Pandora Report 3.21.14


Positive Tests for Ricin at Georgetown University

Earlier this week, a white, powdery substance that tested positive for ricin, was found in a dorm room at Georgetown University. The 19 year-old student suspect who lived in the room reported that he made it and the Georgetown Voice spoke with a source who indicated the suspect possibly “intended to use the substance on another student.” Weapons-grade ricin is an extremely lethal toxin that has no available anti-toxin.

The Washington Post– “In an e-mail sent campus-wide, the university said there was no danger to the community. Law enforcement officials said they did not think that the case was connected to terrorism. School officials received no reports of anyone being exposed to the toxin, authorities said. D.C. health officials advised the school that symptoms of ricin exposure typically present themselves within 24 hours. “This window has passed and there are no reports consistent with ricin exposure,” the statement said.”

And now, our regularly scheduled Friday news…

Highlights include Polio-like virus in California, destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, the cost of Anti-Vaxxers, and domestic illness in pigs (or…the end of bacon?!) Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

Doctors continue the hunt for a Polio-like virus in California

Since September 2012, over two-dozen children in California have displayed symptoms of a rare Polio-like illness that has caused sudden paralysis, while doctors and health officials are still hunting for the cause. One possible suspect may be some sort of enterovirus, but more testing is required as the mystery continues.

San Francisco Chronicle—“Viruses can be difficult to detect after patients have been sick for a couple of weeks, and especially if they’ve already undergone treatment that can muddy test results. In the California cases, most children weren’t tested until many weeks or even months after they became sick. Waubant, a UCSF neurologist, said she is hoping to get funding to conduct immunoglobulin testing, which would determine whether the patients with polio-like illness have certain antibodies suggesting that they’d all been infected with the same virus.”

PEDv threatens future of pork industry

Are the days of available bacon coming to an end? A report coming out of the Dakotas paints a scary picture of the effect porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is having on the entire domestic pork industry. PEDv is a relatively new disease afflicting pigs but is has become widespread and with little known about the virus containment has become a top priority of both the pork industry and scientists.

Farm Forum—“‘PEDv has a significant economic impact,” Dr. Oedekoven, South Dakota State veterinarian said. “There is a high death rate in the naïve (newborn) population where 80 to 100 percent death losses are reported. The young piglets have no natural immunity and there is no vaccine. It’s a pretty terrible recipe. Biosecurity and sanitation are the tools being used in the industry to prevent the introduction of the disease into herds.’”

A Medical opinion on the anti-vaccination movement

With celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari appearing in the media on an almost daily basis loudly championing the virtues of being “anti-vaxxer,” a medical doctor weighs in on the cost of that movement.

Forbes—“The result is an erosion in health gains, both individual and collective. And in some parts of the country, we are witnessing a reversal of what many believe is one of the greatest advances in medical science in the last century. And as a society, before we allow misinformation to threaten public health, we must recognize that vaccines today are safe and effective. Anything less is irresponsible. We owe it to our children and our communities to make vaccination universal.”

Will Syria meet the deadline for chemical weapon disarmament?

A deadline of June 30 has been set for Syria to hand over and destroy their chemical weapons arsenal. However, there are concerns that rocket strikes in Syria could delay this process and means the deadline will pass without completion.

Al Bawaba—“The Syrian government has repeatedly blamed security issues for its failure to meet the specified deadlines for removing its chemical weapon stockpile from the country. Damascus said last month that convoys carrying chemical weapons were subject to two attempted attacks while they attempted to transport the materials to Latakia.”

But, the U.S.-Russian brokered deal is not in danger, Russian authorities say.

ITAR/TASS—“‘We are not inclined to dramatize the fact that the milestone for their removal, February 5 this year, was not met, as it was planned by the decision of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),” the ministry said. “It can be explained by the objective security situation around chemical weapons storage facilities and on the route of convoys’ movement, as well as by problems related to the logistical support of the operation. However, there is no reason at all to call into question the deadline for the liquidation of the Syrian chemical weapons potential – the first half of the current year.’”

