Viruses and pathogens

  • Canadian dirt containing Kryptonite for superbugs

    A fungus living in the soils of Nova Scotia could offer new hope in the pressing battle against drug-resistant germs that kill tens of thousands of people every year, including one considered a serious global threat. A team of researchers has discovered a fungus-derived molecule, known as AMA, which is able to disarm one of the most dangerous antibiotic-resistance genes: NDM-1 or New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamase-1, identified by the World Health Organization as a global public health threat.

  • Ebola epidemic in West Africa is “out of control”

    Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the ebola epidemic in west Africa is “out of control” and will not be contained unless politicians, religious leaders, and aid agencies urgently improve their response to the unprecedented outbreak. The deadly disease is continuing to spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says the outbreak has so far claimed 337 lives. WHO says that the confirmed, probable, or suspected cases stands at 528, with the disease identified in more than sixty locations across the three west African countries. The WHO said on Saturday that a failure by the authorities in Guinea to gauge the severity of the initial outbreak, and a subsequent relaxation of counter-measures, had created a “second wave” of the disease.

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  • The “militarization of health care” threatening the health of local populations: experts

    The surge in murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan has made headlines this year, but little attention has been devoted to the ethical issues surrounding the global health impact of current counterterrorism policy and practice. A new study traces the ways that the war on terror is incorporating medicine into warfare – what the researchers call “the militarization of health care” — threatening the health of local populations, increasing global health disparities, and causing profound moral distress among humanitarian and health care workers.

  • Forensic geographical profiling technique targets killer diseases

    A mathematical tool used by the Metropolitan Police and FBI has been adapted by researchers to help control outbreaks of malaria, and has the potential to target other infectious diseases. The researchers have shown how the math that underpins what law enforcement calls “geographic profiling” can be adapted to target the control of infectious diseases, including malaria.

  • Researchers develop better methods to detect E. coli

    Researchers have developed a method to detect E. coli before it can potentially contaminate the food supply. The newly developed test is a molecular assay, or polymerase chain reaction, that detects bacteria based on genetic sequences, which are the bacteria’s “fingerprints.” The new approach to E. coli detection would benefit the beef industry by preventing costly recalls, and it would benefit consumers by ensuring the safety of the beef supply.

  • As many as 75 CDC scientists exposed to anthrax after violation of handling procedure

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday (Thursday) that as many as seventy-five scientists working in CDC laboratories in Atlanta, Georgia may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after researchers deviated from established pathogen handling procedures. The exposure occurred after researchers working in a high-level biosecurity laboratory located at the CDC’s Atlanta campus failed to follow proper procedures to inactivate the bacteria. They compounded this initial error by moving the samples, which may have included live bacteria, to lower-security CDC labs not equipped to handle live anthrax. Scientists working in the lower security lab do not wear the protective gear necessary when handling live anthrax bacteria.

  • Researchers discover Achilles’ heel in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    Scientists have made a breakthrough in the race to solve antibiotic resistance. New research reveals an Achilles’ heel in the defensive barrier which surrounds drug-resistant bacterial cells. The findings pave the way for a new wave of drugs that kill superbugs by bringing down their defensive walls rather than attacking the bacteria itself. It means that in future, bacteria may not develop drug-resistance at all.

  • Drug-resistant pathogens spread in Florida hospitals

    Drug-resistant germs kill more than 40 percent of individuals with serious infections, and they tend to have a higher kill-rate among patients with weaker immune systems, including the elderly and young children. In Florida, several hospitals handled antibiotic-resistant germ outbreaks without alerting the public. Since 2008, twelve outbreaks have affected at least 490 people statewide, but the Florida Department of Health(FDH) did little to inform the public.

  • Avian flu viruses has all the ingredients necessary for the emergence of 1918 influenza-like virus

    The 1918, or “Spanish flu,” pandemic was one of recorded history’s most devastating outbreaks of disease, resulting in an estimated forty million deaths worldwide. Researchers have shown that circulating avian influenza viruses contain all the genetic ingredients necessary to underpin the emergence of a virus similar to the deadly 1918 influenza virus. The researchers have identified eight genes from influenza viruses isolated from wild ducks that possessed remarkable genetic similarities to the genes that made up the 1918 pandemic flu virus.

  • Scientists divided on whether to destroy last stocks of smallpox virus

    While smallpox has been eradicated since 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) still maintains a stockpile of the virus — a measure which is becoming an increasingly contentious issue for members of the 194-nation organization. Some scientists argue that the stockpiles of the virus should be maintained until there is a completely confirmed response to any possible future smallpox outbreak, while other scientists argue that the danger of an accidental outbreak or terrorist bioattack using the virus far outweighed any advances to be made by additional live testing.

  • Scientists: immediate action required to address superbugs’ threat

    Scientists warn that drug-resistant superbugs demand an immediate, serious response and that the steps required to plan for these pathogens were not properly taken in previous decades. “[A] world without effective antibiotics would be ‘deadly,’ with routine surgery, treatments for cancer and diabetes and organ transplants becoming impossible,” says one scientist. The scientists warn that if action is not taken immediately, the massive health gains made since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 will be lost forever.

  • Experiments with dangerous bird flu stains pose risk of accidental release

    Experiments creating dangerous flu strain that are transmissible between mammals pose too great a risk to human life from potential release, according to researchers. Although experiments on these so-called novel potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) are conducted at high levels of biosecurity, the researchers argue that they pose a substantial risk to human life. They are calling for greater scrutiny of experiments that make virulent influenza strains transmissible, and for future studies on flu transmission to use safer and more effective alternative approaches.

  • Soil bacteria may offer insights into curbing antibiotic resistance

    Drug-resistant bacteria annually sicken two million Americans and kill at least 23,000. Antibiotic-resistant disease now adds $20 billion to annual health-care costs and leads to eight million additional hospital treatment days in the United States. A driving force behind this growing public health threat is the ability of bacteria to share genes that provide antibiotic resistance. Bacteria that naturally live in the soil have a vast collection of genes to fight off antibiotics, but they are much less likely to share these genes, suggesting that most genes from soil bacteria are not poised to contribute to antibiotic resistance in infectious bacteria.

  • Border Collies chase away beach contamination

    Gull droppings may be one source of the indicator bacterium Escherichia coli to beach water, which can lead to swim advisories and beach closings. Border Collies are effective at reducing gull congregation on recreational beaches, resulting in lower E. coli abundance in the sand.

  • Bill would encourage development of drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) reported that two million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year, and the pathogens cause 23,000 deaths annually. In 1990, about twenty pharmaceutical companies had large antibiotic research and development programs, but today only three large firms and a few small companies are investing in antibiotic research. A new proposed bill, the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistant Microorganisms Act, would encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.