The Pandora Report 10.25.13

Highlights include a new dengue serotype, bird flu in Australia, Peruvian bats and influenza A, mutating viruses, and HHS bolstering international pandemic preparedness. Happy Friday, and Happy Halloween!

First New Dengue Virus Type in 50 Years

For the first time in half a century, a new serotype of dengue has been discovered. The strain, found in Malaysia, is phylogenetically distinct from the existing four serotypes. The discovery will complicate existing vaccine efforts, which are already quite complex – prior to this discovery, dengue possessed four distinct serotypes. To date, this newest serotype has only been identified in one outbreak.

Science – “Scientists have discovered a new type of the virus that causes a centuries-old pestilence, dengue. The surprising find, announced at a major dengue conference here today, is bound to complicate efforts to develop a vaccine against a tropical disease that is becoming a more pervasive global menace. But it could shed light on where the pathogen came from and whether it is evolving into a greater threat. The finding “may change the way we think about dengue virus evolution and emergence,” says Duane Gubler, a dengue expert at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.”

Second bird flu outbreak in Australia

New South Wales has experienced its second outbreak of avian influenza. For some reason, none of the press is including the nueraminidase type, refering to the virus simply as “H7” or as HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza). This is misleading – the strain is actually H7N2, which has a low pathogenicity. While a serious threat to poultry farmers – 18,000 birds have died from the virus already and a further 400,000 have been culled – it isn’t a serious threat to humans at this point.

ABC Australia – “Initial testing at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute confirmed the virus earlier today and the infected property has been placed under strict quarantine. The department says tests are being carried out to try to confirm the origin of the latest incidence, but it’s the H7 strain, not the H5N1 strain that’s dangerous to humans. It says all eggs and poultry in NSW remain safe to eat. NSW DPI chief vet, Ian Roth, says he can’t yet confirm how the virus spread.”

New flu virus found in Peruvian bats

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at the Pandora Report it’s never touch a bat. Just don’t do it. Halloween is great, bats can be cute, but as carriers of everything from rabies (scary) to Ebola (very scary), we’re keeping our distance.  In further confirmation of this truism, a new influenza virus has been discovered in Peruvian bats. The Influenza A virus, appropriately named A/bat/Peru/10, and contains hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) surface proteins entirely distinct from any seen before, prompting researchers to classify them as novel – H18N11. While the virus is thought to be capable of infecting humans.  thus far researchers have been unable to culture it in human cells. Hopefully, it will stick to bats – H18N11 is just too hard to say.

LiveScience – “The researchers found the new virus after testing samples from 114 bats in Peru. One sample, from a flat-faced fruit bat known as Artibeus planirostris, was found to have H18N11. Blood testing of other bats suggested that they may have been infected with H18N11 in the past. The researchers still do not know how H18N11 attaches to cells to enter them…So far, flu viruses from bats are not known to infect people. But bats are known reservoirs for other types of pathogens that have found their way to humans, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Bats are also are suspected to be the original source of the virus causing the current outbreak of MERS.”

Single mutation gives virus new target

By changing a single amino acid in the BK polyomavirus, researchers were able to completely alter its preferential binding site. Understanding this mechanism is a small step towards understanding things like why a virus switches to infect different cells (potentially increasing pathogenicity) or, in the case of viruses like MERS and H7N9, different hosts. Understanding this mechanism can help us predict which viruses may switch hosts  to eventually infect us.

R&D Mag – “Different cells have different bindings targets on their surfaces. A change in a virus’s binding target preference can be a key step in changing how that virus would affect different cells in a victim—or move on to a different species…Brown postdoctoral researcher Stacy-ann Allen, one of two lead authors on the paper, said the team learned of the single amino acid difference by comparing high-resolution structural models of the two polyomaviruses bound to their favorite sugars. Collaborators, including co-lead author Ursula Neu and co-corresponding author Thilo Stehle at the Univ. of Tübingen in Germany, produced those models using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.”

HHS Boosts Global Ability to Respond to Pandemics

HHS through BARDA has awarded four interrelated grants, to the WHO, PATH, Utah and North Carolina States universities respectively to boost funding for pandemic preparedness in developing countries. The WHO is receiving approximately $10 million in grants to support H7N9 preparedness in developing countries, while the university grants are each supporting onsite training programs in the same countries. This makes a lot of sense – helping other states by providing them the tools to develop their own pandemic preparedness efforts makes us all  healthier.

PharmPro – “The program provides cost-sharing to build vaccine manufacturing facilities that can produce influenza and other vaccines in developing countries and trains personnel from developing countries at U.S.-based universities in advanced vaccine production. The program also supports technical assistance for foreign countries to operate and regulate their facilities and to conduct clinical trials with influenza vaccines produced in the facilities.”

And because everyone needs a little good news occasionally: Baby born with HIV is still showing no sign of the infection after treatment stopped 18 months ago

(image via Leyo/Wikimedia)