The winter holidays are here and with them comes the final 2014 news roundup. This week we look at superspreaders, dengue fever, and, of course, Ebola.
There will be no roundup next week as I will be spending time with family and friends. I hope all of you have the opportunity to do the same and are surrounded by those you love during this time of year. It has been a privilege and a pleasure serving as the Managing Editor of the Pandora Report since March. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
I hope to see you right back here again in 2015!
How did Typhoid Mary spread the disease to dozens of people but never get sick herself?
Researchers at Stanford University are looking into the science behind “superspreaders”—the idea that some people spread more disease than others. Recent experiments have suggested that the body’s immune response might play a role in helping to spread pathogens to others, however, it isn’t clear if the immune system of the superspreader or their behavior plays a bigger role in the passage of disease.
The Wall Street Journal—“‘It’s telling us that these superspreaders…are tolerant of high levels of the pathogen and any little disturbance and added inflammation that this antibiotic treatment did to them,” said Dr. Monack. “I wouldn’t say they have stronger immune systems. I would say it’s in a state that protected them from this added disturbance in the gut.’”
Over the past 50 years cases of dengue fever have soared—nearly 100 million per year. Normally the infection causes a fever which lasts about a week, but some develop hemorrhagic fever which kills about 22,000 a year. Gavin Screaton at the Imperial College in London warns “it’s likely that without a vaccine this disease is not going to be controlled.” That’s why a discovery of a new antibody brings hope that vaccine development may be closer than we thought.
The Guardian—“The researchers spotted the new group of antibodies while they were studying blood drawn from patients who picked up dengue infections in south-east Asia.
They found that about a third of the immune reaction launched by each patient came from a new class of antibodies. Instead of latching on to a single protein on the virus surface – as usually happens – the new group of antibodies latches on to a molecular bridge that joins two virus proteins together.”
This Week in Ebola
It’s been a hard year in West Africa with the worst Ebola outbreak in history still ongoing. In Sierra Leone, the country with the most cases, treatment centers are overflowing with patients. The President has announced that Christmas has been cancelled as news came that the most senior doctor—Victor Willoughby—died. Dr. Willoughby was the 11th of Sierra Leone’s 120 doctors to die from the virus. For the lucky ones who survive, they must cope with after effects including blindness and joint pain. And don’t forget the stigma—a heart breaking article in the New York Times describes the plight of Ebola orphans who aren’t taken in for fear that they are ticking disease time bombs. Cuban doctors are some of the most active on the front lines, but news this week came that the U.S. embargo has delayed payment of those doctors. There are glimmers of hope though, as the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa urged debt cancellation for Ebola affected West African countries and experimental serum therapy treatment made from the blood of recovered patients arrived in Liberia.
Stateside, a child flying though O’Hare Airport in Chicago was quarantined when a high fever was discovered after screening. Johns Hopkins University was chosen as one of the winners in a global competition to create an improved protection suit for those fighting Ebola on the front lines. Lastly, an American doctor—Richard Sacra—who was infected with Ebola in Liberia and returned to the U.S. for treatment, has said that he will return to Liberia in January to continue fighting the outbreak.
Stories You May Have Missed
- The highly-pathogenic H5N2 strain of avian flu continues to cause problems in Canada and it has now spread to Oregon and Washington (where H5N8 was also discovered.)
- It’s that time again when everyone starts to look back at the year in review. Interested in what the CDC says were its top 10 most important public health missions and challenges of 2014? You can read them all here.
- Remember those forgotten vials of smallpox found at the FDA over the summer? This incident led to a widespread inventory of agents at federal labs. The final report from this was published on Tuesday.
- An article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases looked at pre- and post-entry screening options for tuberculosis. If you spend as much time at the airport as I do, you might be interested in this great summary and response piece.
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