Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Hi everyone!

I don't know that anyone is checking this (seeing as how we're on vacation and all) but, like Thomas, I was really excited about something virus related and NO ONE was here to share my excitement. There's a commercial about a new cold medication and it starts with "Do you know what the #1 cause is of the common cold?" And I got so excited I practically jumped out of my seat and yelled "RHINOVIRUSES!!" and my parents looked at me like I was crazy. Anyways, the commercial has a great picture of a rhino and talks about how "the rhinovirus" is just ready and waiting to trample you down. The commercial then says the only way to deal with the common cold is to treat your symptoms... until now. I don't buy in to it, but I'm sure tons of people will. Just one of many examples of how this class will allow us to be informed consumers! Enjoy your breaks, stay healthy and see you in January!


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Oh sh*t

Happy holidays, folks!

Bird flu hits Pakistan... that can't be good.


Nerdy as this is to do over the break, I just had to share the story (as no one here at home was as excited as I was)...


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dengue/DHF Update

The Special Capital District of Jakarta occupied the 1st level of dengue fever [outbreak classification] for the length of 2007.

More than 30 percent of the cases of dengue fever came from Jakarta, the Head of Health Service Special Capital District, Dr. Wibowo Sukijat, MPH, said on Thursday (Dec 6, 2007). This number is an increase compared to the previous year [2006] when there were 24,932 cases with 39 deaths.

There were several factors in Jakarta that account for why this area had the highest numbers of dengue fever cases, including bad environment, the mobility of many inhabitants, the inhabitants's substantial population, as well as increased temperatures, so virus [transmission] has been increasingly raging.

The [dengue virus mosquito vector] control campaign has not yet given optimal results.



The Black Death in China

So apparently the plague is back. And its in the Gansu Province in northwest China. This is the second person this year who has died from it. Here's more info on it...http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-12/10/content_7226599.htm.


Viral mixing pot in the EAST

So this may not be on any news wire, and it's still being disavowed by some, but my dorm EAST house is currently in the throes of a stomach virus epidemic! We have at least 6 confirmed cases of vomiting and diarrhea, beginning somewhere within the last 48 hours. My thoughts were about Norwalk virus, especially since the bug seems to be spreading so fast. Fears are growing in light of the fact that two of the victims were only guests and may have brought the virus back to Suites. Any other potential things to add to the differential, guys? Astrovirus? Reovirus? You future EIS officers are all welcome to help me with the investigation!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More on Ebola

The outbreak of Ebola in western Uganda continues. Yesterday, another man died, making the total fatality rate 30 people out of the known 116 who have been infected. The epicenter of the outbreak is a district called Bundibubyo, which has a population of more than 250,000 people. Tests have confirmed that the strain of Ebola in circulation is serotypically distinct from previously identified serotypes such as Ebola Zaire, Cote d’Ivoire, Reston, etc.

To find out more:


- Claire

Elementary, my dear Watson...evidently not elementary enough

It turns out that James Watson's genes indicate significant inheritance from African ancestors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Dr. Finkelstein...

So, remember my recent post on Dr. Finkelstein?? Well...as of Wednesday December 5th six of 119 of Dr. F's patients tested postitive for Hepatitis B infection and 6 were positive for Hepatitis C infection. Claudia Hutton, a state department representative, was quoted saying that with respect to the hepatitis cases, that although the department "cared intimately" about each patient's disease diagnosis, "what would be the purpose to figure out a second or third transmission except to sue Dr. Finkelstein? That's not the health department's job. That's why people hire attorneys," she said.



Uh Oh...more bird flu...

So, another case has popped up in China, shocking I know...but this time it is in the Jiangsu Province. The infected individual is actually the father who of the 24-year old man who died from H5N1 infection just a few weeks ago. Interesting: the son died on Sunday December 2, and the father came down with symptoms Monday December 3. Luckily he has been under close surveilance due to the fact that he was a close contact of the recently infected deceased and is currently in the hospital undergoing treatment.
Out of the 27 confirmed cases of bird flu in China, 17 have been fatal. Uh oh.



An Important Public Service Announcement

What viral family does this fall into?


