The Six Scenarios:
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from Washington Post:
Superbug known as 'phantom menace' on the rise in U.S.
...This superbug's strains belong to the family of bacteria known as CRE, which are difficult to treat because they are often resistant to most antibiotics. They are often deadly, too, in some instances killing up to 50 percent of patients who become infected, according to the CDC. Health officials have called CRE among the country's most urgent public health threats.... This type of CRE has had a lower profile because it's actually less antibiotic-resistant than other more common types of CRE. As a result, it hasn't been a frequent focus of testing and has largely escaped detection by health officials, prompting some researchers to dub it "the phantom menace."
from New York Times:
A Mosquito Solution (More Mosquitoes) Raises Heat in Florida Keys
In this bite-size community near Key West, like so many other mosquito-plagued spots up and down the Florida Keys, residents long ago made peace with insecticides dropped into town by planes or rumbling by on trucks. Cans of Off are offered at outdoor parties. Patio screens are greeted with relief. But Keys residents are far less enamored of another approach to mosquito control -- a proposal to release the nation's first genetically modified mosquitoes, hatched in a lab and pumped with synthetic DNA to try to combat two painful mosquito-borne viral diseases, dengue and chikungunya.
Big U.S. school districts plan switch to antibiotic-free chicken
Six of the largest U.S. school districts are switching to antibiotic-free chicken, officials said on Tuesday, pressuring the world's top meat companies to adjust production practices in the latest push against drugs used on farms. The move by districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Orlando County is intended to protect children's health amid concerns about the rise of so-called "superbugs," bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines, school officials said. However, the change may raise costs for schools because bird mortality rates are typically higher in flocks raised without antibiotics. The six districts, which served at least 2.6 million meals last year, hope to limit costs by combining their purchasing power, officials said.
The post-antibiotic future is here: Chilling report highlights the reality of a global crisis
In India, that future is already here. The New York Times has a distressing report on the epidemic of antibiotic resistant "superbugs" killing the country's newborns by the tens of thousands: "Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections," said Dr. Neelam Kler, chairwoman of the department of neonatology at New Delhi's Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of India's most prestigious private hospitals. "Now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multidrug resistant infections. It's scary." These babies are part of a disquieting outbreak. A growing chorus of researchers say the evidence is now overwhelming that a significant share of the bacteria present in India -- in its water, sewage, animals, soil and even its mothers -- are immune to nearly all antibiotics.
from Infectious Diseases Society of America:
College athletes in contact sports more likely to carry MRSA, study finds
Even if they don't show signs of infection, college athletes who play football, soccer and other contact sports are more likely to carry the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This puts them at higher risk for infection and increases the likelihood of spreading the bug, which can cause serious and even fatal infections. ... Contact sport athletes were more than twice as likely as non-contact athletes to be colonized with MRSA, meaning they carried the bug on their bodies, usually in their noses and throats.
from AP, via HuffingtonPost:
Ebola In West Africa Is 'Totally Out Of Control,' Doctors Without Borders Says
The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa is "totally out of control," according to a senior official for Doctors Without Borders, who says the medical group is stretched to the limit in its capacity to respond. The current outbreak has caused more deaths than any other on record, said another official with the medical charity. Ebola has been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.... "The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave," Janssens said. "And, for me, it is totally out of control." The outbreak, which began in Guinea either late last year or early this year, had appeared to slow before picking up pace again in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital for the first time.
from Mother Jones:
Is It "Madness" to Rebuild a Flu Virus That Wiped Out 50 Million People?
Remember the Spanish Flu of 1918? Of course you don't. That's the freakishly deadly influenza strain that swept the globe in 1918 and 1919, wiping out 30 million to 50 million people. It infected about one in four Americans and killed about 675,000. It didn't just kill little kids and the elderly, either, like most flu strains. This one was unusually devastating in young, healthy people--although why the "mother of all pandemics" behaved as it did is not fully understood.... "To assess the risk of emergence of a 1918-like virus and to delineate the amino acid changes that are needed for such a virus to become transmissible via respiratory droplets in mammals, we attempted to generate an influenza virus composed of avian influenza viral segments that encoded proteins with high homology to the 1918 viral proteins," he and his coauthors wrote. Needless to say, some of Kawaoka's scientific peers think he's insane to do such a thing.
from American Society for Microbiology:
Harmful bacteria can linger on airplane seat-back pockets, armrests for days
Disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces commonly found in airplane cabins for days, even up to a week, according to research. In order for disease-causing bacteria to be transmitted from a cabin surface to a person, it must survive the environmental conditions in the airplane. In this study, MRSA lasted longest (168 hours) on material from the seat-back pocket while E. coli O157:H7 survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest.
