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Understanding how animals become infected with COVID-19 can help control the pandemic

COVID-19 has been found in wild, captive and domesticated animals. To understand and combat the disease, a One Health approach that considers human, animal and environmental factors is essential.

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A hippopotamus heads back into its enclosure at the Antwerp Zoo. (Shutterstock)

When veterinarians at the Antwerp Zoo noticed two hippopotamuses with runny noses, they didn’t just offer them tissues to blow their noses. They administered tests, which came back positive for COVID-19, the worldwide virus that has plagued the globe.

Since the start of the global pandemic almost two years ago, humans have not been the only species to contract the COVID-19 virus. Although the Belgian hippos were the first of their species to contract the virus, it has spread throughout the entire animal kingdom.

COVID-19 has revealed how health connects humans, animals and the environment — the approach that considers these relationships and connections is known as “One Health.”


Read more: One Health: A crucial approach to preventing and preparing for future pandemics


Responding to the pandemic has been a model of One Health in action. Veterinarians, physicians and environmental experts have needed to collaborate to determine which species are susceptible to better understand how the COVID-19 virus spreads.

Infected pets

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — if you can remember that far back — alarming reports of pets infected with the COVID-19 virus raised unfounded fears regarding the potential exposure and risk of viral infections.

In April 2020, two cats from different households in different parts of New York state became the first domestic cats in America to contract the COVID-19 virus, followed several months later by the first positive British cat.

And although the first American dog to test positive for the COVID-19 virus died within a few months, his symptoms indicated he likely had cancer, suggesting that the virus may not have been the sole cause of his death. Although confirmed COVID-19 in pets is relatively uncommon, dogs and cats are at risk from catching the virus from an infected household member.

Conversely, however, and to great relief, overwhelming agreement has emerged among major veterinary societies that the risk of humans contracting COVID-19 from their dogs and cats is extremely low.

A VICE report on COVID-19 and pets.

Interestingly, an article in Scientific American reported on studies that showed that of the dogs and cats who lived in a household with a positive family member, one of every five of the pets had the virus, though symptoms were relatively mild.

Currently, there is no need for dogs and cats to be vaccinated, but pharmaceutical representatives are confident in their ability to readily produce a vaccine to protect pets.


Read more: COVID: what happens if a far more lethal coronavirus emerges in pets?


Animals at risk

At the beginning of this pandemic, researchers were eager to discover the extent to which COVID-19 was transmittable from animals to humans, given the potential for animals to “spark new outbreaks.”

Early on, at least seven big cats — lions and tigers — at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19. By the end of 2021, more than 300 animals representing 15 different species contracted COVID-19, including hyenas, lions, tigers, snow leopards, gorillas, otters and deer.

Recently, four snow leopards who contracted the disease from humans have died in American zoos.

Risks remain elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Captive gorillas, for instance, are highly susceptible to COVID-19. Were the disease to spread to gorillas in the wild, it would likely contribute to the depletion of the critically endangered species.

an adult lowland gorilla and two smaller ones in an enclosure
Nearly all of Zoo Atlanta’s Western lowland gorillas tested positive for the COVID-19 Delta variant in September 2021 after catching it from a zoo staff worker. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)

Animal vaccines

If humans are not contracting COVID-19 from animals, why are scientists worried? After all, pets are more at risk from infected humans, and individuals who work closely with wild animals take appropriate precautions to prevent transmission. However, it is important to remember that animals are the likely source of the current pandemic: bats, in particular, carry a number of different coronavirus strains and are considered by many as the original carriers of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The transmission of the COVID-19 virus between humans and animals has been found in minks, a phenomenon that spread within mink farms in the United States and Europe. As a result, millions of minks have since been culled and there have been calls for banning mink farming.


Read more: Wildlife trade poses health threats to humans, but Chinese wildlife farms are profiting


The most recent solution to human-animal transmission has been developing COVID-19 vaccines for animals. Because zoos are responsible for “often rare and high-value animals,” some have begun to vaccinate their residents.

New viral diseases

There are concerns that the COVID-19 virus has the potential to remain undetected in an animal and could mutate and become more infectious or dangerous to humans.