(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Pandora Report 2.21.14

Editor’s note: Hello all Pandora Report subscribers! This is unfortunately my last week as author of the Pandora Report. It’s been such a pleasure having the opportunity to write the Pandora Report, and I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to subscribe and read it. I leave you all in the trusty hands of the new Pandora Report team – goodbye, thank you, and remember to stay away from the bats.

Highlights include PEDv, 1918 Spanish Flu, MERS-CoV, and Ebola. Happy Friday!

As deadly pig virus spreads, USDA warns of impact on hog supply

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv)has spread to a further two states, with Montana and Idaho reporting cases for the first time. The virus, which has a fatality rate approaching 100% in piglets, has swept across the country, with 3,528 cases in 25 states. Contaminated feed was recently put forth as a potential source of the virus’ spread. Before you start autoclaving your pork products, remember that the virus poses no threat to humans.

Chicago Tribune – “PEDv causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. Research by the U.S. hog industry determined it is spread orally through infected pig manure, and can be carried by trucks, boots, clothes and water. But feed containing porcine by-products, including but not limited to plasma, recently came into focus as a means of transmission. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) found the virus in samples of U.S.-origin plasma from a third-party manufacturer for Grand Valley Fortifiers, a livestock feed company based in the province of Ontario. The company recalled the feed.”

Study revives bird origin for 1918 flu pandemic

According to a new study published in Nature, the 1918 (H1N1) Spanish flu virus originated not from reassortment in pigs, but from domestic water and shore birds. This most recent study contradicts finding in a persuasive 2009 study which found the virus to have circulated in humans and pigs for up to 15 years prior to the pandemic. Historical epidemiology is critical to better understanding, and therefore predicting, emerging  pandemic threats.

Nature – “The virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic probably sprang from North American domestic and wild birds, not from the mixing of human and swine viruses. A study published today in Nature1 reconstructs the origins of influenza A virus and traces its evolution and flow through different animal hosts over two centuries. ‘The methods we’ve been using for years and years, and which are crucial to figuring out the origins of gene sequences and the timing of those events, are all flawed’, says lead author Michael Worobey, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Worobey and his colleagues analysed more than 80,000 gene sequences from flu viruses isolated from humans, birds, horses, pigs and bats using a model they developed to map evolutionary relationships between viruses from different host species. The branched tree that resulted showed that the genes of the deadly 1918 pandemic virus are of avian origin.”

Saudi Arabia’s MERS Death Toll Reaches 60

The sixtieth MERS-CoV fatality in Saudi Arabia was a 22-year old male with previously existing conditions. The young man was also battling cancer. There have been 182 cases of the virus globally, of which 165 have been in Saudi Arabia. All but nineteen of the fatalities have been in Saudi Arabia. No word yet on whether he had previous contact with camels.

Gulf Business – “The virus, which first appeared in 2012, has affected around 182 people globally and has resulted in 79 deaths till date, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). MERS, a deadly but less transmissible virus than SARS, has symptoms such as coughing, fever and pneumonia. Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the high death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert. Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe.”

Man steals phone from Ebola patient, gets infected

As this is my last Pandora Report, it is only appropriate Ebola is mentioned at least once. This story is making the rounds again following it’s use in a promotional AARP blog post (bold move, AARP, bold move). Its moral? Don’t steal things from hospitals. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone during an Ebola outbreak.

The Daily Monitor (Uganda) – “Security and medical officials in Kibaale District have registered a case in which a man allegedly went in an isolation ward at Kagadi Hospital and stole a cellular phone from one of the Ebola patients…Police detectives began tracking him after he apparently began communicating to his friends using the phone. But as police zeroed in on him, he developed symptoms similar to those of Ebola and sought medication at the hospital…In his confession made to the police, the suspect, now patient, claimed he had visited the isolation ward to give them comfort although he confessed to knowing none in person.”

(image courtesy of NIAID)

PEDv in Canada

From the AP: “The piglet-killing Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has spread to a second Canadian farm, government officials said on Monday. A laboratory test confirmed the virus in a barn near Chatham-Kent, Ontario, and another possible case is under investigation in the same area, said Greg Douglas, the Canadian province’s chief veterinary officer.

