Epidemics and pandemics

  • EpidemicsGuinea Ebola outbreak spreading to Liberia, threatening Sierra Leone

    The Ebola outbreak in Guinea – the biggest in Africa in seven years — has spread to neighboring Liberia and is now also threatening Sierra Leone. At least eighty-six cases and fifty-nine deaths have been recorded across Guinea, the West African country’s health ministry said Monday. The UN Children’s Fund said the outbreak had spread to the capital, Conakry, although most of the cases so far have been in the country’s south-east provinces. Health officials have not yet been able to determine the subtype of Ebola infecting people in Guinea. Knowing the subtype would give them a better idea of the fatality rate, which, for Ebola, can range from 25 to -90 percent.

  • EpidemicsGenes of Gypsies show traces of convergent evolution in response to Black Death

    The Black Death once exterminated up to 30-50 percent of Europeans. Researchers have identified immune system genes in Europeans and Gypsies that likely underwent convergent evolution during Europe’s deadly epidemics. Immune system genes evolve under the influence of infectious diseases, but few studies have attempted genome-wide assessments of infection-driven evolution.

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  • Bubonic plagueOregon man infected with the plague leaves ICU

    Paul Gaylord, a welder from Prineville in rural Oregon, who last month contracted bubonic plague from a stray cat, is no longer in critical condition. After admission to the hospital, Gaylord lapsed into a coma for twenty-seven days, until last Friday. While in a coma, his hands and legs swelled and turned black. The doctors told him that tests showed he was infected with the bubonic plague, and that his fingers will have to be amputated.

  • SuperbugsFDA allows use of antibiotics in livestock despite “high risk” to humans

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently confirmed the link between antibiotic use on industrial farms and the rise of antibiotic resistance, saying there is “strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans,” and warns of “potentially catastrophic consequences” if resistance is not slowed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has quietly allowed thirty potentially harmful antibiotics, including eighteen rated as “high risk,” to remain on the market as additives in farm animal feed and water. The FDA first recognized the risks from the use of antibiotics in animal feed in 1977, when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed containing penicillin and most tetracyclines. The agency has not followed through on its own findings – and has fought court orders to do so — and today 70 percent of all medically important antibiotics sold in the United States are sold for use in livestock production — not on humans.

  • EpidemicsCause of one of the most devastating pandemics in human history found

    An international team of scientists has discovered that two of the world’s most devastating plagues — the plague of Justinian and the Black Death, each responsible for killing as many as half the people in Europe — were caused by distinct strains of the same pathogen, one that faded out on its own, the other leading to worldwide spread and re-emergence in the late 1800s. These findings suggest a new strain of plague could emerge again in humans in the future.

  • EpidemicsNew strategy for controlling epidemics in big cities

    Influenza places a huge burden upon society, both physically and economically. It is estimated that influenza costs the United States economy over $87 billion annually. In a large city like Washington, D.C., with about 50,000 visitors on any given day who stay for just a few days, there is a constant influx of new people who are susceptible to infections. Further, they visit highly populated tourist destinations, where they come into contact with other visitors as well as residents. Researchers, for the first time, model in detail how transient populations impact the spread of an illness, and how outbreaks such as influenza can be curbed by encouraging healthy behaviors in high-traffic tourist destinations.

  • SuperbugsDrug alternatives to antibiotics come with their own problems

    Researchers have been probing the long-term effectiveness of drugs currently being developed by the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs are intended for use in place of antibiotics, and they work by limiting the symptoms caused by a bug or virus in the body, rather than killing it outright. These treatments are designed to avoid the problem of infections becoming resistant to treatment, which has become widespread with antibiotics, but scientists caution that people given damage limitation treatments may appear healthy, but carry high levels of infection and so may be more likely to pass on disease. In addition, people with lesser symptoms could remain undiagnosed and add to the spread of disease.

