Viruses and pathogens

  • Ebola outbreakWest African countries intensify efforts to contain Ebola outbreak

    Togo-based, pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and growing fears of the rapidly spreading Ebola virus have led the Liberian football association to cancel games. Liberia plans to shut down schools and many markets, place all non-essential public servants on leave and quarantine several communities. The rural communities which will be guaranteed will have food supplies and medical support ferried only by approved persons. All public facilities could be chlorinated and disinfected on Friday, and public gatherings have already been banned.

  • EpidemicsWhat you need to know about Ebola

    More West African nations are alerting health officials and citizens about the potential for the deadly Ebola disease to spread by individuals traveling from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where more than 700 people have died in recent weeks.An American doctor, Kent Brantly, working in Monrovia, Liberia with Ebola patients has contracted the disease.

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  • SuperbugsClay minerals may offer an answer to MRSA, other superbug infections

    Researchers set out to identify naturally occurring antibacterial clays effective at killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They incubated the pathogens Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which breeds skin infections, with clays from volcanic deposit near Crater Lake, Oregon. They found that the clays’ rapid uptake of iron impaired bacterial metabolism. Cells were flooded with excess iron, which overwhelmed iron storage proteins and killed the bacteria.

  • BiothreatsCDC resumes pathogen shipments

    Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) announced it would reopen its clinical tuberculosis lab to resume transfer of inactivated tuberculosis bacteria to lower-level CDC labs for genetic analysis. CDC head Tom Frieden imposed a ban on transfers involving high-level pathogens following a series of incidents and mishandling of such pathogens at CDC labs.

  • EpidemicsEbola spreads to Nigeria, most populous African nation

    The Ebola outbreak which has so far left more than 700 people dead and 1,100 infected across three West African countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — has now spread to Africa’s most populous nation after a Liberian man, who traveled to Lagos for an international conference, became sick on the airplane, and died two days later in a Lagos hospital. The sister of the 40-year-old man had recently died of Ebola in Liberia.

  • BiolabsLawmaker says CDC made false lab safety pledges

    A house panel is investigating repeated safety lapses at key government laboratories, including an incident in which eighty lab workers were likely exposed to live anthrax bacteria at an Atlanta facility. The group is also investigating the CDC’s responses to the incidents. The committee chairman noted that CDC had in the past offered assurances that it was tightening monitoring of labs’ safety procedures, but that such pledges were not fulfilled.

  • BiolabsThe number of labs handling deadly germs grows, and so do calls for regulating lab safety

    The number of labs handling dangerous pathogens continues to grow, and so does the number of accidents involving dangerous pathogens. The number of reported accidents involving dangerous microbes grew rapidly from just sixteen in 2004 to 128 in 2008, and 269 in 2010, the last year reported.Experts note that currently there is no single federal agency responsible for assessing overall laboratory needs — instead, departments and agencies only assess the needs for labs relative to their respective missions.

  • PlagueChinese authorities seal off city after bubonic plague death last week

    Chinese authorities have sealed off the city of Yumen, in the north-western province of Gansu, and 151 people have been quarantined since last week after a man died of bubonic plague. The 30,000 residents of the city are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on the perimeter of the city are preventing people from going into the city, instructing motorists to find alternative routes.

  • SuperbugsSewage treatment contributes to antibiotic resistance

    Wastewater treatment plants are unwittingly helping to spread antibiotic resistance, say scientists. Researchers found that processing human, farm, and industrial waste all together in one place makes it easier for bacteria to become resistant to a wide range of even the most clinically-effective antibiotics. This is because so many different types of bacteria come together in sewage plants that it gives them a perfect opportunity to swap genes that confer resistance, helping them live. This means antibiotic-resistant bacteria are evolving much faster than they would in isolation.

  • BiolabsConcerns grow about CDC’s tracking, securing dangerous pathogens under its supervision

    Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) officials reported that the same federal scientist who found vials of smallpox in a Food and Drug Administration(FDA) cold storage room at the National Institutes of Healthfacility in Bethesda, Maryland, also found a collection of 327 vials which could contain pathogens like dengue, influenza, and rickettsia. The new revelation adds to growing concerns about the government’s ability to track and secure dangerous pathogens under its supervision.”It is ironic that the institution that sets U.S. standards for safety and security of work with human pathogens fails to meet its own standards,” says a security expert. “It is clear that the CDC cannot be relied upon to police its own select-agent labs.”

  • Public healthKilling malaria parasites dead with anti-tank missile detection technology

    Malaria kills 1.2 million people every year. Existing tests look for the parasite in a blood sample. The parasites, however, can be difficult to detect in the early stages of infection. As a result the disease is often spotted only when the parasites have developed and multiplied in the body. Scientists say that state-of-the-art military hardware could soon fight malaria: they have used an anti-tank Javelin missile detector, more commonly used in warfare to detect the enemy, in a new test rapidly to identify malaria parasites in blood.

  • BiosecurityHead of biosecurity advisory panel: Board is stalling as a result of slow fed policy work

    The head of a federal biosecurity advisory committee says delays in the development of a national policy on institutional oversight of risky life-sciences research are the main reason the committee has been inactive for close to two years. The dormancy of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was pushed into the spotlight this week with the revelation that the eleven remaining original members of the 23-member board are being replaced. The board was set up in 2005 to advise the government on biosecurity and dual-use research, meaning research that can be exploited for harm as well as good.

  • Public healthNew assay spots fake malaria drugs, could save thousands of lives

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that about 200,000 lives a year may be lost due to the use of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs. Chemists have created a new type of chemical test, or assay, which is inexpensive, simple, and can tell whether or not one of the primary drugs being used to treat malaria is genuine — an enormous and deadly problem in the developing world.

  • BiolabsInvestigation finds serious violations of safety rules in CDC’s handling of deadly germs

    An investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS) conducted a review, from 23 June to 3 July, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), and cited the agency for failing to follow proper procedures before and after the anthrax scare which led to the potential exposure of more than eighty lab workers to live anthrax viruses in June.APHIS found multiple violations of federal rules for handling dangerous microbes.

  • BioterrorismFollowing accidents, CDC shuts down anthrax, flu labs

    Federal officials announced on Friday that they had temporarily closed the flu and anthrax laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and halted shipments of all infectious agents from the agency’s highest-security labs. The announcement followed revelations about two recent accidents involving deadly agents at the CDC campus in Atlanta. Critics said the accidents highlighted an even greater danger – the efforts at some labs to create superstrains of deadly viruses (what is called “gain of function” research). “You can have all the safety procedures in the world, but you can’t provide for human error,” a critic of gain-of-function research said.