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Shellfish deaths possibly caused by new disease – report

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A disease or parasite new to UK waters may have caused the deaths of thousands of shellfish along the North East and North Yorkshire coast, a report said.

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A panel of 12 experts found it was “about as likely as not” a new pathogen caused the die-off in late 2021.

They said it was “very unlikely” regular dredging of the River Tees caused it, while capital dredging was “exceptionally unlikely”.

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They also ruled out the chemical pyridine as “very unlikely”.

And an algal bloom was “unlikely” to be the cause, however, current data, they said, “cannot be definitive”.

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The government previously blamed harmful algae, while fishers commissioned a report which suggested it was due to pyridine, an industrial chemical.

‘Twitching’ dying creatures

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That previous academic research, backed by the fishing industry, had suggested the deaths could have been caused by the chemical, possibly from dredging in the mouth of the River Tees to maintain channels for port traffic.

The mass die-off of marine life on 40 miles (70km) of coastline from Hartlepool to Whitby saw crustaceans washed ashore between October and December 2021, with dying creatures “twitching” and displaying lethargic behaviour.

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Although there was no direct evidence of a disease or parasite, the new report added that theory would explain this movement in the shellfish.

But it said it was possible a combination of factors – rather than one considered by the panel – could have led to the “unusual” deaths.
Hundreds of dead shellfish on the beach at SaltburnImage source, Joe Redfern

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The panel was established with experts from academia and industry with a “range of knowledge and experience”, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Tammy Horton, of the National Oceanography Centre, who was one of the 12 experts said the process had been “interesting but frustrating”.

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“I wish we could have come up with a conclusion but none of it is definitive,” she said.

“We’ve come up with more questions than answers.

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“We’ve been able to rule things out but we haven’t been able to confidently rule things in.

“We haven’t found evidence of a new pathogen – we’re just saying there could be a new pathogen.”

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She added it was “highly unlikely” a pathogen that affected crabs could pose a threat to human health.

The panel said there was the possibility to re-examine samples taken in 2021, although it added it “may not be feasible”.

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Another of the panel’s experts, Crispin Hallsall, an environmental chemist at Lancaster University, said his laboratory had not done additional analysis.

‘Explore all avenues’

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“We only came together in December,” he said.

“This is a desk-based study. We’ve tried to explore all those avenues.”

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However, he said this report “puts the pyridine story to bed”.

MPs probing the crustacean deaths previously criticised the government-commissioned investigation for a “lack of transparency”.

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The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee had expressed concerns over a lack of transparency and communication about the report, including – at the time – revealing which experts were chosen to make up the panel.

The report said pathogens known to cause similar symptoms had caused crustaceans to die around the world.

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It said no significant pathogens were identified in the North East case but “full molecular screening was not conducted at the time of the initial investigation”.

Fisherman Adrian Noble

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Defra chief scientific adviser Gideon Henderson said the report – by “leading marine scientists” – was “unable to identify a single clear cause” but had pointed to those more likely to explain the outbreak.

Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland’s Conservative MP, said it was now “definitively clear” the deaths were not caused by “either capital or maintenance dredging of the Tees or anything else associated with the Teesworks site”.

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He said it was a “concern” investigators had suggested an unknown pathogen was to blame, adding: “There is now more to be done to investigate this and also to look at the support that we can offer our local fishermen to recover.”

Fishermen, including Adrian Noble in Whitby, had described the situation with the die-offs as “horrendous”.

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Redcar Conservative MP Jacob Young said that after the “apocalyptic scenes” seen on the beaches, “our focus should now turn to how we help support our fisherman rebuild the industry on Teesside”

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Nigerian researchers hand over Covid-19 vaccine for pre-clinical trial

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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Nigerian researchers engaged in the Tertiary Education Trust Fund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project at Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, have successfully handed over the Covid-19 DNA vaccine candidate for preclinical trials in Nigeria.

The academics, in a symbolic handover of the vaccine candidate in Sokoto for trial, said despite the numerous challenges faced during the procurement of some of the consumables, equipment and reagents from abroad, within 11 months of the receipt of the first tranche of TETFund grant, the vaccine was ready.

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Speaking at the “Presentation of Milestone on the TETFund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project,” Vice Chancellor of Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, Prof Lawal Suleman Bilbis, said the handing over of a vaccine candidate for trials goes a long way to showcase the ability of indigenous scientists to solve the nation’s problems using home-grown resources and facilities.

Bilbis also said the “milestone portrays our expertise in the application of state-of-the art technologies to rapidly develop vaccine candidates against any emerging or re-emerging Infectious diseases in Nigeria.”

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He assured that the nation is very close to reaping the benefits of the investment and confidence bestowed upon us, adding that they will converge in the next few months to celebrate the successful completion of this project.

“Let me at this juncture Inform the Executive Secretary that through the support of TETFUND, researchers in this University have been able to work on many other high-impact projects that are already yielding promising results.

