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    Here’s the full analysis of newly uncovered genetic data on COVID’s origins / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 21 March - 21:28 · 1 minute

Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei Province, on January 11, 2020, where the Wuhan health commission said that the man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods.

Enlarge / Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei Province, on January 11, 2020, where the Wuhan health commission said that the man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods. (credit: Getty | NOEL CELIS )

A group of independent, international researchers has released its full analysis of newly uncovered metagenomic data collected by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January and February of 2020. The data closely links SARS-CoV-2 to the genetic tracks of wild animals, particularly raccoon dogs , sold at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group's analysis says.

The full analysis provides additional, compelling evidence that the pandemic coronavirus made its leap to humans through a natural spillover, with a wild animal at the market acting as an intermediate host between the virus' natural reservoir in horseshoe bats and humans. It was authored by 19 scientists, led by Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona; Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in California; and Florence Débarre, a theoretician who specializes in evolutionary biology at France's national research agency, CNRS.

Prior to the release of the full analysis late Monday, information on the findings was only made public through media reports and statements from the World Health Organization, which was briefed on the analysis last week. But, the raw metagenomic data behind the analysis is still not publicly available. It was briefly posted on a public genetic database called the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) as recently as earlier this month, and the international researchers were able to download it during that window of availability. But, administrators for the database quickly removed the data after its discovery, saying the removal was at the request of the submitter, a researcher at China CDC.

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    Genetic data links SARS-CoV-2 to raccoon dogs in China market, scientists say / ArsTechnica · Friday, 17 March - 17:07 · 1 minute

A raccoon dog at the Chapultpec Zoo in Mexico City on August 6, 2015.

Enlarge / A raccoon dog at the Chapultpec Zoo in Mexico City on August 6, 2015. (credit: Getty | ALFREDO ESTRELLA/ )

Newly obtained genetic data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) links the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 to animals—specifically raccoon dogs—at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where the earliest COVID-19 cases centered, a group of independent scientists told the World Health Organization this week.

The genetic data came from environmental swabs collected at the market by China CDC in January of 2020. The existence of these swabs was previously known, as was the fact that they were positive for SARS-CoV-2 genetic material. But in late January of this year, scientists at China CDC uploaded—and then later removed—additional genetic data from these swabs to a public genetic database called GISAID, the WHO said. That additional data, which had not been previously disclosed, indicates that the SARS-CoV-2-positive swabs also contained genetic material from humans and animals, particularly large amounts of genetic material that closely matches that of raccoon dogs.

Raccoon dogs—foxlike animals whose faces closely resemble those of raccoons—are known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and were known to be sold at the market.

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    Spike in deadly strep infections linked to wave of flu, RSV in US kids / ArsTechnica · Friday, 10 March - 17:41

A microscope image of <em>Streptococcus pyogenes</em>, a common type of group A strep.

Enlarge / A microscope image of Streptococcus pyogenes , a common type of group A strep. (credit: Getty | BSIP )

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a tall wave of respiratory viruses, health officials in Colorado and Minnesota documented an unusual spike in deadly, invasive infections from Streptococcus bacteria late last year, according to a study published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

The spike is yet another oddity of post-pandemic disease transmission, but one that points to a simple prevention strategy: flu shots.

The infections are invasive group A strep , or iGAS for short, which is caused by the same group of bacteria that cause relatively minor diseases, such as strep throat and scarlet fever. But iGAS occurs when the bacteria spread in the body and cause severe infection, such as necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), toxic shock syndrome, or sepsis. These conditions can occur quickly and be deadly.

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    COVID survivors at increased risk of long-term gastrointestinal conditions / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 8 March - 23:00 · 1 minute

A woman experiencing abdominal pain by covering both hands over her stomach.

Enlarge (credit: Getty | BSIP )

Surviving a bout of COVID-19 can significantly increase the risk of developing a range of long-term gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions—from constipation and diarrhea to chronic acid reflux, pancreatitis, and inflammation of the bile ducts—according to a study published this week in Nature Communications .

The study likely confirms what many long COVID patients already know all too well. But the analysis is among the largest and most comprehensive to evaluate the boost in relative and absolute risks, drawing on medical records from more than 11,652,484 people in the Department of Veterans Affairs databases.

The study was led by clinical epidemiologist Ziyad Al-Aly at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in Saint Louis. With colleagues, Al-Aly examined medical records of over 154,000 people who had COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021. The researchers then compared the COVID survivors' rates of gastrointestinal problems in the year after their infection to the rates seen in two control cohorts. One was a contemporary cohort of over 5.6 million people who went from the March 2020 to January 2021 without any evidence of a COVID-19 infection. The other was of 5.8 million people who were tracked for a year before the pandemic, which served as a control for unreported COVID-19 cases in the contemporary cohort.

