A mouse bite is at the center of an investigation into a possible new Covid-19 outbreak in Taiwan after a high-security lab worker was confirmed as the island’s first local case in more than a month.
The lab worker, a woman in her 20s, tested positive for Covid this week after coming into contact with the virus in mid-November while working at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on a quick note. organized briefing Thursday evening. She hadn’t traveled abroad lately and had received two doses of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine.
At the same briefing, another senior virus official confirmed local media reports that she had been bitten by a lab mouse infected with Covid, but said further investigations were needed to determine if the bite was the source of the virus transmission. The Taiwanese authorities think she is probably infected with the delta variant.
The lab leak threatens to undo Taiwan’s hard-won success in eradicating Covid outbreaks, and underscores the difficulty in eliminating the pathogen, a goal still pursued in some places — including mainland China and Hong Kong.
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Before Thursday’s contagion, the last confirmed local case in Taiwan was on Nov. 5. While the government maintained strict access and quarantine measures at the border, in recent months the government has gradually eased restrictions on business and entertainment and domestic activity has largely normalized.
Taiwan has reported just over 14,500 domestic cases of Covid-19 and 848 deaths since the pandemic began.
Health authorities have identified 94 people who have come into contact with the lab worker since she was infected – mostly colleagues and close friends – and placed them in quarantine. Eighty of them have since tested negative and she quit her job earlier this month.
The woman worked at Academica Sinica’s Genomic Research Center, which has one of 18 labs of biosafety level 3 in Taiwan, which has the second highest safety rating. Research conducted in the lab included collecting and disseminating pathogens, cell-based microbiological and immunological testing, and evaluating the efficacy of vaccines and adjuvants in small animal models, according to the website.
The risk of animals spreading Covid to humans is considered low based on the information available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have said further studies are needed to understand whether and how different animals can transmit the virus. be affected. While rare, some coronaviruses that infect animals can spread to humans before being transmitted through human-to-human contact, the CDC said — such as what happened with SARS-CoV-2, it added, which likely comes from bats .
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been no evidence that animals have played a major role in the spread of Covid, the CDC said.
A scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was bitten by a mouse last year, potentially exposing him to a strain of virus that causes Covid-19 that was adapted for growth in mice, according to media outlet ProPublica reporting. Although the bite did not break the skin, the scientist underwent 14 days of home quarantine and no further information about their health was included in incident reports, ProPublica said.
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