The Pandora Report

Highlights include dengue blowing up on the global stage,  mutant superbugs and the scientists who kill them, Ebola in Bangladeshi bats, stopping Influenza dead by messing with its internal clock,  cholera in Cuba, and Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons (more leaked diplomatic cables). Happy Friday!

(image credit: Microbe World)
(image credit: Microbe World)

WHO: Dengue has ‘Epidemic Potential”

The World Health Organization released a report assessing  and improving upon the world’s current commitments to combating the “neglected” tropical diseases. Ranking pretty high amongst the 17 tropical diseases featured is dengue, which has seen a 30-fold increase in occurrence globally over the last half century.

WHO – “In 2012, dengue ranks as the most important mosquito-borne viral disease with an epidemic potential in the world… its human and economic costs are staggering. The world needs to change its reactive approach and instead implement sustainable preventive measures that are guided by entomological and epidemiological surveillance.”

MUTANTS…or How Scientists Stalked a Lethal Superbug – With the Killers Own DNA

Is this the tagline to a summer blockbuster or a piece about using innovative epidemiology to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria?  “Why not both?  Who’s connected to Spielberg on LinkedIn? (Are you connected to Mason Biodefense on LinkedIn? You really should be)

Wired – “With each passing year, the problem of superbugs—bacteria such as Klebsiella that have evolved resistance to all, or nearly all, antibiotics available—has grown progressively more dire. Gone are the days when pharmaceutical companies could roll out generation after generation of new medications to replace those that bacteria had already surmounted. Such drugs have become much harder to find; and even when they are found, the market for them is far less lucrative than for molecules that combat such high-profile killers as cancer or AIDS. As a result, the flow through the antibiotics pipeline has slowed to a trickle. From 1983 through 1987, the FDA approved 16 new systemic antibiotics; from 2008 through 2011, it approved just two. Rather than administer some new wonder drug, then, the Clinical Center could only quarantine these KPC-positive patients and give them harsh drugs like colistin, an antibiotic so toxic it was all but abandoned in the 1970s. An estimated 90,000 people die every year from infections they acquire in US hospitals—more than the number that die from Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or influenza.”

Bats are Reservoir for Ebola Virus in Bangladesh

This is our first Ebola piece of 2013, for those of you keeping track, and it therefore an interesting one. According to a study in the CDC’s most recent Emerging Infectious Diseases, approximately four percent of a sample of 276 fruit bats in Bangladesh possessed antibodies for Ebola. Filoviruses in Asia? No thanks.

“These results suggest that Rousettus fruit bats are a reservoir for Ebola, or a new Ebola-like virus in South Asia. The study extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia. ‘Research on Filoviruses in Asia is a new frontier of critical importance to human health, and this study has been vital to better understand the wildlife reservoirs and potential transmission of Ebola virus in Bangladesh and the region,’ said Dr. Kevin Olival, lead author and Senior Research Scientist at EcoHealth Alliance.”

Scientists Try To Thwart Flu Virus By Resetting Its Clock

Having had the stupid flu, we here at the Mason Biodefense blog are well and truly read for it to disappear off the face of the planet. Scientists at Mount Sinai School of Medicine are trying to help influenza along the path to oblivion by tricking the virus to prematurely leave the cozy warmth of its host cell. Exposed, our immune system can then gobble it up like any other irrelevant antigen.

NPR – “A study in Cell Reports describes how researchers tapped into the flu’s internal clock as they search for ways to keep the virus from spreading. Flu viruses hijack the machinery inside host cells to replicate. The theft is a complicated process that takes time. A virus enters the nucleus of the cell, copies itself thousands of times and then breaks out before the immune system attacks. Every minute counts. To trick the flu, researchers fiddled with how fast the escape protein accumulates inside cells. Speed up the protein production, and the virus leaves the cell before it has made enough copies to infect someone else.”

Cholera Cases Reported in Cuba

Cholera is an awful disease, not least because it’s forever ruined the phrase “rice water” for many of us (sorry, sorry – if you don’t have a slightly macabre sense of humor coming into  Biodefense, you will going out). It’s still not known how the disease,  which before 2012 had been absent for over a century, was resurfaced in Cuba.

CNN – “A statement from the Cuban Health Ministry said so far there were 51 confirmed cases in the new outbreak. The statement did not say if anyone had died from the disease, a bacterial infection of the small intestine, which causes severe diarrhea and vomiting in infected people…The Health Ministry statement Tuesday said the latest outbreak appeared to be caused by a food vendor who had not followed proper sanitary procedures”

Leaked State Department Cable: Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons

According to Foreign Policy, a leaked State Department cable has indicated that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the rebels last month.  Out of respect for those of you working or interning with State,  no excerpts from the article will be posted.

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