CEPI, Oxford launch project to develop arenavirus vaccines

News brief

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford today announced the launch of a new project to develop prototype vaccines against Junin virus, which the groups said is part of a plan to give the scientific community a head start in developing vaccines against arenaviruses.

Lassa virus
Lassa virus, shown here budding off a cell, is also an arenavirus family member.

NIAID/Flickr cc

Junin virus, a member of the New World arenavirus family, causes Argentine hemorrhagic fever. The disease is spread by rodents and is endemic in Argentina's Pampas region, but the risk area is expanding due to encroachment into rodent habitats. Related viruses in South America include Chapare virus in Bolivia and Guanarito virus in Venezuela. Old World arenaviruses are also a threat and include the virus that causes Lassa fever, one of CEPI's priority pathogens.

For the project announced today, CEPI will provide Oxford with $25 million to complete early prototypes of viral vector and mRNA vaccines against Junin virus and improve the speed and scale-up of the ChAdOx viral vector technology. The project is part of an $80 million broader partnership between CEPI and Oxford that was announced in August to support multiple vaccine development projects to head off future epidemic threats, part of CEPI’s 100 Days Mission.

It is this wider impact that could crucially help the world develop and manufacture safe, affordable vaccines at speed.

Teresa Lambe, PhD, who is leading the project at Oxford, said in the news release that the work will set the stage for vaccine development across a broader group of arenaviruses. "It is this wider impact that could crucially help the world develop and manufacture safe, affordable vaccines at speed, preparing us for future pandemic threats."

People 50 and older saw cognitive declines in the first 2 years of the pandemic

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Older woman looking into mirror
Sima Dimitric / Flickr cc

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people 50 years and older in a UK cohort experienced significant cognitive decline—even if they were never infected, reveals a study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

University of Exeter researchers analyzed neuropsychologic data from 3,142 participants aged 50 and older before the pandemic (March 2019 to February 2020) and during the pandemic's first (March 2020 to February 2021) and second (March 2021 to February 2022) years. The average participant age was 67.5 years.

Less exercise, more alcohol use, loneliness

In the first pandemic year, executive function and working memory were significantly worse across the cohort (effect size, 0.15 for executive function and 0.51 for working memory) and in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI; effect size, 0.13 and 0.40) or a history of COVID-19 (effect size, 0.24 and 0.46). In the second year, impaired working memory persisted across the cohort (effect size, 0.47).

Risk factors included less exercise (P = 0.0049; executive function) and increased alcohol use (P = 0.049; working memory) across the whole cohort, as well as depression (P = 0.011; working memory) in those who tested positive for COVID-19 and loneliness (P = 0.0038; working memory) in those with MCI.

In the second year, less exercise continued to affect executive function across the cohort, and associations persisted between worsened working memory and increased alcohol use (P = 0.0040), loneliness (P = 0.042), and depression (P = 0.014) in those with MCI and reduced exercise (P = 0.0029), loneliness (P = 0.031) and depression (P = 0.036) in those who had COVID-19.

Risk factors included less exercise and increased alcohol use across the whole cohort, as well as depression in those who tested positive for COVID-19 and loneliness in those with mild cognitive impairment.

"It is now more important than ever to make sure we are supporting people with early cognitive decline, especially because there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia later on," lead author Anne Corbett, PhD, said in a University of Exeter press release.

In a related commentary, Dorina Cadar, PhD, of University College London, said, "Looking back, COVID-19 has revealed the astonishing vulnerability of our societies, but also the lack of strategy and organisation from so many governments worldwide, and our shared fragility when confronted with infections."

California confirms 2nd local dengue case

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For the second time in 2 weeks, California has reported a local dengue case, this time involving a patient from Long Beach, city officials announced yesterday.

dengue Aedes
frank600  iStock

The patient has recovered at home, and no other illnesses have been detected. The Long Beach health department is carefully monitoring the situation and has alerted health providers to be aware of dengue symptoms. In a statement, Mayor Rex Richardson urged people to remove standing water from their property and to help control mosquitoes in neighborhoods. Officials also urged the public to avoid bites from Aedes mosquitoes.

Anissa Davis, MD, MPH, the city’s health officer, said outreach teams are visiting the neighborhood where the infection occurred. So far, the virus hasn't been found in testing of mosquito populations. The city is coordinating efforts with the California Department of Public Health, the Pasadena Health Department, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

On October 20, Pasadena’s public health department announced a local dengue case, the first in the state. People who contract the virus in locations abroad where the disease is endemic can introduce the virus to local mosquito populations. Earlier this year, Florida, Texas, Maryland, and Arkansas reported local cases. Florida is the only state that regularly reports sporadic cases and has reported 98 cases this year, mostly in Miami-Dade County.

Sales of veterinary antibiotics for food-animals hit new lows in UK

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Pig farmers and veterinarians
ScotGov Rural, Sarah Wood / Flickr cc

Sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals in the United Kingdom have fallen to the lowest levels ever recorded, according to a report yesterday from the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

The figures published in the UK-Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) 2022 report show that sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in food-producing animals, adjusted by animal population, fell by 9% from 2021 and have declined by 59% since 2014, the first year such figures were publicly reported.

Veterinary sales of the highest-priority critically important antibiotics, which are considered critical for human medicine, have fallen by 82% since 2014 and represented less than 0.5% of total sales in 2022.

Antibiotic use fell across most food-animal and farmed-fish species in 2022, with small increases observed in broiler chickens and trout. The pig industry remains the highest-using sector but has still seen a 74% decline in antibiotic sales since 2014.

The report also shows an increase in the proportion of Escherichia coli isolates from healthy pigs and chickens at slaughter that were fully susceptible to a panel of antibiotics, a small decline in the proportion of pigs and chicken carrying E coli with resistance genes for third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins, and an increase in fully susceptible Salmonella isolates from chickens.

Shared commitment to antibiotic stewardship

UK officials say the declines are a testament to a shared commitment to antibiotic stewardship among UK farmers and veterinarians.

"Antibiotic stewardship is embedded in UK farming and responsible use is essential to maintaining our high animal health and welfare standards," VMD Chief Executive Officer Abi Seager said in news release. "I’m encouraged that our vets and farmers continue to make reductions in their antibiotic prescribing and use."

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