- Elizabeth

Adenovirus making the rounds

Hey guys, I thought you might be interested in this fairly well publicized story about adenovirus. Apparently it's a more virulent strain (Adenovirus 14) than seen before. Normally the virus causes cold-like symptoms, ie: congestion, runny nose, sneezing, those sorts of upper respiratory things. However the recent strain has been causing shortness of breath, coughing, and a high fever. "Dozens" are being sent to the ICU, and at least 10 have died from the disease. Scary stuff, especially since it's right near by in Oregon. They suggest that the virus is genetically different enough from a 1955 strain to cause new, worse symptoms. Cases are being reported among young, healthy people, but the virus is also attacking, not surprisingly, military personnel. Maybe they will rethink they're decision to discontinue the adenovirus vaccination.



Monday, December 10, 2007

China's food "safety"

Great article on China's "wet markets"

"You can eat anything with four legs except the dinner table" -- Local expression


There's no way this is actually called lumpy skin disease

An outbreak of lumpy skin disease (which affects bovine species) was first reported in July of 2007, however the outbreak has been ongoing since that time. Seven different outbreaks have been identified within a 10-km zone around the northern part of the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Vaccination with live attenuated sheep pox vaccine is thought to help control outbreaks, which is SO COOL! Read more about this weird disease at:



World AIDS Day Webcast

Again, World AIDS Day was a couple of weeks ago. So I'm a little behind in my reading and posting...

But Dr. Anthony Fauci is a pretty cool guy. He is the head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the NIH and also an early AIDS research pioneer. I went to school with his daughters and he always came to our cross-country meets, too.

The link below will lead to you a transcript of the World AIDs Day Webcast, which you can also view on video. Basically, the panelists Dr. Parham (Health Resources and Services Administration), Dr. Kevin Fenton (CDC), Ms. Beverly Watts Davis (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), and Dr. Fauci (NIAID/NIH) discuss the state of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic, prevention programs, testing programs, care, treatment and research.



NIH and their public service campaign for Hispanic Youth on the link between non-injection drugs and HIV

This is a few weeks late, but as part of honoring World AIDS day, the NIH launched a new national public service campaign to educate Hispanic teen on the link between non-injection drug use and HIV transmission. Namely, the campaign addresses the effect drug use and alcohol consumpion have on people's decision making abilities, which potentially lead them to engage in risky sexual behavior that can lead to HIV.

Hispanic youths represent 16% of the US teenage population, but are expected to grow by 25% in the next decade. The CDC reports that Hispanic/Latinos account for 18% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.

Read more about the campaign at http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/nov2007/nida-26.htm


New software to aid in early detection of infecton disease outbreaks

The NIH announced that a newly released software program will help analyze data at the site of infectious disease outbreak. This tool, called TranStat, will speed the detection of new cases and help imlement effective interventions. Its developers, a team of epidemiologist and computer scientists from the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS), created the software in order to make the models developed by researchers available to the public health community.

You can download the program for free at http://www.midasmodels.org, where you can enter and store infectious disease data (like age, sex of infected individuals and onset of symptoms, close contacts, etc). The program uses this info to statistically determine the probability that people contracte the disease from each other, the average number of people an individual could infect, and the rate that the infection occurs.

Pretty neat.



Sunday, December 9, 2007


Hey guys, here's an interesting article I found on the genetic change of the Chikungunya Virus.

Scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
(UTMB) have reported their discovery of the reason behind a
mysterious epidemic on the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.
An outbreak in 2005 and 2006 resulted in the 1st deaths from a virus
called chikungunya, a mosquito borne virus that mutated and became lethal.

In all, 266 000 people were infected, and at least 260 deaths
resulted. Researchers proved the epidemic was caused by a single
mutation and the virus was carried by a mosquito not previously known
to be a carrier. The species, _Aedes albopictus_, also called the
Asian tiger mosquito, has been established in the U.S. for around 20
years and has recently started spreading to Europe.

The researchers say the mutation gives the new strain of virus an
evolutionary edge over its predecessor and was predominantly
transmitted versus the original strain. The new strain evolved when a
single amino acid chain changed, leading to the ability for the virus
to infect the new mosquito. One of the authors created the same
change in a strain collected in Africa in 1983, which then also
showed a greater ability to infect _Aedes albopictus_.
In its non-lethal form, chikungunya causes extreme arthritis-like
pain, sometimes lasting for months or years. Many tourists became
infected at La Reunion and carried that [La Reunion] strain home with
them. Although no epidemics broke out in Europe [with the La Reunion
strain], the possibility was there. Another strain of the virus
causing an ongoing epidemic in India has spread to humans in Italy
through the Asian tiger mosquito.



