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Condobloke

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Understanding the links between animals, humans and our environment - DW News

COVID-19 is not over yet - WHO Youtube Channel

Now-Dominant BA.2 Variant Being Quickly Overtaken Across The U.S. By Yet Another Faster-Growing Omicron Offshoot, Says CDC - Yahoo News
From Yahoo News [1]:
Just as most Americans have caught wind of the BA.2 variant of Omicron — which overtook the original Omicron as the dominant strain in the U.S. less than a month ago — another possibly faster-growing version of Omicron is quickly making inroads.
  • The new Omicron sublineage BA.2.12.1 now accounts for 19% of all new cases specifically sequenced for variants in the country, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
  • That means the strain — barely on the national radar two weeks ago — is now being identified in close to 1 in 5 newly-sequenced cases, up from 1.5% less than a month before on 3/19.
  • Given that, Americans trying to keep up may be experiencing a form of variant whiplash.
Last week, when Deadline first reported on BA.2.12.1, the variant was tied to the parallel rise of another BA.2 sublineage, BA.2.12.
  • Both are sublineages of the BA.2 variant, and thought to have a 23%–27% growth advantage over BA.2, according to the New York State Department of Public Health.
  • BA.2 is thought to have an estimated 30% growth advantage over the original Omicron.
New York officials announced last week, seemingly out of nowhere that “For the month of March, BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 rose to collectively comprise more than 70% prevalence in Central New York and more than 20% prevalence in the neighboring Finger Lakes region. Data for April indicate that levels in Central New York are now above 90%.”
  • Then: “State health officials have determined that these highly contagious new variants are likely contributing to the rising cases.”
  • At the end of the first week of March, the 7-day average number of daily new cases in the state was well under 2,000.
  • By April 13, it was over 5,000, according to the New York Times, with the total number of new positive cases that day, according to state data, at 6,546.
  • Since then, while case numbers have risen and fallen with fluctuating daily test numbers, the 7-day average test positivity in New York has risen from 4.6% to 5.9%.
BA.2.12 is said to be made up of North American and European lineages, while BA.2.12.2 is said to derive its lineage from the USA and Canada, with some speculating the first case was identified in Canada.
  • That may explain why it has taken off more quickly in the Northeast.
  • CDC data released this week indicate that, for the three-state region comprised of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, BA.2.12.2 already accounts for the majority of new cases (52%).
  • It’s fellow subvariant, BA.2.12, has not kept pace. Its numbers are now being folded in with those cases attributed to BA.2.
  • The two together are estimated to be causing 46% of new cases, down from about 85% in data released just one week ago on the region.
In the southwestern region made up of California, Nevada and Arizona, the new CDC data indicates that BA.2.12.2 is responsible for about 9% of new cases.
  • Some states such as California, however, do not break Omicron data out into sublineages, a practice that made it hard to track the rise of BA.2 and is now making it hard to chart BA.2.12.1.
  • But that state’s largest metropolis has released data that shows, as of April 2, BA.2.12.1 only accounted for 2% of its sequenced cases.
  • That number is more than two weeks old, however. Since that date, cases attributed to the variant have more than doubled nationally.
  • Given trends with the new sublineage, it’s a fair guess the same has happened in Los Angeles, especially since cases have been rising steadily in the same period.
What is Omicron XE Variant and is there cause for concern? - WE Forum
From WE Forum [2]:
As the COVID pandemic has progressed, we’ve repeatedly seen the arrival of new viral variants.
  • Variants of concern, such as delta and omicron, are versions of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) which have acquired mutations.
  • These mutations can provide SARS-CoV-2 with a genetic advantage – so for example, delta is linked to more serious illness than the original Wuhan strain, while omicron is more infectious.
Now we are seeing recombinant variants such as omicron XE.
  • These are not viruses which have picked up a few mutations.
  • Instead, they are viruses containing a combination of genetic material from multiple variants, producing a new version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
So far there have been at least 1,179 cases of omicron XE identified in the UK (this was the figure in the most recent update from the UK Health Security Agency published on April 8).
  • The majority of these cases have been in the south and east of England.
  • There have also been reports of a handful of cases elsewhere around the world, likely due to international travel.