Antibiotic resistance: 6 diseases that may come back to haunt us
Diseases we thought were long gone, nothing to worry about, or easy to treat could come back with a vengeance, according to the recent World Health Organisation report on global antibiotic resistance.... Tuberculosis... Gonorrhoea... Klebsiella... Typhus... Syphillis... Diphtheria.
from Huffington Post:
Killer Pig Virus Wipes Out More Than 10 Percent Of Nation's Hogs, Causing Spike In Pork Prices
John Goihl, a hog nutritionist in Shakopee, Minnesota, knows a farmer in his state who lost 7,500 piglets just after they were born. In Sampson County, North Carolina, 12,000 of Henry Moore's piglets died in three weeks. Some 30,000 piglets perished at John Prestage's Oklahoma operation in the fall of 2013. The killer stalking U.S. hog farms is known as PEDv, a malady that in less than a year has wiped out more than 10 percent of the nation's pig population and helped send retail pork prices to record highs. The highly contagious Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus is puzzling scientists searching for its origins and its cure and leaving farmers devastated in ways that go beyond financial losses... Since June 2013 as many as 7 million pigs have died in the United States due to the virus...
from Washington Post:
The sneeze: Show these new MIT pictures to people who won't cover their mouths
...Researchers had previously viewed the sneeze as a collection of individual mucous droplets. After an "achoo," they thought, larger droplets flew farther than smaller ones because of momentum....Using high-speed imaging of coughs and sneezes, as well as laboratory simulations and mathematical modeling, the researchers came up with a new measure of the sneeze and its trajectory....Because the droplets are in a cloud, they stay suspended and travel further -- particularly smaller ones, which travel up to 200 times farther than previously estimated.
from NBC News:
One in 25 Infected in U.S. Hospitals, Report Finds
One in 25 U.S. hospital patients has caught an infection while in the hospital, according to new federal data released on Wednesday. That adds up to more than 700,000 people infected in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. It's a national crisis and although the numbers suggest there are some improvements, it's not nearly enough, the CDC's Dr. Michael Bell said. "You go to the hospital hoping to get better," Bell told reporters. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.
from E&E Publishing:
How the spreading symptoms of climate change can be deadly
The hallmarks of a warming climate, heavier rains, more severe droughts, rising sea levels and longer growing seasons, are spreading a variety of pathogens throughout the world. Malaria is moving to the highlands. Lyme disease is spreading across the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada. Outbreaks of cholera will increase with more unsafe water. Those are three of the diseases that are becoming part of a growth field in medical research amid concerns that tropical diseases are moving north and south and that progress made to improve health conditions in previous decades might be undone.
Chick-fil-A to serve antibiotic-free chicken
...Chick-fil-A Inc. announced plans Tuesday to use chicken raised without antibiotics in all of its restaurants within five years. National and regional poultry suppliers are partnering with the company to stock up. Chik-fil-A wants these suppliers to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the chickens do not receive any antibiotics.... Chick-fil-A's announcement comes amid a growing awareness about the problem of antibiotic resistance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that antibiotics in livestock are contributing to the rise of dangerous bacteria. Many antibiotics that farmers give food-producing animals are also used to treat sick humans.
Plant STD linked to honeybee colony collapse
Major crops including soybeans and tobacco can suffer from a crippling malady called tobacco ringspot virus. The disease is spread through sex, which in the plant kingdom involves the freaky use of vibrating creatures: bees. Honeybees and other pollinators carry infected pollen from one plant to the other and, in doing so, can spread the virus, which is also called TRSV. What's really freaky is that scientists have discovered that bees can become infected with the ringspot virus of the plants upon which they feed. The researchers report in the journal mBio that the unusual inter-kingdom host-species jump could be linked to colony collapse disorder.... When these researchers investigated bee colonies classified as "strong" or "weak," TRSV and other viruses were more common in the weak colonies than they were in the strong ones. Bee populations with high levels of multiple viral infections began failing in late fall and perished before February, these researchers report. In contrast, those in colonies with fewer viral assaults survived the entire cold winter months. ...
from Florida State University:
Snowball Effect of Overfishing Highlighted
Florida State University researchers have spearheaded a major review of fisheries research that examines the domino effect that occurs when too many fish are harvested from one habitat. The loss of a major species from an ecosystem can have unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. Moreover, these changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly, and are difficult to reverse. "You don't realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels," said Felicia Coleman, director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory and a co-author on the study.
from Planet Ark:
West Nile virus blamed for death of bald eagles in Utah
An unprecedented wintertime outbreak of West Nile virus has killed more than two dozen bald eagles in Utah and thousands of water birds around the Great Salt Lake, state wildlife officials said on Tuesday... The eagles, whose symptoms included leg paralysis and tremors, are believed to have contracted the disease by preying on sick or dead water birds called eared grebes that were infected by the West Nile virus... McFarlane said Utah had an unusually warm fall that extended the breeding season for mosquitoes to late October. But scientists may ultimately be unable to determine if grebes infected by West Nile virus migrated to Utah or if they contracted it there, she said.... the epidemic in Utah may be unprecedented in North America for the masses of birds killed over a broad geographic area and for the number of bald eagles affected...
from Associated Press:
FDA: Anti-bacterial soaps may not curb bacteria
After more than 40 years of study, the U.S. government says it has found no evidence that common anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs, and regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers. Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that they are revisiting the safety of triclosan and other sanitizing agents found in soap in countless kitchens and bathrooms. Recent studies suggest triclosan and similar substances can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. The government's preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.
from Scientific American:
Banana Fungus Creeps Closer to World's Key Plantations
A variant of a fungus that rots and kills the main variety of export banana has been found in plantations in Mozambique and Jordan, raising fears that it could spread to major producers and decimate supplies. The pathogen, which was until now limited to parts of Asia and a region of Australia, has a particularly devastating effect on the popular Cavendish cultivar, which accounts for almost all of the multibillion-dollar banana export trade. Expansion of the disease worldwide could be disastrous, say researchers.
