Stray vials of the deadly smallpox virus from the 1950s have been discovered at a federal lab near Washington, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, the second lapse discovered in a month involving a deadly pathogen at a government facility.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that workers discovered the vials in a cardboard box on July 1 while clearing out an old lab on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
The six glass vials contained freeze-dried smallpox virus and were sealed with melted glass. The vials appeared intact and there is no evidence that lab workers or the general public are at risk…
The mishandling of smallpox follows the CDC’s recent mishap in which the agency believed it may have transferred live anthrax samples to a CDC lab that was not equipped to handle them, potentially exposing dozens of employees to the pathogen.
The CDC is testing the vials to see if the smallpox is viable and could make someone sick, said Skinner. After those tests, which could take up to two weeks, the samples will be destroyed, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said…
The CDC said it has notified WHO about the discovery. If the specimens turn out to be viable, the CDC said it will invite the WHO to witness the destruction of the smallpox samples.
Skinner said the CDC is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine how and when the samples were prepared and how they came to be stored and forgotten in the FDA lab.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said the discovery of abandoned vials of smallpox is a reminder to labs globally to take stock of what is in their freezers.
I sense the plot for yet another less-than-stellar movie made for the SyFy Channel.
New research published today in the journal Nature 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.
The discovery doesn’t come a moment too soon. The World Health Organization has warned that antibiotic-resistance in bacteria is spreading globally, causing severe consequences. And even common infections which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.
Researchers investigated a class of bacteria called ‘Gram-negative bacteria’ which is particularly resistant to antibiotics because of its cells’ impermeable lipid-based outer membrane…
Until now little has been known about exactly how the defensive barrier is built. The new findings reveal how bacterial cells transport the barrier building blocks (called lipopolysaccharides) to the outer surface.
Group leader Prof Changjiang Dong, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport the barrier building blocks to the outer surface. Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked…”
Lead author PhD student Haohao Dong said: “The really exciting thing about this research is that new drugs will specifically target the protective barrier around the bacteria, rather than the bacteria itself.
“Because new drugs will not need to enter the bacteria itself, we hope that the bacteria will not be able to develop drug resistance in future.”
Bravo! I look forward to seeing how this new information will be introduced to the mainstream of disease treatments.
Finding a key mechanism in antibiotic resistance, using that information to destroy that defense mechanism, working backwards to restore efficacy and working forwards to include that capability in next-gen medications is a boon.
The spread of polio to countries previously considered free of the crippling disease is a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said, as the virus once driven to the brink of extinction mounts a comeback.
Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria pose the greatest risk of exporting the virus to other countries, and should ensure that residents have been vaccinated before they travel, the Geneva-based WHO said in a statement today after a meeting of its emergency committee. It’s only the second time the United Nations agency has declared a public health emergency of international concern, after the 2009 influenza pandemic.
Polio has resurged as military conflicts from Sudan to Pakistan disrupt vaccination campaigns, giving the virus a toehold. The number of cases reached a record low of 223 globally in 2012 and jumped to 417 last year, according to the WHO. There have been 74 cases this year, including 59 in Pakistan, during what is usually polio’s “low season,” the WHO said.
The disease’s spread, if unchecked, “could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious, vaccine-preventable diseases,” Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, told reporters in Geneva today. “The consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile states which have severely compromised routine immunization services.”
“Conflict makes it very difficult for the vaccinators to get to the children who need vaccine,” David Heymann, a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in an interview before the WHO’s announcement. “It’s been more difficult to finish than had been hoped.”
The polio virus, which is spread through feces, attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours, and death in as many as 10 percent of its victims. There is no cure. The disease can be prevented by vaccines…
The resurgence of the virus “reminds us that, until it’s eradicated, it’s going to spread internationally and it’s going to find and paralyze susceptible kids,” Aylward said.
Resurgence, as well, of the question: what holds back progress for most of the people living on this planet? Is it stupidity or ignorance? My answer changes from week to week.