Read more: COVID variants: could dangerous new ones evolve in pets and farm animals?


An estimated three of every four new infectious diseases in humans originated in animals — and this continues to worry scientists. Researchers worry about “zoonotic spillover,” the movement of diseases between animals and humans, given the increased risk of “infectious agents capable of jumping the species barrier.”

The current pandemic has been called “a wake-up call” for recognizing how the importance of One Health: a collaborative global vision committed to the health and well-being of humans, animals and the environment that can thwart future global health crises.

Beth Daly does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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VIRI: Enrollment Complete in FORTRESS Trial; Results Expected in September 2022…

By David Bautz, PhD
NASDAQ:VIRI
READ THE FULL VIRI RESEARCH REPORT
Business Update
FORTRESS Trial Fully Enrolled; Topline Results in September 2022
On…

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By David Bautz, PhD

NASDAQ:VIRI

READ THE FULL VIRI RESEARCH REPORT

Business Update

FORTRESS Trial Fully Enrolled; Topline Results in September 2022

On April 28, 2022, Virios Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: VIRI) announced that it has completed enrollment of 425 fibromyalgia patients into the Phase 2b FORTRESS (Fibromyalgia Outcome Research Trial Evaluating Synergistic Suppression of Herpes Simplex Virus-1) trial, a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study of IMC-1. The primary endpoint of the trial is reduction in pain and secondary endpoints include change in fatigue, sleep disturbance, global health status, and patient functionality (NCT04748705). An outline of the trial is shown below.

In parallel with the FORTRESS trial, Virios is continuing the chronic toxicology studies of IMC-1 in two animal species. The results of these studies are required by regulators before Virios will be allowed to dose patients for one year or more, which is the plan for the Phase 3 program. The results of the chronic toxicology studies should be known around the time of the completion of the FORTRESS trial, thus the company should be able to move into a final Phase 3 program following completion of the current study, pending positive results.

Testing Combination Antiviral Therapy for the Treatment of Long COVID

In February 2022, Virios announced a collaboration with the Bateman Horne Center (BHC) to test combination antiviral therapy for the treatment of Long COVID. Following an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, approximately 30% of patients will experience symptoms that last for weeks or months, which is referred to as Long COVID. The range of symptoms varies from patient to patient, however the most commonly reported (from a recent meta analysis) were fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention disorder (27%), hair loss (25%), and dyspnea (24%) (Lopez-Leon et al., 2021).

The main theories for what might be causing ...

Full story available on Benzinga.com

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Type-I interferon stops immune system ‘going rogue’ during viral infections

Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how…

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Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how to reduce that damage.

Credit: Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University

Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how to reduce that damage.

 

They have discovered how Type I interferon (IFN) stops the immune system ‘going rogue’ and attacking the body’s own tissues when fighting viral infections, including COVID-19.

 

Their paper was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens today.

  

Senior author Ali Ashkar said IFN is a well-known anti-viral signalling molecule released by the body’s cells that can trigger a powerful immune response against harmful viruses.

 

“What we have found is that it is also critical to stop white blood cells from releasing protease enzymes, which can damage organ tissue. It has this unique dual function to kick start an immune response against a viral infection on the one hand, as well as restrain that same response to prevent significant bystander tissue damage on the other,” he said.

 

The research team investigated IFN’s ability to regulate a potentially dangerous immune response by testing it on both flu and the HSV-2 virus, a highly prevalent sexually transmitted pathogen, using mice. Data from COVID-19 patients in Germany, including post-mortem lung samples, was also used in the study.

 

“For many viral infections, it is not actually the virus that causes most of the tissue damage, it is our heightened immune activation towards the virus,” said Ashkar, a professor of medicine at McMaster.

  

First co-author of the study and PhD student Emily Feng said: “Our body’s immune response is trying to fight off the virus infection, but there’s a risk of damaging innocent healthy tissue in the process. IFNs regulates the immune response to only target tissues that are infected.

 

“By discovering the mechanisms the immune system uses that can inadvertently cause tissue damage, we can intervene during infection to prevent this damage and not necessarily have to wait until vaccines are developed to develop life-saving treatments,” she added.

