Friday, January 20, 2017

Seoul Virus Outbreak in Wisconsin & Illinois

Seoul virus, a rodent-borne hantavirus, outbreak recently occurred amongst pet rats in Illinois and Wisconsin and has infected at least 8 patients. This is the first time that human cases associated with pet rats have occurred in the United States, but previous outbreaks have occurred in humans but with wild rats.

This outbreak investigation first began when a patient in Wisconsin went to a hospital with flu-like symptoms. The patient was tested for hantavirus but then the CDC confirmed it was Seoul virus, which is typically not seen in the United States. This patient led to another patient and then further investigation led to another 6 cases with workers in a breeding facility in Illinois. However, not all of them experienced symptoms--only one had the illness. Therefore, testing is still being conducted to see if more cases can be found amongst workers or rat owners, but from what they have found so far it looks like this is a rather complicated process.

-Jeanette Rios ('18)

Viruses that Talk

Researchers just discovered that a form of bacteriophage can communicate with other bacteriophages. The virus is called phi3T. It has two different ways that it can infect a host—either it enters and begins replication immediately until the cell is burst and dies, or it can inject genetic material into the host’s genome and stay dormant until conditions are more optimal.

Insanely, the phi3T bacteriophage has a mechanism to alert other phages as to which route of infection they should follow. It codes for a short protein that has been named arbitrium, this protein leaks out of bacteria after infection and cell death. When high amounts of arbitrium are present in the environment, phi3T has two proteins that identify arbitrium and change the course of its replication cycle.  Instead of immediately replicating and causing bacteria death, it opts for the second option and lies dormant. It seems that this virus has developed a clever way to evade total host die-out. Although this is the first of its type, researchers believe it’s likely that other viruses have chemical messages that allow them to communicate to one another. Let’s just hope none of them are conspiring against us…


Elisa Hofmeister

Humans and Viruses 16-17


Around 25% of men have HPV strains linked with several cancers. Since most HPV infections are asymptomatic, it can be difficult to promote the importance of the vaccine. For example, high-risk HPV infections can cause cancer in the mouth, upper throat, cervix, and more. Around 45% of the 2000 men sample in this study, screened with PCR amplification, has some HPV infection, which considerably higher than rates in women. It is estimated that more than 9000 cases of HPV-linked cancers occur in the male population annually.

 The vaccine was approved for young men, 5 years after it was approved for young women. A nonavalent (9-valent) vaccine is available for HPV infection prevention, with the dosages recently reduced from three doses to two doses. The strains covered include 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, 6, 11, 16, and 18. Of those that are high risk and can cause cancer are 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, 16, and 18. Vaccines can prevent these cancers, yet vaccination rates remain low. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and can be detected in women with pap smears, which have also contributed to the decline in cervical cancers and death. Men remain low on rates of HPV vaccination coverage.

Gianna Nino-Tapias ('18)

 Han JJ, et al. Prevalence of Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection and Human Papillomavirus Vacicnation Rates Among US Adult Men. JAMA Oncology (2016). E1-E7.

1 in 4 US men have cancer-linked HPV genital infections 

Retroviruses with brain regulation & disease causation

Week Two:

A group of scientists in Sweden recently discovered a mechanism through which retroviruses may be impacting gene expression in humans. 10% of the entire genome is believed to be composed of retroviruses, which are believed to have incorporated themselves about 35-45 million years ago.

The group in Sweden looks solely into endogenous retroviruses (ERV), which can be found in “junk-DNA”---DNA that was previously considered to be unimportant. By studying more into these, the researchers believe that some of the retroviruses work as “docking platforms for the protein TRIM28, which is a protein that can “switch off” viruses and genes adjacent ot the DNA helix. This mechanism of switching off genes may possibly be linked to a number of neurological diseases. In individuals with diseases such as ALS, schizophrenia and bipolar, their regulation of ERV deviates from the norm.

WHile studies have shown that ERV plays a regulatory role in neurons, the study that showed this was conducted on mice because with retroviruses, many have only incorporated into humans and gorillas--meaning that mice may not have the same amount of viruses or significance of them in their genome. Therefore, more work will be done to evaluate this significance.

-Jeanette Rios (‘18)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not so useless masks

Surgical masks are often worn during outbreaks in hopes that they will be protective against whichever virus or pathogen is spreading. This behavior was especially notable during influenza outbreaks, MERS, and SARS outbreaks. However, when people sneeze into the masks, it will trap the droplets that are carrying the virus, but do not necessarily kills the virus. The virus will rather become trapped in the mask. This could eventually lead to infection through the handling of the used masks with the trapped infectious virus.

Hyo-Jick Choi, A University of Alberta professor and researcher, was able to create surgical masks that are capable of trapping and killing airborne viruses. Using crystallization of the vaccine liquid solution, he is able to use this method to kill the virus. By applying a salt formula to the mask that dries in a manner that is conducive towards the destruction of the virus allowed him to create a protective mask.  Ultimately, these masks may prove to be very useful during pandemics or epidemics.

Gianna Nino-Tapias (’18)


Fu-Shi Quan, Ilaria Rubino, Su-Hwa Lee, Brendan Koch, Hyo-Jick Choi. Universal and reusable virus deactivation system for respiratory protection. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Newly Launched Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations

With an initial investment of $460 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Britain's Wellcome Trust, and the governments of Japan, Norway, and Germany, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It will finance and coordinate the development of new vaccines to prevent epidemics and will focus initially on vaccines against Lassa virus, Nipah virus, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). These viruses were chosen rather than Zika or Ebola virus because considerable efforts at developing vaccines for these viruses are already underway, and there are little to no effective treatments for Lassa, Nipah, or MERS infections.

CEPI is the result of discussions about epidemic preparedness in the aftermath of the 2014 Ebola epidemic. These discussions began with a meeting involving Angela Merkel and Bill Gates, followed by a number of proposals for a global vaccine development fund.

The initiative will "build technical and institutional platforms to accelerate R&D response ... to pathogen emergencies." A key focus is to ensure that the vaccines are accessible to those who need them, rather than prioritizing vaccines that have the biggest market.

-Sally Tran


There is a primate antiviral protein that’s better at targeting HIV 1 than we are

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have been studying a protein called Schlafen 11 (SLFN11), which was found to inhibit HIV-1 replication in the early stages of infection back in 2012. Although this protein caused a lot initial excitement, it has not been effective at eliminating HIV when present in human systems.

To find out why, researchers analyzed the human form of the protein and compared it to several primate versions. They found out that chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons and marmosets have very potent SLFN11 action as compared to that of humans and gorillas. In the active versions of SLFN11, the antiviral had stronger blocking actions against production of HIV-1 proteins, and interestingly also reduced protein production of nonviral proteins like green fluorescent protein and host proteins like Vinculin and GAPDH. Researchers believe that SLFN11 may generally reduce protein production from non codon optimized transcripts, which would put the host in a constant antiviral state.

\Schlafen11 protein is likely interferon induced and human does not show the same powerful properties as some primate proteins. Researchers at Boulder believe this gives insight into the rapidly evolving nature of the immune system. Over time since our evolutionary divergence, primate SLFN11 has taken on a very important role in primate immunity, and has not had the same optimization in humans or gorillas. In fact, the researchers believe that the strong selection for the SLFN11 protein in most primates is more than would be selected for by HIV alone. There are likely other pathogenic agents that it acts against that are as of yet unknown. 

Although human SLFN11 is not as potent as primate protein, the research bodes well for possible antiviral treatments and discovery in the future. 

Elisa Hofmeister

Humans and Viruses 16-17