Public health

  • Epidemiologist warns Maine is unprepared to deal with disease outbreaks

    Last year, when Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned to her home state of Maine from West Africa, she was quarantined despite showing no signs of the disease. The way she was treated led the CDC to warn that in the absence of detailed preparations, public hysteria and paranoia often accompany, and complicate response to, an outbreak. Since then, Maine officials have been debating whether or not state agencies are prepared to tackle an outbreak.

     

  • U.S. training foreign health personnel to tackle future epidemics in North Africa, Middle East

    In an effort to prevent an Ebola-like disease outbreak in North Africa and the Middle East, a U.S. science envoy is leading a government-sponsored program which would train foreign health experts on how to produce vaccines in time to prevent an epidemic. It is uncertain what disease threat might emerge in North Africa and the Middle East, so the scientists want to be prepared for a number of candidates. They worrys most about leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, MERS, dengue fever, and alkhurma hemorrhagic fever, diseases for which there are no licensed vaccines; and tuberculosis, for which the only vaccine, BCG, offers at best modest protection.

  • A durable vaccine for Ebola

    African apes serve as a main source of ebolavirus transmission into the human population. As a consequence, the prevention of ebolavirus infection in African apes could reduce the incidence of future human ebolavirus outbreaks. A new study shows the durability of a novel “disseminating” cytomegalovirus (CMV)-based Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus; EBOV) vaccine strategy that may eventually have the potential to reduce ebolavirus infection in wild African ape species. The innovative approach may overcome the major hurdle to achieving high vaccine coverage of these animals. They live in of some of the most remote, inaccessible regions of the world which makes conventional, individual vaccination near impossible.

  • Predictions of Ebola outbreak overstated by faulty modeling

    Frequently used approaches to understanding and forecasting emerging epidemics — including the West African Ebola outbreak — can lead to big errors that mask their own presence, according to a new study. “In the early days of the Ebola outbreak, a lot of people got into the forecasting business. They did it using appealingly simple mathematical models, and the result was a series of warnings that alerted the world, quite rightly, to the seriousness of the situation,” says one of the researchers. “But in the end, most of those predictions turned out to be overstated.”

  • Food safety specialists hope new tracking approach will lead to better intervention

    Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year. A new partnership to improve food safety and better track foodborne illness is an approach that food safety specialists say will lead to better intervention strategies.

  • Greater variety of U.S. flu strains alarming, but may not be new

    New virus strains found throughout the central United States have alarmed health specialists, including officials at the CDC, but other experts say that what appears to be an increase in the number of strains is merely the consequences of improved diagnosis technologies.As an expanding human population moves closer to animal habitats, the number of viruses that people come into contact with may also increase. “By extending our range, we encounter viruses we wouldn’t have otherwise,” says one expert. “It’s the nature of the world we live in now. It’s how it is, unfortunately.”

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  • Increasing use of antibiotics in livestock undermines effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans

    Antibiotic consumption in livestock worldwide could rise by 67 percent between 2010 and 2030, and possibly endanger the effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans, according to researchers. Five countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — will experience a growth of 99 percent in antibiotic consumption, compared with an expected 13 percent growth in their human populations over the same period. In the United States, antibiotic consumption in animals currently represents up to 80 percent of total antimicrobial sales. “The discovery and development of antibiotics was a major public health revolution of the twentieth century,” says one of the researchers. “Their effectiveness — and the lives of millions of people around the world — are now in danger due to the increasing global problem of antibiotic resistance, which is being driven by antibiotic consumption.”

  • New detection method for bacterial toxin

    The Bacillus cereus bacterium is one of the potential causes of food poisoning. A recent study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry shows that this versatile pathogen produces nineteen different variants of a poison that causes nausea and vomiting in human beings. This variety could explain why some cases are relatively benign and others can result in death. Across Europe, the number of food poisoning cases caused by the Bacillus species is on the rise.

  • Identifying infectious diseases at the point-of-care

    A major problem with current testing for infectious diseases in Africa is that it focuses on individual diseases and cannot reliably discriminate among them. Since most infectious diseases have the same feverish symptoms, diagnosis is often inaccurate, resulting in thousands of deaths and increased resistance to antimicrobial drugs. A new “lab-on-a-disc” technology developed by an EU project research team can diagnose malaria and other febrile infectious diseases simultaneously in just an hour — allowing faster point-of-care treatment and precise drugs administration that could save thousands of lives.

  • WHO, worried about damage to West Africa’s economy, delayed declaring Ebola an emergency

    The World Health Organization(WHO) for two months delayed labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency for fear of damaging the economy of Guinea and neighboring countries, according to leaked documents and memos from the organization. Beginning in April 2014, WHO’s specialists, both in the field and at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, were raising an alarm about the spreading epidemic — but it was not until June 2014 that WHO begun seriously to consider the scope of the outbreak, and it was not until August 2014 that WHO defined the Ebola outbreak as an epidemic and declared an international emergency.

  • Antibiotic resistance linked to poor governance, corruption

    Researchers examined antibiotic resistance in Europe from both a medical and a political-economic perspective, and found that antibiotic resistance is not related to a country’s wealth, but rather linked to poor governance and corruption. Countries with higher levels of corruption often had less rigorous and less transparent processes, with less effective controls over areas pertinent to antibiotic resistance. The researchers also found that resistance levels were higher when healthcare was performed by the private sector. This may be because clinicians in the private health system are subject to fewer controls when it comes to both the volumes and types of antibiotics used.

  • Chlorine used in sewage treatment may promote antibiotic resistance

    Chlorine, a disinfectant commonly used in most wastewater treatment plants, may be failing to completely eliminate pharmaceuticals from wastes. As a result, trace levels of these substances get discharged from the plants to the nation’s waterways. Now, scientists are reporting preliminary studies that show chlorine treatment may encourage the formation of new, unknown antibiotics that could also enter the environment, potentially contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

  • Wireless implantable medical devices vulnerable to hacking

    With rapidly advancing medical technologies, more and more Americans are fitted with wireless implantable medical devices (IMDs) such as cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators, cochlear implants, neuro-stimulators, and insulin pumps. This is leading to growing concerns over the vulnerability of such devices to hacking.

  • Long-held theory on how bacteria causes bubonic plague overturned

    The current outbreak of the plague in Madagascar shines a light on the need for new approaches to treat the ancient pathogen. A new UNC study unexpectedly unravels a long-held theory on how a fleabite leads to infection. For decades, scientists have thought the bacteria that cause the bubonic plague hijack host cells at the site of a fleabite and are then taken to the lymph nodes, where the bacteria multiply and trigger severe disease. Researchers discovered, however, that this accepted theory is off base. The bacteria do not use host cells; they traffic to lymph nodes on their own and not in great numbers.

  • Escape of deadly bacteria at Louisiana bio-research facility raises concerns

    Weeks after federal and state officials launched an investigation into how the burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria which causes life-threatening disease Melioidosis, escaped a laboratory at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana, another investigation is now looking into how a veterinary clinic worker might have been exposed to the bacteria.Tulane was conducting vaccine research on the bacteria in a laboratory that requires a biosafety level 3 rating — - the second highest security level.