Hemodialysis unit and Hepatitis C

Three children have contracted hepatitis C virus infection in a public hospital in Barcelona. All three children were receiving treatment in the hemodialysis unit. Sadly, a failure in the hygiene protocol resulted in contact with contaminated material, although the exact cause leading to the chain of infection has not been determined. Officials believe it is unlikely parents will file a complaint against the hospital for alleged malpractice because the possibility of infection is acknowledged when parents sign the informed consent. This is an incredibly interesting case about infections acquired during hospital stays. Read more here:



Saturday, December 8, 2007

H5N1 and Dog bites?

There has been a confirmed case of H5N1 in Jiangsu Province in China. The weird thing is that he may have gotten it from a dogbite...?

Read Here:
The Jiangsu Provincial Health Bureau announced on the night of Sun 2
Dec 2007 that the Ministry of Health had confirmed a human case of
highly pathogenic avian influenza in Jiangsu, and that [the patient]
had died in hospital that day due to multiple organ failure.

In an exclusive interview with Health Times, Professor Yin Kaisheng,
attending physician for the fatal Nanjing avian influenza case,
Ministry of Health national public health emergency response
specialist, and official in charge of the Jiangsu Province Health
Bureau's Human Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Prevention Medical
Treatment Team, stated that, for the moment, it is not possible for a
SARS-like super-spreader to emerge, transmitting avian influenza from
one person to the masses. Residents don't need to panic.

Yin Kaisheng revealed that during this patient's hospitalization
there was no way to confirm [he had] avian influenza. It was the
Jiangsu Center for Disease Control's laboratory that detected that
the infection was H5N1 type avian influenza virus. Moreover, the
patient always maintained that he had no way [to contract] this
infection, and had no history of contact with poultry. It is only
known that 20 days before becoming ill [he] had been bitten by a dog,
and 20 days later [he] developed fever after drinking a little alcohol.


However it is possible that dogs in their role as scavengers could
mechanically transmit bird flu virus by biting. The 20-day lapse
between bite and onset of illness in this case makes this route of
transmission of disease unlikely, and there would still have to
reservoir of infected wild birds or domestic poultry in the area.

Interesting! Those dogs in China ARE pretty nasty (you'll have to see them to believe them)


More on Herpesvirus Infections in Elephants

Hi everyone! In case you were interested in what Dr. Bob was saying about herpesvirus infections in Asian elephants, there have been recent elephant deaths across the US due to this lethal viral infection. Elephants in Missouri, Washington State and Texas have exhibited the characteristic signs of the infection, which include lesions in the mouth and tongue discoloration. The lethality of the infection in Asia elephants is remarkable -- from the onset of signs, elephants are usually dead within 5 days.

Check this out for the details:


- Claire

Friday, December 7, 2007


Dr. Harvey Finkelstein an able Long Island anesthesiologist, or an incompetent idiot? Well, I'll leave the judging up to you, but here's the scoop:

6 hepatitis B cases and 6 hepatitis C cases have showed up among Dr. Finkelstein's patients, each of which has been linked back to Dr. Finkelstein's faulty needle technique. Previously Dr. F had been found to have infected at least one other patient by plunging needles into medicinal containers more than once...thereby contaminating the medicine.

Case and point: watch out for the parenteral spread of such infections, even in places where you least expect it.



Prions Perhaps?!

Workers in a pig slaughterhouse are coming down with illnesses characterized by tingeling, numbness, and other neurological symptoms.
They work at the "heads table" where, eww, compressed air was shoot into the skulls to eject brain matter. Aerosolized pig brains anyone?


-Rebecca Hebner

african swine fever

If you're heading to Russia this winter break, beware of African Swine Fever, or more specifically, beware of those wild boars. They seem to be overstepping their boundaries and spreading the disease. Authorities are keeping an eye on the pig farms.


