Image of the Week: Zombie Intubation!

Image of the Week: Zombie Intubation

As if the zombie apocalypse wasn’t enough, during Season 4 of AMC‘s the Walking Dead (which had it’s finale on Sunday) the survivors had to deal with an unspecified, likely zoonotic, disease outbreak in the prison.

In this photo, one of the survivors who had to be intubated died and thus, we have zombie intubation!

Image Credit: AMC

Pandora Report 3.28.14

It’s been a busy week between Ebola and Ricin! Friday highlights include a Polio-free India, tuberculosis transmission from cat to human, and mandatory vaccines in Croatia. Have a great weekend!

India is Polio-Free after 3 years of no new cases

On March 27, 2014, India was declared Polio-Free by the World Health Organization after three years of no new cases. The last case of polio in India was Rukhsar Khatoon, a 4 year old girl who became ill as a baby when her parents forgot to vaccinate her.

The Huffington Post—“Being declared polio-free once was considered all but impossible in a nation hobbled by corruption, poor sanitation and profound poverty. Although the disease could return, eradicating it is a landmark public health achievement.

This is “a day that we have dreamt about,” said Poonam Khetrpal Singh, a WHO official at a ceremony in New Delhi to declare the entire Southeast Asian region free of the disease. Singh described it as ‘a day that all countries fought hard for, and a day when all stakeholders come together to celebrate the victory of mankind over a dreaded disease.’”

Pet cats infect two people with TB

Two people in England have contracted tuberculosis from a house cat infected with Mycobacterium bovis—a form of tuberculosis normally found in cattle. Nine cats in the Berkshire and Hampshire areas have tested positive for M.bovis which is extremely uncommon in cats and usually affects livestock.

BBC—“‘These are the first documented cases of cat-to-human transmission, and so although PHE has assessed the risk of people catching this infection from infected cats as being very low, we are recommending that household and close contacts of cats with confirmed M. bovis infection should be assessed and receive public health advice’ said Dr. Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at Public Health England.”

Thank You, Croatia: All Hail Mandatory Vaccinations

This week, the Constitutional Court of Croatia passed a law that mandates all children must receive childhood vaccinations for diphtheria, pertussis, measles, polio and others. This decision comes at a time when lively debate rages, in the U.S. and abroad, about vaccination and its importance or harm. This step by Croatia, in the words of the court, is a victory for children’s health over parents (wrong) choices.

The Daily Beast—“… public health imperatives and individual rights are often at odds: a country like the U.S. that values the rights of the individual always has trouble with laws that remind us that not everything is a choice. Kids must go to school. People must pay taxes. Children must be vaccinated. It is called living in modern society.”


Image Credit: Dwight Sipler/ Wikimedia Commons

What virologists’ dreams are made of: A total viral catalog

Believe it or not, we have a tremendous deal to learn about viruses. A lot of huge, fundamental questions about viruses remain unanswered –  are they alive or dead? Where did they originate? How many are there? This last question is in some ways the most feasible to answer, and scientists have begun to do so by examining Indian Flying Fox bats. In a new study, scientists at Columbia university took over a thousand samples from the bat species and scoured them for viruses. They turned up 55 viruses, of which a staggering 50 were hitherto undiscovered. Ten of them are in the same family as Nipah. The scientists now hope to take the viruses found from the Indian Flying Foxes and begin a catalog of viruses which infect the remaining 5,484 known species of mammals. Such a resource, while expensive to produce, would be a huge aid in preparing us for future zoonotic outbreaks.

New York Times – “We might be able to take away this element of surprise if we had a catalog of all the viruses lurking in mammals. As soon as a mysterious epidemic broke out, scientists could turn to the catalog to figure out where the virus came from, potentially gaining some crucial clues to the virus’s biology. But few scientists have ventured to build such a catalog, perhaps because there seemed to be such a vast number of viruses to contend with.’No one’s really been addressing this question, even though it seems like such a fundamental one,’ said Simon J. Anthony, an associate research scientist at Columbia University and a researcher at EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based scientific research organization.”

Read the full article here.

(image: Fritz Geller-Grimm)

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)