Why was the last Ebola epidemic so much worse than previous?

❝ In late 2013, the Ebola virus began spreading through a small village in the West African nation of Guinea following human contact with an animal, likely a fruit bat. This was the start of what turned out to be the most widespread of all recorded Ebola outbreaks, resulting in 28,646 confirmed and suspected cases of illness, and 11,323 recorded deaths.

The unprecedented outbreak left a devastating toll on the social and economic infrastructure in West Africa, but it also forever changed the perspective from which virologists and epidemiologists study and track infectious diseases.

❝ Kristian Andersen…set out to determine why the recent epidemic was different from previous Ebola outbreaks. Specifically, his team wanted to figure out exactly how the virus spread so rapidly—and why it had such devastating effects on the people infected.

❝ Ebola is in a category of viruses that are especially prone to mutations because they lack the ability to correct mistakes during replication. This means that a virus such as Ebola can rapidly change as it spreads, for example, by evolving into a more deadly virus. That is the scenario that appears to have played out during the epidemic in West Africa.

But how? As described in a paper in the recent issue of Cell, a peer-reviewed scientific journal focused on the life sciences, Andersen and his group found what could be the smoking gun: a mutation—dubbed the GP-A82V mutant—on a particular type of protein, the viral receptor glycoprotein, in samples of the virus from the epidemic. This mutation increased the ability of the virus to infect human dendritic cells, the type of immune cells that the Ebola virus uses to make copies of itself.

A few more links in the article are useful for further perusal. I think we’re all fortunate that Andersen’s study landed on target in a reasonable stretch of time. No one knows when and exactly where the next outbreak of Ebola will strike. Perhaps by then his research will have better equipped other medical professionals to fight back and save more lives.

Largest current US measles outbreak centered in for-profit prison system

Health officials in Arizona say the largest current measles outbreak in the United States is in part because some workers at a federal immigration detention center refuse to get vaccinated.

Authorities have confirmed 22 measles cases in Arizona since late May. They all stem from the Eloy Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility managed by the private Corrections Corporation of America.

Pinal County health director Thomas Schryer said the outbreak likely began with a migrant but that detainees have since been vaccinated. Convincing employees to get vaccinated or show proof of immunity has proven much tougher, he said.

“And so they’re actually the ones that are passing along the measles among each other and then going out into the community,” Schryer said.

The facility includes about 350 CCA employees and an unknown number of ICE staffers, although Schryer estimates it’s about 100. ICE doesn’t publicly release staffing levels, nor does it require employees to be immunized. There are currently over 1,200 detainees being held at the facility…

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ says the facility has been more responsive in the past few days and that a large number of CCA employees were immunized late last week. “Once they understand how important it is and the outcomes it can have on the community, they tend to cooperate. So we hope to get a cooperative response from ICE,” Christ said.

The problem is reckoned to be one of ignorance rather than stupidity.

Measles is highly contagious and preventable through vaccines. It was eradicated in the US in 2000. But the past couple of years have seen new cases in large part because of unfounded stupid fears that the vaccination causes autism in children, Schryer said. The symptoms are usually mild but can be deadly in babies, who cannot be immunized until they’re a year old…

In Arizona, health officials are providing free vaccines, sending physicians to the detention center and providing educational outreach to staffers in an effort to contain the measles spread.

Now, imagine a whole nation run by Reaganomics hustlers like CCA. Tax dollars diverted into for-profit replacements for public service systems. Increase the profit structure by hiring less-educated, less-qualified scabs. Cross your fingers and hope you don’t end up with so many people dying you attract attention.

Enough to make a Congressional Republican cry with joy.

Melinda Gates’ response to anti-vaccine fools is education, history

On the heels of the measles outbreak at Disneyland, Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took aim at the vaccine naysayers who make these types of disease outbreaks more likely.

“We take vaccines so for granted in the United States,” Gates told the Huffington Post in a prerecorded interview published on Thursday. “Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. [Americans have] forgotten what measles deaths look like.”

She added, “I’d say to the people of the United States: we’re incredibly lucky to have that technology and we ought to take full advantage of it.”

In response to the Disneyland outbreak, pediatric infectious disease specialist James Cherry told the New York Times the outbreak was “100 percent connected” to the anti-vaccine movement. “It wouldn’t have happened otherwise — it wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” he said.

The key is what the scientific community calls herd or community immunity. If every American of age was vaccinated, measles wouldn’t spread much further even if foreign travelers came into the country with the disease — as appears to be the case with measles.

Vaccinated people essentially act as barriers to measles outbreaks, since the disease can’t pass through them and infect other people. The awful truth of the anti-vaccine movement is that it puts the most vulnerable populations at risk: infants under 12 months of age, who can’t get vaccinated and are more susceptible to infection, and the elderly, who have a higher risk of death if they contract these illnesses.

Between religious nutballs whose anti-science hangups are reinforced by some dude behind a pulpit talking about an invisible dude sitting on a cloud in the sky — and conservative nutballs who indulge hangups that lead to unconcern about someone else dying from a condition we all can prevent – anti-science spookiness runs riot. They haven’t a clue.