  • SuperbugsSubstitute for conventional antibiotics: Researchers discover a protein that kills bacteria

    Bacterial resistance is a natural process. Over the past sixty years or so, however, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics has pushed more and more bacteria to become more and more resistant, undermining one of the pillars of modern health care. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has developed faster than the production of new antibiotics, making bacterial infections increasingly difficult to treat. Scientists worry that a particularly virulent and deadly “superbug” could one day join the ranks of existing untreatable bacteria, causing a public health catastrophe comparable with the Black Death. Now, researchers have discovered a protein that kills bacteria. The isolation of this protein, produced by a virus that attacks bacteria, is a major step toward developing a substitute for conventional antibiotics.

  • EpidemicsTracking Internet searches to predict disease outbreak

    The habit of Googling for an online diagnosis before visiting a GP can provide early warning of an infectious disease epidemic. A new study found that Internet-based surveillance has been found to detect infectious diseases such Dengue Fever and Influenza up to two weeks earlier than traditional surveillance methods. Researchers say that when investigating the occurrence of epidemics, spikes in searches for information about infectious diseases could accurately predict outbreaks of that disease.

  • SuperbugsSuperbugs were found breeding, spreading in sewage plants

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been raising alarms for years, particularly in hospital environments where public health officials fear they can be transferred from patient to patient and are very difficult to treat. Bacteria harboring the encoding gene that makes them resistant have been found on every continent except for Antarctica. Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria —“superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010 — were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. NDM-1 is able to make such common bacteria as E. coli, salmonella, and K. pneumonias resistant to even the strongest available antibiotics.

  • SuperbugsNew test for detecting newly emerging strains of drug-resistant superbug

    Molecular assays for MRSA are used in active surveillance programs to identify colonized patients rapidly. Active surveillance is a proven strategy to reduce transmission in healthcare settings and it helps prevent infection in vulnerable patients. BD Diagnostics has received FDA clearance to market the BD MAX MRSA XT Assay for use on the BD MAX System. This is the second assay from BD Diagnostics capable of detecting newly emerging MRSA strains with the novel mecC gene.

  • BioterrorismBioterrorism fears lead scientists to withhold information on new strain of botulism

    The recent discovery of a new strain of botulism, the first in forty years, has alarmed California state health officials. The discovery was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in October 2013 — but the genetic sequence of the botulism toxin was removed from the report. The decision to withhold the sequencing information took into consideration the fact that there is currently no antitoxin capable of treating an outbreak of botulism, and that it takes about one to two years to develop an antitoxin. Should the classified information reach the wrong hands, a bioweapon, which can be spread as an aerosol, could be used to cause mass-casualty epidemic.

  • Infectious diseasePreoccupation with bioterrorism hobbles preparations for natural spread of deadly viruses

    Preoccupation with hypothetical bioterrorism attacks is leaving America more vulnerable to the threat of natural spread of deadly viruses. Since the 9/11 attacks, the federal government has poured billions of dollars to prevent and monitor threats of bioterrorism, yet the United States was ill-prepared for the swine flu outbreak of 2009. Experts say it is time to rebalance public health priorities so that preparations for the real threat of the outbreak of infectious diseases will not take a back seat to preparations for the more remote threat of bioterrorism.

  • EpidemicsAir transportation data helps identify, predict pandemics

    Computational model demonstrates how disease spreads in a highly connected world. The computational work has led to a new mathematical theory for understanding the global spread of epidemics. The resulting insights could not only help identify an outbreak’s origin but could also significantly improve the ability to forecast the global pathways through which a disease might spread.

  • Public healthFacebook, Twitter may yield clues on how to prevent the spread of disease

    Cold and flu season prompts society to find ways to prevent the spread of disease though measures like vaccination all the way through to covering our mouths when we cough and staying in bed. These social responses are much more difficult to predict than the way biological contagion will evolve, but new methods are being developed to do just that. Facebook and Twitter could provide vital clues to control infectious diseases by using mathematical models to understand how we respond socially to biological contagions.