-Becky G-K

Another challenge for HIV treatment

Researchers in Australia have discovered that 12% of HIV-positive individuals receiving treatment are infected with a strain resistant to antiretroviral medication. This N348I mutation confers resistance to AZT and nevirapine. Typically physicians perform genotypic assays to look for mutations of a patient's particular strain of HIV and then, from these results, prescribes a cocktail that is least likely to become resistant to the medication. Previously these genotypic assays have focused on the N-terminal region of the reverse transcriptase, since that is where a majority of the drug-resistance mutations have occurred. However, this group of researchers decided to investigate the C terminus of the enzyme and found the N348I mutation. As a result of these findings, health care practitioners will likely add this mutation to their assay test. Moreover, since this mutation was found in 12% of HIV-positive individuals receiving treatment versus only 1% of HIV-positive people not on these medications, further investigation of the N348I mutation carries important implications for future antiretroviral drug development.


MC Masters

Flu Shots At the Airport?

Instead of reading a magazine or standing in line for Starbucks before a flight, why not get vaccinated? Airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, and Newark, N.J., are offering flu shots at clinical kiosks near the gates. Airports have offered flu immunizations at clinics outside the security checkpoint for years, but few people took advantage of this service because of fear of missing their flight. These kiosks are now located gate-side and are more convenient for passengers on connecting flights. It takes less than 5 minutes to be vaccinated and between $15 and $35, depending on the clinic.

Business travelers and health officials alike welcome the convenient way to get flu shots because people often forgo getting the vaccination due to time constraints and busy schedules.

Last year, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport offered 5,000 flu shots to passengers and employees from kiosks next to gates.

Read more about these innovative clinics at:

Get your flu shots!


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Trying to halt the Ebola Virus

In the aftermath of the recent outbreak of Ebola in Uganda, Kenya has set up screening centres on its borders with Uganda. This is to halt the spread of Ebola
from one nation to another.

Around 91 people have been infected with this strain. In the aftermath of 2 health workers dieing today, Ugandan officials were candid on the challange facinf the country. "We are facing a crisis, health workers are scared and the morale is low, there is a very big shortage of nurses."

Uganda's health ministry has also deployed medics to the north-west to control outbreaks of cholera, meningitis and bubonic plague.




Why does it fly in winter?

Researchers in New York have investigated the reason why winter is flu season--apparently, the virus survives better in cold, dry air.


Donors commit 400m dollars to fight bird flu

International donors have committed more money to the impending avian influenza pandemic, operating on the belief that "The cost of the pandemic would be far greater than the cost of mitigation." The World Bank estimates that an avian flu pandemic could cost $2 trillion in total. Wow.


- Elizabeth

Big money to fight potential big threat

posted by Marisa Dowling

H5N1 bird flu has killed 200+ people since 2003. In 2007 there were 48 deaths due to the virus, down from 71 deaths in 2006.

Donors from across the wold have committed $400 million to fight against the chance of bird flu. The donations were made at the end of a international conference in New Delhi discussing the disease.

However the World Bank says that $1.2 billion will be needed over the next 2-3 years to help fight the virus in affected countries. Costs include developing a low-cost vaccine and compensating bird farmers who are forced to kill their flocks.

The cost of pandemic though is predicted to be as high as 2 trillion dollars. Experts urge prevention and preparation to avert these costs.

The World Bank has said that such a pandemic could cost up to two trillion dollars.

Full Article

Another case of H5N1 in China

Hey friends,

The Ministry of Health in China has reported a new case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The case was confirmed by the national laboratory on 2 December.

The 24-year old male from Jiangsu Province, developed symptoms on 24 November, was hospitalized on 27 November and died on 2 December. There is no initial indication to suggest he had contact with sick birds prior to becoming unwell. Close contacts have been placed under medical observation and all remain well.

Of the 26 cases confirmed to date in China, 17 have been fatal.


Another HIV Vaccine Clinical Trial in China

Clinical trials of a second HIV/AIDS vaccine is being carried out in China. This trial is unique becuase one group of participants are recieving a vaccine where small pox is being used as a carrier of the HIV vaccine. The HIV genome wrapped in a smallpox virion, which should assist in the creation of antibodies.
Also interesting, this vaccine has a "replicative vector, which means it is designed to kill HIV by replicating itself".

