COVID19 update, June 10, 2020: Interview with Norwegian public health chief; tug-of-war over testing in Israel; COVID-19 outbreak on Dutch mink farms

Some quick updates after a long, busy workday.

(1) UnHerd interviews Norway’s public health chief, Camilla Stoltenberg. [Her brother is NATO Sec.Gen., father was FM of Norway]. 

At 7:30 into the video. Camilla Stoltenberg says that it was with hindsight unnecessary to close down schools.

Distance: we had 2m until recently, now we updated to 1m because so few people still have the virys

Face masks: Norway has no general mandate, and she sees no adequate reason for one.

It is interesting that she, and her Swedish colleague Anders Tegnell, started out from very different positions and converge at least partly toward each other.

(2) Israel is seeing a second ripple, if not a second wave. Pretty much nobody has the stomach for a second lockdown, so “test, track, trace” is the mantra. Haaretz reports |(h/t: Mrs. Arbel) on the tug-of-war to control the testing effort. In one corner is  the  emergency commission, led by Weizmann Institute professor Eli Waxman, which stresses efficiency and rapid turnaround. In the other corner is the healthcare bureaucracy which appears to fear encroachment on its territory., and as the remedy for its comparatively slow turnaround proposed budget and personnel increases for itself.

Honestly, I am somewhat puzzled why RT-PCR testing somehow must be under the auspices of healthcare bureaucrats when Israel has a solid biotech industry and research academia that has come up with some very creative ideas in the area of high-throughput testing.

(3) Coronavirus rips through Dutch mink farms, triggering culls to prevent human infections, reports the news section of SCIENCE magazine. (A preprint of the paper is at https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.18.101493v1 )

The mink outbreaks are “spillover” from the human pandemic—a zoonosis in reverse that has offered scientists in the Netherlands a unique chance to study how the virus jumps between species and burns through large animal populations.

But they’re also a public health problem. Genetic and epidemiological sleuthing has shown that at least two farm workers have caught the virus from mink—the only patients anywhere known to have become infected by animals. SARS-CoV-2 can infect other animals, including cats, dogs, tigers, hamsters, ferrets, and macaques, but there are no known cases of transmission from these species back into the human population.

The first two mink outbreaks were reported on 23 and 25 April at farms holding 12,000 and 7500 animals, respectively. More mink were dying than usual, and some had nasal discharge or difficulty breathing. In both cases, the virus was introduced by a farm worker who had COVID-19. Today, it has struck 12 of about 130 Dutch mink farms. Once COVID-19 reaches a farm, the virus appears to spread like wildfire, even though the animals are housed in separate cages. Scientists suspect it moves via infectious droplets, on feed or bedding, or in dust containing fecal matter.

That mink are susceptible wasn’t a surprise, because they are closely related to ferrets, says Wim van der Poel of Wageningen University & Research, which has an animal health laboratory here. (Both mink and ferrets can also contract human influenza viruses.) Like humans, infected mink can show no symptoms, or develop severe problems, including pneumonia. Mortality was negligible at one farm and almost 10% at another. “That’s strange—we don’t really understand it,” says virologist Marion Koopmans of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. Feral cats roaming the farms—and stealing the mink’s food—were found to be infected as well. 

The Netherlands is the only country so far to have reported SARS-CoV-2 in mink. In Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, “We have not recorded any similar disease or outbreaks,” says Anne Sofie Hammer, a veterinary scientist at the University of Copenhagen. Neither has China, the second largest producer, says virologist Chen Hualan of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. (Hubei, the province hardest hit by COVID-19, does not have mink farms, she notes.)

The Dutch outbreaks are giving scientists a chance to study how the virus adapts as it spreads through a large, dense population. In some other animal viruses, such conditions trigger an evolution toward a more virulent form, because the virus isn’t penalized if it kills a host animal quickly as long as it can easily jump to the next one. (Avian influenza, for instance, usually spreads as a mild disease in wild birds but can become highly pathogenic when it lands in a poultry barn.) Although SARS-CoV-2 is undergoing plenty of mutations as it spreads through mink, its virulence shows no signs of increasing.

Read the whole thing. The article also points out that mink farming, under pressure from animal rights’s groups. will be banned in the Netherlands from 2024 on anyhow, so a number of farmers may decide to throw in the towel early.

(4) How predictable. How transparent. How pathetic.

[NB: I haven’t forgotten about yesterday’s NATURE paper on NPI’s, but want to blog about it when I’m not asleep on my feet.]

 

 

 

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