Russia reports world’s first case of human infection with H5N8 bird flu

Moswow: Russia has registered the first case of a strain of bird flu virus named A(H5N8) being passed to humans from birds and has reported the matter to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Anna Popova, head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months but so far only in poultry. Other strains – H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2 – have been known to spread to humans.

Health workers in protective suits begin culling of ducks after H5N8 strain of bird flu was detected among domestic birds in Alappuzha, India, last month. Credit:AP

Russia reported the case of human infection to the WHO “several days ago, just as we became absolutely certain of our results,” Popova said on Rossiya 24 state TV. There was no sign yet of transmission between humans, she added.

Seven workers at a poultry plant in Russia’s south had been infected with the H5N8 strain in an outbreak at the plant in December, Popova said, adding that the individuals involved felt fine now. “This situation did not develop further,” she said.

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117-year-old French nun, who survived two World Wars and Spanish Flu, survives COVID-19

Europe’s oldest person aged 117-year-old has survived the coronavirus after living through two world wars as well as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Sister Andre, a nun who was born in 1904, tested positive for the virus on January 16, according to David Tavella, communications director at the Sainte Catherine Laboure nursing home in Toulon, southern France, where she lives, CNN reported.

Sister Andre, earlier known as Lucille Randon, became a nun in 1944 and shifted to the nursing home in Toulon in 2009.
She had shown no symptoms of coronavirus, CNN reported.
Speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV, she said, “I didn’t know I had it…No, I wasn’t scared because I wasn’t scared of dying.”
As 11. of February was her birthday, her meal had all her favourites — foie gras, baked Alaska and a glass of red wine.
“She drinks a glass of wine every lunchtime,” Tavella said.
He further said that though no visitors were allowed at the nursing home, she received video messages from her family and the local mayor, and also took part in a video Mass.
“Sister Andre’s birthday is taking place at a good time — it couldn’t be a better time, because it will mark the beginning of big festivities that will be organized around this relaxing of our restrictions,” Tavella told BFMTV.
Source: ANI

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Flu jabs likely be delayed for priority COVID-19 vaccinations in South Australia

The seasonal flu shot for aged care residents and workers will likely be postponed while the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations are administered, South Australian stakeholders have heard.

At a COVID-19 vaccine forum for the sector held in Adelaide on Monday, SA Health representatives reportedly said the flu shot could be delayed to prioritise the vaccine rollout’s first phase and that legislative changes could be required.

It prompted questions by Eldercare chief executive officer Jane Pickering, whose organisation was given the go ahead in mid-December to begin its 2021 seasonal influenza vaccination program, which starts in March.

“The concern I raised was around ensuring different areas of the department line up so they are consistent with each other and we’re not proceeding with one particular vaccine program that may place the other vaccination program at risk,” she said.

COVID vaccines are slated to begin incrementally in mid-February for first priority populations, which includes aged and disability care residents and workers, frontline health workers, and quarantine and border staff.

“We have an external provider who does that and we have to book them well in advance and I can tell you that all of the large aged care providers would have booked their influenza programs.

“I understand everybody’s trying to do the best they can, but nobody knows the detail yet and we’ll all respond when we get it.”

Logistics to be negotiated

A SA Health spokesperson said the department would work with the Commonwealth Government, which had determined priority groups and timelines, to distribute the vaccine.

“We are still working through the logistics to determine if any legislative changes are required,” she said.

“In line with national advice, the influenza vaccination should not be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Pfizer vaccine questions

Ms Pickering said Australia’s response to reports that up to 30 frail people with co-morbidities had died after being administered the Pfizer vaccine in Norway would also have to be “cleared up”.

“If they [Therapeutic Goods Administration] are going to say the Pfizer’s not suitable for them, they’ll move on to AstraZeneca, which we’re getting in March anyway.

“They’re not going to take any risks.”

The Pfizer vaccine is yet to be approved for use in Australia by the TGA, which is reviewing information supplied by its manufacturer.

Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said safety was “Australia’s number one priority” and the Government had also requested information from the Norwegian Government.

“We’ll continue to follow the processes of the medical regulator because that’s going to keep Australians safe and ultimately provide confidence.”

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Bird flu: India to cull poultry amid fears of virus

Avian flu was has so far been detected in wild geese, crows and ducks in various parts of the country.

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English farm to cull 10,500 turkeys as concern grows over wave of bird flu from Europe — RT UK News

More than ten thousands turkeys will be slaughtered at a poultry farm in northern England, following the discovery there of H5N8 bird flu. The culling comes amid fears of an avian flu outbreak originating in Europe.

