Viruses and pathogens

  • EpidemicsIdentifying infectious diseases at the point-of-care

    A major problem with current testing for infectious diseases in Africa is that it focuses on individual diseases and cannot reliably discriminate among them. Since most infectious diseases have the same feverish symptoms, diagnosis is often inaccurate, resulting in thousands of deaths and increased resistance to antimicrobial drugs. A new “lab-on-a-disc” technology developed by an EU project research team can diagnose malaria and other febrile infectious diseases simultaneously in just an hour — allowing faster point-of-care treatment and precise drugs administration that could save thousands of lives.

  • EbolaWHO, worried about damage to West Africa’s economy, delayed declaring Ebola an emergency

    The World Health Organization(WHO) for two months delayed labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency for fear of damaging the economy of Guinea and neighboring countries, according to leaked documents and memos from the organization. Beginning in April 2014, WHO’s specialists, both in the field and at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, were raising an alarm about the spreading epidemic — but it was not until June 2014 that WHO begun seriously to consider the scope of the outbreak, and it was not until August 2014 that WHO defined the Ebola outbreak as an epidemic and declared an international emergency.

  • SuperbugsAntibiotic resistance linked to poor governance, corruption

    Researchers examined antibiotic resistance in Europe from both a medical and a political-economic perspective, and found that antibiotic resistance is not related to a country’s wealth, but rather linked to poor governance and corruption. Countries with higher levels of corruption often had less rigorous and less transparent processes, with less effective controls over areas pertinent to antibiotic resistance. The researchers also found that resistance levels were higher when healthcare was performed by the private sector. This may be because clinicians in the private health system are subject to fewer controls when it comes to both the volumes and types of antibiotics used.

  • SuperbugsChlorine used in sewage treatment may promote antibiotic resistance

    Chlorine, a disinfectant commonly used in most wastewater treatment plants, may be failing to completely eliminate pharmaceuticals from wastes. As a result, trace levels of these substances get discharged from the plants to the nation’s waterways. Now, scientists are reporting preliminary studies that show chlorine treatment may encourage the formation of new, unknown antibiotics that could also enter the environment, potentially contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

  • PlagueLong-held theory on how bacteria causes bubonic plague overturned

    The current outbreak of the plague in Madagascar shines a light on the need for new approaches to treat the ancient pathogen. A new UNC study unexpectedly unravels a long-held theory on how a fleabite leads to infection. For decades, scientists have thought the bacteria that cause the bubonic plague hijack host cells at the site of a fleabite and are then taken to the lymph nodes, where the bacteria multiply and trigger severe disease. Researchers discovered, however, that this accepted theory is off base. The bacteria do not use host cells; they traffic to lymph nodes on their own and not in great numbers.

  • EpidemicsTracking, mapping epidemics in order to limit their spread

    Researchers are using the new Biosurveillance Gateway Web site to map epidemics in order better to understand and prevent deadly diseases. The Web site relies on lab databases and tools from around the world, so that registered health officials and researchers can track outbreaks better to predict how a pathogen might spread in the United States and elsewhere. Though still in its beta state, the Web site provides spread information and mapping on a variety of diseases, including ones that only infect animals or plants. Theoretical computational software is integrated into the maps to help predict what a future epidemic might do, and the histories of recorded outbreaks across the globe are presented for comparison.

  • EbolaAsian herb holds promise as treatment for Ebola virus disease

    New research that focuses on the mechanism by which Ebola virus infects a cell and the discovery of a promising drug therapy candidate. A small molecule called Tetrandrine derived from an Asian herb has shown to be a potent small molecule inhibiting infection of human white blood cells in vitro or petri dish experiments and prevented Ebola virus disease in mice.

  • Public healthAntibiotics spawn new communities of harmful bacteria

    Most people have taken an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection. Now researchers reveal that the way we often think about antibiotics — as straightforward killing machines – needs to be revised. The research not only adds a new dimension to how we treat infections, but also might change our understanding of why bacteria produce antibiotics in the first place.