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    RNA vaccines seem to produce very different antibody levels / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 31 August, 2021 - 22:38 · 1 minute

Image of a woman taking a blood sample from a seated person.

Enlarge / A phlebotomist draws blood meant for antibody testing. (credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images )

We've tended to treat the RNA-based vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech as functionally equivalent. They take an identical approach to producing immunity and have a very similar set of ingredients. Clinical trial data suggested they had very similar efficacy—both in the area of 95 percent.

So it was a bit of a surprise to have a paper released yesterday indicating that the two produce an antibody response that's easy to distinguish, with Moderna inducing antibody levels that were more than double that seen among people who received the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. While it's important not to infer too much from a single study, this one was large enough that the results are likely to be reliable. If so, the results serve as a caution that we might not want to base too many of our expectations on relatively crude measures of antibody levels.

The new study

The work itself was remarkably simple. A Belgian medical center was vaccinating its staff and asked for volunteers willing to give blood samples. Samples were taken both prior to vaccination and six to 10 weeks after, with the levels of antibody specific to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein tested at both points. About 700 participants received the Moderna vaccine, while roughly 950 took the one from Pfizer/BioNTech.

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    Teacher with COVID symptoms went maskless, making her class an experiment / ArsTechnica · Monday, 30 August, 2021 - 21:06 · 1 minute

Image of a darkened, empty classroom.

Enlarge / Two classrooms had to be shut down due to a series of problems with maintaining policies meant to limit the spread of the pandemic. (credit: Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images )

On Friday, the CDC released a report that traced the spread of the Delta variant through a California elementary school. It's tempting to make this into a story of gross irresponsibility—a teacher was unvaccinated and read to the class while unmasked. But beyond that, it provides a number of warnings about how our public health system remains under stress as we close in on two years since the start of the pandemic. It also reemphasizes how the Delta variant ensures that small errors can easily explode into big problems.

One bad apple

The school in question was a small one, with only a bit over 200 students and 24 staff. It is an elementary school, meaning that its student population is also younger than the cutoff for approved vaccine use. The school did a number of things right, though. Class sizes were kept small, and individual classes were kept in separate rooms, with doors and windows kept open and air filtration equipment installed. There was also a standing policy requiring mask use in place.

But not everything was ideal. The CDC notes that two of the 24 staff members were unvaccinated. While the vaccinated can clearly transmit the Delta variant, they are likely to be less infectious, and in a worst case they'd be infectious for a shorter period of time.

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    More people are poisoning themselves with horse-deworming drug to thwart COVID / ArsTechnica · Friday, 27 August, 2021 - 00:59

tablets of Ivermectin drugs in Tehatta, West Benga, India on 19 May on 2021.

Enlarge / tablets of Ivermectin drugs in Tehatta, West Benga, India on 19 May on 2021. (credit: Getty | Nurphoto )

Amid the current delta-fueled wave of COVID-19, officials have noted a dangerous surge in the misuse of a deworming drug routinely used in livestock. The result is an uptick in calls to poison control centers, empty shelves in farming supply stores, and pleas from regulators.

In an attention-grabbing tweet over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration wrote bluntly: "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it."

The agency stressed that the drug, ivermectin, is not FDA-approved to treat or prevent COVID-19 and, so far, there is no evidence that it does either of those things. However, it can cause serious side effects and overdoses, which can be life-threatening, the agency warned. Overdoses can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma, and even death.

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    CDC advisory committee recommends COVID vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 12 May, 2021 - 20:40 · 1 minute

A masked child watches a healthcare worker perform an injection.

Enlarge / With new data, we're able to expand vaccinations to ever-younger populations. (credit: Roberto Jimenez Mejias / Getty Images )

On Wednesday, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the CDC approve the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the 12- to 15-year age group. The decision comes two days after the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the same age group and will help the US further limit the pool of people who can spread infections or foster the evolution of new viral variants. Formal CDC approval could come quickly, given recent history.

Given the FDA's earlier decision, the move might seem anticlimactic. But having the FDA and CDC officially on the same page is reassuring, and several state-run vaccination programs are awaiting the CDC's OK before expanding into that age group. Private providers and insurance companies were also varied in their response to the FDA's decision and were waiting for the CDC.

The data that supported the approval was pretty decisive, as a small Phase III clinical trial of 2,260 adolescents saw 16 cases of COVID-19, with every single one occurring in the placebo group. Side effects were similar to those experienced by older people, with a brief period of flu-like symptoms. The committee was tasked with considering whether the benefits outweighed the risks; given the minor side effects and the increasingly obvious benefits of vaccination , it's not a surprise that the vote in favor of approval by the committee was 14 in favor, none opposing, and a single recusal. The CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, is overwhelmingly likely to follow the committee's recommendation, most likely before the day is over. (We'll update this story if and when this occurs.)

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