“We still are under the impression that there are strategies to help mitigate, slow the spread of this virus in Ontario,’ he said. ‘However, the confirmed case, the second case, and the third under suspicion, does change the situation, the reality.’

The two Chatham-Kent farms involve finishing barns handling older pigs that generally get sick and recover from the virus. Last week, the Ontario government said the virus, which has killed at least 1 million pigs in the United States, was found on a hog farm in southern Ontario’s Middlesex County, marking the first confirmed case of the virus on a Canadian farm.”

Read more here.

The Pandora Report 1.10.14

Highlights include PEDv thriving in the polar vortex, H5N1 in Canada, archaeological epidemiology,  H7N9 in China, and MERS in Oman. Happy Friday!

Cold, wet weather may help spread deadly pig virus: USDA
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has officially spread to 22 states, helped in part by the colder weather, and affecting over 2,000 hogs. The virus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and death in piglets, reaches as far west as California. The cooler weather enables the hardy virus freezes on clothes and on the bottom of shoes, enabling spread.

Baltimore Sun – “‘The virus likes cold, wet and cloudy days,’ said Rodney Baker, a swine veterinarian at Iowa State University at Ames, Iowa, the top pork producing state in the United States.Earlier this week several hog producing states experienced double digit sub zero temperatures, and forecasters now are calling for warmer temperatures as highs climb toward 30 degrees Fahrenheit by the weekend. Baker told Reuters the virus can remain viable after a single, maybe even a couple of freeze-thaw cycles. Cold weather and cloudy conditions protect the virus, but heat and sunlight will deactivate it, Baker said. The spread of the disease has heightened scrutiny of the U.S. trucking industry as livestock transport trailers are seen as a means of transmission.”

H5N1 bird flu death confirmed in Alberta, 1st in North America
The first H5N1 fatality in North America occurred in Canada last week. A Canadian woman returning from China became symptomatic on December 27th, was hospitalized January 1st, and died January 3rd. The woman had not visited any live farms, not had she come in contact with poultry – the method of transmission remains unclear. Remember, while H5N1 has a fatality rate of 60%,  there is currently no indication the virus is readily transmissible person-to-person. It’s just not well adapted to our immune system – for now at least, it prefers the birds.

CBC – “Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public health officer, said the avian form of influenza has been found in birds, mainly poultry, in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East….The officials added that the woman was otherwise healthy and it’s not yet clear how the person contracted H5N1. Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Taylor said the patient was relatively young. ‘This was a relatively young — well, a young person compared to me, with no underlying health conditions,’ he said. Taylor is 58 [reports have listed the girl as 20 years old]. Officials emphasized that this is not a disease transmitted between humans.”

Scientists unlock evolution of cholera, identify strain responsible for early pandemics
The next time you’re in Philadelphia, instead of visiting the well-trod landmarks, consider visiting the Mütter museum, home to the 200-year old intestinal samples. Those samples, taken during a cholera epidemic at the turn of the 18th century, has helped scientists characterize the classical biotype of cholera, thought to be responsible for seven outbreaks during the 19th century. Scientists had thus far been unable to study the classical biotype, due to its preference for the intestines – unlike bones which can linger for millennia, the transience of intestines makes collecting DNA samples over time challenging.

Medical Express – “Researchers carefully sampled a preserved intestine from a male victim of the 1849 pandemic and extracted information from tiny DNA fragments to reconstruct the Vibrio cholera genome. The results, currently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, could lead to a better understanding of cholera and its modern-day strain known as El Tor, which replaced the classical strain in the 1960s for unknown reasons and is responsible for recent epidemics, including the devastating post-earthquake outbreak in Haiti. ‘Understanding the evolution of an infectious disease has tremendous potential for understanding its epidemiology, how it changes over time, and what events play a role in its jump into humans,’ explains Poinar, associate professor and director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and an investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Disease Research, also at McMaster University.”