Like that woman Melinda Gates talks about in the developing world, I grew up in a time and place where vaccines for many childhood diseases didn’t exist. Every spring we looked around at school to see who died over winter. Measles, scarlet fever, mumps, diptheria – all took their toll. Then we had the summer and polio to look forward to.

No – it wasn’t Africa or Asia. It was a factory town in southern New England. A town like every other in the United States at the time. No one was spared.

So, Melinda Gates’ response to anti-vaccine fools is education, history. My response to that is similar to Dr. King’s response when he was asked if civil rights laws would help bigots to love him. I don’t care if idjits love me. I just want to stop them from killing me and my family.

380 million eggs recalled over salmonella outbreaks


What would you expect?

The Wright County Egg company, based in Iowa, has issued a recall of 228 million eggs because of reports of salmonella-related outbreaks in several Western and midwestern states.

The eggs are sold to contract companies including Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps, according to several news reports.

In addition to those brands, NuCal Foods in California issued another notice, saying it was also recalling several brands it had packaged from Wright County Egg. The Associated Press estimated that the recall could involve as many as 380 million eggs.

The Food and Drug Administration posted Wright’s voluntary recall notice, noting that common salmonella symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. It also pointed consumers to the Web site, eggsafety.org for answers to any questions.

The F.D.A. also noted:

Eggs affected by this recall were distributed to food wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. These companies distribute nationwide.

RTFA for details about the batch numbers included in the recall.

Me? I’m sticking with the free range and organic eggs I buy at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. When I used to be on the road, I used to stop in at an organic egg farm outside of Taos – they even used to give me a break on bringing back the carton.

“Outbreaks Near Me” ready at iPhone App Store

A new iPhone application, created by researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, enables users to track and report outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as H1N1 (swine flu), on the ground in real time. The application, “Outbreaks Near Me,” builds upon the mission and proven capability of HealthMap, an online resource that collects, filters, maps and disseminates information about emerging infectious diseases, and provides a new, contextualized view of a user’s specific location – pinpointing outbreaks that have been reported in the vicinity of the user and offering the opportunity to search for additional outbreak information by location or disease.

“We hope individuals will find the new app to be a useful source of outbreak information – locally, nationally, and globally,” says HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein, PhD. “As people are equipped with more knowledge and awareness of infectious disease, the hope is that they will become more involved and proactive about public health.”

The new application also features an option for users to submit an outbreak report. This will enable individuals in cities and countries around the world to interact with the HealthMap team and participate in the public health surveillance process. Users may take photos – of situations and scenarios of, and/or leading to, disease – with their iPhone and submit them to the HealthMap system for review and eventual posting as an alert on the worldwide map…

The HealthMap Web site averages 10,000 unique visits a day, including regular users from the World Health Organization, the CDC, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. During the peak of H1N1 swine flu this spring, visits to the site rose substantially, with as many as 150,000 visitors coming to the Web site to search for information.

First time I recall bumping into the term “participatory epidemiology”. Makes good sense. One of those times where being “connected” doesn’t sound like a sophomoric daydream even to a hermit like me.

Yes, an App funded and aided by Google.

Investigators tracking swine flu outbreak in Mexico


Entering the General Hospital in Mexico City
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Mexican officials, scrambling to control a swine flu outbreak that has killed at least 16 people and possibly dozens more in recent weeks, shuttered schools from kindergarten to university for millions of young people in and around the capital on Friday and urged people with flu symptoms to stay home from work.

”We’re dealing with a new flu virus that constitutes a respiratory epidemic that so far is controllable,” Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova told reporters late Thursday, after huddling with President Felipe Calderón and other top officials. He said the virus had mutated from pigs and had at some point been transmitted to humans.

Mexico’s flu season is usually over by now, but health officials have noticed a significant spike in flu cases. The World Health Organization reported about 800 cases of flu-like symptoms in Mexico in recent weeks, most of them among healthy young adults, with 57 deaths in Mexico City and 3 in the central part of the country. Mexican officials confirmed 16 deaths from swine flu, and said another 45 were under investigation…

The WHO and the CDC now consider all 60 deaths as likely swine flu.

Health officials in the United States were working to determine whether the Mexican outbreak was tied to the unusual strain of swine flu that has been circulating among people in the American Southwest but is not known to have caused any deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency, which has found only seven cases in the United States, expects to find more now that it has begun looking intensively for them…

Dr. Cox of the disease control center said officials did not yet know whether the flu shot this year protected against the new swine strain.

Well, I had my flu shot and I’m still nervous. 🙂

KB’s Encouraging Word

In this day of peanut butter contamination, isn’t it nice to know that you can still enjoy the wholesome, delicious taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Why not buy some today?

“No products made by The Hershey Company, including items and brands in the iconic Reese’s franchise, are affected by the recent recall related to peanut butter. Hershey does not purchase any peanut butter, peanuts or peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America. Peanut butter for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is made in Hershey facilities under the most stringent safety and quality standards. “