So how worried should we be about omicron XE? While we don’t know a lot about it yet, what we do know doesn’t suggest there’s cause for serious concern. Let’s take a look.
A bit about Omicron XE and other recombinant variants.
  • When viruses replicate, they sometimes make mistakes in their genetic code leading to individual mutations.
  • Often, these mutations don’t result in any change to the structure of the virus – termed “silent mutations”.
  • Some mutations, however, can confer an advantage.
  • For example, mutations that occur in the spike protein (the part of SARS-CoV-2 responsible for infecting our cells) can make the virus more transmissible than previous variants.
  • We’ve seen repeated mutations in the spike protein producing variants of concern.
Recombination is a different process, whereby two different variants infect the same cell, in the same person, at the same time.
  • From there, they can combine their genetic material, resulting in a virus that possesses a mix of genes from both infecting “parent” viruses.
  • This recombinant variant may then spread to other people – as has been the case with omicron XE.
  • In fact, multiple recombinant variants have been identified globally by PANGOLIN (the SARS-CoV-2 lineage surveillance carried out by the COVID-19 genetics UK consortium). At least three of these – XD, XE and XF – have been detected in the UK.
weforumrecombination.png
Some recombinants, such as XD and XF, are combinations of the delta variant with omicron lineages.
  • You might have heard of these hybrids, which have been dubbed “deltacron”.
  • Omicron XE, however, is a combination of two omicron strains: BA.1 and BA.2.
Why do different variants combine?
  • Genetic recombination of viruses is not a new phenomenon.
  • It occurs regularly with viruses such as influenza and HIV.
  • Indeed, one of the proposed origins of the original Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 virus is from a recombination event in bats.
  • From an evolutionary perspective, recombination offers viruses an advantage, as it allows more rapid and significant changes to the virus, compared with the slower process of acquiring mutations through errors in replication.
  • Recombinant viruses can exhibit marked changes in their behaviour, such as increased infectiousness, evasion of our existing immunity to the virus, or resistance to drugs.
  • Much like error-based mutation, however, some recombinant viruses show no apparent differences to their parent viruses.
  • We know that omicron XE has the majority of its genetic information, including the spike protein, from the omicron sub-variant BA.2, which is the variant predominating in the UK at the moment.
  • It is likely, therefore, that the characteristics of omicron XE (such as transmissibility, severity of disease and vaccine efficacy) are similar to those of BA.2.
  • But it’s prudent that scientists continue to monitor and study omicron XE, as it is a genetically distinct virus from its parents.
Initial data for the omicron XE variant suggests that the growth rate (that is, the proportion of new infections in the population) is slightly higher than that of omicron BA.2.
  • However, because there are only a small number of infections with XE at present, the data we have on this is limited and it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions for now.
  • Reassuringly, we know that BA.2 is no more severe than BA.1, and that omicron variants overall tend to cause less severe disease than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants. But they are highly infectious.
The need for updated vaccines is becoming ever-pressing since all current vaccines are based on the original Wuhan strain.
  • Data has shown that the more changes in the spike protein subsequent variants have acquired, the less effective our current vaccines are at preventing infection.
  • That said, vaccines are still very effective at preventing severe disease or death from COVID.
  • Of course, we need more research to understand the characteristics of this new omicron XE strain.
  • But it appears, at present, to be very similar to the current circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. As we well know, it’s not the first variant of the virus, and it’s highly unlikely to be the last.
Factbox: Where you still need to wear a mask in the United States
From Reuters [3]: April 20
Airlines and airports, the ride-sharing company Uber and national train service Amtrak, are now lifting mask mandates that have been in place for more than a year.
  • The shift comes after a judge in Florida ruled against a federal mandate and the Biden administration said it would not enforce one even as COVID-19 infections are rising in the United States, and more than 400 people are dying per day from the airborne disease.
  • But the White House is still urging Americans to wear masks, however, and they are still required in some areas.
HOSPITALS, NURSING HOMES, CLINICS
  • Some hospital chains, like UnityPoint Health in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, have dropped mask requirements for patients, visitors and fully vaccinated employees since the Florida ruling.
  • But the majority of medical facilities are still requiring masks indoors.
