomes resistant to the insulin it does produce. Rubino and his colleagues were seeing blended features of both types showing up spontaneously in people who’d recently been diagnosed with Covid-19.

That was the first clinical puzzle,” he says. For clues to an explanation, Rubino and his colleagues looked to ACE2, the protein receptor that SARS-CoV-2 uses to invade human cells. It appears in the airways, yes, but also in other organs involved in controlling blood sugar, including the gut. Doctors in China discovered copies of the coronavirus in the poop of their Covid-19 patients. And a meta-analysis found that gastrointestinal symptoms plague one out of 10 Covid-19 sufferers.

In the last few decades, scientists have discovered that the gut is not the passive digestive organ once thought. It actually is a major endocrine player—responsible for producing hormone signals that talk to the pancreas, telling it to make more insulin, and to the brain, ordering it to make its owner stop eating. If the coronavirus is messing with these signals, that could provide a biological basis for why Covid-19 would be associated with different forms of diabetes, including hybrid and previously unknown manifestations of the disease. Rubino is one of a growing number of researchers who think that the relationship between the coronavirus and diabetes is actually a two-way street. Having diabetes doesn’t just tip the odds toward contracting a worse case of Covid-19. In some people, the virus might actually trigger the onset of diabetes, and the potential for a lifetime of having to manage it.

Source: https://www.wired.com/

Coronavirus Breathalyzer Test Gives Results In 30 Seconds

An Israeli company is developing a coronavirus breathalyzer test that gives results in 30 seconds, billing it as a “front-line” tool that can help restore a sense of normality during the pandemic. NanoScent, the firm making the test kits, said an extensive trial in Israel for the presence of live virus delivered results with 85 percent accuracy, and the product could receive regulatory approval within months. Chief Executive Officer Oren Gavriely told Agence France-Presse the breathalyzer would not replace lab tests, but was a mass screening tool that could help people gain “the confidence to go back and act as normal.” NanoScent has been operating for several years, specializing in rapid recognition technology, including for medical purposes.

Gavriely said that while visiting the United States in January, he sensed his firm’s expertise might be needed to help confront the novel virus circulating in Asia that appeared to be spreading to the West.

We said we’ll invest one week into it and see what’s happening, and this one week never stopped,” he explained. The test begins with a few short questions about COVID-19 exposure and symptoms, displayed on the phone of the person administering the procedure. Test subjects then inhale through the nose, hold their breath, close one nostril and exhale through the other, pushing breath through a handheld tube into a small bag called the “Air Trap.”

The tube is then plugged into the “Scent Reader“, a small rectangular device that whirs softly as it sucks the air out of the bag. Within seconds the results – “COVID-19 negative” during AFP’s visit – appear on the phone.

Source: https://news.cgtn.com/