It takes a special kind of stupidity after all to make uninformed and ignorant decisions. Whether the ignorance is religion-based, hatred of furriners, paranoid rejection of science and info from educated folks who obviously don’t live in your own neighborhood/state/region/country/continent – doesn’t matter a whole boatload. Killing your kin and letting your children die sounds mostly stupid to me.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
The planet may be headed toward a “post-antibiotic era” when common infections once easily controlled by antimicrobial medicines may be lethal, the World Health Organization reported…in its first look at antibiotic resistance that has developed in all parts of the world…
Such alarm in the health-care community and elsewhere about resistance to antibiotics is not new. In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “potentially catastrophic consequences” of drug-resistant microorganisms, saying they now kill an estimated 23,000 people in this country every year, and other public health groups have been clamoring about them for years.
But the WHO reported that “very high rates of resistance” have been observed around the world to common bacteria that cause urinary tract, wound and bloodstream infections, as well as pneumonia. Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is a growing and under-reported concern, and rising resistance to anti-HIV drugs has been detected. At the same time, surveillance of the growing threat by officials across the globe is not coordinated.
In a region-by-region breakdown, WHO reported that in some settings in the Americas, up to 90 percent of Staphylococcus aureus infections are resistant to methicillin, a situation that has come to be abbreviated as MRSA. The bacteria that causes pneumonia is now less susceptible to penicillin throughout the world and exceeds 50 percent of cases in some places. In 36 countries, the last-resort treatment for gonorrhea is proving less effective.
Meanwhile, our trustworthy bureaucrats worldwide still consider their relationship with drugs producers, drugs prescribers, profit centers for the medical-industrial complex to be more important than any potentially critical concern for the health of nations.
Making chickens reach sales weight sooner, beef cattle fatter, are endeavors far outweighing healthy bodies resistant to illness.
We really need to come up with an appropriate term equivalent to “Quisling” to describe politicians and bureaucrats who collaborate with profiteers just as if they were an occupying army.
Adults in the UK [and the US] should aim to cut their sugar intake to 5% of daily calories if they can, according to the World Health Organisation – less than the amount, for an average person, in a single can of Coca-Cola.
In a new draft guideline, the WHO said all people, at every stage of life, should try to reduce the amount of sugar they consume. It reiterated its 2003 guidance that countries should set an upper limit of 10% of daily calories from sugar – but said the ideal level would be 5%.
For an adult of average bodyweight, with an intake of about 2,000 calories a day, 5% would equate to 100 calories – which at four calories in a gram would be 25g of sugar, said Dr Francesco Branca, the WHO’s director of nutrition for health and development. A standard 330ml can of cola contains 35g of sugar.
Even at a 10% limit, said Branca, a can of sugar-sweetened drink “approaches the amount that is acceptable for an adult. For a child, since a child has a lower energy requirement, that could be a lot less. Consumption of a single serving of sugar-sweetened soda might actually exceed the limit of 10% of energy [from sugar] for a child.”
Branca added that soft drink consumption “is one of the elements that has been more constantly associated with increased weight gain, particularly in children. This is an area where more intense action needs to be taken if this guideline is to be implemented…”
The WHO’s nutrition guidance expert advisory group has been mulling over the evidence for nearly two years and commissioned scientific reviews of the evidence on the risks posed to health by “free sugars” – those added to food and drinks rather than the intrinsic sugars in fruit and vegetables.
The evidence is clearest on dental caries, the report says. Studies show an increase in tooth decay in children who get more than 10% of their calories from sugar…The link with obesity and diseases for which it is a risk factor, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, is less clear cut. However, analyses of all available well-conducted trials suggested that people who cut down on sugar also managed to reduce weight – and those who ate more sugar put on weight.
The new guideline is likely to be strongly opposed by the food and drink industry and their supporters, who argue that no one food or type of food is a problem – all food and drinks are fine in moderation, they say.
Meanwhile, you’ll not be harming yourself by reducing sugar intake. So, why not get off your rusty dusty, sort out your nutrition and diet, squeeze a little more exercise into your daily life – and don’t waste too many tears on the food and drink industry.
The 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic killed up to 203,000 people across the globe — a death toll 10 times greater than initially estimated by the World Health Organization…
In a study published Tuesday in the journal Plos Medicine, epidemiologists used data on respiratory deaths in 20 nations to calculate a global mortality rate for the pandemic…
“This study confirms that the H1N1 virus killed many more people globally than originally believed,” read a statement from Lone Simonsen, a research professor in the Department of Global Health at George Washington University.