  • More than 40 Broadway theaters will still require masks until at least the end of May, according to a website representing the theaters.
Some U.S. cities, including Washington D.C., quickly suspended mask requirements on public transportation and in other public spaces, but others kept them in place.
  • Passengers in New York City must wear masks in indoor train stations, and on board subways, commuter rail, buses, and paratransit vehicles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, North America's largest transportation network, says.
  • The same goes for passengers on Boston's public buses and commuter rail network and San Francisco's BART transit network.
  • New York airports JFK International and LaGuardia kept mask requirements in place, but they were dropped at nearby Newark, New Jersey.
Small business owners can ask patrons to wear masks, and refuse entry to people who do not.
  • A handful of major colleges and universities recently reinstated mask requirements, after COVID-19 cases rose.
  • Georgetown University reinstated its indoor mask mandate on April 7, citing a "significant increase" in COVID-19 cases thanks to the highly contagious BA.2 variant.
Johns Hopkins has also recently reinstated mask mandates in common areas and dining halls, after an outbreak of COVID infections after Spring Break.
  • Visitors to many jails and prisons are still required to wear masks, according to information on their websites, including in Los Angeles County, home to the world's largest jail and in Washington State.
  • U.S. residents traveling to Canada are still required to wear masks once they cross the border, and for 14 days afterward.
WHO recommends COVID-19 drug and urges transparency around pricing
From UN News [7]:
WHO announced on Friday in Geneva that it has strongly recommended use of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, sold under the name Paxlovid, for mild and moderate COVID-19 patients at the highest risk of hospital admission.
  • The oral antiretroviral drug was developed by Pfizer and is “the best therapeutic choice for high-risk patients to date,” the UN agency said.
  • “However, availability, lack of price transparency in bilateral deals made by the producer, and the need for prompt and accurate testing before administering it, are turning this life-saving medicine into a major challenge for low- and middle-income countries."
Reduced risk of hospitalization
  • Paxlovid is strongly recommended for patients with non-severe COVID-19 who are at the highest risk of developing severe disease and hospitalization, such as unvaccinated, older, or immunosuppressed persons.
  • The recommendation is based on new data from two randomized controlled trials involving more than 3,000 patients. Risk of hospitalization was reduced by 85 per cent.
  • In a high-risk group, that means 84 fewer hospitalizations per 1,000 patients.
  • Use for patients at lower risk is not recommended as the benefits were found to be negligible.
Inequity fears
  • One obstacle for low- and middle-income countries is that the medicine can only be administered while the disease is at its early stages, making prompt and accurate testing essential for successful outcomes.
  • “Improving access to early testing and diagnosis in primary health care settings will be key for the global rollout of this treatment,” WHO said.
  • The UN agency also feared that when it comes to access, poorer countries “will again be pushed to the end of the queue”, as occurred with COVID-19 vaccines.
Generic prospects limited
  • Furthermore, lack of transparency on the part of the originator is making it difficult for public health organizations to obtain an accurate picture of the medicine's availability, as well as which countries are involved in bilateral deals and what they are paying.
  • Additionally, a licensing agreement between Pfizer and the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) limits the number of countries that can benefit from generic production of the medicine.
  • Paxlovid will be included in the WHO prequalification list as of Friday, but generic products are not yet available from quality-assured sources.
  • Prequalification means that WHO has assessed a medication and it meets international standards, thus making it eligible for procurement by national health authorities.
Make pricing deals transparent
  • Several companies, many of which are covered by the licensing agreement, are in discussions with WHO Prequalification but may take some time to comply with international standards so that they can supply the medicine internationally.
  • WHO has strongly recommended that Pfizer make its pricing and deals more transparent.
  • The pharmaceutical giant was also urged to enlarge the geographical scope of the licensing agreement so that more generic manufacturers can produce the medicine and make it available faster at affordable prices.
  • In other developments, WHO has also updated its recommendation on another antiviral medicine, remdesivir, suggesting that it can be used in mild or moderate COVID-19 patients who are at risk of hospitalization.
  • Recommendation for use in patients with severe or critical COVID-19 is under review.
What Happened After the Black Death Ended - Weird History Youtube Channel