Medical authorities confirmed that avian flu had been found at a commercial turkey fattening farm near Northallerton, North Yorkshire. All 10,500 birds at the farm would be culled to limit the spread of the disease, which was identified as the highly contagious H5N8 strain. The British public were reassured that the outbreak does not pose a food safety risk. 

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The discovery of the disease comes amid reports of a string of swan deaths that have been linked to avian flu. Poultry farmers across England, Scotland and Wales were ordered earlier in November to implement strict lockdown-style measures at their facilities to help prevent the spread of the illness. Recent outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been detected in Cheshire, Devon, Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire. 

Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, expressed a “high level” of concern over the recent developments, noting that the “sheer volume of infections” was worrying. 

However, avian flu poses minimal risk to public health. Typically the virus doesn’t infect people, although animal to human transmission has been recorded in the past. However, contagious strains of the virus can spread quickly among bird species, sickening or killing the infected animal. 

Earlier this month, 190,000 chickens were slaughtered at two poultry farms in the Netherlands, after a strain of the H5 avian flu variant was detected. H5N8 has been found in wild bird populations in Europe, raising the possibility that it can spread rapidly with migrating flocks. 

The potential for animal to human transmission of bird flu has become more pronounced as health authorities continue to battle against Covid-19. 

Danish authorities recently ordered the culling of the country’s 17 million farmed minks, which are raised for their fur, after a mutated version of Covid-19 was found to have spread from the animals to humans. Denmark’s agriculture minister resigned over the order, which was ruled to be unlawful. However, the government moved ahead with the plans, arguing that it could obtain retroactive authority to carry out the animal slaughter. 

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10 Superfoods to Eat During Cold and Flu Season

The gym is a breeding ground for germs, especially during cold and flu season. Everyone is sneezing, blowing their nose, and then touching gym equipment. Where’s the gym etiquette of wiping your hands clean, not just the equipment? Not to mention there’s now the coronavirus to worry about—your immune system is working overtime lately just to make sure you don’t end up on your back for an extended period of time.

Several studies have shown that intense training programs can put some stress on the body’s immune system, so gym rats are more likely to catch something from a sneeze droplet than the average Joe. Intense exercise can even put people at an increased risk of upper-respiratory tract infections, according to one study out of Scientific Reports. 

“Intensive exercise produces a decrease in the immune system functionality which makes the body more vulnerable to infectious agents,” the researchers noted. “This period is known as an ‘open window’ to pathogens.” This flies in the face of the popular belief that people who workout more are more likely to shake off a cold, or even the coronavirus (which is just not true at all).

And while upping your immune system won’t 100 percent safeguard you from germs and viruses, increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals can help decrease the amount of time you’re on the sidelines. In other words, you might still get sick even if you eat all of these foods but you’ll be in bed for only three or four days instead of a week-and-a-half.

To prevent yourself from catching the gym-floor sniffles, give your immune system a boost with the following foods.

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Largest Flu Vaccine Facility to be Functional in 2026

flu vaccine

With hopes of making sure that Australia has stockpiles of critical vaccines and anti-venoms in the future, the largest flu vaccine is proposed to be built in Melbourne.

The new facility will be built in the city’s airport business park and is expected to be operational by 2026. The funding will be extracted through a joint venture between the Federal Government and Seqirus – a subsidiary of biotech company CSL. Both are contributing $1billion and $800 million respectively.

This announcement comes after National Cabinet agreed to a vaccination policy that outlined the Government’s strategy for a nation-wide vaccine rollout if one becomes available.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that the facility would provide support for a range of vaccines. “It will provide support for pandemic flu, seasonal flu, anti-venoms and Q fever,” he added.

Although it will be a five-year construction process for a major new vaccine facility, it will surely lock Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capability for the next two decades.

To date, many vaccines are grown in chicken eggs, whereas this facility will use cells instead.

As the largest flu vaccine manufacturer in the southern hemisphere, they would use “cell-based” technology, allowing it greater capacity and speed. Mr Hunt added the facility would future proof Australia’s access to coronavirus vaccines, among others.

Mr Hunt admittedly announced that Australia is currently well-placed, but they wanted to be better placed because who knows what will come.

Rest assured it is for long-term benefits as the country has the capacity with CSL’s existing plant in Melbourne, however, it is an egg-based facility and the world is moving to cellular facilities, so they don’t want to lose that capability. The new plant would allow faster and greater capacities.

Last week, CSL began manufacturing doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, despite it not yet being approved and still going through phase-three clinical trials.

