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Coronavirus could worsen in winter, remain major threat through 2021, Fauci says

FILE - In this April 7, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in Washington. With New York City at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. and its native-born among those offering crucial information to the nation in televised briefings, the New York accent has stepped up to the mic. Fauci's science-based way of explaining the crisis at White House briefings has attracted untold numbers of fans, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's news conferences have become must-see TV. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert, speaks about the coronavirus on April 7. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the winter and continue to be a looming threat through much of 2021.

That is the forecast of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases expert, in a wide-ranging discussion about the pandemic that he delivered this week to the Berkeley Forum.

Fauci warned that a sense of normality post-coronavirus may not come to the U.S. until late 2021, adding that the arrival of a vaccine will not suddenly bring the U.S. lurching back. Rather, it’ll be a gradual transition over a long period of time.

Fauci offered analysis at the Thursday forum about where we stand on the pandemic — from the importance of masks to the mistakes made by colleges, the dangers of internet disinformation and the grim toll COVID-19 is taking on nonwhite communities.

Masks may be part of a return to normal for some time

The U.S. faces two problems: The vaccine won’t be 99% effective, and a substantial proportion of Americans have indicated they will not take the inoculation.

“So let’s say you have a 75% effective vaccine, and 65% to 80% of the people want to get vaccinated: You still have a lot of people in society … that are vulnerable to be infected,” Fauci said. That means “we’re going to softly go into a graded degree of normality.”

In this new normal, more types of businesses will be able to reopen. But some pandemic protections may still be needed for a longer period than others.

“Will people have to wear masks? Yes, likely,” Fauci said. “I would imagine that if we get a good vaccine now, that we could have some degree of normality in the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021.

“I think ultimately, we will get back to normality as we knew it before this. But … it’s going to be a gradual process, in which the restrictions on things — restaurant numbers, theater attendance, spectators at sports [events] — all of that will come back gradually. But it will come back.”

We could be in for a tough winter

At the moment, the U.S. is still diagnosing about 40,000 new infections of the coronavirus daily — “which is unacceptably high,” Fauci said, as the nation moves into the cooler seasons.

“We’ve got to get that down or otherwise, we’re going to have a very tough winter in the next few months,” Fauci said.

According to the Los Angeles Times’ coronavirus tracker, California has averaged about 3,300 new coronavirus cases a day for the last week — a number that’s still higher than during the initial springtime wave of cases that prompted the state’s first stay-at-home order.

Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported its highest daily count of coronavirus infections since Aug. 22, highlighting the continued dangers of the virus even as more businesses are opening up.

2014 seal flu outbreak illustrates threat of avian flus to mammals

Oct. 7 (UPI) — Scientists have identified the genetic mutations that allowed an avian flu strain to adapt to mammalian transmission, triggering an outbreak among European seals.

In 2014, an avian flu strain spread rapidly among harbor and gray seals in northern Europe, killing roughly a tenth of the population.

For the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Cell Host and Microbe, researchers exposed ferrets to different strains of H10N7, the virus subtype responsible for the 2014 seal flu outbreak.

Scientists found most avian flu strains failed to infect the ferrets, but that seal-adapted strains were successfully transmitted via the air from ferret to ferret.

The study suggests avian flu can regularly and repeatedly acquire mutations that make them more transmissible among mammals.

“Usually, these occasional introductions of avian influenza viruses in seals, like in humans, are ‘dead ends’ because the virus is not transmissible from one individual to another,” first study author Sander Herfst said in a news release.

“However, sometimes these viruses adapt to the new host and acquire the ability to be transmitted between individuals,” said Herft, an assistant professor of molecular virology and virus evolution at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Researchers suspect the 2014 outbreak, which killed some 2,500 seals, began in western Sweden when one or more seals came into contact with infected birds or virus-laden bird droppings.

“Transmission from seal to seal is likely to have occurred via aerosols or respiratory droplets, most probably whilst the seals are resting on land,” said Herfst. “However, direct contact transmission between seals can also not be excluded because seals are highly social and interact with each other regularly.”

Lab tests showed the same strains found spreading among seals were able to spread among ferrets.

“The seal-adapted virus was efficiently transmitted through the air via aerosols or droplets between ferrets, whereas the avian virus was not,” Herfst said. “These findings suggest that the mutations the avian virus underwent once it took hold within the seal population have allowed it to become transmissible via the air between mammals.”

Comparisons of avian flu strain genomes and mammal-adapted strains revealed changes to the genes responsible for the regulation of hemagglutinin, a protein on the surface of influenza viruses.

Researchers found the mutations caused the virus to prefer to attach to mammal virus receptors in the respiratory tract, rather than to avian receptors.

Because the strains isolated for the study were collected late in the 2014 outbreak, scientists suggest the mutations may have occurred after the virus was already spreading among seals.

“The mutations that we identified are similar to the ones acquired in 1957 in the first year of the H2N2 pandemic in humans,” Herfst said. “In addition, these same mutations were required to render highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the H5N1 subtype transmissible via the air between ferrets — a model organism for mammal influenza research.”

The findings suggests influenza strains may regularly adopt mutations that enable spread among mammals, the researchers said.

By understanding

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