from Time Magazine:
If You're Not Worried About Dengue Fever, Here's Why You Should Be
...The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that annual transmissions of the disease may breach 390 million. This year, infections are breaking records all over Asia and Latin America -- from sweeping epidemics in Nicaragua to the worse outbreaks in six years in India, 20 years in Thailand and the first homegrown case in Western Australia in seven decades. Even temperate climates are now stalking grounds for dengue-carrying mosquitoes. Almost 3 billion people, or 40 percent of the world's population, live in areas where there is a risk of dengue transmission.... Mention dengue and most people will think of aches and chills. But the disease is far more dangerous than that. Dengue causes white-blood-cell counts to plummet, making the body susceptible to secondary infections; even more alarmingly, it has a similar effect to platelets, impairing blood's ability to clot. If left untreated, and particularly on a second infection, dengue hemorrhagic fever can take hold, and patients can suffer internal bleeding, shock and death.
from The Independent:
'Superbugs could erase a century of medical advances,' experts warn
Drug-resistant "superbugs" represent one of the gravest threats in the history of medicine, leading experts have warned. Routine operations could become deadly "in the very near future" as bacteria evolve to resist the drugs we use to combat them. This process could erase a century of medical advances, say government doctors in a special editorial in The Lancet health journal. Although the looming threat of antibiotic, or anti-microbial, resistance has been known about for years, the new warning reflects growing concern that the NHS and other national health systems, already under pressure from ageing populations, will struggle to cope with the rising cost of caring for people in the "post-antibiotic era".
from Wired Science:
Dolphin-Killing Virus Spreads South, May Be Infecting Whales Too
A viral outbreak that's killing bottlenose dolphins is moving down the U.S. East Coast as the animals migrate south for the winter. Between July 1 and November 3, at least 753 animals have died.... The outbreak began along the coast between New York and Virginia this summer. Now, carcasses are washing ashore in the Carolinas and Florida. Researchers have identified the cause as dolphin morbillivirus, a pathogen that's related to human measles and canine distemper. Morbillivirus infects dolphins' lungs and brains, causing weird behaviors and skin lesions and pneumonia (but the marine mammals can't pass it on to humans).... Indeed, there's something in the mix this time around that could be even more worrying. Other species have been showing up dead with dolphin morbillivirus in their tissues. Since July, three out of four dead humpback whales (in Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina), and a two out of three dead pygmy sperm whales (in Georgia and Massachusetts) have tested positive for the pathogen. Dolphin morbillivirus isn't often reported in these species. Whether the whales are dead because of a morbillivirus infection - or simply exposed to it - is still unknown.
CDC sets threat levels for drug-resistant bacteria
... For the first time, the CDC is categorizing antibiotic-resistant organisms by threat level. That's because, in their conservative estimates, more than 2 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die because current drugs no longer stop their infections.... So the CDC is ranking the worst drug-resistant bacteria according to how many people get sick, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths caused by each. They also took into account how many, if any, existing antibiotics still work on the bacteria. Instead of red, orange or yellow -- the levels once used to describe terrorism threats -- the CDC is using "urgent," "serious" and "concerning."
from E&E Publishing:
Warming climate begins to taint Europe's blood supplies
A whole new set of ungovernable pathogens are being loosed on the world's blood supplies. A warming climate has allowed blood-borne tropical diseases to flourish where once they were unheard of, and they're getting around.... Hospitals and blood banks now routinely screen potential donors for HIV and hepatitis in order to keep these diseases from accidentally finding their way into patients. But recent outbreaks of diseases such as West Nile fever, dengue fever and malaria -- all carried by mosquitoes -- have posed new problems for the health of European blood banks.
from Associated Press:
French man dies of SARS-related respiratory virus
A French patient infected with a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS died Tuesday of the disease, which has killed half the people known to be infected and alarmed global health officials. The novel coronavirus is related to SARS, which killed some 800 people in a global epidemic in 2003.... 20 of the 40 confirmed cases of the disease have ended in death. Most of those infected since the virus was identified last year had traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan. There also have been cases in Britain and Germany. The ministry said the Frenchman, whose illness was identified May 8 after he returned from a visit to the United Arab Emirates, died Tuesday. His hospital roommate also tested positive for the illness.
Insight: Pork industry hunts for deadly pig virus
The sudden and widespread appearance of a swine virus deadly to young pigs - one never before seen in North America - is raising questions about the bio-security shield designed to protect the U.S. food supply. The swine-only virus, the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), poses no danger to humans or other animals, and the meat from infected pigs is safe for people to eat.
from Washington Post:
Measles outbreaks flourish in UK years after discredited research tied measles shot to autism
More than a decade ago, British parents refused to give measles shots to at least a million children because of now discredited research that linked the vaccine to autism. Now, health officials are scrambling to catch up and stop a growing epidemic of the contagious disease. This year, the U.K. has had more than 1,200 cases of measles, after a record number of nearly 2,000 cases last year. The country once recorded only several dozen cases every year. It now ranks second in Europe, behind only Romania.
from New Scientist:
Plague of locusts blankets Madagascar
A locust plague of epic size is devastating the island nation of Madagascar, threatening the lives of 13 million people already on the brink of famine. Billions of locusts are destroying crops and grazing lands across half the country. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expects the plague to get worse, with two-thirds of the country likely to be affected by September.... "In Africa this is sometimes a cruel twist," says Jerome Buhl from the University of Sydney, Australia, who studies the swarming of locusts. "A good year for crops, with promises of unusually good harvests after bad years, also often means a potential locust outbreak which could devastate the entire harvest and make it end as a terrible year."
