News Scan for Jan 07, 2021

News brief

World sees little flu activity, but influenza B nudges ahead of influenza A

Despite extra efforts to test for flu against the backdrop of COVID-19, global levels remain well below expected levels for this time of year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update, which roughly covers the first half of December.

Compared with its last report, a greater proportion of the few respiratory samples that tested positive were influenza B: 62.8%, versus 50% in the previous update. Of the subtyped influenza A samples, most were H3N2, a trend seen in the WHO's earlier report.

In the Northern Hemisphere, sporadic flu cases were detected in some countries.

Some flu activity is occurring in West Africa, including in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. In tropical Asia, India reported sporadic influenza A cases, and Laos and Vietnam reported some flu circulation, mainly from H3N2.
Jan 4 WHO global flu update


Senegal reports first H5N1 outbreaks as avian flu hits India, Europe

In the latest avian flu outbreak developments, Senegal reported its first appearance of highly pathogenic H5N1 in poultry, India is probing several outbreaks involving an unspecified strain in poultry and other birds, and European countries reported more H5N8 in poultry, according to government statements and notifications from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

In Senegal, veterinary officials said H5N1 was involved in an outbreak that began Dec 23 at a layer farm in Thies region in the far west, when the farm manager noted a drop in water consumption, illness signs, and high fatality levels. The virus killed 58,000 of 100,000 susceptible birds, and the rest were culled to contain the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, India's agriculture ministry said four states are reporting avian flu detections, but it didn't say which strain. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh reported outbreaks in crows from three cities in each state, Himachal Pradesh reported an outbreak in migratory birds, and Kerala reported four outbreaks in poultry and ducks at two locations.

Elsewhere, a handful European countries reported more H5N8 outbreaks in poultry. France reported 22 more H5N8 outbreaks, all involving duck farms in Landes department in the southwest. The events began from Dec 24 to Dec 31, killing 274 of 126,104 birds.

The Netherlands reported one more outbreak, this time at a poultry farm in North Brabant province. It began on Jan 4 and led to the deaths of 100 of 18,539 birds.

Finally, Poland reported two more outbreaks in Lubelskie province involving a duck farm and turkey farm. The outbreaks began from Dec 28 to Jan 4, and, taken together, the virus killed 31,129 of 39,930 birds. In a separate report, Poland reported an outbreak on a noncommercial poultry farm in Dolnoslaskie province that started on Dec 28 and killed 51 of 195 birds.
Jan 7 OIE report on H5N1 in Senegal
Jan 6 Indian government statement on avian flu outbreaks
Jan 7 OIE report on H5N8 in France
Jan 7 OIE report on H5N8 in the Netherlands
Jan 7 OIE report on two Polish H5N8 outbreaks
Jan 7 OIE report on one Polish H5N8 outbreak

COVID-19 Scan for Jan 07, 2021

News brief

Study: Mental health of minorities especially affected during pandemic

The results of a UK mental health survey conducted before and after the start of the pandemic found that British minorities were more impacted by the pandemic, but all citizens reported an increase in mental distress, according to a study yesterday in PLOS One.

The study was based on answers to the UK Household Longitudinal Study, and authors compared responses from participants between 2017 and 2019 to responses from the same participants in April 2020, during the first lockdown in the United Kingdom. Participants were asked to rate their mental distress on a scale from 0 to 36.

Among all participants, mental distress increased from 11.28 [95% confidence interval [CI], 11.17 to 11.40] in 2017-2019 to 12.51 (95% CI, 12.38 to 12.63) in April 2020, a 0.21 standard-deviation increase (95% CI,0.19, 0.23).

"Women and Black, Asian, and minority ethnic men experienced a higher average increase in mental distress than White British men from 2017-2019 to April 2020," the authors said in a press release.

The reasons are multifactorial, the authors wrote: Minorities were more likely to live in urban centers hit hardest by the pandemic, live in larger households, and report having pre-existing health conditions. Overall, the authors suggest lockdown measures and physical distancing affected minorities more than whites.
Jan 6 PLOS One
Jan 6 PLOS
press release


Isolation plagues seniors with cognitive impairment in COVID lockdowns

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened feelings of loneliness and entrapment for some older adults with cognitive impairment who live alone—some of whom say they wish they would just get the virus and die, according to a University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) study published yesterday in The Gerontologist.

Shortly after the pandemic and related lockdowns began, the researchers started conducting phone interviews with 24 San Francisco Bay residents who were, on average, 82 years old.

Some participants lived in cramped or uncomfortable homes, where they said they felt "trapped," and some struggled with misinformation about COVID-19. Pandemic-related lockdowns precluded most from seeing friends at worship services, senior centers, or restaurants.

One study participant reported feeling "fed up with the life that I have been given," while another, who had Alzheimer's disease, viewed the virus as "an escape plan." For some, long lines at stores triggered memories of war or starvation, and some cited fears of death or racial attacks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

Participants who had family support were likely to have lower levels of distress, and home health aides were recognized as providing invaluable companionship and assistance. Unfortunately, though, the US government covers aides' services only for those with medical conditions and very low incomes.

Seventeen participants were women, 13 spoke only Spanish or Cantonese, 18 were divorced or widowed, 10 relied on family for care, 8 depended on home health aides, and 6 needed the care of both family and aides.

"This is a demographic at high risk for loneliness and distress, as well as negative health outcomes, even before the pandemic," lead author Elena Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH, said in a UCSF press release. "Some participants were particularly distressed, two of them had had suicidal ideation before the pandemic, yet they received little or no support for their mental health."

The authors called for establishment of a "therapeutic alliance" of home health aides, social workers, case managers, and mental health providers for the 4.3 million older Americans with cognitive impairment who live alone. "These services are critical for maintaining the health and wellbeing of older adults living alone with cognitive impairment," coauthor Julene Johnson, PhD, said in the release.
Jan 6 Gerontologist study
Jan 6 UCSF press release

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