Pandora Report 6.7.14

We’re taking the bad news with the good news this week. Highlights include miscalculations in the MERS toll, rising numbers of Ebola deaths, innovations in vaccine delivery using rice, and progress with MRSA. Enjoy your weekend!

Saudi Arabia Reports Big Jump in MERS cases, Including 282 Deaths

On Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Health reported that 282 people have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is a major increase from the previously known official death toll of 190. The same day as the announcement, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Ziad Memish was “relieved” from his post according to the Saudi Health Minister. No reason was given.

CNN—“MERS is thought to have originated on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012. No one knows exactly where it came from, but evidence implicating camels is emerging. In a recently published study in mBio, researchers said they isolated live MERS virus from two single-humped camels, known as dromedaries. They found multiple substrains in the camel viruses, including one that perfectly matches a substrain isolated from a human patient.”

Resurgence of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

Though overall the number of new cases of Ebola appears to be declining, new cases have been recently reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres have been supporting health authorities in both countries, treating patients, and working to put measures in place to control the epidemic. They have sent over 44 tons of equipment and supplies to assist the outbreak which has infected over 300 people and killed at least 125.

Doctors Without Borders—“The rise in cases may be due to a reluctance on the part of patients to go to hospital. The movement of infected people and cadavers is also a major issue. Families frequently transport dead bodies themselves in order to organize funerals in other towns. The multiplication of affected areas makes it difficult to treat patients and control the epidemic.”

Fighting Deadly Disease, With Grains of Rice

In an effort to fight common diarrheal illnesses including cholera and rotavirus, researchers at the University of Tokyo are working on bioenginerring rice in order to turn it into an easy and low-cost storage and delivery medium to combat these common illnesses.  According to the World Health Organization, cholera alone kills as many as 120,000 annually.  Both the cholera vaccine and rotavirus antibody versions of the rice have been tested on laboratory mice with plans to test on humans within the next few years in a country like Bangladesh where cholera is a major public health threat. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as several pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in developing drugs based on the research.

The New York Times—“Vaccines  or antibodies for both exist but require refrigerated storage, Yoshikazu Yuki, an assistant professor of mucosal immunology, said in an interview. Bioengineering vaccines or antibodies into rice would allow them to be stockpiled easily, without the cost of cold storage, for up to three years at room temperature, he said. The rice could be ingested orally, ground into a paste and drunk, delivering the antibodies to the intestine.”

A New Weapon in the Battle Against MRSA

Among serious concern for the growing levels of antibiotic resistant superbugs, it appears there is some promising news. Durata Therapeutics have developed a new drug, Dalvance, which in clinical trials has proven as effective as vancomycin—another powerful antibiotic—against acute skin and soft tissue infections including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.) According to Durata, more than 4.8 million people were admitted to hospitals with skin and soft tissue infections between 2005 and 2011 and nearly 60% of these staph infections were the methicillin-resistant variety.

The Washington Post—“The drug, Dalvance, is the first approved by the FDA under the government’s Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now program, its effort to encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce new drugs to combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even asthe problem has grown around the world, the number of new drugs in the pipeline has dwindled, with drug companies focused on more profitable medications.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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