from AP, via ABC:
Scientist: Cassava Disease Spread at Alarming Rate
Scientists say a disease destroying entire crops of cassava has spread out of East Africa into the heart of the continent, is attacking plants as far south as Angola and now threatens to move west into Nigeria, the world's biggest producer of the potato-like root that helps feed 500 million Africans.... In Uganda, a new strain of the virus identified five years ago is destroying 45 percent of the national crop and up to 80 percent of harvests in some areas, according to a new survey, said Chris Omongo, an entomologist and cassava expert at Uganda's National Crops Resources Research Institute. "The new strain looks to us to be much more aggressive," Omongo said.
from New York Times:
Report on U.S. Meat Sounds Alarm on Resistant Bacteria
More than half of samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef collected from supermarkets for testing by the federal government contained a bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to a new report highlighting the findings. The data, collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System -- a joint program of the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- show a sizable increase in the amount of meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria, known as superbugs, like salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.... The Agriculture Department has confirmed that almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture, and public health authorities around the world increasingly are warning that antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels. "We don't have a problem with treating animals with antibiotics when they are sick," Ms. Undurraga said. "But just feeding them antibiotics to make them get bigger faster at a lower cost poses a real problem for public health."
Despite superbug crisis, progress in antibiotic development 'alarmingly elusive'
Despite the desperate need for new antibiotics to combat increasingly deadly resistant bacteria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one new systemic antibiotic since the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) launched its 10 x '20 Initiative in 2010 -- and that drug was approved two and a half years ago. In a new report, published online today in Clinical Infectious Diseases, IDSA identified only seven new drugs in development for the treatment of infections caused by multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacilli (GNB) bacteria. GNB, which include the "nightmare bacteria" to which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alerted the public in its March 2013 Vital Signs report, represent the most pressing medical need. Importantly, there is no guarantee that any of the drugs currently in development to treat GNB will make it across the finish line to FDA approval and none of them will work against the most resistant bugs we're worried about today.
New wave of 'superbugs' poses dire threat, says chief medical officer
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the potential to cause untreatable infections pose "a catastrophic threat" to the population, England's chief medical officer warns in a report calling for urgent action worldwide. If tough measures are not taken to restrict the use of antibiotics and no new ones are discovered, said Dame Sally Davies, "we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar to the early 19th century at some point". While antibiotics are failing, new bacterial diseases are on the rise. Although the "superbugs" MRSA and C difficile have been reduced to low numbers in hospitals, there has been an alarming increase in other types of bacteria including new strains of E coli and Klebsiella, which causes pneumonia.
Mosquitoes ignore repellent Deet after first exposure
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say mosquitoes are first deterred by the substance, but then later ignore it.... The research was carried out on Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that spreads dengue and yellow fever.
TB Infection Rates Set to 'Turn Clock Back to 1930s'
During the 1930s, dedicated sanitaria and invasive surgery were commonly prescribed for those with the infection -- usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which the editors describe as "the most successful human pathogen of all time."... The infection is developing increasing resistance around the world to the powerful drugs currently used to treat it.... "It shows every sign of weathering the storm and superb randomised controlled trials, to emerge in ever-increasingly drug-resistant forms, potentially turning the clock back to the 1930s," they say.
from Boston Globe:
New illness, transmitted by same tick that carries Lyme, is discovered in Northeast
Researchers have discovered a new human disease in the Northeast transmitted by the same common deer tick that can infect people with Lyme disease. The bacterial illness causes flu-like symptoms, the researchers from Tufts, Yale, and other institutions reported Wednesday, but they also described the case of an 80-year-old woman who became confused and withdrawn, lost weight, and developed hearing difficulty and a wobbly gait.
MRSA detected in milk samples in Britain
A strain of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus was found in British milk, indicating the superbug is spreading in livestock, researchers say. Mark Holmes of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, who first identified MRSA in milk in 2011, said the latest finding of a different strain -- MRSA ST398 in seven samples of bulk milk from five British farms -- was a concern.
from American Society for Microbiology:
New Coronavirus Has Many Potential Hosts, Could Pass from Animals to Humans Repeatedly
The SARS epidemic of 2002-2003 was short-lived, but a novel type of human coronavirus that is alarming public health authorities can infect cells from humans and bats alike, a fact that could make the animals a continuing source of infection, according to a study to be published in in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, on Dec. 11. The new coronavirus, called hCoV-EMC, is blamed for five deaths and several other cases of severe disease originating in countries in the Middle East. According to the new results, hCoV-EMC uses a different receptor in the human body than the SARS virus, and can infect cells from a wide range of bat species and pigs, indicating there may be little to keep the virus from passing from animals to humans over and over again.
from Los Angeles Times:
In Hawaii, a coral reef infection has biologists alarmed
...Since June, a mysterious milky growth has been spreading rapidly across the coral reefs in Hanalei and the surrounding bays of the north shore -- so rapidly that biologist Terry Lilley, who has been documenting the phenomenon, says it now affects 5 percent of all the coral in Hanalei Bay and up to 40 percent of the coral in nearby Anini Bay. Other areas are "just as bad, if not worse," he said. The growth, identified by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey as both a cyanobacterial pathogen -- a bacteria that grows through photosynthesis -- and a fungus, is killing all the coral it strikes, and spreading at the rate of 1 to 3 inches a week on every coral it infects.