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“As I speak, we have successfully designed and constructed a recombinant DNA vaccine targeting all the lineages of Lassa virus circulating in Nigeria, using a TETFUND National Research Fund (NRF) grant. Additionally, TETFUND Covid-19 Special Intervention Research Grant has supported our study on the innovative approach to rapidly identify potential therapeutics for COVID-19.

“The study identified 7 orthodox medicines for repurposing and 2 herbal medicines with significant inhibitory activities against the virus that causes COVID-19. Indeed, there are many more TETFund-supported projects, too numerous to mention, which are helping our researchers to showcase their talents and skills, while at the same time, assisting to solve the nation’s problems. We remain extremely grateful to TETFUND for its support,” he said.

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The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc Sonny Echono, on his part commended the efforts and output by Usman Danfodio University in terms of research and Development, adding that the University has succeeded in accessing over 35 NRF grants over the years, placing it among the best performing Institutions in accessing the National Research Fund, NRF.

Echono appealed to Nigerian researchers not to relent on the overarching goal of delivering a homemade Covid-19 vaccine.

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The TETFund boss also disclosed that the mega research project is one out of four projects supported by the fund at a total sum of N1,250,000,000.

He said the aim of the research is to “strengthen collaborative research by promoting decentralized cooperation involving clusters of researchers from different institutions to consolidate problem-solving research and promote Innovation in Nigeria.”

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According to him, TETFund has been making concerted efforts to identify more innovative ways of using government and donor funding in research programmes and projects for maximum developmental impact.

“This Project has shown that collaboration among stakeholders, each adding value from their area of specialization to address issues of national priority will achieve the desired goals towards national development and tackling of developmental challenges.

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“It also indicates to us that we are moving in the right direction, as one of the mandates of the Fund’s R&D department is to promote multi- disciplinary research that will increase stakeholders’ participation in developmental matters,” he said.

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Nigeria at very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission –NCDC warns

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has warned that the country is at a very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission.

In a statement issued on Monday, the agency stated that it has activated the national multi-sectoral emergency operations centre for Lassa fever (LF-EOC) at level 2 to coordinate and strengthen ongoing response activities in the country.

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According to the NCDC, the operations centre was activated following a risk assessment carried out on January 20 by its experts and relevant stakeholders.

“The outcome of the risk assessment placed the country at a very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission due to an unprecedented upward trend in the number of confirmed cases being reported compared to previous years, increased number of states reporting cases in comparison to previous years and increased risk of healthcare worker infections and deaths due to Lassa fever infection,” the statement reads.

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“Infection and death among the healthcare workers accounted for 5 and 1 of the confirmed cases and deaths respectively, highlighting the need for an increased index of suspicion among healthcare workers.”

The NCDC said the purpose of emergency operations centre activation was to achieve a coordinated national response and reduce suffering and death due to the disease.

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“Ahead of the projected rise of Lassa fever cases and as the country began to witness a rise in cases in the last week on November 2022, the NCDC prepositioned supplies for case management, infection prevention and control, laboratory diagnosis, etc. in all historical Lassa fever hotspots in the country.”

“This was complemented by correspondence sent to the Honourable Commissioners of Health, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, State Ministries of Health, and respective professional bodies of healthcare workers to alert and sensitize them on the situation as well as to advocate for in-State activities to respond to Lassa fever.”

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It could be recalled that as of January 22, Nigeria recorded 244 confirmed cases with 37 deaths from 16 states and the FCT.

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Lassa fever cases rise as 37 persons killed in three weeks –NCDC

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By Francesca Iwambe, Abuja

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said that at least 244 Lassa fever cases have been recorded in the country in 2023.

The agency’s latest Lassa fever report said 137 new cases were recorded in week three from January 16 to January 22.

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The cases were reported from Ondo, Edo, Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Plateau, Kogi, Anambra, Delta, FCT, Adamawa, and Enugu states.

The new figure shows a 77.9 percent increase from the cases recorded in week 2.

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The agency also said 18 more people have died from the disease, bringing the number of deaths in 2023 to 37.

“In week 3, the number of new confirmed cases increased from 77 in week 2 2023 to 137 cases,” the report reads.

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“Cumulatively from week 1 to week 3, 2023, 37 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 15.1% which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 (18.8%).

 

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“In total for 2023, 16 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 50 Local Government Areas.

“Seventy-nine (79%) of all confirmed Lassa fever cases were reported from these three states (Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi) while 21% were reported from 13 states with confirmed Lassa fever cases. Of the 79% of confirmed cases, Ondo reported 37%, Edo 36%, and Bauchi 5%.

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“The predominant age group affected is 21-30 years (Range: 1 to 79 years, Median Age: 30 years). The male-to-female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:0.9.

“The number of suspected cases increased compared to that reported for the same period in 2022.

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“Two new Healthcare workers were affected in the reporting week 3.”

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