• Decision on smallpox virus destruction delayed for three years

    After a second round of negotiations Tuesday, the World Health Assembly (WHA) agreed to postpone setting a date for destruction of the world’s remaining smallpox virus stocks for another three years; the assembly simultaneously reaffirmed previous statements that the virus stocks should be destroyed after “crucial research” is completed; several countries, mainly developing ones, pushed for immediate destruction of the smallpox virus stocks, while others suggested a short delay for setting a deadline; U.S. officials had introduced a resolution to retain the virus stocks for at least another five years to allow work on bioterrorism countermeasures to continue; U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius said, however, that the United States was committed to the eventual destruction of the virus stocks

  • Fate of last smallpox virus samples to be determined today

    The World Health Organization officially declared in 1979 that smallpox has been eradicated; in the three decades since the WHO declaration, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Russian government laboratory near Novosibirsk have been the last two places to keep samples of the smallpox virus; during this time, there have been many calls by scientists and advocates to destroy these last samples — some of these calls accompanied by dark hints that the two countries wanted to hang on to the samples in order to use them as a basis for a future bio-weapon; the United States opposes the destruction, saying that the live samples are needed to develop vaccine with less adverse side effects as well as two other related drugs; a committee of the World Health Organization is meeting today in Geneva to make a decision

  • Secrets of plague unlocked with stunning new imaging techniques

    Sandia Labs researchers have developed a super-resolution microscopy technique that is answering long-held questions about exactly how and why a cell’s defenses fail against some invaders, such as plague, while successfully fending off others like E.coli

  • Researchers use app to map spread of infectious diseases

    Researchers in the United Kingdom are using cell phones to map how infectious diseases are spread to help tailor public health policies during a mass outbreak; researchers developed a special app, called FluPhone, for mobile phones that gathered medical data from the user as well as information on how they interacted with other people; the app provides a scientific method for measuring the social activity of an entire population in real-time; FluPhone app can also be used to run simulations on how a disease would actually spread

  • Social media helps CDC track Playboy Mansion disease outbreak

    Thanks to social media outlets, medical researchers are one step closer to discovering why more than 120 people were infected with a mysterious illness following a 3 February party at the Playboy Mansion; investigators suspect that the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease may have been the source of the outbreak after its presence was discovered in the grotto of the Playboy Mansion; officials used online tools like Twitter, Facebook, and online polling to help track the disease outbreak; these tools were particularly helpful because they allowed officials to quickly identify the outbreak, communicate quickly with conference goers who came from thirty countries, and to issue instructions for the infected

  • Promising anthrax treatment study results

    Researchers find that a multi-agent prophylaxis which is initiated within twenty-four hours after the infection, prevented the development of fatal anthrax respiratory disease; treatment which combines antibiotics with immunization and a protective antigen-based vaccine offered long-term immunity against the disease

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  • Satellite information helps eradicate mosquitoes

    Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish is partnering with Colorado-based location intelligence software company aWhere, Inc. to test a new satellite-based surveillance system that can locate and analyze potential mosquito breeding sites with near pinpoint accuracy

  • Starving bugs dead

    One way to kill bugs and pests is to starve them to death; caterpillars attack tomato and potato plant in order to extract an enzyme called threonine, or TD1 — a key nutrient caterpillars need to grow; Michigan State University researchers show that the potato and tomato plants release an enzyme — called TD2 — which caterpillars consume at the same time they consume TD1; TD2 has devastating effects a few hours later — in the pests’ stomachs; TD2 goes to work in the gut of caterpillars to degrade TD1; in effect, the plants concede the first battle — allowing caterpillars to consume as much TD1 (but also TD2) as they wish — in order to win the war (the caterpillars will be dead within a few hours)

  • Superbug sweeps across Los Angeles hospitals

    Last week, public health officials in Los Angeles reported an outbreak of a drug-resistant superbug in several local healthcare facilities; the deadly drug-resistant strain is Klebsiella pneumonia (CRKP) and is estimated to kill 40 percent of those who are infected with it; the LA county health department has identified 356 cases of the bacteria over a six month period; CRKP has primarily been infecting senior citizens; CRKP is part of a larger wave of antibiotic germs that have plagued hospitals in recent years; the bacteria was originally found on the east coast of the United States, and was only first seen last year in the Los Angeles area

  • Canada launches TB website to stem spread of disease

    Researchers at Canada’s McGill University recently launched a free website to help doctors around the world stem the spread of tuberculosis (TB); the website offers detailed information on TB vaccinations in over 180 countries; while TB levels are at all-time lows in Canada and the United States, TB has grown increasingly prevalent around the world particularly in Africa and India; in India, there are nearly two million new cases of TB each year and it is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of fifteen and forty-five; the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Studies recently warned that up to ten million people could die of TB by 2015; if detected early, TB can be treated with antibiotics

  • Australia battling mosquitoes to stop spread of dengue fever

    Public health officials in Queensland in northern Australia are actively battling dengue fever following an outbreak of the virus; fifty-five people have been infected in Innisfail and its outlying areas; two cases of dengue fever have been detected in Cairns, 56 miles north of Innisfail; to stem the spread of the disease, public health officials are on a campaign to eradicate mosquitos and their breeding grounds; so far the government has wiped out an estimated 50,000 mosquito breeding sites; in one week, fourteen public health field officers searched 1,117 properties in Innisfail and found 13,628 potential breeding sites

  • Ticks identified as cause of lethal disease in China

    In 2006 villagers in Anhui Province in central China began dying of an illness characterized by high fever, gastrointestinal distress, and a depressed platelet count; researchers suspected anaplasmosis, an infection spread by ticks caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum – but they found neither bacterial DNA nor antibodies against it; each spring since then the disease has struck with a vengeance, killing up to 30 percent of those infected in six provinces of China; scientists have now identified the enemy

  • Stemming the spread of disease at airports

    With roughly two million people flying each day and spending hours in confined areas where they will come into close contact with potentially infected people, air travel poses a serious challenge to public health officials seeking to contain major disease outbreaks; last month public health officials scrambled to contain a potential mass outbreak of measles after a woman flew through three U.S airports, coming into contact with thousands of people; a CDC report recommends using infrared thermal scanners to detect passengers with fevers as that is an easily recognizable symptom and it is a common indicator of most infectious diseases

  • Malaria increasingly resistant to drugs, seaweed could be the answer

    Researchers recently found a natural substance that can destroy the malaria parasite; the substance is from a red seaweed found off the island of Fiji; the discovery of the substance comes at a much needed time as malaria has developed increasing resistance to existing drugs; the new substance comes from a chemical that that the plant uses to defend against marine fungi; it is entirely different than existing drugs and could be the key against fighting drug-resistant strains of malaria; the substance must still undergo further laboratory tests before it can be used in clinical trials

  • Netherlands battles to contain Q fever outbreak

    The Netherlands has struggled to contain an outbreak of Q fever that first began in 2007; since the outbreak started there have been more than 4,000 confirmed cases of the disease and eleven deaths; farm animals are the primary carriers of the bacteria, and humans can become infected by breathing in contaminated air or consuming infected dairy products; after more than 2,200 people became sick in 2009, the Dutch government slaughtered over 50,000 goats in an effort to stem the spread of the disease; veterinarians and epidemiologists from around the world are watching the outbreak closely to learn more about the disease and how it is spreading; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed eight cases for 2011