News Scan for Mar 30, 2021

News brief

Study shows deeper COVID impact in socially vulnerable neighborhoods

An analysis of neighborhood-level data in three US cities highlights the racial and socioeconomic disparities in COVID-19 positivity, incidence, and mortality, researchers reported today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers from Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health used data on the total numbers of tests, confirmed cases, and deaths by ZIP code tabulation area (ZCTA) of residence from Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia from the beginning of the pandemic through early October 2020.

They calculated testing rates, positivity ratio, confirmed case rates, and mortality rates per ZCTA, then compared those rates with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) scores for those areas. The SVI uses four domains—socioeconomic status, household composition and stability, minority status and language, and housing status and transportation—to determine a community's ability to prevent human suffering and financial loss in the event of a disaster.

The results showed that testing, positive case rates, total confirmed cases, and deaths were all correlated by ZIP code, with clusters of low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods having higher rates of COVID-19 positivity, confirmed cases, and mortality and lower rates of testing than wealthier, predominantly White neighborhoods. For example, the west and south sides of Chicago—areas of concentrated poverty with a history of racial segregation—saw significant clusters of high positivity, confirmed cases, and mortality, while the wealthier central and north sides had high testing but low positivity, confirmed cases, and mortality.

Similar trends were seen in New York and Philadelphia, although SVI was not consistently associated with mortality in Philadelphia.

"We've been documenting the potential existence of these disparities from the early days of the pandemic," lead author Usama Bilal, PhD, MD, an assistant professor in Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health, said in a Drexel University press release. "Now we have comprehensive data on some of the deadly effects from residential segregation, structural and environmental racism, and economic injustice in the ongoing pandemic."
Mar 30 Ann Intern Med study
Mar 29 Drexel University press release


CARB-X to fund development of gonorrhea vaccine

CARB-X announced today that it is awarding the Jenner Institute at Oxford University up to $2 million to develop a novel gonorrhea vaccine.

The funding will support optimization work and scale-up of Jenner's vaccine candidate, dmGC_0817560 NOMV, which is in early development. The hope is that the vaccine will induce protective immunity against gonorrhea that will prevent individuals from developing the disease and will also interrupt the spread of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 78 million people a year are infected with gonorrhea, and only one class of antibiotics remains effective in treating the disease. An estimated 550,000 gonorrhea infections in the United States and United Kingdom involve drug-resistant gonorrhea strains.

The Jenner Institute will be eligible for an additional $5.3 million from CARB-X (the Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator) if certain project milestones are reached.

"Vaccines are powerful tools in the prevention of bacterial infections," CARB-X Chief of Research and Development Erin Duffy, PhD, said in a CARB-X press release. "Jenner's vaccine project is an exciting approach which, if successful, could prevent the disease, and significantly curb the spread of resistant bacteria across the globe."

Since its launch in 2016, CARB-X has announced 82 awards and committed more than $305 million to early development of new antibiotics, vaccines, therapeutics, and rapid diagnostic tests targeting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Mar 30 CARB-X press release


Militants kill 3 polio workers in Afghanistan

Attackers in Afghanistan killed three polio vaccination workers today in two locations in Jalalabad, an official from the country's health ministry told Reuters.

Two were volunteers and one was a supervisor in the polio immunization program, and all were women. So far, no group has claimed responsibility.

Also, and explosion occurred at the entrance of Nangarhar province's health department, but no one was injured. Polio vaccinators in Afghanistan and Pakistan have often been the targets of militant groups.

The killings come just days after Afghanistan launched its second polio vaccination drive of the year, targeting 9.9 million children younger than 5 years old.
Mar 30 Reuters story
Mar 29 CIDRAP News scan


Avian flu strikes more birds in the UK and France

In the latest avian flu developments, the United Kingdom reported another highly pathogenic H5N8 event in poultry, as well as a low-pathogenic outbreak at a turkey farm. Also, France reported a highly pathogenic H5N1 detection in a wild goose, according to official statements and notifications from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

In Britain, the H5N8 outbreak was reported at a broiler farm in East Staffordshire on Mar 27 and confirmed as highly pathogenic 2 days later, according to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Also, low-pathogenic H5N3 was confirmed at a commercial turkey farm in Cheshire West and Chester on Mar 26. A related OIE report said H5N3 was last reported by UK officials in January 2020, and in the current outbreak 4,540 birds were slated for culling.

Meanwhile, animal health officials in France reported the first detection of highly pathogenic H5N1, which involved a wild goose found dead in Normandy department. The outbreak began on Mar 17. The bird was found as part of wildlife mortality monitoring network. Officials said several clades of are circulating locally in the seaside area, which is in a wildlife migration region.
Mar 28 and 29 DEFRA update
Mar 27 OIE report on H5N3 in the UK
Mar 27 OIE report on H5N1 in France

This week's top reads

Our underwriters