Public health

  • EbolaContrary to scientific evidence, the media continue to fan fears of airborne Ebola infection

    Despite solid evidence presented by scientists to quell rumors that the deadly Ebola virus could be passed through the air, many American media outlets continue to raise alarm and fuel debates with flimsy sources.These outlets publish articles which revive an earlier scientific debate over whether the Ebola virus can be transmitted through the air — but scientists say this debate has been decided, and that the Ebola virus cannot be transmitted through the air.

  • EpidemicsAncient plague offers insights on how to improve treatments for infections

    Dangerous new pathogens such as the Ebola virus invoke scary scenarios of deadly epidemics, but even ancient scourges such as the bubonic plague are still providing researchers with new insights on how the body responds to infections. Researchers have detailed how the Yersinia pestis bacteria that cause bubonic plague hitchhike on immune cells in the lymph nodes and eventually ride into the lungs and the blood stream, where the infection is easily transmitted to others. The insight provides a new avenue to develop therapies that block this host immune function rather than target the pathogens themselves — a tactic that often leads to antibiotic resistance.

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  • EbolaModels of Ebola spread cannot model people’s behavior

    The most effective way to limit the spread of the Ebola virus is by tightly quarantining infected individuals in hospitals, Ebola treatment units (ETUs), or in their homes. The developer of a sophisticated model to predict the pace and scope of the spread of Ebola admits that the most important variable — predicting the most effective way to convince infected individuals to report their cases to health authorities and be admitted to a quarantined facility, or even just stay at home – is beyond the model’s reach. “The trouble is to get people to believe that going to the hospitals is in their best interest,” said CDC’s Dr. Martin Meltzer. “We’ve got to get people to understand that. You can go around to villages and cities and slums all you want and say, ‘If you’re ill, go to the hospital.’ Why should anybody believe? We can’t model that.”

  • Food securityIrish teens win Google Science Fair prize for using bacteria to improve crop yields

    Three high-schoolers from Cork County Ireland have won the top prize at this year’s Google Science Fair for their project that demonstrates a way to germinate seeds faster using bacteria as a seed treatment. The group found that all of the seeds treated with bacteria sprouted on average 50 percent faster than those that were left untreated, which, the team reports led to an increase in harvest amounts of some of the oats by as much as 70 percent.

  • Bug detectionTurning mobile phones into detectors of disease-spreading insects

    Insects transmit many of the world’s most infectious diseases, but there has been a decline in the expertise needed to recognize species of insects most likely to transmit illness to people. In a new effort to safeguard human populations, a team of scientists, computer programmers, public health officials, and artists is working to enable mobile phones to link up to computers that automatically identify species of disease-carrying insects.

  • EbolaNumber of Ebola cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone to reach 1.4 million by mid-January 2015: CDC

    A new study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a model developed by CDC to estimate the spread of the Ebola virus shows that if current virus proliferation trends continue without additional interventions, the number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone will reach 1.4 million by mid-January 2015.

  • EbolaResearch predicts possible 6,800 new Ebola cases this month

    New research predicts new Ebola cases could reach 6,800 in West Africa by the end of the month if new control measures are not enacted. The researchers also discovered through modeling analysis that the rate of rise in cases significantly increased in August in Liberia and Guinea, around the time that a mass quarantine was put in place, indicating that the mass quarantine efforts may have made the outbreak worse than it would have been otherwise.

  • SuperbugsOld drug may hold key to new antibiotics

    Scientists have found that an anticonvulsant drug may help in developing a new class of antibiotics. Although dozens of antibiotics target what bacteria do, the scientists have looked at how a certain part of bacteria are created, and they found there is a way of stopping it.

  • EbolaConcerns about use of Ebola as a bioweapon exaggerated: Experts

    The stabbing of a federal air marshal with a syringe at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, three weeks ago has raised concern about the possibility that the Ebola virus could be harvested by terrorists and used as a bioweapon. Security experts say that worries about the Ebola being used as a weapon by terrorists are exaggerated, since it would be very difficult for terrorists to grow large quantities of the virus and then turn the virus into an effective, dispersible weapon to cover a wide area in order to infect and kill a large number of people. Still, experts say the possibility of Ebola as a terror weapons cannot be completely discounted – especially small-scale attacks on individuals, like the attack on the air marshal at Lagos airport. Potentially even more dangerous would be a bioattack by suicide infectors – individuals who deliberately infected themselves for the purpose of carrying the virus out of an epidemic zone in order to infect people in other areas or even other countries.

  • Food safetyBotulism’s genetic triggers found

    Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce the most deadly toxin we know of. Botulinum spores are found throughout the environment. If they contaminate food, under certain conditions they can germinate and reproduce in our food, and generate a neurotoxin. Scientists from the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategically funded Institute of Food Research have discovered genes that are crucial for its germination, which may present a new way of stopping these deadly bacteria growing in our food.

  • Food safetyDetecting horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

    As the United Kingdom forms a new crime unit designed to fight food fraud — in response to an uproar last year over horse meat being passed off as beef — scientists from Germany are reporting a technique for detecting meat adulteration.

  • EpidemicsScientists develop a new way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases

    For decades, researchers have tried to develop broadly effective vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. While limited progress has been made along these lines, there are still no licensed vaccinations available that can protect most people from these devastating diseases. So what are immunologists to do when vaccines just aren’t working? Whereas vaccines introduce substances such as antigens into the body hoping to illicit an appropriate immune response — the generation of either antibodies that might block an infection or T cells capable of attacking infected cells — Caltech scientists have approached the problem in a different way: Why not provide the body with step-by-step instructions for producing specific antibodies that have been shown to neutralize a particular disease?

  • EbolaEbola outbreak “out of all proportion” and severity cannot be predicted

    A mathematical model that replicates Ebola outbreaks can no longer be used to ascertain the eventual scale of the current epidemic, researchers find. When applying the available data from the ongoing 2014 outbreak to the model, it is “out of all proportion and on an unprecedented scale when compared to previous outbreaks,” says the model developer.

  • FrackingPeople living near “fracking” sites report more health symptoms

    Little is known about the environmental and public health impact of certain natural gas extraction techniques — including hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking” — that occur near residential areas. A Yale-led study has found a greater prevalence of health symptoms reported among residents living close to natural gas wells, including those drilled by hydraulic fracturing.

  • WaterCheap, easy-to-install water purifying system for remote communities

    About 1.5 million people — and 90 percent of them children — die every year from consuming untreated or contaminated water. University of Adelaide mechanical engineering students and staff have designed a low-cost and easily made drinking water treatment system suitable for remote communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) — using foil chip packets and some glass tubing.