-Rebecca Hebner

Who knew?

I personally have only ever heard about H5N1 avian influenza. Now, because all of the H and N subtypes are found in birds, I assumed that other strains besides H5N1 must be important for one reason or another, but this is the first time I've ever seen an article on it. That being the case I thought it would be beneficial for me to enlighten everyone else on the topic...

The article dates back to the beginning of November, however, PubMED is reporting on it now because there were errors in the original article. The actually story is as follows: H7N3 highly pathogenic notifiable avian influenza (HPNAI) was found in the Province of Saskatchewan. The virus is one of many subtypes of Influenza A, and interestingly did not have a close phylogenetic relationship to the HPNAI H7N3 subtype found in British Columbia in 2004. In order to control the outbreak, 3 and 10 km surveillance zones were extablished and all flocks in this area were tested. A control areas was established beyond this zone and all flocks in this control area were tested as well.

In addition, public health measures were enacted to prevent direct infection of exposed individuals. Secondary preventive measures were also put in place including the use of Tamiflu.

This article is super interesting and extremely relevant to all of the concepts we discussed in class last week. I highly recommend that you read it! Here's the link:



Our Nation's Capital...

...Has the highest rate of HIV infection of any U.S. city.
The 2007 District of Columbia HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Annual Report says that 12,400 - or 1 in 50 - are currently living with our least favorite retrovirus.
Some alarming stats:
  • black residents account for 57 percent of the city’s population of 500,000 but represent 86% of HIV/AIDS cases
  • Cases in Washington, DC account for 6% of all mother-to-child H.I.V. infections in the nation in the last five years; vertical transmission can be easily prevented
  • The disease spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37% of the cases detected from 2001 to last year, in comparison with the 25% of cases attributable to men having sex with men.
  • Starting in 2004, the number of new H.I.V. cases among men and women ages 40 to 49 outpaced every other age group in the city
  • City health officials said unprotected sex was the most common way H.I.V. is spread, followed by intravenous drug use.
    • but...Washington is the only city in the country that is barred by federal law from using local tax money to finance needle exchange programs - hmmm

Quick Ebola Update

As of Monday, Ebola has killed 19 Ugandans in the current outbreak. The WHO has confirmed that the Uganda strain of the virus belongs to a different subtype than the four already known.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lassa...What a Bummer

Endemic to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the Lassa virus continues to wreak havoc in Nigeria. It has been estimated that Lassa Virus has been claiming an average of 5,000 lives per year since the first outbreak of Lassa Fever in Nigeria in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the government does not appear to be doing their best in terms of containing the disease and cutting down on the number of bleeding victims. To check out more of this depressing story:



Speaking of Orthomyxo...

Weird, but practical:

Major airport cities are going to offer flu shots past the security check points.


Why the flu likes winter

Why does influenza spread primarily in the winter months?

***drumroll please***

It's because the virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry.

"Influenza virus is more likely to be transmitted during winter on the way to the subway than in a warm room," said Peter Palese, a flu researcher who is professor and chairman of the microbiology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the lead author of the flu study

Intresting point...Flu season in northern latitudes is from November to March, the coldest months. In southern latitudes, it is from May until September. In the tropics, there is not much flu at all and no real flu season.

Read more here...http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/12/05/healthscience/05flu.php


Antibiotics for sinusitis?

Although sinusitis is typically treated with antibiotics, a new study by a British research team foundthat these drugs are not as effective as we'd like to believe.  The
effect of prescribing these drugs is not just neutral, but may lead toantibiotic resistance.
The team recommends morepalliative treatment such as ibuprofen.  Speculated reasons for
the findings include that antibiotics are not able to reach the sinuses easilyand that the
infections may be more due to viruses than we acknowledge.  Although this isn't about
viruses necessarily, I thought it was pertinent given cold season!


Dave (I give up...this isn't formatting correctly.  sorry it got cut off)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ebola Outbreak in Uganda Continues

Another man died yesterday in Bundibugyo Hospital in Uganda, the 17th mortality due to Ebola in the regional epidemic since August. Many more medical workers are suspected to have been infected as well, particularly those working in a make-shift isolation ward at the hospital. The resources for proper isolation measures are not currently available, leaving the understaffed medical team at ongoing risk. In epidemics of extremely transmissible pathogens like Ebola or SARS CoV, hospitals and other medical centers often facilitate transmission, and become amplifiers of the epidemic. Proper behavioral preventions, like barrier nursing and proper isolation, may be the only way to effectively stop this outbreak.