New coronavirus: May be 'bat bug'
Bats may be the source of a new Sars-like virus which killed a man in Saudi Arabia, according to an analysis of the coronavirus' genome. Two other people have been infected and one, who was flown to the UK for treatment in September, is still in intensive care. Experts, writing in the journal mBio, said the virus was closely related to other viruses in bats.
from Baltimore Sun:
'Superbug' found in US wastewater treatment plants
Hospitals aren't the only places where people can pick up a nasty "superbug." A University of Maryland-led team of researchers has found methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, at sewage treatment plants in the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest.... The study found MRSA in 83 percent of the raw sewage entering the plants, but the incidence declined as the sewage progressed through the treatment process. Only one plant still had the bacteria in its fully treated water, researchers found, and that facility did not regularly use chlorination to finish disinfecting its wastewater. MRSA is a well-known problem in hospitals, where patients have picked up potentially fatal bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotic treatment. But since the late 1990s, it's also been showing up in otherwise healthy people outside of health-care facilities, prompting a search for sources in the wider community.
Insight: In vulnerable Greece, mosquitoes bite back
Just when it seems things couldn't get any worse for Greece, the exhausted and indebted country has a new threat to deal with: mosquito-borne diseases. Species of the blood-sucking insects that can carry exotic-sounding tropical infections like malaria, West Nile Virus, chikungunya and dengue fever are enjoying the extra bit of warmth climate change is bringing to parts of southern Europe. And with austerity budgets, a collapsing health system, political infighting and rising xenophobia all conspiring to allow pest and disease control measures here to slip through the net, the mosquitoes are biting back.
from E&E Publishing:
Avian malaria found spreading in local Alaska birds
A tropical plague is spreading among birds in America's northernmost state in part due to a changing climate, according to new research. Malaria, a scourge that haunts many parts of humanity, also afflicts our feathered friends. The avian version of the disease does not harm people, but it can serve as an analogue for future infection patterns in humans as the climate changes.
FOOD: Another strain of deadly wheat fungus in South Africa
As the world's supply of staple grains grows tight, scientists are learning about the discovery in South Africa of yet another deadly variant of Ug99 stem rust, a virulent fungal disease that can devastate wheat crops within weeks.... The fungus has begun mutating rapidly over the last few years, earning it the epithet "the polio of agriculture". The new mutations, or "races", of this disease have acquired the ability to defeat two of the most important stem-rust-resistant genes, which are widely used in the world's wheat breeding programmes.
from CBS News, via kbzk:
West Nile virus outbreak: How to protect yourself
Dallas planes took to the skies Friday to spray insecticides to combat the worst West Nile virus outbreak the United States has seen this year. Thus far, 10 people have been killed and at least 230 others have been sickened in the Dallas County area. Nearly half of all West Nile cases in the U.S. so far this year are in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the trend continues, 2012 will be the worst West Nile year in state history.... The good news is about 80 percent of people who are infected with the virus won't show any symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent, however, may develop a fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.... But about one in 150 people will develop a severe illness, in which they may have a high fever, neck stiffness, convulsions, vision loss, paralysis, coma or other neurological effects that may be permanent.
Dallas mayor declares emergency over West Nile virus
The mayor of Dallas declared a state of emergency in the ninth largest U.S. city on Wednesday to combat the spread of West Nile virus infections, which have been more prevalent than usual in Texas and other states this year. There have been more cases of West Nile virus reported so far this year than any year since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control said on its website. Nearly half of the 693 human cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus infections reported this year to the CDC have been in Texas, along with 14 of the 26 deaths confirmed by the federal agency as of Tuesday.
Parasites may get nastier with climate swings: study
Parasites, which include tapeworms, the tiny organisms that cause malaria and funguses, may be more nimble at adapting to climatic shifts than the animals they live on since they are smaller and grow more quickly, scientists said.
from Scientific American:
Invasive Fungi Wreak Havoc on Species World-Wide
...Fungi have afflicted species as varied as amphibians, bats, arabica coffee, mangrove crabs, wheat, coral, bees, oak trees, sea turtles and even humans. (For instance, infectious meningitis is caused by a fungus.) ... Long thought to reproduce asexually through mitosis, where each offspring is the identical clone of its parent, scientists have discovered fungi can also reproduce sexually, via meiosis. By nimbly changing their reproductive strategy in response to new environmental conditions, fungi transfer genetic advantages from both parents--just like humans do--giving their offspring a better shot at survival. They also readily hybridize (interbreed between different species), outcross (selectively breed with individuals of different strains within a species) and recombine (exchange genetic material during cell division).
from Discover Magazine:
'Whooping cough' new-infection rates in WA: 13X last year
The plot is by week, so you can see the 2011 numbers slowly growing across the year; then this year's numbers suddenly taking a huge leap upward. They are reporting the new rate as 13 times larger than last year.... Why would this be? Well, it so happens that the antivaccination movement is quite strong in Washington state, and it also so happens that parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children in higher numbers there than the rest of the nation.
Bird flu has jumped to baby seals, scientists discover
A new virus that jumped from birds to mammals is responsible for the death of more than 160 seals off the New England coast last year, scientists announced Tuesday. The virus could theoretically pose a threat to human health, they said.... "When initial tests revealed an avian influenza virus, we asked the obvious question: How did this virus jump from birds to seals?" lead researcher Simon Anthony of Columbia University said. The virus developed the ability to attack mammalian respiratory tracts, scientists learned. It may also have developed enhanced virulence and transmission in mammals, they said, but they need to do more tests to be sure.