If it is approved it could mean Australians would have access to the vaccine by mid-2021.

Scientists pour cold water on ‘intriguing’ similarity between COVID-19 and 1918 flu

Despite early comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza, coronavirus was never going to be just another flu. It comes from a different family of viruses and it has proven far more pernicious and unpredictable. Even so, “cytokine storms,” where the immune system turns on the body by overreacting to a virus, were widely regarded as playing a critical role in 1918 influenza pandemic.

Not all historians and health professionals agree that cytokine storms led to as many deaths a century ago with the 1918 flu, and now a new study questions just how critical a factor they have been in COVID-related fatalities. So how large a part have these potentially fatal hyperinflammatory immune responses played in the coronavirus pandemic?

Fewer than 5% of the COVID-19 patients in a new study, including some of the sickest individuals, had the life-threatening, hyperinflammatory immune response known as a ‘cytokine storm.’

Some 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, became infected with the 1918 Spanish flu. An estimated 50 million people died worldwide, with about 675,000 deaths occurring in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Saturday, 53.7 million people worldwide contracted COVID-19, with 1.3 million deaths, 245,453 of which were in the U.S.

These scientists aimed to find out. Most adults with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 have a suppressed viral immune response when compared to those suffering from influenza, according to research published Saturday by scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.

“Fewer than 5% of the COVID-19 patients in this study, including some of the sickest individuals, had the life-threatening, hyperinflammatory immune response known as cytokine storm syndrome. Cytokines are small proteins secreted by blood cells that help coordinate the immune response and trigger inflammation,” it found.

“We did identify a subset of COVID-19 patients with the broadly upregulated array of cytokines, which is a hallmark of cytokine storm,” said co-author Paul Thomas, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Immunology. “But, overall, the average person with COVID-19 — even patients with moderate-to-severe disease — had less inflammation than the average person with flu.

He said patients would benefit from a rapid, reliable and inexpensive test to measure cytokines and identify those most likely to benefit from immunosuppressive treatment. “The findings suggest that treatment suppressing inflammation might only be effective in that minority of patients with the hyperinflammatory profile,” Thomas added.

Medical staff treat a patient with coronavirus in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 10, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 infections are on the rise in Houston, Texas has surpassed 1 million cases.

Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Related: ‘Help is coming — and it’s coming soon’: Dr. Fauci outlines when COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all Americans

A hallmark of some viruses: A surge of immune cells and their activating compounds (known as “cytokines”) effectively turned the body against itself, led to an inflammation of the lungs, severe respiratory distress, leaving the body vulnerable to secondary bacterial pneumonia. It was seen as one reason why seemingly healthy people were so hard hit by the 1918 flu.

The research included 168 adults with COVID-19, 26 adults with influenza and 16 healthy volunteers. More than 90% of the COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, about half in the intensive care unit; 23% of those hospitalized died. More than half of flu patients were hospitalized, 35% in the ICU, and 8% of flu patients hospitalized died.

The study found that the antiviral-immune response was “profoundly suppressed” in COVID-19 patients versus flu patients. In most cases, COVID-19 was not caused by broad hyperinflammation from a cytokine storm, it said. (However, the researchers noted that lack of hyperinflammation in most of these coronavirus patients did not mean they had less disease.)

Doctors and members of the public, as of now, were spooked by how otherwise strong, healthy people who fell victim to the 1918 influenza, also known erroneously as the “Spanish flu.” Many historians today attribute that to the “cytokine storm,” the process where the immune system in healthy people reacts so strongly as to hurt the body.

In most cases, COVID-19 was not caused by hyperinflammation from a cytokine storm, a new study in Science Advances concluded. That was believed to be a feature of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

“There are two hypotheses to explain the 1918 strain’s high lethality: Cytokine storms and secondary bacterial infection,” according to a 2018 editorial in Nature. “In a cytokine storm, the body’s immune system overreacts, causing tissue and organ damage, and even death.” However, the editorial says it’s more likely that secondary bacterial infections played a bigger role.

The Nature editorial cites this “intriguing” 2008 paper published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases examined and reviewed over 8,400 tissue specimens from 1918–1919 influenza fatalities found that “the majority of deaths in the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic likely resulted directly from secondary bacterial pneumonia caused by common upper respiratory-tract bacteria.”

This may tally with the progress of that pandemic with the second wave hitting even harder. “The 1918 Spanish flu’s second wave was even more devastating than the first wave,” Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America and adjunct faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles, told MarketWatch.

