Viruses and pathogens

  • EbolaResearchers develop Ebola vaccine effective in a single dose

    During 2014, the outbreak of the West African Makona strain of Ebola Zaire virus killed nearly 10,000 and caused worldwide concern. With increasing population growth in West Africa, the frequency of contact between humans and natural Ebola virus hosts such as bats will likely rise, potentially leading to more catastrophic outbreaks. Researchers have developed a quick-acting vaccine that is both safe and effective with a single dose against the Ebola strain that killed thousands of people in West Africa last year.

  • EbolaA durable vaccine for Ebola

    African apes serve as a main source of ebolavirus transmission into the human population. As a consequence, the prevention of ebolavirus infection in African apes could reduce the incidence of future human ebolavirus outbreaks. A new study shows the durability of a novel “disseminating” cytomegalovirus (CMV)-based Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus; EBOV) vaccine strategy that may eventually have the potential to reduce ebolavirus infection in wild African ape species. The innovative approach may overcome the major hurdle to achieving high vaccine coverage of these animals. They live in of some of the most remote, inaccessible regions of the world which makes conventional, individual vaccination near impossible.

  • Public healthGreater variety of U.S. flu strains alarming, but may not be new

    New virus strains found throughout the central United States have alarmed health specialists, including officials at the CDC, but other experts say that what appears to be an increase in the number of strains is merely the consequences of improved diagnosis technologies.As an expanding human population moves closer to animal habitats, the number of viruses that people come into contact with may also increase. “By extending our range, we encounter viruses we wouldn’t have otherwise,” says one expert. “It’s the nature of the world we live in now. It’s how it is, unfortunately.”

  • SuperbugsIncreasing use of antibiotics in livestock undermines effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans

    Antibiotic consumption in livestock worldwide could rise by 67 percent between 2010 and 2030, and possibly endanger the effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans, according to researchers. Five countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — will experience a growth of 99 percent in antibiotic consumption, compared with an expected 13 percent growth in their human populations over the same period. In the United States, antibiotic consumption in animals currently represents up to 80 percent of total antimicrobial sales. “The discovery and development of antibiotics was a major public health revolution of the twentieth century,” says one of the researchers. “Their effectiveness — and the lives of millions of people around the world — are now in danger due to the increasing global problem of antibiotic resistance, which is being driven by antibiotic consumption.”

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  • Food safetyNew detection method for bacterial toxin

    The Bacillus cereus bacterium is one of the potential causes of food poisoning. A recent study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry shows that this versatile pathogen produces nineteen different variants of a poison that causes nausea and vomiting in human beings. This variety could explain why some cases are relatively benign and others can result in death. Across Europe, the number of food poisoning cases caused by the Bacillus species is on the rise.

  • 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.

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  • 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.