Viruses and pathogens

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • Second MERS case discovered in U.S.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) has confirmed a second U.S. case of MERS, the Middle East respiratory virus which has been circulating on the Arabian Peninsula for the past few months. MERS does not transmit easily from person to person, but in the Middle East, it has infected those close to healthcare personnel taking care of victims. Roughly 539 confirmed cases have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO); 145 have been fatal; 450 of the confirmed cases were in Saudi Arabia.

  • Debate intensifies over whether or not to destroy last stockpile of smallpox

    The world’s health ministers are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the fate of the last known stockpiles of smallpox, held under tight security in two labs— one in the United States and the other in Russia. Smallpox has been eradicated for more than three decades, but some U.S. health officials say the remaining stockpiles should be kept for further studies. The smallpox virus is being used to develop drugs and safer vaccines in case the virus returns through terrorism or a lab accident. Member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) once agreed that the last virus strains known to officials would eventually be destroyed, but a set date was never agreed upon.

  • California bill banning use of antibiotics in livestock withdrawn

    The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreports that 23,000 people die every year from infections that cannot be cured, often due to overuse of antibiotics which creates drug resistant bugs. Last Wednesday, California Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) withdrew proposed legislation which would ban the sale of meat and poultry fed on nontherapeutic antibiotics. He lacked sufficient support from fellow legislators.

  • New technology to detect previously undetectable fecal contamination in water

    Technology capable of sampling water systems to find indicators of fecal matter contamination that are thousandths and even millionths of times smaller than those found by conventional methods is being developed by researchers. The researchers have developed an ultrasensitive detection method that can detect molecules associated with human and animal fecal matter in water systems. These extremely small indicators, he explains, have been traditionally difficult to detect but can signal greater levels of contamination, which can lead to illness and even death.

  • Promising agents breach superbug defenses to fight antibiotic resistance

    In the fight against “superbugs,” scientists have discovered a class of agents that can make some of the most notorious strains vulnerable to the same antibiotics that they once handily shrugged off. Scientists have been developing new agents to combat these enzymes, but the agents so far have fallen short. A new class of agents, called metallopolymers, shows promise.

  • DHS cancels acquisition of BioWatch’s Generation 3 technology

    Owing to concerns about BioWatcheffectiveness and high cost, DHS has canceled plans to install an automated technology meant to speed the 24-hour operations of the program, the nation’s system for detecting a biological attack.ASeptember 2012 GAO report estimated that annual costs to operate the Generation 3 technology would be “about four times more” than the existing BioWatch system.

  • 1918 pandemic flu virus mystery solved

    Just as the world was recovering from the devastation of the First World War, another killer swept across the globe. A deadly flu virus attacked more than one-third of the world’s population, and within months had killed more than fifty million people — three times as many as the war — and had done it more quickly than any other illness in recorded history. Until now, the origin of the 1918 pandemic flu virus and its unusual severity have vexed health experts. A new study not only sheds light on the devastating 1918 pandemic, but could also improve vaccination strategies, and pandemic prevention and preparedness.

  • Ebola outbreak highlights need for global surveillance strategies

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the deadly Ebola virus can cause mortality rates up to 90 percent of those individuals who contract the disease. No cure or vaccine exists for Ebola hemorrhagic fever and public health officials are concerned about further spread of the virus in the region. A comprehensive review was published yesterday examining the current state of knowledge of the deadly Ebola and Marburg virus. The review calls for improved global surveillance strategies to combat the emergence of infectious diseases such as the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has claimed the lives of 122 people in the countries of Guinea and Liberia.

  • New MRSA superbug discovered in Brazil

    Researchers have identified a new superbug that caused a bloodstream infection in Brazilian patients. The new superbug is part of a class of highly-resistant bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which is a major cause of hospital and community-associated infections. The superbug has also acquired high levels of resistance to vancomycin, the most common and least expensive antibiotic used to treat severe MRSA infections worldwide. The most worrisome aspect of the discovery is that genomic analyses indicated that this novel vancomycin-resistant MRSA superbug belongs to a genetic lineage that is commonly found outside hospitals (designated community-associated MRSA).

  • Rearming penicillin for the twenty-first century

    Penicillin, one of the scientific marvels of the twentieth century, is currently losing a lot of battles it once won against bacterial infections. Scientists, however, have just reported a new approach to restoring its combat effectiveness, even against so-called “superbugs.”