LONDON: A third patient in Britain has contracted a new SARS-like virus, becoming the second confirmed British case in a week and showing the deadly infection is being spread from person to person, health officials said on Wednesday.
The latest case, in a man from the same family as another patient, brings the worldwide number of confirmed infections with the new virus – known as novel coronavirus, or NCoV – to 11.
Of those, five have died. Most of the infected lived or had recently been in the Middle East. Three have been diagnosed in Britain.
NCoV was identified when the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued an international alert in September 2012 saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a Qatari man who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.
The virus belongs to the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – a coronavirus that emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide. Symptoms common to both viruses include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said the latest patient, who is a UK resident and does not have any recent travel history, is in intensive care at a hospital in central England.
“Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK,” said John Watson, the HPA’s head of respiratory diseases.
He said the new case was a family member in close contact with another British case confirmed on Monday and who may have been at greater risk because of underlying health conditions.
The WHO said although this latest case shows evidence of person-to-person transmission, it still believes “the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission appears to be very low”.
RISK VERY LOW, BUT VIRUSES CAN MUTATE
Coronaviruses are typically spread like other respiratory infections such as flu, travelling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Yet since NCoV was identified in September, evidence of person-to-person transmission has been limited.
Watson said the fact it probably had taken place in the latest two cases in Britain gave no reason for increased alarm.
“If novel coronavirus were more infectious, we would have expected to have seen a larger number of cases than we have seen since the first case was reported three months ago.
Tom Wilkinson, a senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at Britain’s University of Southampton, said that if NCoV turned out to be like the previous SARS outbreak, it may prove quite slow to spread from one human to another.
“But it’s early days to make any definite statements because viruses can change and mutate very rapidly, so what is right today may be wrong tomorrow,” he told Reuters.
Based on the current situation, the WHO said all member states should continue surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections and investigate any unusual patterns.
“Testing for the new coronavirus should be considered in patients with unexplained pneumonias, or in patients with unexplained severe, progressive or complicated respiratory illness not responding to treatment,” it said in a statement.
The WHO said on Monday that the confirmation of a new British case did not alter its risk assessment but “does indicate that the virus is persistent”.
The British patient confirmed on Monday had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and is in intensive care in a separate British hospital, the HPA said.
Among the 11 laboratory confirmed cases to date, five are in Saudi Arabia, with three deaths; two are in Jordan, where both patients died; three are in Britain, where all three are receiving treatment; and one was in Germany in a patient from Qatar who had since been discharged from medical care.
The WHO said at this stage there is no need for travel or trade restrictions, or for special screening at border points.
PARIS: A genetically-engineered virus tested in 30 terminally-ill liver cancer patients significantly prolonged their lives, killing tumours and inhibiting the growth of new ones, scientists reported on Sunday.
Sixteen patients given a high dose of the therapy survived for 14.1 months on average, compared to 6.7 months for the 14 who got the low dose.
“For the first time in medical history we have shown that a genetically-engineered virus can improve survival of cancer patients,” study co-author David Kirn told AFP.
The four-week trial with the vaccine Pexa-Vec or JX-594, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, may hold promise for the treatment of advanced solid tumours.
“Despite advances in cancer treatment over the past 30 years with chemotherapy and biologics, the majority of solid tumours remain incurable once they are metastatic (have spread to other organs),” the authors wrote.
There was a need for the development of “more potent active immunotherapies”, they noted.
Pexa-Vec “is designed to multiply in and subsequently destroy cancer cells, while at the same time making the patients’ own immune defence system attack cancer cells also,” said Kirn from California-based biotherapy company Jennerex.
“The results demonstrated that Pexa-Vec treatment at both doses resulted in a reduction of tumour size and decreased blood flow to tumours,” said a Jennerex statement.
“The data further demonstrates that Pexa-Vec treatment induced an immune response against the tumour.”
Pexa-Vec has been engineered from the vaccinia virus, which has been used as a vaccine for decades, including in the eradication of smallpox.
The trial showed Pexa-Vec to be well tolerated both at high and low doses, with flu-like symptoms lasting a day or two in all patients and severe nausea and vomiting in one.
The authors said a larger trial has to confirm the results. A follow-up phase with about 120 patients is already underway.
Pexa-Vec is also being tested in other types of cancer tumours.
IBM’s Watson supercomputer has beaten expert “Jeopardy” quiz show contestants, and its predecessor defeated a world chess champion. Now, doctors hope it can help them outsmart cancer.
Oncologists at two medical groups have started to test IBM’s Watson’s supercomputer system in an effort to improve speed and efficacy of treatments, the company said on Friday.
The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Westmed Medical Group will begin testing an application based on Watson’s cognitive computing to help diagnose lung cancer and recommend treatment, IBM said.
“Access to comprehensive care can be difficult in rural areas such as southern Maine,” said Tracey Weisberg, medical oncology president at Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Blood Disorders.