The above video appears on Youtube for keyword "What happened after the Black Death". If you prefer reading, you can also read Wikipedia link [6].

How do the Black Death ends?
In short, with antibiotics.Here is a quote from BBC [5]:
  • Bubonic plague - the devastating disease still with us.
  • Three major outbreaks, the earliest recorded in 541 AD
  • Back in the Dark Ages, about 60 generations ago, Jasmine's relatives lived through a series of outbreaks of the bubonic plague.
  • The disease, caused by bacteria transmitted by fleas on rats and via respiratory droplets from infected people, was devastating.
  • It killed hundreds of millions of people over a period of 2,000 years.
  • The Black Death of 1346-1353 is considered the deadliest outbreak of all.
  • The plague has killed millions, but few die today
  • It is believed the disease, which causes swollen and infected lymph nodes, called buboes, was finally brought under control by strict quarantining and improved sanitation, among other things.
  • But none of this could have happened without an understanding of how transmission occurred, says Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London. This is something that still applies today.
  • "Once you have the knowledge, and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower," he says.
  • Yet cases of the plague still occur - for example, in Inner Mongolia in July this year - and, in theory, Jasmine could still catch it.
  • Numbers are low though, and the disease can now be successfully treated with antibiotics.
COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic
1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe
  • Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 505 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 6.19 million.
  • More than 11.47 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech have said that a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine produced significant protection against the Omicron variant in healthy children aged 5-11 in a trial.
  • The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children between six and 11 by Britain's medicines regulator.
Life expectancy in the United States fell by nearly two years in 2020 to about 77 years amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • It was the sharpest drop among 21 other high-income countries, according to a global study.
  • It comes as the US extends its COVID-19 public health emergency for at least three more months.
  • A mandate requiring travellers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs has also been extended by 15 days to 3 May.
Hong Kong, SAR, has confirmed it will ease some COVID-19 restrictions from 21 April.
  • South Korea is set to offer a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot to people aged over 60.
  • "The government plans to expand the fourth round of vaccination to those aged 60 and older," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a meeting, adding the infection rate in the age group has continued to rise to stand above 20%.
  • Almost all residents of Indonesia's most populous island of Java have antibodies against COVID-19, owing to a combination of prior infection and vaccination against the virus, a government-commissioned survey showed.
  • A Japanese Health Ministry committee said on April 17 it had approved Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Shanghai reported a record number of symptomatic COVID-19 cases on Saturday and other areas across China tightened controls as the country kept up its "dynamic clearance" approach that aims to stamp out the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
2. Global confirmed COVID-19 cases pass 500 million
  • Global confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic have passed 500 million.
  • It comes as the highly contagious BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron continues to drive cases across Europe and Asia.
  • The BA.2 variant now makes up about 86% of all sequenced cases globally, according to the World Health Organization.
  • It is known to be more transmissible than the BA.1 and BA.1.1 Omicron sub-variants.
  • Evidence so far, though, suggests BA.2 is no more likely to cause severe disease.
  • Scientists continue to emphasize vaccines are critical for avoiding the devastation the virus can cause.
  • More than 6 million people around the world are confirmed to have died of COVID-19.
3. COVID-19 infections rise in India
  • India's tally of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases almost doubled on April 18 from the previous day, hitting 2,000 for the first time in a month.
  • The southern state of Kerala also reported a big jump in deaths.
  • India was at the centre of the global COVID crisis this time last year but the situation has improved since then and most precautions including the wearing of masks have recently been dropped.
  • But COVID-19 cases have been creeping up in the country of 1.35 billion people in the past few days.
  • Delhi last week tightened COVID precautions for schools and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, again made masks compulsory in public places in some districts.
  • Authorities reported 2,183 new infections on April 18, taking the running total to more than 43 million, according to health ministry data.
Global daily statistics - Reuters COVID-19 Global Tracker
reuterschart23apr2022.png

List of sources
[1] https://news.yahoo.com/covid-whiplash-now-dominant-ba-004116151.html
[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/04/omicron-xe-virologist-variants-covid19/
[3] https://www.reuters.com/world/us/where-you-still-need-wear-mask-united-states-2022-04-20/
[4] https://www.weforum.org/platforms/c...vid19-coronavirus-pandemic-news-19-april-2022
[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-876f42ae-5e44-41c0-ba2d-d6fd537aadfe
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_of_the_Black_Death
[7] https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1116662

PS: I will post here again in the next 14 days (Saturday, US time), same time as usual. Thanks for reading, everyone.
 

KGIII

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I wondered where you went and I see you've now moved to Saturday.

As always, your COVID post is both looked forward to and appreciated. LOL I don't pay much attention to the news, as my life is much better that way. I actually get my COVID news from your posts every couple of weeks.
 

MatsuShimizu

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I wondered where you went and I see you've now moved to Saturday.

I already told in my post here that I will move to Saturday. Scroll to the bottom of that post and you will find this message:
PS: I will post here again in the next 15 days (Saturday, US time), same time as usual.
 

KGIII

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I already told in my post here that I will move to Saturday. Scroll to the bottom of that post and you will find this message:

Yeah, I missed that bit last time. I kinda figured you'd have said so ahead of time, but was way too lazy to go back and look. Way too lazy...

Actually, I'm also kinda occupied. One of my hosting clients has had a bit of an ordeal, so I'm trying to sort that out and prevent it from happening again.
 

MatsuShimizu

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Q&A about the sublineages of the COVID-19 Omicron variant - WHO Youtube Channel


