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      BA.2.86 shows just how risky slacking off on COVID monitoring is

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 21 August, 2023 - 20:17

    Transmission electron micrograph of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle isolated from a patient sample and cultivated in cell culture.

    Enlarge / Transmission electron micrograph of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle isolated from a patient sample and cultivated in cell culture. (credit: Getty | BSIP )

    A remarkably mutated coronavirus variant classified as BA.2.86 seized scientists' attention last week as it popped up in four countries, including the US.

    So far, the overall risk posed by the new subvariant is unclear. It's possible it could lead to a new wave of infection; it's also possible (perhaps most likely) it could fizzle out completely. Scientists simply don't have enough information to know. But, what is very clear is that the current precipitous decline in coronavirus variant monitoring is extremely risky.

    In a single week, BA.2.86 was detected in four different countries, but there are only six genetic sequences of the variant overall —three from Denmark, and one each from Israel, the UK, and the US (Michigan). The six detections suggest established international distribution and swift spread. It's likely that more cases will be identified. But, with such scant data, little else can be said of the variant's transmission or possible distribution.

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      A third of US deer have had COVID—and they infected humans at least 3 times

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 13 July, 2023 - 16:23 · 1 minute

    Image of young deer leaping a roadside gulley.

    Enlarge (credit: Raymond Gehman / Getty Images )

    People in the US transmitted the pandemic coronavirus to white-tailed deer at least 109 times, and the animals widely spread the virus among themselves, with a third of the deer tested in a large government-led study showing signs of prior infection. The work also suggests that the ubiquitous ruminants returned the virus to people in kind at least three times.

    The findings, announced this week by the US Department of Agriculture, are in line with previous research, which suggested that white-tailed deer can readily pick up SARS-CoV-2 from humans, spread it to each other , and, based on at least one instance in Canada, transmit the virus back to humans .

    But the new study , led by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), provides a broader picture of deer transmission dynamics in the US and ultimately bolsters concern that white-tailed deer have the potential to be a virus reservoir. That is, populations of deer can acquire and harbor SARS-CoV-2 viral lineages, which can adapt to their new hosts and spill back over to humans, causing new waves of infection. It's conceivable that viruses moving from deer to humans could at some point qualify as new variants, potentially with the ability to dodge our immune protections built up from past infection and vaccination.

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      Scary 22% vaccine efficacy in South Africa comes with heaps of caveats

      Beth Mole · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 8 February, 2021 - 23:21

    Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

    Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto )

    Dismal preliminary data on AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa—where the B.1.351/ 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant is spreading widely—lead the government there to rethink its vaccination rollout and raised further international concern about the variant .

    But the small study has so many limitations and caveats, experts caution that drawing any conclusions from it is difficult.

    The study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed but presented in a press conference Sunday , began in June and enrolled only around 2,000 participants, about half of which received a placebo. Early in the study—before B.1.351 emerged—the vaccine appeared over 70 percent effective at preventing mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19. That is largely in line with the conclusion of an international Phase III trial released by AstraZeneca and vaccine co-developer Oxford University, which showed mixed results for the replication-deficient adenovirus-based vaccine but an overall efficacy of around 70 percent .

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      New mutation spotted in B.1.1.7 variants spells trouble for COVID vaccines

      Beth Mole · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 2 February, 2021 - 22:57 · 1 minute

    Cartoon representation of coronaviruses.

    Enlarge (credit: CDC.gov )

    As the world races to get vaccines into arms, one of the most concerning coronavirus variants appears to be getting a little more concerning.

    Researchers in the UK have detected at least 15 cases of B.1.1.7 variants carrying an additional mutation: E484K—a mutation already seen in other concerning variants , and one that may make current vaccines less effective at preventing infection. The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is already known to spread more easily among people than earlier strains of the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. And according to some preliminary evidence, it may cause more severe disease.

    So far, B.1.1.7 variants carrying E484K appear rare. On Monday, Public Health England reported in a technical briefing that it had detected E484K in just 11 B.1.1.7 variants among more than 200,000 viruses examined. For now, it’s unclear if the augmented mutants will take off and become dominant in the population or fizzle out. It’s also not entirely clear what the addition of E484K means for B.1.1.7 in people. Preliminary laboratory experiments suggest the mutation alone and its presence in B.1.1.7 specifically may help the virus evade immune responses. But more studies and clinical data are necessary to understand the full effect of the new addition.

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      Coronavirus variants: What they do and how worried you should be

      Beth Mole · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 29 January, 2021 - 00:00 · 1 minute


    Enlarge / Coronaviruses (credit: Getty | BSIP )

    Ever since the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, began jumping from human to human, it’s been mutating. The molecular machinery the virus uses to read and make copies of its genetic code isn’t great at proofreading; minor typos made in the copying process can go uncorrected. Each time the virus lands in a new human victim, it infects a cell and makes an army of clones, some carrying genetic errors. Those error-bearing clones then continue on, infecting more cells, more people. Each cycle, each infection offers more opportunity for errors. And, over time, those errors, those mutations, accumulate.

    Some of these changes are meaningless. Some are lost in the frenetic viral manufacturing. But some become permanent fixtures, passed on from virus to virus, human to human. Maybe it happens by chance; maybe it’s because the change helps the virus survive in some small way. But in aggregate, viral strains carrying one notable mutation can start carrying others. Collections of notable mutations start popping up in viral lineages, and sometimes they seem to have an edge over their relatives. That’s when these distinct viruses—these variants—get concerning.

    Scientists around the world have been closely tracking mutations and variants since the pandemic began, watching some rise and fall without much ado. But in recent months, they have become disquieted by at least three variants. These variants of concern, or VOCs, have raised critical questions—and alarm—over whether they can spread more easily than previous viral varieties, whether they can evade therapies and vaccines, or even whether they’re deadlier.

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