“This allows the most comprehensive evidence based treatment we could have only dreamed of in the past,” she added.
Watson is an artificial intelligence super computer system named after legendary International Business Machines President Thomas Watson.
Thanks to its computing power Watson can sift through 1.5 million patient records and histories to provide treatment options in a matter of seconds based on previous treatment outcomes and patient histories.
It has been fed with more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research, IBM said.
In addition, IBM partnered with clinicians and technology experts from health insurer WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who spent thousands of hours to teach Watson how to process, analyze and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information, IBM said.
“Every doctor knows they cannot keep up with hundreds of new articles but every physician wants to be right and this is a way of facilitating that,” said Samuel Nussbaum, chief medical officer at WellPoint.
IBM first showcased Watson’s powers almost two years ago.
The computer beat two human competitors on the popular US quiz show “Jeopardy!” highlighting the progress people have made in making machines able to think like them.
IBM has since further advanced Watson’s linguistic and analytical abilities to develop new products such as medical diagnosis.
WASHINGTON: For pregnant women, breathing in air pollution from vehicles, heating and coal power plants increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby, an international study said Wednesday.
The research, the most extensive of its kind on the link between air pollution and fetal development, found that the higher the pollution, the greater the rate of children born with a low weight. It was published in the US journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Scientists analyzed data from more than three million births in nine nations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Most of the data was collected from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, with some obtained earlier.
Low birth weight — below 5.5 pounds, or 2.5 kilograms — is linked to serious health problems, including a higher risk of complications or death in the weeks right after birth, as well as chronic health problems later in life, said lead author Payam Dadvand of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona.
Co-lead investigator Tracey Woodruff said the pollution is ubiquitous.
“What’s significant is that these are air pollution levels to which practically everyone in the world is commonly exposed,” said Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco.
“These microscopic particles, which are smaller than the width of a human hair, are in the air that we all breathe.”
But she noted that nations with tighter air pollution restrictions have lower levels of the pollutants.
“In the United States, we have shown over the last several decades that the benefits to health and well-being from reducing air pollution are far greater than the costs,” Woodruff added. “This is a lesson that all nations can learn from.”
Under the Clean Air Act, the US limits primary particle pollution to an average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air a year for particles measuring less than 2.5 microns.
The limit stands at 25 micrograms per cubic meter in the European Union, and environmental protection agencies are weighing whether to lower that level.
In Beijing, the concentration of these particles was recently measured at more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter.
Thick smog choked the Chinese capital and vast swathes of northern China last month, blamed on emissions from coal-burning power stations and exhaust fumes from vehicles on choked streets.
“From the perspective of world health, levels like this are obviously completely unsustainable,” said study co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of CREAL.
An epidemiological study of some of the children included in the data is investigating whether these pregnancy exposures can have an impact in their later years.
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: Shane Shillingford destroyed an inept Zimbabwe batting line-up to set the West Indies on the way to a comprehensive nine-wicket win inside three days in the first Test on Thursday.
Picking up from where he left off the previous evening when he took two wickets in two overs, the tall off-spinner added four more victims to finish with innings figures of six for 49 — and a match analysis of nine for 107 — as the visitors were routed for 107 in their second innings just before the interval.
Left with the academic task of scoring 12 runs for victory, debutant seamer Tendai Chatara claimed the wicket of Kieran Powell to a catch at gully, delaying the formality of victory until after the break when Chris Gayle hit the winning runs.
Following 2-0 series triumphs at home to New Zealand last July/August and in Bangladesh last November, this result gave the West Indies five consecutive Test wins for the first time since the all-powerful squad led by Viv Richards completed the feat in 1988.
They will now be heavily favoured to make it six in a row at the expense of a Zimbabwean side woefully short of international exposure at this level.
Shillingford, who was named man of the match, wasted no time at the start of the third day, having struggling captain Brendan Taylor caught at short-leg for six in the first over.
Kemar Roach knocked out the middle stump
When Malcolm Waller fell to another close-in catch by Powell, his fifth of the match, off Shillingford, it appeared that the West Indies would have completed an innings victory with the score at 58 for six.
At that stage, Zimbabwe were still 38 away from making the home side bat again.
However an unbeaten 23 from Craig Ervine at least ensured that indignity was avoided, and while Shillingford accounted for Regis Chakabva and Graeme Cremer among the lower order, it was left to fast bowler Shannon Gabriel to polish off the innings with the wickets of Kyle Jarvis and Chatara in the space of three deliveries.
INDIAN WELLS: Rafael Nadal continued his return from injury with a straight-sets triumph over defending champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters on Thursday.
Nadal broke Federer three times in the second set en route to a 6-4, 6-2 victory over the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who has yet to win a title in 2013.
The Spaniard, who returned from a seven-month injury absence in February, next plays sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over South African Kevin Anderson.