WHO’s Science in 5: Upcoming new vaccines


Omicron as severe as other COVID variants -large U.S. study
From Reuters [1]:
The Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus is intrinsically as severe as previous variants, according to a preprint version of a large U.S. study that counters assumptions in other studies that it was more transmissible but less severe.
  • The findings, which estimated Omicron's severity after accounting for the impact of vaccines, should reinforce the importance of inoculations and booster shots, experts said.
  • Vaccines helped keep hospitalizations and deaths relatively low during the Omicron surge compared with previous variants.
  • The study, which is undergoing peer review at Nature Portfolio, was posted on Research Square on May 2.
  • The authors, from Massachusetts General Hospital, Minerva University and Harvard Medical School, declined to comment until peer review is completed.
"We found that the risks of hospitalization and mortality were nearly identical" between the Omicron era and times in the past two years when different variants were dominant, the researchers said in their report.
  • The new study, based on records of 130,000 COVID patients in Massachusetts, is unique and "pretty strong," said Dr. Arjun Venkatesh of Yale School of Medicine and the Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, who was not involved in the research.
  • Rather than just looking at numbers of deaths and hospitalizations, as earlier studies have done, it accounted for patients' vaccination status and medical risk factors and compared similar groups of people, Venkatesh said.
The authors cited potential limitations in their report, including the possibility that the analysis underestimated the number of vaccinated patients in more recent COVID waves, and the total number of infections, because it excluded patients who performed at-home rapid tests.
  • The study did not account for treatments patients may have received, such as monoclonal antibodies or antiviral drugs "that are known to reduce hospitalizations," Venkatesh noted.
  • "It's possible that if we didn't have these treatments available today, Omicron would be even worse."
  • Countries around the world have found that a significant percentage of their citizens were unwilling to get a COVID vaccine, even during surges of apparently deadlier variants.
When the Omicron variant was first identified late in 2021, public health officials said it caused much milder symptoms in the vast majority of infected people.
  • That may have encouraged the vaccine hesitant that they were less in need of a shot.
  • But Venkatesh said the new preprint adds to evidence that vaccines helped spare people from the worst impacts of Omicron.
  • "Don't make the mistake" of thinking vaccines and boosters are not important, he said.

WHO: 14.9 Million Died Because of COVID in 2020-21
From WebMD [2]:
The World Health has issued new estimates on the deadliness of the COVID pandemic, saying 14.9 million people died “directly or indirectly” because of coronavirus between January 2020 and December 2021.
  • In a news release, WHO said its analysis included indirect COVID deaths, defined as occurring when people could not obtain medical treatment because the pandemic overburdened health systems, even if the people were sick with something besides COVID. WHO did not break down the numbers into direct and indirect deaths.
  • WHO said it determined between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths occurred during the first two years of the pandemic.
  • While most health experts said the death toll was undercounted, these numbers are much higher than the current official death toll of 6.2 million reported by Johns Hopkins University that’s based on deaths directly attributed to the virus.
“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, said in the release.
  • “WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”
  • About 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas, WHO said, with 68% of the excess deaths happening in 10 countries including the United States.
  • The death toll was still higher for males – 57% compared to 43% for females.
  • According to STAT, WHO estimated almost 1 million people had died because of COVID by the end of 2021 – about 13% more than the number of COVID deaths reported at the time.
  • In the Johns Hopkins count, the United States has only reported about 996,000 deaths up to now, more than four months into the new year.
The WHO methodology found that 4.74 million people died in India because of COVID in the first two years of the pandemic, a figure disputed by the government, STAT said.
  • India had counted only 481,000 deaths during that time, but on Tuesday said there were an extra 475,000 deaths in 2020 alone, though India didn’t say how many were COVID-related.
  • “This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health, told the Associated Press.
  • He was not involved in the WHO estimates.

