Viruses and pathogens

  • NIH employees not notified of smallpox virus vials found at NIH Md. campus

    When Food and Drug Administration(FDA) workers the other day discovered decades-old vials of smallpox virus in Building 29A on the Bethesda, Maryland campus of the National Institutes of Health(NIH), NIH officials reached out to Montgomery County officials, Maryland health officials, and senior NIH executives.No notification, however, was sent to the roughly 18,000 NIH employees who work at the agency’s main campus.

  • Disagreement over use of experimental drugs in desperate effort to contain Ebola outbreak

    The efforts to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history have so far failed. International response teams, desperate to limit the toll of the fast-spreading epidemic in three West African countries, have been calling for the use experimental drugs or vaccines to try to stop the deadly virus. Many experts, however, including the scientist who led the work on a Canadian-made Ebola vaccine, say that using untested medications in the current West African outbreak could be disastrous. Other scientists disagree. The World Health Organization reports that the current outbreak, which is the first in West Africa, has so far infected 844 people, causing the death of 518 of them. This is double the size of the next largest outbreak, in Uganda in 2000, and this outbreak has just begun.

  • Smallpox vials found unguarded at NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

    Earlier this month workers clearing out a Food and Drug Administration(FDA) branch office at the National Institutes of Health(NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland, discovered vials containing smallpox, an eradicated agent feared for its bioweapons potential. The last smallpox samples in existence were thought to be held at tightly guarded facilities in Atlanta and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnologyin Novosibirsk, Russia. The vials appear to date from the 1950s.

  • CDC says anthrax infection “highly unlikely,” but reassigns bioterror lab chief

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) has advised some of its employees to stop taking antibiotics meant to fight a possible anthrax infection after preliminary tests suggest that it is “highly unlikely” those employees were exposed to live anthrax following an incident in June. Michael Farrell, head of the CDC bioterror lab, has been reassigned.

  • John Tull, whose 2002 bubonic plague illness raised bioterrorism fears, dies

    In November 2002, John Tull, a New Mexico lawyer, was visiting New York when he was found to have bubonic plague. The discovery occurred a year after the fall 2001 anthrax attacks – which, at the time, were still unresolved – raising fears that Tull was a victim of bioterrorism. Those concerns were alleviated when it was determined that Tull’s case was linked to fleas in northern New Mexico, where Tull and his wife had a five-acre property outside Santa Fe. Tull, 65, died last week of cancer not related to the 2002 illness.

  • Better tools for tracing food-borne illness to source

    Research could make it easier for public health investigators to determine if a case of food poisoning is an isolated incident or part of a larger outbreak. The study focuses on a test called multi-locus variable number tandem repeats variable analysis (MLVA). The test, which is increasingly used in the detection and investigation of foodborne outbreaks, analyzes specific sequences of DNA (called loci) that change rapidly enough over time to distinguish outbreak strains from other circulating strains of the bacteria but not so rapidly that connections could be masked by changes arising during the course of an outbreak.

  • 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.

  • 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.