Highlights this week include further evidence linking camels to MERS, a big innovator turning his eye to biodefense, tracking influenza A in Norwegian birds, the “eradicated” measles in the US, tripling Tamiflu to help us all survive a serious H1N1 pandemic, and this week’s weird piece. Happy Friday!
It looks like dromedary camels are indeed the vector transmitting MERS from its proposed bat reservoir to humans. Antibodies against the deadly respiratory virus have been found in blood samples collected from camels across the Middle East, including Egypt, Sudan, Oman, and the Canary Island. However, before everyone starts shunning the desert beast of burden, it should be noted that the vast majority or MERS cases have had no contact with the animals, further suggesting person-to-person spread. Officials are calling for greater surveillance, which to date has been spotty in most states.
New York Times – “…it appears that the first confirmed or suspected cases in three separate clusters may have [had contact with camels], and in two cases, the camels were observed to be ill. According to the Saudi newspaper Asharq, a 38-year-old man from Batin, Saudi Arabia, who died of what was diagnosed as bacterial pneumonia was a camel dealer with at least one obviously sick camel. Later, other members of his family, including a mother, daughter and cousin, fell ill with what was diagnosed as MERS, and two died. They were part of a cluster of cases reported Sept. 7 by the World Health Organization.”
An interesting interview with a tech mogul formerly associated with Microsoft. Like so many of us in the biodefense field, he’s worried about a domestic terror threat operating out of a small lab. It’s refreshing to see someone outside of the industry, with potential means, getting involved with biodefense in a way that doesn’t just involve anthrax.
NPR – “Biological terror is interesting because it is so damn cheap and yet can be even more lethal than nuclear…In this case, the adversary is going to be hidden. It’s going to be a small lab of people who could be cooking up a bio-terror weapon. They’re very unlikely to announce themselves until after the attack.”
A group of researchers in Norway have determined that ducks and gulls are a natural host of influenza A. Dabbling ducks in particular are the most prevalent host of the virus. Researchers were interested in determining the primary host in order to better understand patterns of seasonal infection.
Phys.org – “The complete genetic material from a total of five influenza viruses from mallard and common gull were sequenced and characterized. The results showed that the genes of the Norwegian viruses resembled the genes found in influenza viruses from other wild birds in Europe…Due to limited overlap between the routes used by migratory birds in Eurasia and America, influenza viruses with different genetic material have developed between these two continents. However, in some areas, it has been observed that genes can be exchanged between influenza viruses from Eurasia and America.”
Measles is making a comeback in the US, thanks to the groups of people who think that vaccinating for measles is a bad idea. Of the 159 cases last year, 82 percent involved those who had not been vaccinated. Technically the disease has been eradicated in the US.
FOX – “Of the patients who had not received measles immunizations, 79 percent had philosophical objections to vaccination, federal health officials said. Results of a National Immunization Survey released today show that 90.8 percent of U.S. toddlers between the ages of 19 and 35 months have received at least one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) – just above the federal government’s target of 90 percent. However, federal health officials warned that measles imported from other countries can still cause large outbreaks in the U.S., especially if introduced into areas with clusters of unvaccinated persons.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A study from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg revealed that patients critically ill with H1N1 were able to clear the virus within five days if given triple the normal dose of Tamiflu. According to study researcher Dr. Anand Kumar, amongst those patients administered the triple dose of the flu drug, 79% cleared the virus within the 5-day timeframe, compared with just 11% of patients given the normal dose. It should be noted that past studies involving the doubling of Tamiflu doses did not yield significant clearance times.
MedPage Today – “‘What we found was that the treatment was well-tolerated, and there were many more patients achieving viral clearance at day 5, which was our study endpoint,’ Kumar said during a session at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Kumar noted that the 5-day endpoint was important because of increased survival benefits from the shortened clearance time and the reduced amount of time a patient has to endure in continued isolation, “which is a source of significant manpower demand for an intensive care unit.”
This week’s weird piece: ‘US provided chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein’ – retired military officer
Disclaimer: This is from Voice of Russia, which is the Russian government’s broadcast network and therefore not exactly a pillar of journalistic integrity.
(image Adam Foster/Flickr)