Latest COVID Subvariants Create New Waves, Evade Immunity
From WebMD [3]:
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations begin to increase again in the U.S., public health officials are monitoring several new Omicron subvariants that are contributing to the case numbers.
  • In some parts of the U.S., a spinoff of the BA.2 subvariant called BA.2.12.1 is the main culprit. In other countries, Omicron subvariants called BA.4 and BA.5 are driving up cases, according to CNN.
  • All three subvariants appear to be spreading more quickly than BA.2 and creating their own COVID-19 waves.
  • The U.S. is now reporting an average of more than 62,000 daily cases, according to the data tracker from The New York Times, marking a 50% increase in the past 2 weeks.
  • Cases are increasing in all but four states and have increased by more than 50%, compared with the previous week, in Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Washington, CNN reported.
  • In New York, more than a quarter of the state’s population is in a county with a “high” community level.
  • About 18,350 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across the country, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations have increased about 18% in the past 2 weeks.
Subvariant Growth
  • BA.2.12.1, which was first tagged by New York health officials in April as a subvariant to watch, is growing about 25% faster than BA.2.
  • It now makes up about 37% of new cases across the U.S., according to the latest CDC data. BA.2 makes up about 62% of new cases, down from 70% the week before.
  • Health officials are also watching BA.4 and BA.5, which appear to have a growth advantage over BA.2 as well, CNN reported.
  • About 500 BA.4 sequences have been reported in 15 countries and 10 states in the U.S., and nearly 240 BA.5 sequences have been reported in 13 countries and five states, according to the latest data from Outbreak.info.
  • BA.4 and BA.5 have contributed to a rise in cases in South Africa during the past 2 weeks, according to CNN.
  • There are also more positive tests and hospitalizations.
  • At the end of April, the two subvariants accounted for about 60% of new cases in the country.
Subvariant Immunity
  • BA.4 and BA.5 can escape antibodies from previous infections caused by the original Omicron variant, BA.1, which created the COVID-19 surge in December and January.
  • The newer subvariants also appear to escape antibodies in people who have been vaccinated and had breakthrough BA.1 infections.
  • In a new preprint study, researchers in South Africa tested antibodies in the blood to understand whether they could knock out the BA.4 and BA.5 viruses.
  • People who were unvaccinated but had a recent BA.1 infection were seven times less likely to have their antibodies wipe out BA.4 and BA.5.
  • People who were vaccinated but had a recent BA.1 breakthrough infection were three times less likely to have such antibodies.
By comparison, the World Health Organization uses an 8-fold drop in neutralization as the starting point for requiring an update to seasonal flu vaccines, CNN reported.
  • The researchers concluded that BA.4 and BA.5 have the “potential to result in a new infection wave.” The research lab was the same one that characterized the first Omicron variant.
  • “Just because you were infected does not mean you have a lot of protection from what’s coming next,” Alex Sigal, PhD, the senior study author and a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, told CNN.
  • In another new preprint study, researchers in China found that BA.4, BA.5, BA.2.12.1, and another subvariant called BA.2.13 all contain mutations at location 452 of their genomes.
  • The area allows the virus to bind to cells better and dodge antibodies.
  • The Delta variant and some others have a mutation at this location. BA.4 and BA.5 also have changes at location 486, which could be related to escaping previous immunity, the researchers said.
Now scientists across the world are trying to understand how these subvariants are mutating so quickly and escaping immunity.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers thought coronaviruses didn’t change much, but now their views have shifted.
  • “The virus has shown that it mutated slowly, but when it started to pick up good mutations, they just kept coming and coming and coming,” Andy Pekosz, PhD, a virologist and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University, told CNN.
Subvariant Reinfections
  • With BA.4 and BA.5 cases increasing in South Africa, scientists are particularly paying attention to reinfections among those who recently had an Omicron case, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • About 90% of South Africa’s population has immunity to the earlier Omicron variants through a previous infection or vaccination.
  • So far, only a few dozen sequences of BA.4 and BA.5 have been reported in the U.S. Researchers aren’t sure whether the two subvariants will surge in the U.S. or other countries, but without the reassurance of protection from vaccination or previous infection, surges could be likely.
“It really came out of the blue over the weekend. We were already settling down with BA.2.12.1, then BA.4 and BA.5?” Peter Chin-Hong, MD, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told the newspaper.
  • “It just seems like the latest chapter of a never-ending saga,” he said.
  • Current data suggests that BA.4 and BA.5 don’t cause more severe disease than other Omicron variants or lead to higher rates of hospitalization or death.
  • But they’re more transmissible and able to get around immunity, Chin-Hong said, and those who are unvaccinated and haven’t had a previous infection are more likely to have a more serious case.
Subvariant Protections
  • As the Omicron variants create their own pockets of infection in the U.S., public health officials recommend watching local data, the Los Angeles Times reported.
  • When transmission appears to be growing, especially with variants that escape protection from previous infections, people should consider safety measures again, such as wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces.
  • The CDC has also recommended that people continue to wear masks on planes, buses, trains, and other public transportation and places where lots of people congregate, according to The Washington Post.
  • Despite last month’s ruling that struck down the federal transportation mask mandate, the CDC stressed this week that masks continue to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • “CDC continues to recommend that all people – passengers and workers, alike – properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator in indoor public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs to provide protection for themselves and other travelers in these high volume, mixed population settings,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, the CDC director, said in a statement.
  • “It is important for all of us to protect not only ourselves, but also to be considerate of others at increased risk for severe COVID-19 and those who are not yet able to be vaccinated,” she said.
  • “Wearing a mask in indoor public transportation settings will provide protection for the individual and the community.”

Lack of Covid testing leaves researchers blind to evolution patterns, WHO warns
From The Guardian [4]:
Potentially dangerous mutations of the virus could go unnoticed due to testing cuts, UN health agency says
  • A dramatic drop in testing for Covid-19 has left the world blind to the virus’s continuing rampage and its potentially dangerous mutations, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.
  • The UN health agency said that reported Covid cases and deaths had been dropping dramatically. “Last week, just over 15,000 deaths were reported to WHO – the lowest weekly total since March 2020,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
  • While saying this was “a very welcome trend”, he warned that the declining numbers could also be a result of significant cuts in testing for the virus.
“As many countries reduce testing, WHO is receiving less and less information about transmission and sequencing,” he said.
  • “This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution.
  • “When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss.”
William Rodriguez, who heads the global diagnostics alliance FIND, also decried that many governments in recent months simply stopped looking for Covid cases.
  • Speaking at the press conference hosted by WHO, he pointed out that in the past four months, amid surging Covid cases from the Omicron variant, “testing rates have plummeted by 70% to 90% worldwide”.
  • The plunging testing rates came despite the fact that there is now more access to accurate testing than ever before.
  • “We have an unprecedented ability to know what is happening,” Rodriguez said.
  • “And yet today, because testing has been the first casualty of a global decision to let down our guard, we’re becoming blind to what is happening with this virus.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has officially caused more than 6 million deaths since the virus first surfaced in China in late 2019, but the true toll is believed to be at least three times that high.
  • While many countries have been removing measures and trying to move back to a semblance of normality, the WHO stresses that the pandemic is still not over.
  • “This virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it,” Tedros said. “It is still spreading, it is still changing, and it is still killing.”
  • He cautioned that “the threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real”.
  • “And although deaths are declining, we still don’t understand the long-term consequences of infection in those who survive.”

