The Pandora Report

credit: Alex Alishevskikh
The Russian Meteor (image credit: Alex Alishevskikh)

Highlights include person-to-person transmission of the NCov, new drug to stop drug-resistant flu, plant viruses: yes they exist, sweat more to prevent TB, blacklegged ticks are spreading an unnamed disease (blackleggedia?), and did the meteor bring a virus which will kill us all? More news to come. Happy Friday!

Note: No updates on the deaths of two people in China from H5N1 – the cases were of particular concern due to the inability of health investigators to establish connections between either case and infected poultry. Person-to-person? We’ll keep you posted. 

Human-to-Human Spread of New Virus Lifts Threat to EU

The UK patient infected with the novel coronavirus (NCov) after travelling in the Middle East has died, raising the number of deaths to seven (out of thirteen known infections). The virus was not thought to be contagious until two family members of the sickened UK patient also became infected.

Bloomberg – “Two probable cases of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus that’s killed six people increase the pathogen’s threat to the European Union, according to the bloc’s disease-tracking agency. The appearance of a mild case of the disease caused by the virus also raises concern because it suggests more people may be infected than are known, have few or no symptoms, and are spreading the bug to others, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a report late yesterday.”

New Flu Drug Stops Drug-Resistant Strains of Virus in Its Tracks

One of the reasons why the Influenza viruses are so difficult to handle is their phenomenal ability to mutate. Due the prevalence and high infectivity of the viruses, drug resistance is understandably a  cause for serious concern. A group of University of British Columbia researchers are seeking to mitigate this concern by developing drugs which inhibit neuraminidase binding in drug-resistant strains.

Science Daily – “Published online February 21 in the journal Science Express, the study details the development of a new drug candidate that prevents the flu virus from spreading from one cell to the next. The drug is shown to successfully treat mice with lethal strains of the flu virus. In order to spread in the body, the flu virus first uses a protein, called hemagglutinin, to bind to the healthy cell’s receptors. Once it has inserted its RNA and replicated, the virus uses an enzyme, called neuraminidase, to sever the connection and move on to the next healthy cell.”

Enemies no longer

Plants don’t get a lot of attention here at GMU Biodefense, which is unfair because they’re so prevalent. Plants have feelings too, right? Well no, but they can still catch viruses.

The Economist – “History casts a long shadow. Many of the first bacteria to be discovered were agents of disease, and that is how most people perceive bacteria to this day, even though less than 1% of them are pathogens. Something similar is turning out to be true of viruses, as Marilyn Roossinck of Pennsylvania State University told the AAAS meeting in Boston. Dr Roossinck works on plant viruses and she has assembled evidence suggesting a lot of such viruses are harmless to their hosts, and in some cases may actually be beneficial. That has implications for biology. It also has implications for agriculture.”

Scientists Unveil Secrets of Important Natural Antibiotic

So I have some bad news everyone. Apparently in addition to making you happier and prolonging your life, exercise may also save you from TB. Or, to be explicit, the secretion of the natural antibiotic dermcidin in sweat effectively kills bacteria which may enter at open cuts or wounds. The bad news? This makes avoiding exercise that much harder.

Science Daily – “These natural substances, known as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), are more effective in the long term than traditional antibiotics, because germs are not capable of quickly developing resistance against them. The antimicrobials can attack the bugs’ Achilles’ heel — their cell wall, which cannot be modified quickly to resist attack. Because of this, AMPs have great potential to form a new generation of antibiotics.”

New tick-borne bacteria found in Shasta County

Blacklegged ticks are well established vectors for Lyme disease. However, the arthropods are now apparently carrying a recently discovered bacteria, Borrelia miyamotoi, which causes an as-yet-unnamed disease. The bacterium was first found to be pathogenic to humans in 2011, with the first US cases occurring in New England in January of this year. It’s now been found on the West Coast.

The Record Searchlight – “The bacteria have been found in ticks in 19 of California’s counties, including Shasta, Siskiyou and Trinity counties, according to the state Department of Public Health. Symptoms of the disease are similar to Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, according to the state…It could be that the disease hasn’t been found in Shasta County, or anywhere else in California, because no one has been looking for the bacteria in sick people, district Vector Ecologist John Albright told the trustees during a board meeting Tuesday.”

Oddball Piece: Chelyabinsk meteor brought a dangerous virus to Earth?

OK, technically this shouldn’t be an oddball piece. There are whole scientific theories dedicated to the possibility of life on our planet being starting with alien bacteria, right? It’s just, we saw this and immediately thought, “Killer Viruses from Outer Space!!” Which made us laugh. So we included it. Happy Friday? [extra points if you can tell us what a “canny bolide” is]

The Voice of Russia – “This space guest which paid us a visit could actually be a Trojan Horse and physical damage from its explosion could be nothing compared to other potential dangers. This canny bolide that managed to sneak away from telescopes might have brought new viruses or bacteria to Earth.”

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