Pandora Report 4.5.15

I love when the stories find me, so we’ve got some big ones this week including the nuclear deal with Iran and the arrival of multi-drug resistant Shigella in the United States. We’ve also got an Ebola update and other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy your (Easter) Sunday, have a great week and see you back here next weekend!

An Iran Nuclear Deal Built on Coffee, All-Nighters and Compromise

For months—many, many, months—there has been discussion of potential for Iranian nuclear weapons and what the U.S. planned to do about it. This week, those questions were finally answered as a nuclear agreement between American and Iranian officials was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland.

New York Times—“The agreement calls for Tehran to slash its stockpile of nuclear materials and severely limit its enrichment activities, theoretically bringing the time it would take to produce a nuclear weapon to a year — a significant rollback from the current estimate of two to three months.

Both sides made significant compromises. For the United States, that meant accepting that Iran would retain its nuclear infrastructure in some shrunken form. For Iran, it meant severe limits on its production facilities and submitting to what Mr. Obama has called the most intrusive inspections regime in history.”

Drug-Resistant Food Poisoning Lands in the U.S.

Before I travelled to China in 2012, my doctor prescribed me ciprofloxacin. It was, in his opinion, almost guaranteed I would come into contact with some sort of bacteria that would result in the dreaded “travel tummy.” Now, Cipro-resistant Shigella (a bacterial infection of the intestines) is becoming a growing problem in Asia and around the world. Over the past year, the resistant strain has shown up in 32 U.S. states and was linked with international travel to India, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco. However, in many instances, people who got sick hadn’t travelled outside the U.S. meaning the strain has already started to circulate unrelated to international travel. This could be a real problem.

NPR—“‘If rates of resistance become this high, in more places, we’ll have very few options left for treating Shigella with antibiotics by mouth,” says epidemiologist Anna Bowen, who led the study. Then doctors will have to resort to IV antibiotics.

Shigella is incredibly contagious. It spreads through contaminated food and water. “As few as 10 germs can cause an infection,” Bowen says. “That’s much less than some other diarrhea-causing germs.’”

This Week in Ebola

It’s been awhile since we’ve had an Ebola update, which should mostly be interpreted as a good sign. And there are good signs, like the two experimental trials of Ebola vaccine candidates have proven to be both safe and effective. However, during a three-day countrywide shutdown in Sierra Leone, 10 new cases of Ebola were found. The good news is that there were not hundreds of hidden cases, as some feared, and the Head of Sierra Leone’s Ebola Response has said the small figures indicate that the country is now at the “tail end” of the epidemic. If things are going relatively well in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Ebola still remains entrenched in Guinea. This week Guinea closed its border with Sierra Leone as an effort to stamp out the virus. Even those who aren’t sick, or have recovered, must still deal with the after effects of the disease. This week, the Liberian government recommended that all Ebola survivors practice “safe sex indefinitely” until more information can be collected on the length of time the virus may remain present in bodily fluids. All these stories should serve as a reminder that even though Ebola may not be as present in the news, the disease is still affecting people around the world.

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Zeynel Cebeci

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