- Claire


When Vaccines Go Bad

Each year thousands of children go through the traumatic experience of getting their vaccinations -- flu, tetanus, MMR(V), polio, and cervical cancer (HPV) -- to find out that the vaccine was spoiled (usually by poor refrigeration) and that they need to be revaccinated. Not only is it an economic loss on the order of 20 million each year, but kids run the risk of catching one of these viruses because the vaccines are not strong enough. And God forbid one of these ineffective vaccines revert to the virulent form and cause infection (has never happened before but is entirely feasible). Hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices really need to address this issue by monitoring refrigerator temperatures on a more regular basis.


-Tad Henry

2008 Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule

Check it out in JAMA.

Poor Boar

There was an outbreak of African swine fever in Russia reported today... I find it interesting that a virus with Africa in its name has made its way to Russia, but in any case, the outbreak was discovered when, while monitoring in the district of Chechnya near the Georgia border, someone came across a pack of dead boars. Samples were taken from the dead animals and revealed African swine fever virus. So far, no other dead animals have been found, and hopefully the outbreak was limited to the one pack of boars.

African swine fever virus is in the Asfarviridae family. I wanted to post this article because I think it's interesting to learn about viruses outside of those the in the 24 families that infect humans. The virus is highly contagious and only causes disease in domestic and feral pigs. It is spread by direct contact with infected pigs or by feeding on infected meat. Humans are not affected. Read more about the outbreak here:


Flu Season!

It's flu season and we, like a lot of other people, struggle to stay healthy. If not for ourselves, then for our family and the homeless people who count on us at the shelter. Over the years we have picked up a few simple things that help ensure that we stay germ free:

1. Don't open doors with your mouth. Normally when your hands are full the easiest way to open a door is to grip the handle with your mouth, but it's a good idea to start getting in the habit of avoiding this with viruses being so widespread.

2. Know where your blood comes from. Sure, we all need more blood, and with gas prices shooting through the roof we may not be able to be as choosey as we would like to be with regards to where it comes from. But think how much more money it will cost you when you have to spend a couple work days home sick. An extra buck or two for that blood doesn't seem so bad now does it?

3. Eat two different kinds of food a day. We all know the old adage starve a cold, overfeed a flu. We've found from personal experience though, that it is less about quantity and more about variety. This might seem to go against common sense, but give it a try. Instead of eating 5 bowls of Beef and Barely Soup tomorrow, try making the last bowl Clam Chowder. Your body will thank you, even though the clams won't!

4. Replace handshakes with saluting. The reason America wins wars is because our soldiers stay so healthy. Take this trick from the pros and switch to saluting. This is also a great way to help you figure out which people consider you to be a higher rank then them.

5. Don't go inside. Most winter time illness are caused by the increased amount of time people spend indoors. Buildings are the prime location for bacteria to start breeding. Its this reason that native Americans didn't get sick until Europeans came and started building houses. Hence the term "Cabin Fever."

These may take a little getting use to, but the results are a 100% guaranteed. If you do become ill following these steps, it is safe to assume that you are doing something wrong. Reread the list and try again.


Remote British Island Viral Outbreak

A map showing Tristan da Cunha
Britons living in what is described as the remotest community in the world are seeking help after the outbreak of an acute virus.

Many of the 271 British citizens living on the volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha, in the south Atlantic, have developed severe breathing problems.

They need to ensure that their current medical supplies do not run out.

An international operation to provide help is being led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge said the islanders were being affected by what appears to be an outbreak of viral-inducted asthma, which causes severe breathing problems.

Tristan da Cunha's one resident doctor, a South African, has issued an appeal for medical supplies.

The South African Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre was alerted first and informed British coastguards.

The volcanic island has no airstrip, making getting medicines there difficult.

However, merchant ships in the area are unlikely to have the necessary drugs on board and a coastguard spokesman said there were no British military vessels nearby at present.

Viruses have swept through the island before but Michael Swales, chairman of the Tristan da Cunha association, said he could not recall medicines becoming exhausted on previous occasions.

