Viruses and pathogens

  • New anthrax-killing virus could offer new ways to detect, treat, and decontaminate anthrax bacillus

    From a zebra carcass on the plains of Namibia in Southern Africa, researchers have discovered a new, unusually large virus (or bacteriophage) which infects the bacterium that causes anthrax. The novel bacteriophage could eventually open up new ways to detect, treat, or decontaminate the anthrax bacillus and its relatives that cause food poisoning. Bacteriophages are often highly specific to a particular strain of bacteria, and when they were first discovered in the early twentieth century there was strong interest in them as antimicrobial agents. The discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, however, eclipsed phage treatments in the West, although research continued in the Soviet Union.

  • Drug alternatives to antibiotics come with their own problems

    Researchers have been probing the long-term effectiveness of drugs currently being developed by the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs are intended for use in place of antibiotics, and they work by limiting the symptoms caused by a bug or virus in the body, rather than killing it outright. These treatments are designed to avoid the problem of infections becoming resistant to treatment, which has become widespread with antibiotics, but scientists caution that people given damage limitation treatments may appear healthy, but carry high levels of infection and so may be more likely to pass on disease. In addition, people with lesser symptoms could remain undiagnosed and add to the spread of disease.

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  • Engineering student develops early detection methods for E. coli bacteria

    Currently, it can take several days to detect bacteria in meat. A biomedical engineering graduate student at the University of New Mexico is working on ways quickly to detect Escherichia coli or E. coli bacteria in meat before it reaches the consumer. “If we are able to detect E. coli very early on in the beef chain, for example, in cows that are in the pasture or in beef samples from the slaughterhouse, we can prevent further contamination down the line, thereby mitigating the effect of mass recalls and illness,” she says.

  • Substitute for conventional antibiotics: Researchers discover a protein that kills bacteria

    Bacterial resistance is a natural process. Over the past sixty years or so, however, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics has pushed more and more bacteria to become more and more resistant, undermining one of the pillars of modern health care. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has developed faster than the production of new antibiotics, making bacterial infections increasingly difficult to treat. Scientists worry that a particularly virulent and deadly “superbug” could one day join the ranks of existing untreatable bacteria, causing a public health catastrophe comparable with the Black Death. Now, researchers have discovered a protein that kills bacteria. The isolation of this protein, produced by a virus that attacks bacteria, is a major step toward developing a substitute for conventional antibiotics.

  • California lawmakers propose restricting use of antibiotics in livestock

    The growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans has been attributed to the increasing use of antibiotics in livestock. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than two million Americans a year,killing at least 23,000 of them. California legislators are proposing new laws to restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock.

  • Economists propose market-driven solutions to the problem of antibiotic use in agriculture

    Fifty-one tons of antibiotics are consumed daily in the United States, of which 80 percent are used in agriculture. To minimize the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, Aidan Hollis of the University of Calgary is proposing the imposition of an antibiotic tax on food producers, thus encouraging them to distinguish between good and bad use of antibiotics, since the fee would force farmers to purchase antibiotics only when needed to treat sick animals and not for non-illness purposes.Timothy Richards of Arizona State University says that more regulations or a tax would run the risk of harming the agriculture industry. He says that farmers and ranchers should clearly label their products as containing or not containing antibiotics, and then market dynamics would operate by “letting people follow labels and buy or not buy meats where antibiotics are used.”

  • Superbugs were found breeding, spreading in sewage plants

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been raising alarms for years, particularly in hospital environments where public health officials fear they can be transferred from patient to patient and are very difficult to treat. Bacteria harboring the encoding gene that makes them resistant have been found on every continent except for Antarctica. Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria —“superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010 — were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. NDM-1 is able to make such common bacteria as E. coli, salmonella, and K. pneumonias resistant to even the strongest available antibiotics.

  • New test for detecting newly emerging strains of drug-resistant superbug

    Molecular assays for MRSA are used in active surveillance programs to identify colonized patients rapidly. Active surveillance is a proven strategy to reduce transmission in healthcare settings and it helps prevent infection in vulnerable patients. BD Diagnostics has received FDA clearance to market the BD MAX MRSA XT Assay for use on the BD MAX System. This is the second assay from BD Diagnostics capable of detecting newly emerging MRSA strains with the novel mecC gene.

  • Patients infected with drug-resistant bacteria at suburban Chicago hospital

    Health authorities in Illinois have placed a suburban Chicago hospital under tight scrutiny after an extremely rare strain of a dangerous drug-resistant strand of flu was found to be connected to a series of operations performed at the hospital. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has discovered forty-four cases of Illinois patients infected with a particular bacteria, and thirty-eight of those individuals had all recently undergone an endoscopic procedure at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, located in Park Ridge west of Chicago, in the past year.

  • Extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture creating public health crisis

    In the United States, 80 percent of the antibiotics are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production. This flood of antibiotics released into the environment — sprayed on fruit trees and fed to the likes of livestock, poultry, and salmon, among other uses — has led bacteria to evolve.Mounting evidence shows resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics — resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments. Scientists say that if the problem is left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale.

  • Superbugs discovered to be breeding in sewage plants

    Rice University study finds that two wastewater treatment plants in China fail to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo.

  • New weapon in the war on superbugs

    In the arms race between bacteria and modern medicine, bacteria have gained an edge. In recent decades, bacterial resistance to antibiotics has developed faster than the production of new antibiotics, making bacterial infections increasingly difficult to treat. Scientists worry that a particularly virulent and deadly “superbug” could one day join the ranks of existing untreatable bacteria, causing a public health catastrophe comparable with the Black Death.

  • 1950s pandemic flu virus still a health threat today, particularly to those under 50

    Scientists have evidence that descendants of the H2N2 avian influenza A virus that killed millions worldwide in the 1950s still pose a threat to human health, particularly to those under 50. The study included twenty-two H2N2 avian viruses collected from domestic poultry and wild aquatic birds between 1961 and 2008, making it the most comprehensive analysis yet of avian H2N2 viruses.

  • Malaria parasite circumvents natural defense

    Researchers have discovered recent genetic mutations in a parasite that causes over 100 million cases of malaria annually — changes that may render tens of millions of Africans who had been considered resistant, susceptible to infection. The 3-gene mutations appear to be the parasite’s invasion mechanisms. The changes occur in the Plasmodium vivax genome, and the Malaria Atlas Project estimates 2.5 billion people worldwide are at risk for P. vivax malaria.

  • Holograms to help in fighting malaria

    Scientists have developed a 3D filming technique that could inform research to stem the spread of malaria. Creating moving digital holograms of malaria sperm has given researchers fresh insights into the behavior of these tiny life forms. Understanding how malaria parasites mate could pave the way for improved prevention and control of this deadly disease, which poses a threat to half of the world’s population.