FDA Warns of Counterfeit Home COVID Test Kits
From WebMD [5]:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning Americans to watch out for phony at-home, over-the-counter COVID-19 tests that look a lot like the real things.
  • The counterfeit test kits may put you at risk of unknowingly spreading the disease or not seeking appropriate medical treatment, the agency cautions.
  • The phonies "are made to look like authorized tests so the users will think they are the real, FDA-authorized test," the FDA said in a statement about the fakes.
  • "The FDA is concerned about the risk of false results when people use these unauthorized tests."
  • If you get a false reading that you don't have the coronavirus, you could inadvertently infect others at home, at work or in medical and long-term care facilities.
  • Also, you might not seek or could discontinue treatment for COVID-19, the agency explained.
Two fakes the FDA knows of are counterfeit Flowflex COVID-19 test kits and iHealth Antigen Rapid Test Kits — you can find more details on how to spot the fakes at the FDA statement.
  • The package and components of the Flowflex imitation could easily mislead consumers looking for the authorized Flowflex test.
Certain red flags might help you spot the counterfeits, according to the FDA. They include:
  • Poor print quality of images or text on the outside box label or in the instructions for use included in the box.
  • Missing information on the outside box label for the product, such as the lot number, expiration date or barcode or QR codes.
  • Grammatical or spelling errors in product labeling.
  • Kit components that do not match the content description. For example, missing instructions for use, missing or unfilled components, different number of components than listed.
  • The tradename for product printed on component or box labels differ from the authorized labeling found on the FDA website.
  • The box label or printed instructions for use look different from the authorized labeling found on the FDA website.
The FDA has a list of authorized at-home OTC COVID-19 tests. It is not aware of any counterfeit tests distributed by federal government test distribution programs.

What should you do if you have one?
If you suspect you have a counterfeit test, do not use it. Contact the distributor or store where you bought it to tell them that you have a counterfeit test, and also inform the manufacturer of the authorized test, the agency said.
  • The manufacturer may ask for additional information such as photos of the packaging to further investigate the issue.
  • After providing any requested information to the distributor and/or manufacturer, follow the manufacturer's instructions for returning or disposing of the test.
Talk to your health care provider if you think you were tested with a counterfeit test and you have concerns about your results, the FDA advised.
  • If you think you had a problem with a COVID-19 test, you can report it through the FDA's MedWatch Voluntary Reporting Form.
More information
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines what you need to know about COVID-19 testing.

What makes tuberculosis (TB) the world's most infectious killer? - TED-Ed

UNICEF warns against global measles outbreaks after cases surge across the globe - WION

Related news:
WHO, UNICEF Warn About Increased Risk of Measles Outbreaks - WebMD [6].
Worst TB Outbreak in 20 Years Reported in Washington State - WebMD [9].
WHO: Third Ebola patient dies in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo - Reuters [10].

Note: I cannot copy the news from the links above due to forum character limit. Please check out links number [6], [9], [10] at the bottom of this post for details. Thanks.


