Public health

  • Ebola outbreakWest African countries intensify efforts to contain Ebola outbreak

    Togo-based, pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and growing fears of the rapidly spreading Ebola virus have led the Liberian football association to cancel games. Liberia plans to shut down schools and many markets, place all non-essential public servants on leave and quarantine several communities. The rural communities which will be guaranteed will have food supplies and medical support ferried only by approved persons. All public facilities could be chlorinated and disinfected on Friday, and public gatherings have already been banned.

  • Food safetyNew methods of detecting Salmonella in pork meat processing

    Infections caused by foodborne microorganisms are an increasing public health burden. In a Ph.D. project at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, new methods of characterizing and detecting foodborne illness-causing Salmonella in pork meat processing and in bacteria in water, feed and food samples were studied.

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  • EpidemicsWhat you need to know about Ebola

    More West African nations are alerting health officials and citizens about the potential for the deadly Ebola disease to spread by individuals traveling from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where more than 700 people have died in recent weeks.An American doctor, Kent Brantly, working in Monrovia, Liberia with Ebola patients has contracted the disease.

  • SuperbugsClay minerals may offer an answer to MRSA, other superbug infections

    Researchers set out to identify naturally occurring antibacterial clays effective at killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They incubated the pathogens Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which breeds skin infections, with clays from volcanic deposit near Crater Lake, Oregon. They found that the clays’ rapid uptake of iron impaired bacterial metabolism. Cells were flooded with excess iron, which overwhelmed iron storage proteins and killed the bacteria.

  • BiothreatsCDC resumes pathogen shipments

    Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) announced it would reopen its clinical tuberculosis lab to resume transfer of inactivated tuberculosis bacteria to lower-level CDC labs for genetic analysis. CDC head Tom Frieden imposed a ban on transfers involving high-level pathogens following a series of incidents and mishandling of such pathogens at CDC labs.

  • EpidemicsEbola spreads to Nigeria, most populous African nation

    The Ebola outbreak which has so far left more than 700 people dead and 1,100 infected across three West African countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — has now spread to Africa’s most populous nation after a Liberian man, who traveled to Lagos for an international conference, became sick on the airplane, and died two days later in a Lagos hospital. The sister of the 40-year-old man had recently died of Ebola in Liberia.

  • WaterDrought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Industrial pollutionExtensive corrosion found at chemical tanks of W.Va. site which contaminated region

    Investigators by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have reported that they detected significant corrosion in MCHM chemical storage tanks at the Freedom Industries site responsible for a 9 January contamination of the Elk River which has impacted over 300,000 residents of the area.

  • BiolabsLawmaker says CDC made false lab safety pledges

    A house panel is investigating repeated safety lapses at key government laboratories, including an incident in which eighty lab workers were likely exposed to live anthrax bacteria at an Atlanta facility. The group is also investigating the CDC’s responses to the incidents. The committee chairman noted that CDC had in the past offered assurances that it was tightening monitoring of labs’ safety procedures, but that such pledges were not fulfilled.

  • BiolabsThe number of labs handling deadly germs grows, and so do calls for regulating lab safety

    The number of labs handling dangerous pathogens continues to grow, and so does the number of accidents involving dangerous pathogens. The number of reported accidents involving dangerous microbes grew rapidly from just sixteen in 2004 to 128 in 2008, and 269 in 2010, the last year reported.Experts note that currently there is no single federal agency responsible for assessing overall laboratory needs — instead, departments and agencies only assess the needs for labs relative to their respective missions.

  • PlagueChinese authorities seal off city after bubonic plague death last week

    Chinese authorities have sealed off the city of Yumen, in the north-western province of Gansu, and 151 people have been quarantined since last week after a man died of bubonic plague. The 30,000 residents of the city are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on the perimeter of the city are preventing people from going into the city, instructing motorists to find alternative routes.

  • SuperbugsSewage treatment contributes to antibiotic resistance

    Wastewater treatment plants are unwittingly helping to spread antibiotic resistance, say scientists. Researchers found that processing human, farm, and industrial waste all together in one place makes it easier for bacteria to become resistant to a wide range of even the most clinically-effective antibiotics. This is because so many different types of bacteria come together in sewage plants that it gives them a perfect opportunity to swap genes that confer resistance, helping them live. This means antibiotic-resistant bacteria are evolving much faster than they would in isolation.

  • WasteResearchers create safe, resistant material to store waste

    Storing industrial waste has never been a pretty job, and it is getting harder. New techniques for refining such metals as aluminum and vanadium, for example, also yield new byproducts that have to be sealed away from human and environmental contact. Also, the practice of “scrubbing” the exhaust of coal-fired power plants keeps chemicals like sulfur dioxide from entering the air, but produces a more concentrated residue. Now, many of these wastes are proving too acidic, basic or concentrated for commonly used storage materials.

  • Food securityHow existing cropland could feed billions more

    Feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth’s strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge. According to a new report, focusing efforts to improve food systems on a few specific regions, crops, and actions could make it possible both to meet the basic needs of three billion more people and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint. The report focuses on seventeen key crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s crop calories and account for most irrigation and fertilizer consumption on a global scale.

  • BiolabsConcerns grow about CDC’s tracking, securing dangerous pathogens under its supervision

    Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) officials reported that the same federal scientist who found vials of smallpox in a Food and Drug Administration(FDA) cold storage room at the National Institutes of Healthfacility in Bethesda, Maryland, also found a collection of 327 vials which could contain pathogens like dengue, influenza, and rickettsia. The new revelation adds to growing concerns about the government’s ability to track and secure dangerous pathogens under its supervision.”It is ironic that the institution that sets U.S. standards for safety and security of work with human pathogens fails to meet its own standards,” says a security expert. “It is clear that the CDC cannot be relied upon to police its own select-agent labs.”