Rescuers search for victims of Canada landslides, railways disrupted

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Search teams using dogs started looking for people whose cars may have been buried in landslides across the Canadian province of British Columbia on Tuesday, as the country’s two biggest railways reported serious damage to their networks.

The storms, which started on Sunday, wrecked roads in the Pacific province, forced an oil pipeline to close and limited land access to Vancouver, the largest city.

Canadian Pacific Rail said it was shutting down its Vancouver main line because of the flooding, while Canadian National Railway said it experienced mudslides and washouts in southern British Columbia.

Some areas received eight inches (200 mm) of rain on Sunday, the amount that usually falls in a month.

Rescuers equipped with diggers and dogs will start dismantling large mounds of debris that have choked highways.

“If a bit of machinery contacts a vehicle or the dogs indicate a person, that’s when we stop and … dig by hand until we find what they were indicating, to confirm whether it’s a live victim or if it’s a recovery,” Captain John Gormick of Vancouver’s heavy urban search and rescue team told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Police in Abbotsford, some 70 km (40 miles) southeast of Vancouver, on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of parts of the city.

Authorities in Merritt, some 200 km (120 miles) northeast of Vancouver, ordered all 8,000 citizens to leave on Monday as river waters rose quickly, but some are trapped in their homes, city spokesman Greg Lowis told the CBC.

“We are not confident about the structural integrity of any of our bridges,” he said.

The landslides and floods come less than six months after a wildfires gutted an entire town, as temperatures in the province soared during a record-breaking heat dome.

Helicopters carried out multiple missions on Monday to rescue hundreds of people trapped in their vehicles when mudslides cut off a highway near the mountain town of Agassiz, about 120km (75 miles) east of Vancouver.

The storms forced the closure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which takes crude oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast. The line has a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; editing by Ed Osmond and Jonathan Oatis)

Immune system can cause broad damage in COVID-19; dogs can detect coronavirus in people

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Immune system can self-attack broadly in COVID-19

Antibodies are supposed to attack invading germs, but severely ill COVID-19 patients have so-called autoantibodies that mistakenly attack not just their own tissues and organs but even virus-fighting proteins produced by the immune system, new research shows. Scientists studied 194 COVID-19 patients, including 55 with severe disease, plus a control group of 30 people without the virus. In the sickest patients, they found a high frequency of autoantibodies created by the immune system causing injury to the central nervous system, blood vessels, and connective tissues like cartilage, ligaments and tendons. They also found a high prevalence of autoantibodies that interfere with substances involved in the functioning of the immune system itself, including cytokines and other “immunomodulatory” proteins. “The surprising extent of autoantibody reactivities” in these patients indicates that these mistakenly targeted antibodies are “an intrinsic aspect” of COVID-19. The report was posted on medRxiv on Saturday ahead of peer review.

Dogs can sniff out COVID-19

Trained dogs can identify people with COVID-19, even those with no symptoms, according to researchers. In the preliminary study published on Thursday in PLoS One, dogs who sniffed swab samples of armpit sweat could tell which samples came from COVID-19 patients and which were from people who tested negative for the new coronavirus. That study was conducted in March. More recently, the researchers have validated the findings in additional trials, said study leader Dominique Grandjean of Alfort Veterinary School in France. Dogs can identify infected individuals with 85% to 100% accuracy and rule out infection with 92% to 99% accuracy, Grandjean said. “It takes one tenth of a second for a trained dog to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he said. Training requires 3 to 8 weeks depending on whether the dog is already trained for odor detection. COVID-19-detecting dogs have already been deployed in airports in the United Arab Emirates, Grandjean said. On Wednesday, the UAE and the International K9 Working Group Against COVID-19 will host a virtual workshop on the use of these trained dogs, with 25 countries expected to participate, according to the organizers.

COVID-19 not linked with Guillain-Barré syndrome

COVID-19 is not associated with the potentially paralyzing disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a large UK study shows. In GBS, the immune system mistakenly attacks nerves in the feet, hands and limbs. Smaller studies have suggested a link between COVID-19 and GBS. But when researchers compared the number of GBS cases recorded in the UK’s National Health Service database in 2016 to 2019 to the number recorded in the first half of 2020, they found the annual incidence was 40% to 50% lower during the pandemic. “No causal link of COVID-19 to GBS can be made,” Stephen Keddie of University College London said in a statement. His team reported on Monday in the journal Brain that they also looked for – but could not find – any genetic or protein structure in the new coronavirus that might trigger an immune response causing GBS, which is good news for vaccine development. “Most COVID-19 vaccinations are based on the (coronavirus’) spike protein, which drives a complex immune response creating antibodies to fight infection,” Keddie said. Since researchers found nothing in the virus that is known to drive GBS, “concerns that COVID vaccination might cause GBS in any significant numbers are therefore almost certainly unfounded,” he said.

Antibiotic azithromycin fails to help in severe COVID-19

The antibiotic azithromycin failed to help seriously ill adults infected with the new coronavirus, according to results from a clinical trial. Based on the result, the only COVID-19 patients who should get the antibiotic are those who also have bacterial infections, the study leaders said. The trial, conducted at 176 hospitals across the UK, involved more than 9,000 patients and tested multiple drugs to see if any would be more effective than standard hospital care in treating COVID-19. According to preliminary data published on Monday on medRxiv ahead of peer review, patients who were randomly assigned to receive azithromycin did no better than patients who got standard care in terms of deaths, duration of hospitalization, or need for mechanical ventilation. “More than 75% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are prescribed antibiotics,” the researchers point out. “Although we detected no harm to individual patients treated with azithromycin, there is a risk of harm at a societal level from widespread use of antimicrobial agents,” researchers said. The widespread use of antibiotics in COVID-19 patients “in general must be questioned,” they concluded.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. to train more beagles to sniff out deadly hog virus

FILE PHOTO: Pigs are seen on a pig farm in Rabacsecseny, Hungary, May 31, 2018. Picture taken May 31, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo - RC16668124D0

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. government will increase the number of dogs used to sniff out illegal pork products at airports and seaports in an effort to keep out a contagious hog disease that has spread across Asia and Europe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

The disease, African swine fever, can kill hogs in just two days. China, home to the world’s largest hog herd, has reported more than 100 cases of the disease in 27 provinces and regions since last August. Efforts to contain the fever have disrupted Chinese pork supplies.