  • Public healthThrowing science at anti-vaxxers just makes them more hardline

    By Tom Stafford

    Since the uptick in outbreaks of measles in the United States, those arguing for the right not to vaccinate their children have come under increasing scrutiny. What drives anti-vaxxers is similar to what drives other groups – climate skeptics, for example – which also hold beliefs at odds with conventional scientific thought: It is a process psychologists have called “biased assimilation” — we all regard new information in the light of what we already believe. Research shows that throwing scientific facts at anti-vaxxers is not likely to change minds because the level of knowledge and expertise of the people providing the facts — government, scientists, or journalists, say — was a poor predictor of how much they were trusted on the issue. Instead, what was critical was how much these experts were perceived to have the public’s interests at heart. Researchers who conducted surveys on the issue of pollution, for example, found that groups of people — such as friends and family — who were perceived to want to act in line with the survey respondents’ best interests were highly trusted, even if their expertise on the issue was judged as poor. Rather than lacking scientific facts, anti-vaxxers lack a trust in the establishments which produce and disseminate science.

  • Food safetyListeria pathogen is prevalent, persistent in retail delis: Study

    Research shows that standard cleaning procedures in retail delis may not eradicate Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause a potentially fatal disease in people with vulnerable immune systems. A study found that 6.8 percent of samples taken in fifteen delis before daily operation had begun tested positive for L. monocytogenes. In a second sampling phase, 9.5 percent of samples taken in thirty delis during operation over six months tested positive for the bacteria. In twelve delis, the same subtypes of the bacteria cropped up in several of the monthly samplings, which could mean that L. monocytogenes can persist in growth niches over time.

  • SuperbugsNew antibiotic offers promise against antibiotic-resistant infections

    Estimates of deaths from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the United States range upwards of 19,000 annually. Around 1960, when Staphylococcus aureus developed resistance to first-generation penicillin, methicillin and other second-generation beta-lactam antibiotics were adopted to fight the illness. The modern variants of the bacterium have developed resistance to the four drugs now used to treat it. A team of researchers at the university of Notre Dame has discovered a promising new antibiotic, a vital weapon against disease as pathogens evolve to develop resistance to long-used drugs.

  • Water & superbugThe water industry needs to join the fight against superbugs

    By Peter Fisher and Peter Collignon

    The fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria — so-called “superbugs” — is a huge challenge, one that the World Health Organization has described as a grave global problem. The problem of antibiotic resistance is being exacerbated worldwide by the pollution of waste water with leftover drugs, providing breeding grounds for resistant bacteria and their genes. The problem can persist for years, constantly refreshed by new discharges of both drugs and of resistant bacteria themselves, shed by people and animals. It is time for the health and water industries to strike a bargain. Health professionals need to be aware of the need for pharmaceuticals to be managed as organic and persistent pollutants. Tackling hot spots in “source control” such as hospitals and clinics could make significant inroads on the amount of waste drugs entering treatment plants. The water industry should ensure that treatment plants are operating under optimal conditions and that the older ones are either replaced or upgraded.

  • EbolaEbola epidemic ebbing: WHO

    The World Health Organization(WHO) has reported fewer than 100 new cases of Ebola in West Africa in the last week, which means the outbreak could soon reach its end. Some of the resources allocated to building treatment centers for thousands of sick people are now being diverted to contact-tracing efforts. “Efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” read the WHO’s latest situation report.

  • Biolabs2014 saw potentially serious safety mishaps at U.S. biolabs

    U.S. government laboratories working with potentially deadly biological agents have had to deal with several lab incidents in the past two years.Congress and federal officials have called for better enforcement of safe operating procedures at U.S. government labs. “There is a continued lack of national standards for designing, constructing, commissioning and overseeing” these labs, said a Government Accountability Office (GAO) expert.

  • Bioterror agentsA combination ricin/anthrax vaccine shows promise

    Soligenix, Inc. last month announced the publication of data demonstrating that the combination of RiVax and VeloThrax induces protective immunity to both ricin toxin and anthrax toxin exposure. RiVax is the company’s candidate vaccine for the prevention of exposure to ricin toxin using an antigen which is completely devoid of the toxic activity of ricin. VeloThrax is the company’s candidate vaccine which employs a derivative of recombinant protective antigen, termed Dominant Negative Inhibitor (DNI), which is a candidate for inclusion in a next generation anthrax vaccine.