WHO: China Reports Eight New Cases of H7N9
China reported eight new cases of H7N9 in the last five days, including three cases in which exposure to live poultry could not be confirmed. Again, a slight increase in case numbers was expected with the cooler weather, and as of yet, there remains no confirmed, ongoing transmission person-to-person.  For a full breakdown of the seven cases (the eighth case was announced by health authorities in Hong Kong), see the GAR above.

WHO – “The National Health and Family Planning Commission of China has notified WHO of seven additional laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus. On 4 January 2014, WHO was notified of an 86-year-old man from Shanghai City became ill on 26 December and was admitted to hospital on 30 December. He is currently in critical condition. He has a history of exposure to live poultry. On 5 January 2014, WHO was notified of 34 year old woman from Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province became ill on 29 December and was admitted to hospital on 2 January. She is currently in critical condition.”

New Case of MERS in Oman
A 59-year-old man has died of MERS in Oman, bringing the total number of cases globally up to 178. The patient became symptomatic on December 24th, was hospitalized on December 28th, and died on December 30th. The patient had extensive exposure to camels, including participation in camel racing events.  It looks more and more like camels, everyone.

WHO – “Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 178 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 75 deaths. Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns.”

(Image depicting jar of intestine, credit: McMaster University)

Deadly Pig Virus from China

According to a new study research, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) striking piglets across farms in the US may have originated in China. After comparing strains from an outbreak in China and the recent US strains, research from Virginia Tech indicates the virus’ source is in the Anhui province.

Fox News – “The report should help diagnostic researchers and federal officials, who have been trying to trace the origin of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) since it was first identified in the United States this past spring. Previously, investigators and veterinary researchers tracking the outbreak said that there was some indication that the PEDv strain seen in the U.S. was 99.5 percent similar in genetic make-up to that identified in China. But exactly where it came from and how it arrived in the United States were mysteries. According to the report published last week in the American Academy of Microbiology journal mBio, the researchers extracted strains of PEDv virus from infected animals in Minnesota and Iowa.”

The Pandora Report 7.26.13

Highlights include Saudi Arabia’s hajj travel restrictions, zoonotic adenoviruses, PEDv, studying the 1918 pandemic, and plague in people you know. Happy Friday!

Virus fears, Mecca work downsizes hajj pilgrimage

Saudi Arabian officials, responding to fears over hajj contributing to MERS potential spread, have significantly cut the number of pilgrims allowed to perform the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Numbers of pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia have been cut by half, and those travelling to Mecca from other countries by one fifth. Officials were quick to stress that the decision was based on “exceptional” circumstances, and may be revised as MERS’ spread is tracked. The decision is an interesting one, given that the WHO’s specially convened MERS committee just last week decided against travel restrictions.

Economic Times – “Fears of an outbreak of the deadly MERS virus in Saudi Arabia and construction in the holy city of Mecca have forced cuts in the numbers of pilgrims permitted to perform this year’s hajj. Millions of Muslims during the annual pilgrimage head to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites, providing a possible means for MERS to spread around the globe as pilgrims who may become infected return to their home countries.”

Adenoviruses May Pose Risk for Monkey-to-Human Leap

Most of the world’s deadliest viruses are zoonotic (ebola, anyone?) When a new virus is determined to spread from animals to humans, it’s therefore not surprising, but it’s often troubling, as humans often have little to no immunity to such bugs. The ongoing outbreaks of H7N9 and MERS are both recent examples. Now, researchers at the University of San Francisco have determined that a novel adenovirus – identified just four years ago – may be able to cause disease in humans. In a study involving adenovirus C, the researchers were able to trace the virus’ spread from an enclosed Californian baboon colony to the human staff members caring for them.

UCSF – “‘This study raises more concerns about the potential of unknown viruses to spread from animals to humans,’ said Chiu, who is an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF. ‘We still don’t understand the full extent of viruses that exist in the world and their potential to cause outbreaks in human populations.’ Last year, Chiu and colleagues also identified another new adenovirus, named simian adenovirus C, which sickened four of nine captive baboons and killed two of them at a primate facility in 1997. Several staff members at the facility also complained of upper respiratory symptoms at the time of the outbreak. Re-examining the samples many years later, Chiu and his colleagues found antibodies targeted to simian adenovirus C in the human samples.”