The virus, which does not harm people, has spread to China’s neighbor, Vietnam. Eastern Europe has also suffered an outbreak and Belgium has found the virus in wild boar.

To prevent the disease from entering the United States, the USDA said it will work with Customs and Border Patrol agents to add 60 beagle teams at key U.S. commercial ports, seaports and airports, for a total of 179 teams.

The dogs will help expand arrival screenings as U.S. authorities check cargo for illegal pork products and ensure that travelers who pose a risk to spreading African swine fever (ASF) receive extra inspections, according to the USDA.

“We understand the grave concerns about the ASF situation overseas,” said Greg Ibach, the agency’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

The USDA will also ramp up inspections of facilities that feed garbage to livestock to ensure the waste is cooked properly to prevent potential disease spread, according to a statement.

Hogs can be infected by African swine fever by direct contact with infected pigs or by eating garbage containing meat and or meat products from infected pigs.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Hurricane Florence: A picture and its story: Dogs in the disaster zone

FILE PHOTO: Panicked dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, are rescued by volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

By Jonathan Drake

LELAND, N.C. (Reuters) – Three days after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, I was documenting the damage to Wilmington and communities to the south when I was tipped that volunteer rescuers were headed to a Leland church where people were isolated by rising floodwaters.

Even with a pickup truck, it is daunting to drive through waters dark and deep enough to obscure road signs. But experience covering storms and good waders enable you to cautiously measure water depth and current strength so you can get to compelling stories waiting to be told.

Ryan Nichols and David Rebollar have another way of getting to people and animals trapped by floods: a boat they haul from their Texas home to disaster zones. In the case of North Carolina, that was more than a thousand miles (1,600 km).

Having endured Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston last year, the former Marines are on a mission to help when disaster strikes.

This day, as they lowered their craft into the water from a slice of dry land, a road was identifiable only by a few 7-foot-high street signs jutting above water. My colleague and I joined Nichols in the boat, and we made our way to the church about a thousand feet (300 meters) ahead.

Colonies of fire ants formed little islands floating beside toys. Desultory swing sets, as well as trees, gravestones and doleful statues, peered above the waterline.

While Nichols spoke with people at the church, we heard persistent barking at the back of a property across from it. He went to investigate and before long reappeared, saying urgently that “they” were trapped and we should hurry.

Abandoned dogs trapped in a cage, filling with rising floodwater, swim away after volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, freed them in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Abandoned dogs trapped in a cage, filling with rising floodwater, swim away after volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, freed them in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

We moved through knee-high water until we saw three hounds in a caged doghouse – two on their hind legs, the other on all fours with its head just above water. They were trembling, terrified and desperate to get out.

Nichols tried to soothe the dogs as he worked to open the cage. When he did, not three but six dogs bounded out, half swimming, half bouncing through a stretch of water that led to nearby dry ground. I followed the action with my camera close to the water at their height.

A neighbor up the street found some dog food, which they devoured.

With more and more people in the vicinity needing help, the volunteers and local residents decided to leave a lot of food for the dogs and let them roam on the higher ground to which they now had access and to tell local authorities about them.

Volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, pets one of the dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, pets one of the dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Floodwaters rose in the hours that followed, and only began receding the next day, when Nichols returned to check on the dogs. He encountered their owner, who said she had had to evacuate in haste with young children, and that someone sent to check on the dogs was refused entry to the area because of flooding.


(Reporting by Jonathan Drake; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Jonathan Oatis)

United Airlines pauses cargo-hold pet transport after missteps

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER aircraft takes off from Zurich Airport January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) – United Airlines is halting the shipment of pets in airplane cargo holds while it studies improvements, the carrier said on Tuesday, after the death of a puppy and mistakes in handling other dogs last week sparked negative publicity.

“We are conducting a thorough and systematic review of our program for pets that travel in the cargo compartment to make improvements that will ensure the best possible experience for our customers and their pets,” United said in a statement.

United did not give a date when it would resume the PetSafe transport program, but the carrier said it expects to complete its review by May 1.

The move does not affect travel for pets flying in-cabin.

United’s decision follows incidents last week in which dogs were mistakenly sent to incorrect destinations.

A German Shepherd that was meant to arrive at Kansas City International Airport was instead shipped to Tokyo, Japan. A Japan-bound Great Dane arrived instead at the Missouri airport. The two dogs were later returned home.

On Thursday, a United flight carrying 33 passengers from Newark, New Jersey to St. Louis was diverted to Akron, Ohio, after the airline realized that a pet had been mistakenly loaded onto the wrong flight.

These incidents followed a Monday public relations nightmare in which a French bulldog puppy died after a United flight attendant ordered the owner to put the dog’s carrying case in overhead storage during the 3-1/2 hour flight.

United announced it would begin next month issuing brightly colored bag tags for pets to help flight attendants more easily identify the animals.

(Reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)