“We also found that the mortality burden of this pandemic fell most heavily on younger people and those living in certain parts of the Americas,” Simonsen said…
The relatively modest number of deaths estimated by the WHO prompted some to question whether the overall response to the 2009 outbreak was excessive. However, Simonsen and her colleagues argued that lab-confirmed influenza deaths would underestimate the broad reach of the illness.
“Many influenza-related deaths result from secondary bacterial infections or from exacerbation of preexisting chronic conditions, and are not recorded as related to influenza infection,” authors wrote…
The sampled nations represented 35% of the world’s population, and researchers then used statistical methods to calculate mortality rates for all nations.
The authors noted that their conclusions were limited by a lack of data from poor nations, and other factors.
“The true total mortality burden is likely to be even higher because deaths that occurred late in the winter of 2009-2010 and in later pandemic waves were missed in this analysis, and only pandemic influenza deaths that were recorded as respiratory deaths were included,” authors wrote.
Researchers said that if deaths due to cardiovascular disease and other causes were included, the death toll might be as high as 400,000.
There’s a shamefully large number of bureaucrats who would like to keep infection and death statistics from pandemics as low as possible. Their reasoning stretches from keeping public health budgets as low as possible to fears of discouraging tourism.
At the other end of the spectrum is the collective folly of libertarians who resent any suggestion of “public” health concerns and their cousins in the God-will-save-my-butt crowd. Same result.
Fifteen million babies are born prematurely each year, and the United States fared badly in the first country-by-country global comparison of premature births…released by the World Health Organization and other agencies.
Although American hospitals excel at saving premature infants, the United States is similar to developing countries in the percentage of mothers who give birth before their children are due, the study’s chief author noted. It does worse than any Western European country and considerably worse than Japan or the Scandinavian countries.
That stems from the unique American combination of many pregnant teenagers and many women older than 35 who are giving birth, sometimes to twins or triplets implanted after in vitro fertilization…often deliberately delivered early by Caesarean section to avoid the unpredictable risks of vaginally delivering multiple full-term babies.
Also, many American women of childbearing age have other risk factors for premature birth, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking habits. And the many women who lack health insurance often do not see doctors early in their pregnancies, when problems like high blood pressure or genital infections can be headed off…
The report, three years in the making, is the first to compare premature birthrates in 184 countries. It was produced jointly by the W.H.O., Save the Children, the March of Dimes and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which has more than 400 member organizations. Other contributors include nearly 40 major American, European and United Nations health and foreign aid agencies and foundations…
In his study of 2,100 Mexican-Americans and immigrants from Mexico, Dr. Radek K. Bukowski, an expert on preterm birth at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, found that the longer a woman lived in this country, the greater her chances of giving birth prematurely. The risk was 4 percent for recent immigrants, 7 percent for those living here less than a decade and 10 percent for citizens.
Even after controlling for risk factors like age, poverty, smoking, obesity and diabetes, “we really don’t have an explanation for what’s behind it,” Dr. Bukowski said. “But whatever it is, it’s not genetic. It’s something they acquire here.”
As the researchers said, it’s time for more study.
I don’t see any problem getting the research done. As usual, if government intervention is needed whether for essential education or repairing a defect in the system – unless we sort out an incompetent Congress and non-leadership from the White House nothing will be accomplished.
Health officials are hailing a polio breakthrough in India, once recognised as the global epicentre of the crippling disease, as the country marked one year since the last recorded case.
India, once home to half of all global cases of polio, on Friday completed one year since an 18-month-old girl in West Bengal was diagnosed with the disease.
AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout
The breakthrough could see India removed from a list of nations where polio is still endemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the next month.
With Niger and Egypt taken off that list in recent years, India’s removal would see the list of nations with indigenous polio reduced to just three: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan…
In a statement, Ghulam Nabi Azad, India’s health minister, said: “We are excited and hopeful, at the same time, vigilant and alert”…
Part of…new tactics and innovations was an effort to reach poor children in railways and on the streets. “Remotes areas were huge havens of disease, but we persisted,” Sona Bari, a spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, told Al Jazeera. “Wherever there were no facilities, we just had people camping on the floor.”
According to WHO estimates, the Indian government dedicated two billion dollars to polio eradication over the last decade and a half. “It was almost completely self-funded,” Bari said. “India has shown that it can be done, despite extremely difficult circumstances…”
The advance in a nation where polio had been thought endemic, has raised hopes that polio will join smallpox as the second disease to have been successfully eradicated globally.