Deadly Pig Virus Slips through U.S. Borders

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) continues to rage in the United States, having now spread to 14 states, including outliers like North Carolina. With the virus’s fatality rates occasionally approaching 100% in piglets, its spread has USDA and the US pork industry both (understandably) very nervous. The virus’ source in the United States remain unknown, and efforts to sequence it have been hampered by a couple things. First, it is notoriously difficult to culture – unsurprisingly, pig viruses tend to grow best in pigs. Second, the restrictions the US had in place to prevent the virus entering the US in the first place are making acquisition of the right lab materials to culture it difficult. With the virus’ apparent preference for cooler temperatures, and Autumn approaching, scientists are racing to determine the source before the outbreak spreads further.

Scientific American –  “‘How this virus got here, that’s the million-dollar question,’ says James Collins, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. The pathogen, a type of coronavirus called porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1971, and it caused mass epidemics in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s…The virus can spread quickly by a fecal–oral route and infect entire herds. And although adult pigs typically recover, PEDV can kill 80–100% of the piglets it infects. The virus poses no health threat to humans. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had tried to keep PEDV and other diseases out of the country by restricting imports of pigs and pork products from certain nations, such as China. But on 10 May, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University in Ames confirmed that PEDV had infected pigs in Iowa, the leading producer of US pork.”

New Light Shed On Cause of Pandemic Influenza

After using mathematical models to analyze the 20th century’s worst pandemics, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  Researchers have developed three key factors which exacerbated the pandemic’s impact – school openings and closing, temperature fluctuations, and human behavioral changes.

Science Daily – “Dr He and the researchers further applied this model to the reported influenza mortality during the 1918 pandemic in 334 British administrative units and estimate the epidemiological parameters. They have used information criteria to evaluate how well these three factors explain the observed patterns of mortality. The results indicate that all three factors are important, but behavioural responses had the largest effect.”

My Friends Got the Plague, and This New Test Could Have Helped Them

It’s easy to believe that the bacteria and viruses we write about exist only in distance countries or highly secure labs. As the above blog piece illustrates, sometimes all it takes is a vacation to New Mexico. The piece also discusses the importance of science’s ugly stepchild – basic research.

Motherboard (VICE) – “Despite very low incidence and the availability of treatment with modern antibiotics, the plague is still a very deadly illness whose prognosis becomes worse by the minute when it strikes. This technique is useful because it provides a quick way of, at the very least, ruling out the illness, which is so often overlooked. Importantly, the researchers note that their technique would not have been possible without previous basic research, which many consider a lesser priority than corporate-sponsored applied research.”

(image courtesy of Al-Hijr)

Impact of Piglet Virus on U.S. Pork Industry

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), now present across in 200 facilities across 14 states has raised concern over impact on US pork prices. The virus affects piglets, with fatality rates occasionally approaching 100%.

Excerpt: “Nick Striegel, assistant state veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said Wednesday the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PED, was thought to exist only in Europe and China, but Colorado and 14 other states began reporting the virus in April, and officials confirmed its presence in May. The virus causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. It can be fatal.’It has been devastating for those producers where it has been diagnosed. It affects nursing pigs, and in some places, there has been 100 percent mortality,’ he said.”

Read more here.

(image courtesy of Stephen & Claire Farnsworth)

Piglet Virus Spreads to North Carolina

The deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) currently making it’s way across the United States has reached North Carolina, which possesses one of the largest hog industries in the country. The virus has a fatality rate of approximately 50% amongst piglets, with susceptibility exacerbated by the immunological naivety of the US hog population.

Read more here.

(image via Stephen & Claire Farnsworth)

The Pandora Report

Highlights include: patenting viruses pt. II, BioWatch Gen 3 or the lack thereof, West Nile, Dengue detection, and US live hog imports restricted as PEDV rages. Happy Friday!

