Friday News Round-up!

Highlights include potential Syrian BW, fungal meningitis, West Nile (stupid mosquitoes), developments in the quest for the fabled universal flu vaccine,  gut bacteria using viruses to take out rival bacteria (it’s a bug-eat-bug world, eh?), quorum sensing  (bacterial moochers may be good for you), and the President’s Bioethics Commission report on Genomics and Privacy.

Are Syrian shells raining biological agents down on Lebanese?

Christian Science Monitor – “Residents in Nourat al-Tahta and other villages under routine Syrian shellfire are complaining of unexplained symptoms may indicate artillery shells have been filled with a biological agent, but weapons experts discount the panicky assumptions.

Nazir Shrayteh, a doctor from the nearby village of Dousi, says he has received an unusually large number of patients from villages under shellfire in recent months complaining of rashes and diarrhea.

‘Since May we have been getting these skin problems,” he says. “I don’t know what it is, but I feel something odd is going on.’ ”

Biological weapons sites concern in Syrian civil war

The Guardian – “The United States has sent military troops to the Jordan-Syria border to help bolster Jordan’s military capabilities in the event that the violence in Syria spreads, according to defence secretary Leon Panetta.

Speaking at a Nato conference of defense ministers in Brussels, Panetta said the US has been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and also to help Jordan deal with refugees moving across the border.”

Multi-State Fungal Meningitis Death Toll Grows to 14

The fungal meningitis outbreak has spread to an 11th state, with over 170 cases and 14 fatalities.

ABC News – “State and local health officials have now contacted more than 12,000 of the estimated 14,000 people exposed to the steroid, which is thought to be contaminated by one or more species of fungus. The compounding pharmacy at the center of the fungal meningitis outbreak was not following the requirements of its state license, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.”

The New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., shipped more than 17,000 vials of a steroid — now implicated in the outbreak — to pain clinics in 23 states.”

CDC statement and latest news here.

West Nile case rate highest in nearly a decade

CDC – “As of October 9, 2012, 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 4,249 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 168 deaths, have been reported to CDC. Of these, 2,123 (50%) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 2,126 (50%) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease.

The 4,249 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the second week in October since 2003. Almost 70 percent of the cases have been reported from eight states (Texas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois) and over a third of all cases have been reported from Texas.”

A universal vaccine for all influenza A and B viruses? – “A research group from The Scripps Research Institute, Crucell Vaccine Institute, Gustav Wieds Vej (Denmark), and The University of Hong Kong, building upon their earlier work with influenza A viruses, has now discovered a similar phenomenon for neutralizing influenza B viruses. Their breakthrough results, aided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), and Advanced Light Source (ALS) pave the way for development of a universal vaccine for all influenza A and B viruses.”

Mad Max in your stomach: some gut bacteria produce their own viral bio-weapons

The Raw Story – “In a paper published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say that bacteria in the gut can manufacture and use viruses as weapons against other rival bacteria in what the website calls ‘intestinal shootouts.’

Scientists hope to find a way to use this process to fight hostile bacteria in what could be a new way of treating infections, including diseases that are resistant to mankind’s current arsenal of antibiotics like multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and the new strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, diseases that are currently threatening patients around the world.”

Scientists focus on quorum sensing to better understand bacteria – “In a study appearing in the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Science, University of Washington researchers examine the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which colonizes in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. While most cells “cooperate” with each other by producing and sharing public goods when there are enough of their “friends” around, researchers have found that certain individual cells, known as “cheater cells,” share in the use of these extracellular products without releasing any of these products themselves.

In Pseudomonas aeruginosa these cheaters are quorum sensing mutants that don’t make public goods in response to increasing population density. When the researchers manipulated the environment so that the cost of cell cooperation was high (so that the bacterial group had to produce a lot of public goods to survive), the cheater cells overtook the cooperating producer cells, the cooperators then became too rare, and the population collapsed. From this sequence of events, the researchers induced destabilization of cooperation.

‘Perhaps, one day, we’ll be able to manipulate infections so that bacterial cooperation is destabilized and infections are resolved,’ said Dr. Peter Greenberg, UW professor of microbiology and one of the three authors of the study.”

President’s Bioethics Commission Releases Report on Genomics and Privacy

Press release – “The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues today released its report concerning genomics and privacy. The report, Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing, concludes that to realize the enormous promise that whole genome sequencing holds for advancing clinical care and the greater public good, individual interests in privacy must be respected and secured. As the scientific community works to bring the cost of whole genome sequencing down from millions per test to less than the cost of many standard diagnostic tests today, the Commission recognizes that whole genome sequencing and its increased use in research and the clinic could yield major advances in health care. However it could also raise ethical dilemmas.

‘Scientists and clinicians must have access to data from large numbers of people who are willing to share their private information.  This in turn requires public trust that any whole genome sequence data shared by individuals with clinicians and researchers will be adequately protected,’ said Commission Vice Chair James W. Wagner, Ph.D .”

For the full report, see here.

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