RTFA. India will be deemed to have eradicated the disease if it stays polio-free for another two years.
I grew up in the era of diseases afflicting children especially – which have since been stopped by vaccination programs. Back in the day, the religious among us hailed the advances of science as a gift from their God. Nowadays, for whatever reason, it seems the spookiest individuals are the ones blathering about vaccination being a conspiracy of science.
I wish they had my life’s experience, greeting each New Year with questions to my classmates about “who died in your neighborhood, this year” – from polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever. Every neighborhood had one or two “survivors” of polio who made do with crutches to get to school.
Now – religion is an acceptable excuse to keep from having your kids vaccinated. What fools these parents be.
Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases, a UK-based scientific team has shown. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring die before reproducing.
In a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, researchers found the GM males mated successfully with wild females.
In Nature Biotechnology journal, they say such mating has not before been proven in the wild, and could cut the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito as it bites.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there may be 50 million cases each year, and the incidence is rising, with some countries reporting what the WHO terms “explosive” outbreaks. As yet, there is no vaccine…
When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease…
Oxitec, a company spun off from Oxford University, uses a genetic engineering approach. Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood…
“We don’t advocate [GM mosquitoes] as a ‘magic bullet’ that will solve all dengue in one go, so the question is how it fits in as part of an integrated programme – and for dengue, it would be a huge component of an integrated programme,” said Luke Alphey, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer…
The next step in the work is to demonstrate that deploying GM males does suppress the insect population enough that it is likely to have an impact on dengue incidence.
Dr Alphey said results from the project last year in the Cayman Islands suggested they’re already there. Seems so to me as well. But, real science demands multiple trials, evaluation by peer review in scientific journals.
We can count on the popular press to provide a predictable amount of cheerleading for those who panic if the words “genetic” and “modification” appear in the same sentence. The good news is that those capable of offering the range from suggestions to criticism based on sound science will certainly visit the work published for review. The know-nothings will restrict their noise to sources requiring no credentials or qualifications whatsoever.
To the outrage of breastfeeding campaigners and probably the utter confusion of most women with small babies, scientists today advocate rewriting the rulebook to drop the current guidance that says mothers should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their child’s life.
It was 2001 when the World Health Organisation announced that exclusive breastfeeding for six months was best for babies. In 2003 the then Labour minister Hazel Blears adopted the recommendation for the UK.
But today, in the British Medical Journal, doctors from several leading child health institutes say the evidence for the WHO guidance was never there – and that failing to start weaning babies on to solids before six months could be harmful.
Mary Fewtrell, from the childhood nutrition research centre at the University College London Institute of Child Health, said probably no babies had been harmed, as few mothers in the UK manage to stick to six months of nothing but breastmilk with a baby who by then is taking an interest in the contents of people’s plates. “About 1% were doing it in 2005, although probably more now,” she said. “But only about 20% breastfeed at all at six months. It is not a common behaviour…”
Fewtrell said she supported the WHO recommendation, but argued that it needed to be interpreted differently in different countries. Exclusive breastfeeding protects against infections, which is critical in developing countries, but less important in the UK where hygiene and sanitation are better. “There’s only one piece of evidence relevant to babies in the UK – a slightly decreased risk of gastroenteritis,” she said…
Pro-breastfeeding groups were dismayed, however. Unicef pointed out that it did not contain any new experimental data and said the UK policy had been a success as greater numbers of mothers now delayed the introduction of solids until after four months. It added that most early foods “are not nutrient dense and do not provide quantities of iron and zinc”…
Fewtrell was unapologetic. Ideally, mothers would give their babies fresh food, including meat, for iron. “This is not an attempt to promote commercial weaning foods,” she said. “We are a university and Medical Research Council-funded group.”
They had advised babyfood manufacturers because they were specialists in child nutrition, she said…”Some organisations are all too happy to quote our data when it supports breastfeeding,” she said. “They are choosy in what they will allow.”
Folks who never have spent any time at scientific research do not understand that not only do the wheels of experiment and study grind exceedingly slow, conservative and redundant; but, they do not cease and become immobile once a group of conclusions are reached.
Sound science requires continued study, verification, additional avenues always suggested by the course of study. Sometimes – as in this case – modifications result. It ain’t a catechism, folks.