Why a Saudi Virus Is Spreading Alarm

A less discussed aspect of studying novel microorganisms is the corporate red tape often involved. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, but the most recent case of this is the patenting (or at least, creating of a Material Transfer Agreement) of the MERS virus by Ron Fouchier’s Dutch laboratory. Under the MTA, all labs who request samples of the virus are contractually bound not to develop vaccines or products without first asking for permission from the Dutch lab. As you can imagine, this creates extra hurdles for Saudi scientists trying to stem the virus’ spread across Saudi Arabia. Lest one believe this is simply “the way things are done” in virology, China released samples of its H7N9 virus to open source sites within a month of the first case being identified.

Council on Foreign Relations – “But impeding an effective response is a dispute over rights to develop a treatment for the virus. The case brings to the fore a growing debate over International Health Regulations, interpretations of patent rights, and the free exchange of scientific samples and information. Meanwhile, the epidemic has already caused forty-nine cases in seven countries, killing twenty-seven of them…’The virus was sent out of the country and it was patented, contracts were signed with vaccine companies and anti-viral drug companies, and that’s why they have a MTA [Material Transfer Agreement] to be signed by anybody who can utilize that virus, and that should not happen,’ [Saudi Arabia’s deputy health minister] Memish said.”

Autonomous Detection Sought For BioWatch Surveillance Systems

BioWatch Gen 3 is currently on the back burner, as officials explore alternative options (analysis of alternatives, or AoA). Everyone agrees that some form of detection is necessary, everyone agrees that 24 hours is too long of a lag time, and everyone definitely agrees that local and state health officials need to be involved, but not everyone agrees that the current funding proposals for BioWatch are feasible. Does anyone else feel like this is a disaster waiting to happen?

Homeland Security Newswire – “Options for upgrading the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) BioWatch biosurveillance program monitoring systems for biological agents to autonomous detectors is continuing to be explored — and the department plans eventually to do so in collaboration with state and local officials. But DHS currently has no formal program to produce the next generation of BioWatch monitoring technology, said BioWatch Program Manager Michael Walter in remarks at the National Academies of Science (NAS) Tuesday.”

West Nile Virus Logs Deadliest Year After Hotter Summer

Last year was a bad year for West Nile, with 286 deaths and 5,674 cases. The CDC is closely monitoring the number of cases as we enter the peak season (July through September), as reasons for last year’s large case number remains unclear. However, a warmer, wetter summer is thought to be a big part of it.

Bloomberg –  “While there are only six reported cases of the virus this year through June, according to the CDC’s website, more than 90 percent of infections from last year occurred between July and September.’West Nile virus is going to be a factor in the U.S. every year now,’ Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s arboviral diseases branch, said in a telephone interview. ‘People need to take precautions and protect themselves.'”

The ‘Gold’ Standard: A Rapid, Cheap Method of Detecting Dengue Virus

Scientists are using gold nanoparticles to develop cheap, quick diagnostics for detecting dengue. While we understand this is very important in terms of helping reduce the spread of a globally present (50-100 million cases annually) and deadly virus, we also are a little pleased by the “gold” standard pun.

Science Daily – “The development of an easy to use, low cost method of detecting dengue virus in mosquitoes based on gold nanoparticles is reported in BioMed Central’s open access journal Virology Journal. The assay is able to detect lower levels of the virus than current tests, and is easy to transport and use in remote regions…Researchers from the University of Notre Dame, USA, used a DNAzyme linked to gold nanoparticles which recognises a short sequence of the viral RNA genome common to all four types of Dengue. Once bound, adding magnesium and heating to 37C causes the DNAZyme to cut the RNA leaving the gold nanoparticles free to clump together. This aggregation can be easily seen as a red to clear/colourless colour change.”

USDA working for removal of Mexican restrictions on live hog imports

The USDA is scrambling to get restrictions on US live pigs lifted by Mexico, following an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). The outbreak of PEDV has spread to 13 states in couple weeks since the virus’ first emergence.

Reuters – “A spokeswoman for the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said on Thursday the agency has sent Mexico information requested in connection with the outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, a swine virus deadly to young pigs never before seen in North America. She did not state what information had been requested.”