 

“This applies not just to COVID-19, but also other highly infectious viruses such as flu and Ebola, which can cause tremendous and often life-threatening damage to the body’s organs,” said first study co-author Amanda Lee, a family medicine resident. 

 

Ashkar said the release of harmful proteases is the result of a ‘cytokine storm’, which is life-threatening inflammation sometimes triggered by viral infections. It has been a common cause of death in patients with COVID-19, but treatment has been developed to prevent and suppress the cytokine storm.

 

Ashkar said that steroids like dexamethasone are already used to rein in an extreme immune response to viral infections. The authors used doxycycline in their study, an antibiotic used for bacterial infections and as an anti-inflammatory agent, inhibits the function of proteases causing the bystander tissue damage.

 

Lee added: “This has the potential in the future to be used to alleviate virus-induced life-threatening inflammation and warrants further research.” 

 

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

 

-30-

 

Editors:

Pictures of Ali Ashkar and Emily Feng may be found at https://bit.ly/3wmSw0D

  

 

 


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mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna fare better against COVID-19 variants of concern

A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World…

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A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World Health Organization’s variants of concern (VOCs) than viral vector vaccines — AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen. Although they all effectively prevent severe disease by VOCs, the research, publishing May 17th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that people receiving a viral vector vaccine are more vulnerable to infection by new variants.

Credit: Carlos Reusser Monsalvez, Flickr (CC0, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World Health Organization’s variants of concern (VOCs) than viral vector vaccines — AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen. Although they all effectively prevent severe disease by VOCs, the research, publishing May 17th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that people receiving a viral vector vaccine are more vulnerable to infection by new variants.

By March 2022, COVID-19 had caused over 450 million confirmed infections and six million reported deaths. The first vaccines approved in the US and Europe that protect against serious infection are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which deliver genetic code, known as mRNA, to the bodies’ cells, whereas Oxford/AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen are viral vector vaccines that use a modified version of a different virus — a vector — to deliver instructions to our cells. Three vaccines are delivered as two separate injections a few weeks apart, and J&J/Janssen as a single dose.

Marit J. van Gils at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues, took blood samples from 165 healthcare workers, three and four weeks after first and second vaccination respectively, and for J&J/Janssen at four to five and eight weeks after vaccination. Samples were collected before, and four weeks after a Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

Four weeks after the initial two doses, antibody responses to the original SARS-CoV-2 viral strain were highest in recipients of Moderna, followed closely by Pfizer-BioNTech, and were substantially lower in those who received viral vector vaccines. Tested against the VOCs – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron – neutralizing antibodies were higher in the mRNA vaccine recipients compared to those who had viral vector vaccines. The ability to neutralize VOCs was reduced in all vaccine groups, with the greatest reduction against Omicron. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster increased antibody responses in all groups with substantial improvement against VOCs, including Omicron.

The researchers caution that their AstraZeneca group was significantly older, because of safety concerns for the vaccine in younger age groups. As immune responses tend to weaken with age, this could affect the results. This group was also smaller because the Dutch government halted use for a period.

van Gils concludes, “Four COVID-19 vaccines induce substantially different antibody responses.”

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In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper in PLOS Medicine:

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003991

Citation: van Gils MJ, Lavell A, van der Straten K, Appelman B, Bontjer I, Poniman M, et al. (2022) Antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants induced by four different SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in health care workers in the Netherlands: A prospective cohort study. PLoS Med 19(5): e1003991. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003991

 

Author Countries: The Netherlands, United States

 

Funding: This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) ZonMw (Vici grant no. 91818627 to R.W.S., S3 study, grant agreement no. 10430022010023 to M.K.B.; RECoVERED, grant agreement no. 10150062010002 to M.D.d.J.), by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (grant no. INV002022 and INV008818 to R.W.S. and INV-024617 to M.J.v.G.), by Amsterdam UMC through the AMC Fellowship (to M.J.v.G.) and the Corona Research Fund (to M.K.B.), and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program (RECoVER, grant no. 101003589 to M.D.d.J). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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