Though the 1918 pandemic is forever associated with Spain, this strain of H1N1 influenza was actually discovered earlier in Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S. But similar to the Communist Party’s response to the first cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, last Decembert, World War I censorship buried or underplayed those earlier reports.

“It is essential to consider the deep connections between the Great War and the influenza pandemic not simply as concurrent or consecutive crises, but more deeply intertwined,” historian James Harris wrote about 1918. Members of the public were spooked by how otherwise strong, healthy people fell victim to the 1918 influenza. A “cytokine storm” seemed a likely explanation.

“There are two hypotheses to explain the 1918 strain’s high lethality: Cytokine storms and secondary bacterial infection,” according to a 2018 editorial in Nature.

Related:Joe Biden’s pandemic plan: Restore Obamacare, mandatory masks, paid sick leave and free COVID-19 tests

The most recent study released Saturday, published in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggests that a majority of COVID-19 patients are not candidates for treatment with steroids such as dexamethasone that, the researchers argue, can backfire in some patients.

Dexamethasone has, however, been found to be effective in treating severely-ill COVID-19 patients, according to three studies published in September in JAMA. Researchers reported in mid-June that low doses of dexamethasone played a significant role in helping to reduce deaths in hospitalized COVID-19 patients on ventilators by one-third.

The majority of COVID-19 patients are not candidates for treatment with steroids such as dexamethasone, the researchers argue, but it’s been effective in treating severely-ill patients.

And Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also credited dexamethasone with helping patients. “We know that dexamethasone clearly diminishes the death rate in people requiring mechanical ventilation and/or people who require high-flow oxygen,” Fauci said during an interview with the American Medical Association last weekend.

Other research finds that cytokine storms do remain a risk with older patients during the coronavirus pandemic. Genes in the body that appear to be a major factor giving SARS-CoV-2 access to the heart cells that become more active with age, according to a recent study in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, and that can leave them more vulnerable to hyperinflammation.

The researchers found that “inflammation in older people can be more intense, causing organ damage,” Johns Hopkins University reported. “Lung tissue becomes less elastic over time, making respiratory diseases like COVID-19 a particular concern for older people.” Thus, a cytokine storm in those patients may promote the inflammation and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Furthermore, a September 2020 paper published in the peer-reviewed Frontiers in Immunology journal concluded: “Aberrant immune host response together with cytokine storm and lymphocytopenia [a disorder where your blood does not have enough white blood cells] followed by acute respiratory distress, are still relevant problems that affect the severity of COVID-19.”

One similarities abide between 1918 and 2020: During the 1918 flu, cities that implemented non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing and school closures tended to have better economic outcomes, Francis Yared, the global head of rates research at Deutsche Bank wrote in a recent note, adding, “There wasn’t such a big trade-off between economic activity and public health.”

In addition to BioNTech SE

and partner Pfizer
which announced progress on Monday in a vaccine with 90% efficacy, AstraZeneca

; Johnson & Johnson

; Merck & Co.

; Moderna

; Sanofi

; and GlaxoSmithKline

are also working toward COVID-19 vaccines.

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine announcement helped U.S. stock indexes closed sharply higher Friday, notching a pair of fresh records, despite gloom over a spike in the viral outbreak in the U.S. and Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500 index

 both closed up 1.4%, and Nasdaq Composite Index

 rose 1%.

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Flu vaccination exercise for migrant workers, shots to cost S$25 each: MOM

SINGAPORE: The Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), is organising a one-time vaccination exercise for employers to protect their workers from the flu, said the ministry on Monday (Nov 9).

The flu vaccination will be available to all migrant workers in the construction, marine or process sectors, whether they are living in dormitories or in the community. It will also be available to all migrant workers residing in dormitories.

The vaccination is priced at S$25 per shot.

The exercise is being organised in light of the coming end of year flu season and is to “protect workers who may be at higher risk of infections”, said MOM.

“The fight against infections, including COVID-19, is a shared responsibility amongst everyone. We encourage all employers to arrange for their workers to be vaccinated.” 

READ: Flu vaccinations ‘even more important’ amid COVID-19, say doctors

READ: Use of 2 flu vaccines can resume after ‘thorough review’: MOH, HSA

MOM said that vaccination will help reduce the number of workers needing medical leave for flu or flu-like symptoms, thus minimising work disruption for employers.

It will also result in fewer workers showing acute respiratory illness symptoms to be assessed for possible COVID-19 infection, said the ministry.

Employers can register their workers for an appointment at MOM-designated venues at between Nov 9 and Nov 30. 

The vaccination exercise will be conducted from Dec 1 to Dec 31, 2020.

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