Bacteria outbreak in Northern Europe due to ocean warming, study says
Manmade climate change is the main driver behind the unexpected emergence of a group of bacteria in northern Europe which can cause gastroenteritis, new research by a group of international experts shows. The paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Sunday, provided some of the first firm evidence that the warming patterns of the Baltic Sea have coincided with the emergence of Vibrio infections in northern Europe. Vibrios is a group of bacteria which usually grow in warm and tropical marine environments. The bacteria can cause various infections in humans, ranging from cholera to gastroenteritis-like symptoms from eating raw or undercooked shellfish or from exposure to seawater.
from MIami Herald:
Cholera reportedly kills 15, sickens hundreds in eastern Cuba
The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday. "There are 1,000-plus cases" in the southeastern province of Granma, said Yoandris Montoya, who lives in Bayamo, the provincial capital ... Cuba's Public Health Ministry, which rarely makes public any information that could give the island a negative image, declared Tuesday it had "controlled" an outbreak of cholera that had killed three people and affected 50 others in Granma province. But unofficial reports from the region Friday indicated the disease was continuing to spread, with hundreds more suspected cases jamming hospitals in Manzanillo and Bayamo. Montoya said more cases were reported in nearby Niquero and Pilan.
Diseases from animals hit over two billion people a year
A global study mapping human diseases that come from animals like tuberculosis, AIDS, bird flu or Rift Valley fever has found that just 13 such diseases are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths a year. The vast majority of infections and deaths from so-called zoonotic diseases are in poor or middle-income countries, but "hotspots" are also cropping up in the United States and Europe where diseases are newly infecting humans, becoming particularly virulent, or are developing drug resistance. And exploding global demand for livestock products means the problem is likely to get worse, researchers said.
WHO: Sexually-transmitted superbug could be major crisis
Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom are among the countries reporting cases of gonorrhea that does not respond to cephalosporin antibiotics, which is the last treatment option against gonorrhea. These are developed countries with good health care systems, meaning countries less well off may be even more at risk for a crisis. "If the resistence is there, what we think is that we're sitting at a tip of an iceberg," Lusti-Narasimhan said. "For places in many other parts of the world where there are much less both human and financial resources, it's very difficult to know the extent of the data."
from E&E Publishing:
Exotic diseases from warmer climates gain foothold in the U.S.
Diseases once thought to be rare or exotic in the United States are gaining a presence and getting new attention from medical researchers who are probing how immigration, limited access to care and the impacts of climate change are influencing their spread. Illnesses like schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and dengue are endemic in warmer, wetter and poorer areas of the world, often closer to the equator. According to the World Health Organization, almost 1 billion people are afflicted with more than one tropical disease.
from New Scientist:
Chikungunya virus loves warm New York winters
Warmer New York winters have a sting in the tail. The mosquito that carries chikungunya, a virus that causes joint pain, but isn't fatal, is flocking to the city in increasing numbers. The virus, which originates in Africa, is carried by the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and could become endemic in New York within a few years. Until now the bitter winters have kept mosquito numbers down, says Laura Harrington at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Harrington estimates there is one Asian tiger mosquito for every five New Yorkers. Once that ratio flips to five insects per person, her model suggests that someone arriving in New York carrying the virus would have a 38 per cent chance of passing it on to another person through mosquito bites. The disease could become entrenched in the city at that level of infection, Harrington told the Inside Cornell event in New York City last week.
from Chicago Tribune:
American livestock get extra dose of antibiotics from spent ethanol grain, report says
As the battle wages on over the safety of feeding antibiotics to livestock for growth promotion, a new report reveals yet another source of unregulated antibiotics in American animal feed--spent ethanol grain... When the Food and Drug Administration discovered the antibiotic residues in the grain in 2008, it started requiring ethanol/distiller grain producers to get approval for their presence as a food additive. But the IATP report claims that the antibiotic companies are skirting this rule by relying on their self affirmed GRAS status as approval enough. GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval requires only that a company proves to itself that its product is safe. It can voluntarily report those findings to the FDA as well.
from Bloomberg News:
Drug-Defying Germs From India Speed Post-Antibiotic Era
...Poor hygiene has spread resistant germs into India's drains, sewers and drinking water, putting millions at risk of drug-defying infections. Antibiotic residues from drug manufacturing, livestock treatment and medical waste have entered water and sanitation systems, exacerbating the problem. As the superbacteria take up residence in hospitals, they're compromising patient care and tarnishing India's image as a medical tourism destination.
from ABC News:
USDA to Let Industry Self-Inspect Chicken
Chicken is the top-selling meat in the United States. The average American eats 84 pounds a year, more chicken than beef or pork. Sorry red meat, chicken is what's for dinner. And now the USDA is proposing a fundamental change in the way that poultry makes it to the American dinner table. As early as next week, the government will end debate on a cost-cutting, modernization proposal it hopes to fully implement by the end of the year. A plan that is setting off alarm bells among food science watchdogs because it turns over most of the chicken inspection duties to the companies that produce the birds for sale. The USDA hopes to save $85 million over three years by laying off 1,000 government inspectors and turning over their duties to company monitors who will staff the poultry processing lines in plants across the country.
