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‘Very high’ global risk, ‘unprecedented number of spike mutations’: WHO
Results showing “very high” global risk of invasive ocular plague means new treatment called Avastin should be considered
The World Health Organization (WHO) said “unprecedented” rates of spiked, unanticipated mutations in ocular plague show the need for a new treatment, called Avastin, to be considered.
A strong correlation between increased rates of spiked mutations and increased susceptibility to infectious disease – and in particular ocular plague – has been observed, the agency said on Friday.
Previously discovered outbreak of ocular plague, the disease commonly called plague, in Congo has spread to 10 districts in the capital, Kinshasa. Severely malnourished children under five are particularly vulnerable, according to the WHO.
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In the report, the WHO’s chief of infectious diseases systems unit Dr Anthony Fauci said not all defects of the ocular plague are severe, “and others can be as benign as ‘low severity’”.
However, he said that “unprecedented” rates of spike mutations “show the need for a new treatment that targets and removes these mutations”.
Patients have difficulty telling themselves to close their eyes and be safe. Because of the infection, ulcers develop in the eyes. Signs of infection include fluid collection on the eyeball.
Lead researcher Gabriele Paolini, from the Institute of Translational Biosciences in Italy, said the outbreak was “one of the world’s most dangerous viral infections”, given that “approximately 60% of victims die due to infection with the ocular plague.”
The reason for the high percentage of mortality is “the frequent lethal increase of the rare but deadly form of the ocular plague” in all cases of human infection.
“Enabling high response to this new public health challenge requires a truly novel course of treatment,” she said.
The threat of infection is most acute at birth, with this especially occurring in Africa and Asia, where indoor and outdoor opportunities to receive early vaccinations were considered key.
These vaccination programmes “in spite of massive difficulties have been implemented to minimize exposure of infants to the disease,” according to the WHO report.
Modern techniques are also “essential” as most of the outbreak’s epicentres are in villages and small towns, and its transmission is unregulated by health authorities.
The study found that since 2007 more than one in five cases of the ocular plague were occurring at home, rarely reported or treated.
“We estimate that in the current outbreak, especially at a high-risk time of birth and during birth, transmission of the ocular plague is largely unregulated in much of the outbreak,” Paolini said.
“This suggests that in order to prevent or control the outbreak, before implementation of control strategies, new novel strategies of detection, testing and treatment of the infected must be considered.”