Infectious disease

  • New Zealand fears uncontrollable measles outbreak

    Public health officials in New Zealand are racing to contain a measles outbreak that may have infected more than 300 people; measles is a highly infectious virus that can be spread through sneezing or coughing; the outbreak began with nine infected passengers aboard a flight; so far officials have identified eleven cases; two cases were from people not aboard the flight suggesting that the disease has begun to spread from person to person; out of every 1000 cases, there is typically one death and 100 hospital admissions; health officials are racing to identify people who may have come into contact with the infected and limit exposure; officials are concerned that they cannot contain the spread of the disease

  • A fast, simple test for detecting cholera

    The new detection method uses specially prepared nanoparticles of iron oxide, each barely 1/50,000th the width of a single human hair, coated with a type of sugar called dextran; to achieve this, the scientists looked for specific characteristics of the cholera toxin receptor (GM1) found on cells’ surface in the victim’s gut, and then they introduced these features to their nanoparticles; when the magnetic nanoparticles are added to water, blood, or other fluids to be tested, the cholera toxin binds to the nanoparticles in a way that can be easily detected by instruments

  • Universal flu vaccine within sight

    People need to be vaccinated against flu every year because the flu virus is a scam artist: it uses a big, showy surface protein — and there are sixteen different varieties of this protein, called Hemagglutinin (HA) — to attract your immune system, then changes it so your immune system would not recognize it next time round; vaccines must thus change yearly to match it; scientists discover HA’s Achilles Heel: a vital part of the HA’s viral machinery does not vary much over time or between viruses, meaning that a vaccine based on the this part would be a universal flu vaccine

  • T cells offer new promise for vaccines for plague and bacterial pneumonias

    There is currently no licensed plague vaccine in the United States, which is too bad because Yersinia pestis is arguably the most deadly bacteria known to man; most of the plague vaccine candidates that have been studied aim to stimulate B cells to produce plague-fighting antibodies, but animal studies suggest that antibodies may not be enough to protect humans from pneumonic plague; new studies show that T cells can also fight plague — and may be better candidates with which to develop a plague vaccine

  • Malaysia releases GM mosquitoes in landmark trial

    Dengue infection leads to a sudden onset of fever with severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, and rashes, which can lead to death if left untreated; the infection killed at least 134 people last year in Malaysia alone; Malasia’s health authorities have released 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes designed to combat dengue fever, in a landmark trial slammed last week by environmentalists who say the experiment is unsafe

  • Smallpox remains a large threat and issue of contention

    Smallpox has been estimated to have taken the lives of an estimated 300-500 million people during the twentieth century; the last two known remaining locations of the virus which triggers the disease are the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) near Novosibirsk in Russia; there is an intense debate among scientists about whether these last remaining samples should be destroyed; proponents of destruction say the remaining cultures may one day be used as bioweapons, while opponents of destruction say that destroying the cultures would not make any difference because terrorists could develop synthetic smallpox virus to use as weapon

  • Water test could enable post-earthquake cholera detection

    There are an estimated three to five million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths worldwide each year; a new technique developed by University of Central Florida (UCF) scientists could allow earthquake-relief workers to test water sources that could be contaminated with the cholera toxin

  • California mandates vaccinations after worst Whooping Cough epidemic in 60 years

    In 2010 California experienced the worst epidemic of whooping cough since 1947; the disease killed ten and infected more than 7,800 people; to avoid another outbreak a new California law requires children in seventh to twelfth grades to be vaccinated against Whooping Cough; the outbreak may have been the result of decreases in vaccinations among children

  • GAO: HHS does not have plan for IT pandemic surveillance

    The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department has not developed a strategic plan for a national electronic network for public health situational awareness four years after being told to do so by Congress, according to the GAO

  • Virulent Haitian cholera strain to dominate the Americas

    The high death rate of the Haiti cholera relative to earlier outbreaks in the region (for example, Peru 1991) could partly be because medical care, nutrition, and HIV levels are worse in earthquake- and poverty-stricken Haiti than Peru — but it could also be due to a nastier cholera toxin

  • New Jersey lab on the forefront of fighting bioterrorism

    A New Jersey company is working on defense against biological warfare; the 3-year $8.2 million contract with the Department of Defense calls for it to develop drug molecules used to combat biological warfare pathogens — centering its research around eight bacterial pathogens (although for security reasons, the list of pathogens has not been made public)

  • UN peacekeepers to blame for Haiti cholera, report says

    A scientific report prepared for the Haitian and French governments says that Nepalese soldiers — members of the UN peace keeping contingent in Haiti — are the likely source of the cholera epidemic which so far has killed 2,120 people and required medical treatment for 100,000 more; the study found that the source of the outbreak was a Nepalese peacekeeping base, whose toilets contaminated the Artibonite river; the river was the main focus of the outbreak when it began in October, but cholera has since spread throughout the country

  • Increasing cooperation between security, health officials

    Those in charge of preventing and treating man-made diseases (bioterrorism) and those in charge of preventing and treating naturally occurring epidemics have increased cooperation because of a growing recognition by both sides that only way to monitor the rapidly increasing globalization of “dual-use” biological technology — which can be used in regular research efforts or clandestinely put toward a weapons program — is to pool their resources

  • More questions raised about security of Boston BioLab

    Boston University has opened a $178 million biolab in a residential area in Boston’s South End; the facility, in which lethal diseases such as Ebola and the plague will be studies, houses only administrative staff, pending state approval; that approval depends on a final risk assessment review — but a new study by the National Research Council questioned the methodology of ongoing risk assessment by contractor Tetra Tech

  • MS drug to lead fight against bioterrorism

    A drug already approved for treating multiple sclerosis show promise as a long sought treatment for victims of bioterrorist attack with botulinum neurotoxin — which is 10,000 times deadlier than cyanide and the most poisonous substance known to man