Spectre of Untreatable Malaria: Emergence of Artemisinin-Resistance On Thai-Myanmar Border
Evidence that the most deadly species of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is becoming resistant to the front line treatment for malaria on the border of Thailand and Myanmar was reported in The Lancet April 5. This increases concern that resistance could now spread to India and then Africa as resistance to other antimalarial drugs has done before. Eliminating malaria might then prove impossible.... Professor Francois Nosten, Director of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, said: "We have now seen the emergence of malaria resistant to our best drugs, and these resistant parasites are not confined to western Cambodia. This is very worrying indeed and suggests that we are in a race against time to control malaria in these regions before drug resistance worsens and develops and spreads further. The effect of that happening could be devastating. Malaria already kills hundreds of thousands of people a year -- if our drugs become ineffective, this figure will rise dramatically."
100,000 Egypt cattle hit by foot-and-mouth: vets
Nearly 100,000 head of cattle are believed to have been struck by foot-and-mouth disease in Egypt, where a major new outbreak is threatening the entire region, veterinary sources warned on Tuesday. Essam Abdel Shakur, the head of Egypt's central quarantine service, said 93,734 head of cattle are believed to have been hit by the disease since February, of which 9,022 had died. The highest rate of infection is in the Nile Delta region, he said, cited by the official MENA news agency. On Thursday, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that a major new foot-and-mouth outbreak in Egypt could threaten the whole of North Africa and the Middle East.
New foot and mouth disease strain hits Egypt -- FAO
A new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has hit Egypt and threatens to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, jeopardising food security in the region, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday. There have been 40,222 suspected cases of the disease in Egypt and 4,658 animals, mostly calves, have already died, the FAO said in a statement citing official estimates. "Although foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in the country for some years, this is an entirely new introduction of a virus strain known as SAT2, and livestock have no immune protection against it," the Rome-based agency said. Vaccines are urgently needed as 6.3 million buffalo and cattle and 7.5 million sheep and goats are at risk in Egypt, the FAO said.
from London Independent:
Experts fear diseases 'impossible to treat'
Britain is facing a "massive" rise in antibiotic-resistant blood poisoning caused by the bacterium E.coli -- bringing closer the spectre of diseases that are impossible to treat. Experts say the growth of antibiotic resistance now poses as great a threat to global health as the emergence of new diseases such as Aids and pandemic flu. Professor Peter Hawkey, a clinical microbiologist and chair of the Government's antibiotic-resistance working group, said that antibiotic resistance had become medicine's equivalent of climate change.
from Medical News Today:
Gonorrhea Drug Resistance Alarming
Over the last three years, gonorrhea has become increasingly harder to treat with antibiotics, making it now a reality that perhaps we may be facing a gonorrhea strain for which no current medications would be effective, researchers from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine reported in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine).... According to the CDC, the number of reported Gonococcal strains with cephalosporin resistance has increase dramatically over the last three years. An alarming proportion of gonorrhea cases today in the USA include isolates that are resistant to the most commonly prescribed cephalosporin - cefixime.... The problem with gonorrhea is that we have nothing to replace cephalosporins.
from Wired Science:
New Schmallenberg Animal Virus Takes Northern Europe by Surprise
The virus, provisionally named "Schmallenberg virus" after the German town from which the first positive samples came, was detected in November in dairy cows that had shown signs of infection with fever and a drastic reduction in milk production. Now it has also been detected in sheep and goats, and it has shown up at dozens of farms in neighboring Netherlands and in Belgium as well. According to the European Commission's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, cases have been detected on 20 farms in Germany, 52 in the Netherlands, and 14 in Belgium. Many more suspected cases are being investigated. "A lot of lambs are stillborn or have serious malformations, "Wim van der Poel of the Dutch Central Veterinary Institute in Lelystad says. "This is a serious threat to animal health in Europe." "We are taking this very, very seriously," adds Thomas Mettenleiter, head of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), the German federal animal health lab located on the island of Riems. The virus appears to be transmitted by midges (Culicoides spp.), and infections likely occurred in summer and autumn of last year, but fetuses that were exposed to the virus in the womb are only now being born. The first cases of lambs with congenital malformations such as hydrancephaly -- where parts of the brain are replaced by sacs filled with fluid -- and scoliosis (a curved spine) appeared before Christmas. "Now, in some herds 20 percent to 50 percent of lambs show such malformations," Mettenleiter says. "And most of these animals are born dead."
from Discovery Channel:
Antibiotics Breed Drug-Resistant Bacteria in Pigs
After giving pigs a low-dose of antibiotics for just two weeks, researchers detected a drastic rise in the number of E. coli bacteria in the guts of the animals. And those bacteria showed a large jump in resistance to antibiotics. The particular strain of E. coli detected in the study was not pathogenic to pigs or humans. But the results add to concerns that regular use of antibiotics in farm animals could spread dangerous and drug-resistant varieties of bacteria throughout the environment and into our food and water... "This is an exciting study because it goes beyond what anyone else has done and looks at the whole ecology of the animal's intestinal tract," said microbiologist Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University in Boston. "It shows that a low-dose of antibiotic can have a broad effect on the flora of animals," he said...