Measles FAQ: Symptoms, Prevention, and More
From WebMD [7]:
What is measles?
  • Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can have life-threatening complications. The CDC calls it the "most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses."
  • It spreads easily, but the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine can prevent it.
  • The CDC recommends that all children, and some adults, get the MMR vaccine.
  • The U.S. declared measles eliminated from the nation in 2000, but there have been outbreaks since then, and it's still common in other countries.
What are the first symptoms, and how quickly do they usually show up?
  • People usually get a fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes first.
  • Within a few days, a red rash starts on the face and can spread to the rest of the body. If you notice those signs, tell your doctor right away.
What are the possible complications?
  • Diarrhea and ear infections, which may lead to hearing loss, can happen as a result of measles.
  • Pneumonia and brain swelling are other potential complications.
  • About 1 or 2 of every 1,000 children with measles dies of it, the CDC estimates.
How is measles spread, and how easily?
  • You can catch measles from anyone who has measles.
  • If you're not immune, you're very likely to get it if you're around someone who has it, because the virus spreads so easily.
  • Just a cough or sneeze from an infected person launches the measles virus into the air, where you can breathe it in.
  • People can spread it 4 days before they first get the measles rash, and for 4 days after the rash starts.
  • The virus can live for up to 2 hours on a surface or in the air. You can get it if you touch an infected surface and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Measles is so contagious that 90% of people who aren't immune will get the disease if they're close to someone who has it.
How do you prevent measles?
  • It's simple: Get vaccinated.
  • You get two doses of the MMR vaccine.
  • Children usually get the first dose when they are 12 months old, and a second before kindergarten.
  • However, if the child is under 12 months old and is traveling to an area where measles is common, a first dose may be given at 9 months of age and a second at 12 months.
  • On its website, the CDC calls the vaccine "very effective" and states that "one dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles and two doses about 97% effective."
  • Before the vaccination program started, 3-4 million people per year in the U.S. got measles, and 400-500 of them died, the CDC estimates.
Do adults need the MMR vaccine?
  • If you got two doses as a child, you're covered for life. You don't need a booster shot.
  • If you weren't vaccinated, you may need it.
  • "Generally, anyone 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have either been vaccinated or had all three diseases [measles, mumps, and rubella]," the CDC's web site states.
  • Pregnant women shouldn't get vaccinated until after they've had their baby.
  • People who are allergic to the vaccine's ingredients shouldn't get it, either.
Not sure? Ask your doctor.
  • If you think you’ve been exposed to measles and haven't been vaccinated, can you still get the vaccine?
  • Yes, but you have to get it within 72 hours of exposure to be effective.

COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic
From World Economic Forum [8]:

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe
  • Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 514.2 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 6.23 million. More than 11.6 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.
  • Measles cases jumped by 79% in the first two months of this year compared to 2021, after COVID-19 and lockdowns disrupted child vaccination campaigns around the world, according to data from UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
  • It was announced last week that face masks will remain mandatory in Italy on public transport and in some indoor venues until 15 June.
  • Russia's total number of COVID-related deaths has exceeded 803,000 since the start of the pandemic in April 2020, Reuters calculations based on new data from the Rosstat state statistics service showed on Friday.
  • South Korea has lifted its outdoor mask mandate, although its incoming government has said it believes the move is premature.
  • Costa Rica is set to roll out a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines to the immunocompromised and those over 50, the country's health ministry has announced.
  • Two new sub-lineages of the Omicron COVID-19 variant can dodge antibodies from earlier infection well enough to trigger a new wave, but are far less able to thrive in the blood of people vaccinated against COVID-19, South African scientists have found.
  • Hong Kong, SAR, is set to further ease COVID-19 restrictions, allowing bars to open until 2am and raising the number of diners permitted at a table to eight from four currently.
2. Africa seeing uptick in COVID-19 cases
  • Africa is seeing an uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases, largely driven by a rise in cases in South Africa, the World Health Organization warned last Thursday.
  • South Africa has recorded the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths on the continent, with authorities now monitoring for the potential start of a fifth wave of COVID-19.
  • "This week new COVID-19 cases and deaths on the continent increased for the first time after a decline of more than two months for cases and one month for deaths," Benido Impouma, Director for Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases at the WHO's Africa office, told an online news conference.
  • Impouma said there was no evidence as yet to suggest the rise in cases was linked to any new sub-lineages or a new coronavirus variant.
3. EU estimates up to 80% of the population has had COVID-19
  • The European Commission has estimated that between 60% and 80% of the EU's population has been infected with COVID-19.
  • The EU public health agency said reported cases had covered about 30% of the European population so far, but if unreported infections were added, cases could be as high as 350 million, about 77% of the European population.
  • The EU is entering a post-emergency phase in which mass reporting of cases is no longer necessary, reported Reuters.
  • But fresh COVID-19 surges are likely as the virus is expected to continue mutating, and therefore countries should have in place plans to shift back into emergency mode, and should ramp up vaccinations, the Commission said.

Global daily statistics - Reuters COVID-19 Global Tracker
covidreuters-7may2022.png
List of sources
[1] https://www.reuters.com/business/he...-covid-variants-large-study-finds-2022-05-05/
[2] https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20220505/who-nearly-15-million-covid-deaths-worldwide-2019-2021
[3] https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20220504/latest-covid-subvariants-new-waves-evade-immunity
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2...-to-evolution-patterns-who-warns?fr=operanews
[5] https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20220503/fda-warns-of-counterfeit-home-covid-19-test-kits#1
[6] https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20220428/who-unicef-increased-risk-measles-outbreaks
[7] https://www.webmd.com/children/vaccines/measles-faq
[8] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/05/covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-news-3-may-2022/
[9] https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20220502/worst-tb-outbreak-washington-state
[10] https://www.reuters.com/world/afric...rthwest-democratic-republic-congo-2022-05-06/

PS: Thanks for reading.
 

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