• Predicting pandemics: Global spread of hemorrhagic fever viruses

    As successive epidemics have swept the world, the scientific community has quickly learned from them about the emergence and transmission of communicable diseases. Epidemics usually occur when health systems are unprepared. During an unexpected epidemic, health authorities engage in damage control, fear drives action, and the desire to understand the threat is greatest. As humanity recovers, policy-makers seek scientific expertise to improve their “preparedness” to face future events.

  • Limited global risk of Madagascar’s pneumonic plague epidemic

    Mathematical models have proven the risk of the on-going pneumonic plague epidemic in Madagascar spreading elsewhere in the world is limited. The study also estimated the epidemic’s basic reproduction number, or the average number of secondary cases generated by a single primary case, at 1.73. The case fatality risk was 5.5 percent. This was the world’s first real-time study into the epidemiological dynamics of the largest ever pneumonic plague epidemic in the African nation.

  • Animal health as a marker for predicting epidemics in human populations

    Researchers know that zoonotic diseases — illnesses transmitted from animals to humans — are the culprit behind most of the outbreaks that circled the globe over the last decade. First monkeys, and then bats, were discovered to be carriers of the deadly strain of Ebola that killed thousands of people between 2014 and 2016. Mosquitos are behind the Zika and West Nile virus, while birds carry avian flu. Animal health is increasingly gaining focus as a marker for predicting health epidemics among the human population.

  • Identifying biomarkers that indicate likelihood of survival in infected patients

    Scientists have identified a set of biomarkers that indicate which patients infected with the Ebola virus are most at risk of dying from the disease. The findings could allow clinicians to prioritize the scarce treatment resources available and provide them to the sickest patients.

  • Plague outbreak: where does it still exist, and could it spread?

    An outbreak of plague has been occurring in Madagascar, with more than 2,000 cases and 170 deaths reported since August 2017. This island nation is one of the few remaining hotspots for plague in the world, with cases usually reported between September and April each year. It’s not possible to eradicate plague, as it is widespread in wildlife rodents outside the sphere of human influence. Outbreaks generally are managed reactively by “firefighting teams” deployed to clear houses of fleas, identify and treat cases and give pre-emptive treatment to contacts at risk. A more preventative approach, such as the identification of areas at risk using climate models and animal surveys to focus flea and rat control efforts would be better. But this requires a better understanding of transmission pathways in each region where disease persists.

  • More than 1,300 suspected plague cases reported in Madagascar

    The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 1,309 suspected cases, including 93 deaths, in an update 27 October on the plague outbreak in Madagascar. The case-fatality rate for the outbreak is now 7 percent. The numbers reflect an increase of 12 cases and 9 fewer deaths from the WHO’s previous update on 20 October.

  • The dangerous combination of civil war and threat of global pandemics

    There are thirty civil wars underway around the globe, where civilians are dealing with death and destruction as well as public health emergencies exacerbated by the deadly march of conflict. And yet today, of the nearly 200 countries on this planet, only six nations — three rich ones and three poor ones — have taken steps to evaluate their ability to withstand a global pandemic. “The bottom line is that despite the profound global threat of pandemics, there remains no global health mechanism to force parties to act in accordance with global health interests,” says one expert. “The unpredictability of a serious infectious outbreak, the speed with which it can disseminate, and the fears of domestic political audience can together create a powerful destabilizing force,” says another.

  • The pandemic potential of latest H7N9 flu strains

    During China’s unprecedented fifth wave of H7N9 avian influenza activity, worrisome changes to the virus emerged, including a shift to a highly pathogenic form with some infections able to resist neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu, and now researchers who put the virus through its paces in animal studies are warning that the virus could easily become more lethal and resistant to treatment.

  • Plague total grows in Madagascar: WHO

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said in an update on Madagascar’s plague outbreak that the number of infections as of Saturday has climbed to 684, an increase of 297 cases since its last update on 9 October. Also, health officials in Seychelles are closely monitoring eleven people in hospital isolation, a step that follows the announcement late last week of a probable imported case in a man who had traveled to Madagascar.

  • Madagascar travelers bring plague to Seychelles

    The Seychelles Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday reported an imported plague case in a 34-year-old man who had travelled to Madagascar and had been under passive surveillance since he arrived. Air Seychelles has cancelled all flights to and from Madagascar, and members of a basketball team who were under surveillance at a center have been discharged after none of them came down with symptoms.

  • App-based citizen science experiment to help predict future pandemics

    There are flu outbreaks every year, but in the last 100 years, there have been four pandemics of a particularly deadly flu, including the Spanish Influenza outbreak which hit in 1918, killing up to 100 million people worldwide. Nearly a century later, a catastrophic flu pandemic still tops the U.K. government’s Risk Register of threats to the United Kingdom. A new app gives U.K. residents the chance to get involved in an ambitious science experiment that could save lives.

  • Harnessing AI to catch disease fast

    Up to 27,000 microbiology laboratories around the world could benefit from a ground-breaking automation technology. The Automated Plate Assessment System (APAS) can automatically screen microbiology culture plates for the presence of various disease-causing pathogens, revolutionizing the workflow in modern microbiology labs. The smart software uses artificial intelligence to analyze microbial growth in much the same way as a microbiologist would, but with faster and more consistent results.

  • Halting the spread of zika, dengue, and chikungunya

    Researchers have created a mathematical model that can serve as a guide to make monthly predictions on when people are at greatest risk for contracting mosquito-borne viruses, such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya, due to climate conditions. This model can be used as a tool to create early warning systems to help halt the spread of these potentially deadly viruses.

  • Zika reached Miami at least four times, Caribbean travel responsible

    With mosquito season looming in the Northern Hemisphere, doctors and researchers are poised to take on a new round of Zika virus infections. Now a new study by a large group of international researchers led by scientists explains how Zika virus entered the United States via Florida in 2016—and how it might re-enter the country this year.

  • Sanitizers made of paper kill bacteria dead

    Imagine wearing clothes with layers of paper that protect you from dangerous bacteria. Now you can: Researchers have invented an inexpensive, effective way to kill bacteria and sanitize surfaces with devices made of paper. The motivation for the invention was to create personal protective equipment that might contain the spread of infectious diseases, such as the devastating 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.