New Animal Virus Takes Northern Europe by Surprise
Scientists in northern Europe are scrambling to learn more about a new virus that causes fetal malformations and stillbirths in cattle, sheep, and goats. For now, they don't have a clue about the virus's origins or why it's suddenly causing an outbreak; in order to speed up the process, they want to share the virus and protocols for detecting it with anyone interested in studying the disease or developing diagnostic tools and vaccines. The virus, provisionally named "Schmallenberg virus" after the German town from which the first positive samples came, was detected in November in dairy cows that had shown signs of infection with fever and a drastic reduction in milk production. Now it has also been detected in sheep and goats, and it has shown up at dozens of farms in neighboring Netherlands and in Belgium as well. According to the European Commission's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, cases have been detected on 20 farms in Germany, 52 in the Netherlands, and 14 in Belgium. Many more suspected cases are being investigated. "A lot of lambs are stillborn or have serious malformations," Wim van der Poel of the Dutch Central Veterinary Institute in Lelystad says. "This is a serious threat to animal health in Europe." "We are taking this very, very seriously," adds Thomas Mettenleiter, head of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), the German federal animal health lab located on the island of Riems. The virus appears to be transmitted by midges (Culicoides spp.), and infections likely occurred in summer and autumn of last year, but fetuses that were exposed to the virus in the womb are only now being born. The first cases of lambs with congenital malformations such as hydrancephaly -- where parts of the brain are replaced by sacs filled with fluid -- and scoliosis (a curved spine) appeared before Christmas. "Now, in some herds 20 percent to 50 percent of lambs show such malformations," Mettenleiter says. "And most of these animals are born dead."
from Wired Science:
India Reports Completely Drug-Resistant TB
Over the past 48 hours, news has broken in India of the existence of at least 12 patients infected with tuberculosis that has become resistant to all the drugs used against the disease. Physicians in Mumbai are calling the strain TDR, for Totally Drug-Resistant. In other words, it is untreatable as far as they know.... "The cases we clinically isolate are just the tip of the iceberg." And as a followup, the Hindustan Times reported yesterday that most hospitals in the city -- by extension, most Indian cities -- don't have the facilities to identify the TDR strain, making it more likely that unrecognized cases can go on to infect others....
from International Business Times:
FDA Withdraws Longstanding Petition to Regulate Antibiotics in Livestock Feed
The U.S. Food and Drug and Administration announced only days before Christmas that it has decided to back off a 34-year attempt to regulate the use of antibiotics in livestock feed for animals intended for human consumption, despite mounting scientific evidence that has linked the practice to the development of potentially fatal antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans. With no other notice aside from an obscure posting in the Federal Register on Dec. 22, the FDA declared it will now focus on encouraging "voluntary reform" within the industry instead of enforcing actual regulatory action, in addition to the "promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health."
from Los Angeles Times:
Swine flu strain resistant to Tamiflu is spreading more easily
The flu season is still young in the U.S. and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, but Australia wrapped up its flu season months ago, and public health officials there have some disturbing news to report: The version of so-called swine flu that is resistant to the drug Tamiflu is spreading more easily in the land Down Under.
from Associated Press:
Research: Bedbugs can thrive despite inbreeding
Bedbugs aren't just sleeping with you. They're sleeping with each other. Researchers now say that the creepy bugs have a special genetic gift: withstanding incest. It turns out that unlike most creatures, bedbugs are able to inbreed with close relatives and still produce generally healthy offspring. That means that if just a few bedbugs survive in a building after treatment, they repopulate quickly.
Antibiotics in Swine Feed Encourage Microorganism Gene Exchange
A study to be published in the online journal mBioŽ on Nov. 29 shows that adding antibiotics to swine feed causes microorganisms in the guts of these animals to start sharing genes that could spread antibiotic resistance. Livestock farms use antibiotic drugs regularly, and not just for curing sick animals. Antimicrobial drugs are used as feed additives to boost animal growth, a profitable but controversial practice that is now banned in the European Union and under scrutiny here in the United States. Using antibiotics in animal feed saves farms money, but opponents argue the practice encourages antimicrobial resistance among bacteria that could well be consumed by humans.... Prophages underwent a significant increase in induction when exposed to antibiotics, indicating that medicating the animals led to increased movement of prophage genes among gut bacteria. "Induction of the prophages is showing us that antibiotics are stimulating gene transfer," says Allen. "This is significant because phages have previously been shown to carry bacterial fitness genes such as antibiotic resistance genes."
UN warns of staple crop virus 'epidemic'
UN scientists are warning that a virus attacking the cassava plant is nearing an epidemic in parts of Africa. Cassava is one of the world's most important crops providing up to a third of the calorie intake for many people. The food and agriculture organisation of the UN says the situation is urgent and are calling for an increase in funding for surveillance. None of the varieties of cassava being distributed to farmers in Africa appears to be resistant to the virus. Cassava is a global food source of particular importance in Africa as it does well on poor soils with low rainfall.... The scientists say the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is on the verge of becoming an epidemic. It first appeared in Uganda in 2006 but in the past few months has been found in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time.
from PNAS, via New Scientist:
Frog-killer chytrid fungus was born in trade
The global amphibian trade spread the lethal chytrid fungus, which is decimating frogs around the planet, and it now looks like it may have created the disease in the first place. The team behind this finding are calling for an amphibian quarantine to help slow the disease's spread.... The best and simplest explanation is that 20th-century trade, which shipped amphibians all over the world, enabled the mating, says Farrer's supervisor Matthew Fisher. "We've got to restrict trade, or at least make sure that amphibians are not contaminated," says Fisher. One approach would be for countries to quarantine all imported amphibians and only allow them to stay if they are uninfected.
from New York Times:
Concerns Are Raised About Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes
These mosquitoes are genetically engineered to kill -- their own children. Researchers on Sunday reported initial signs of success from the first release into the environment of mosquitoes engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, killing them before they reach adulthood. The results, and other work elsewhere, could herald an age in which genetically modified insects will be used to help control agricultural pests and insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria.
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