Sunday, December 26, 2021

Prediction Omicron will soon be ‘pretty much gone’ in nation where it was discovered

Experts predict Omicron will have fizzled out in South Africa, where it was initially discovered, within weeks in a huge boost to morale for the rest of the world.

Infections have spiralled in the past week and admissions failed to reach expected levels, as hospitals “never reached capacity”, The Sun reports.

A string of hugely positive studies show Omicron is milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.

South African scientists are confident the Omicron outbreak there is receding and may last a total of just a couple of months.

There was a sudden steep rise in cases from close to zero in mid-November to an average of 10,000 daily cases early in December, after the variant was first detected there.

That then fell sharply to around 5000 per day on average.

Francois Venter, a medical professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, predicted that at the current rate of decline, Omicron would “be pretty much gone” from all of South Africa by the end of January, The Times reports.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who leads the country’s pandemic response, said he expected “almost every other (country) to follow the same trajectory”.

He told The Washington Post: “If previous variants caused waves shaped like Kilimanjaro, Omicron’s is more like we were scaling the north face of Everest.”

But John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control, said to “be careful not to extrapolate what we are seeing in South Africa across the continent, or across the world”.

Dr Waasila Jassat, of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said: “We saw a very rapid rise in cases and an early peak — and the indications are that since then we’ve had a remarkable drop.”

NICD’s latest report shows that cases up to December 18 have dropped nationally by 20.8 per cent in one week.

In the Gauteng Province, which was the epicentre of the variant, cases have significantly come down by almost half (46 per cent), with drops of between six and 40 per cent in other provinces.

NICD’s Michelle Groome told a news briefing: “Really we feel that this has persisted for over a week and that we are past the peak in Gauteng.” But she cautioned there could be lower cases because people are less likely to come forward for testing during the holiday period.

The nation has been at “alert level one” of a five-tier lockdown strategy since October, with mask mandates, a curfew from midnight to 4am, and ban on indoor gatherings of more than 750 people.

The data suggest Omicron peaked within one month of first being detected, with the impact on healthcare being less severe than previous waves.

While hospital admission have risen, they have so far remained far below the levels seen during previous waves of the pandemic.

Deaths were also and people with Omicron stay in hospital for shorter periods – suggesting, again, milder disease – Dr Jassat said


Copenhagen: Early benchmarks from Denmark on infections and hospitalisations are providing grounds for guarded optimism that highly vaccinated countries might be able to weather the omicron wave

The developments, coupled with Denmark’s speedy rollout of booster shots, have raised hopes the country can avoid the dire surge for which it has been bracing.

“It’s too early to relax, but it’s encouraging that we are not following the worst-case scenario,” said Tyra Grove Krause, the chief epidemiologist at Denmark’s State Serum Institute.

Denmark’s detailed nationwide program for coronavirus testing and analysis gives its scientists a trove of real-time data about the pandemic. Because of that – and because it was one of the first countries outside of Africa to witness Omicron’s explosive potential – it has turned into a European bellwether for what to expect with the omicron variant.

And over the last week, the country has fared better than it was expecting. After surging to record-breaking levels, the number of daily cases has stabilised. Officials recorded 12,500 cases on Thursday, compared to 11,000 late last week.

More important, hospitalisations have come in – so far – on the very low end of what was projected. A week ago, Denmark’s government science institute was said daily new coronavirus hospital admissions could range between 120 and 250 patients by Christmas Eve. In recent days, daily admissions have hung around 125. “That is quite promising,” Grove Krause said.

The early signals from Denmark do not provide any direct measure on the severity of the variant, one of the key questions in this phase of the pandemic. But they track with other emerging data and studies from Britain and South Africa that suggest omicron is less likely to lead to hospitalisation than the Delta variant.

Scientists caution that there are still many uncertainties, and that even if Omicron is less likely to cause hospitalisation, its increased transmissibility means countless sicknesses and disruptions. The virus could also spread so widely that it nonetheless leads to an influx at hospitals.

Concerns remain about the health system in Denmark, Grove Krause said, because Omicron infections are still disproportionately concentrated among the young. For now, Grove Krause said, temporary school closures and social precautions have helped slow the spread – but the country could still see a spike after holiday gatherings that bring together the young and old.

Even as cases have slowed, there are other signs of Omicron’s potential to cause chaos. Over the last two weeks, the number of cases among healthcare workers has more than doubled. A weekly government monitoring report said there had also been two Omicron outbreaks in nursing homes.

Since Omicron emerged in November, scientists have been racing to understand the implications and make sense of a variant that is moving far more quickly than its predecessors.

A few data points emerged this week, with one Scottish study suggesting the risk of hospitalisation was almost 60 per cent less with Omicron than delta. Another analysis, conducted by Imperial College London, said people with Omicron cases were 20 per cent less likely to go the hospital, and 40 per cent less likely to be hospitalised overnight. And South Africa, epicentre of the first apparent outbreak, has seen much lower hospitalisation rates than in other waves.

Even if that level of protection dips over time, boosters “can help us through the next months,” Grove Krause said


Two Common Over-the-Counter Compounds Reduce COVID-19 Virus Replication by 99% in Early Testing

A pair of over-the-counter compounds has been found in preliminary tests to inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19, University of Florida Health researchers have found.

The combination includes diphenhydramine, an antihistamine used for allergy symptoms. When paired with lactoferrin, a protein found in cow and human milk, the compounds were found to hinder the SARS-CoV-2 virus during tests in monkey cells and human lung cells.

The findings by David A. Ostrov, Ph.D., an immunologist and associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine and his colleagues, are published in the journal Pathogens.

“We found out why certain drugs are active against the virus that causes COVID-19. Then, we found an antiviral combination that can be effective, economical, and has a long history of safety,” Ostrov said.

Due to his earlier research with colleagues at UF, Ostrov already knew diphenhydramine was potentially effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The latest discovery has its roots in a routine meeting of scientists with the Global Virus Network’s COVID-19 task force. One researcher presented unpublished data on federally approved compounds that inhibit SARS-CoV-2 activity, including lactoferrin.

Like diphenhydramine, lactoferrin is available without a prescription. Ostrov thought about pairing it with diphenhydramine and ran with the idea. In lab tests on human and monkey cells, the combination was particularly potent: Individually, the two compounds each inhibited SARS-CoV-2 virus replication by about 30%. Together, they reduced virus replication by 99%.

The findings, Ostrov said, are a first step in developing a formulation that could be used to accelerate COVID-19 recovery. It also raises the prospect of further study through an academic-corporate partnership for human clinical trials focused on COVID-19 prevention. Additional research into the compounds’ effectiveness for COVID-19 prevention is already underway in mouse models.

To establish their findings, the research team focused on proteins expressed in human cells known as sigma receptors. In COVID-19 cases, the virus “hijacks” stress-response machinery, including sigma receptors, in order to replicate in the body. Interfering with that signaling appears to be the key to inhibiting the virus’s potency. “We now know the detailed mechanism of how certain drugs inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Ostrov said.

Data from the experiments show that a highly specific sigma receptor binding drug candidate (with pain relieving properties), and formulated combinations of over-the-counter products (such as diphenhydramine and lactoferrin) have the potential to inhibit virus infection and decrease recovery time from COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

While the findings are encouraging, Ostrov cautions against self-medicating with either diphenhydramine or lactoferrin as a COVID-19 prevention or treatment. The type of lactoferrin used in the research differs slightly from the type that is commonly available to consumers, he noted. Lactoferrin is commonly used as a supplement to treat stomach and intestinal ulcers, among other uses.




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