He said there was particular concern about the health of the elderly and the very young.


Resident Rosemary Glass told BBC Radio Cornwall that the island's tiny four-bed hospital was full to overflowing last week, but some patients had since gone home leaving three people in hospital.

"It makes people chesty and it's hard for them to breathe," Mrs Glass said of the illness mainly affecting the elderly and children.

Tristan da Cunha is situated 2,800 km west of Cape Town, South Africa, and is part of a small group of islands.

It was at one time on the main trading route between Europe and the Indian Ocean, but the small community living there is now extremely isolated.

The community of 275 people describe themselves as living in the world's most isolated settlement.

The island is famous for a mass evacuation to Southampton in the 1960s after a volcano erupted.

The main island is about 38 sq miles (98 sq km) and the currency is the British pound.

-Ahhh! Sounds like maybe a type of coronavrus? - Raquel

How Effective is Circumcision?

An interesting new study performed among bisexual men from New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia indicated that circumcision had almost no effect upon the transmission of HIV. Although previous studies performed in Africa and other parts of the world have indicated a very strong protective effect, this study questions these results. So what could be causing these results? One theory the article presents is that the prevalence of HIV in these communities is so high that it offsets any protection conferred by circumcision. That doesn't seem to make sense to me, since the prevalence rates in Africa would be much higher than in the American communities. So I guess we'll have to wait for further research to find out why this study contradicts the others.

Jon Dyal


Monday, December 3, 2007

Treatment for the Common Cold? Try Honey.

The extra credit asked about garlic, vitamin C, and Echinacea, but what about honey? A recent study finds that individuals suffering from coughing faired better with honey than a placebo or an over-the-counter cough suppressant ingredient.

It probably tasted better, too.



2007 UNAIDS/WHO AIDS epidemic update revises previous overestimates

The number of people in India living with HIV/AIDS was reduced in this update from 5.7 million to 2.5 million, mostly because of problems with the measuring metric. Previously, the Indian government extrapolated the burden of HIV/AIDS based on hospital data, but the revised, and more accurate, method involves scientifically designed public surveys. The former method was shown to overestimate the number of those with HIV/AIDS to be 2-5 times higher than they really are.

Link to the article


Sunday, December 2, 2007

H5N1 in Egland! Egad!

Zoikes! H5N1 was confirmed on a free-range poultry farm in Suffolk, Englad on November 12, 2007. The farm grows 5000 turkeys in 5 groups of 1000, 1118 ducks, and 410 geese. While H5N1 was not detected in the geese, 2% of ducks were infected, as well as a more than 50% infection prevalence in two of the geese groups. It is believed that the infection started in one of the turkey groups and that the birds were infected from a single source. However, results from epidemiological studies indicates that the virus was not introduced from imported poultry, although the current isolate is genetically closest to the virus islated from wild birds in the Czech Republic in mid-2007. H5N1 has not been detected in wild bird populations, but infection from migratory species from central Europe cannot be excluded.

Read on at http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/notifiable/disease/ai/pdf/ai-prelim-epireport071129.pdf

and read about the Warsaw outbreak at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L0136861.htm


First Case of Bird Flu in China Since May

The first case of avian influenza since May was recently reported in China, when tests confirmed that a patient in the eastern Jiangsu province was infected with H5N1 influenza. The 24-year-old man was diagnosed with pneumonia, and presented with fever, chills, and other symptoms of respiratory disease. He died today, 5 days after being admitted into the hospital. The man had had no direct contact with poultry, which has led public health officials to account for the possibility of human-to-human transmission. 69 contacts of the man have been traced and are currently under observation. None of them have shown any signs of bird flu.

- Claire


Ebola on the run!

The Ebola outbreak in Uganda that first reared its nasty head in Sept. has killed 18 people, has infected 61, and is spreading toward the Congo border. Specifically, it's spread into the Bundibugyo district, which is a poor region.... which sucks.

Interestingly, the strain causing the outbreak is unknown, and has different clinical presentation that typical Ebola; instead of causing massive hemorrhaging and causing people to die from shock, this strain is causing people to have high fevers and not bleed as much.

Check out the story here:

Oops, the Italian measles story was me.

And here's my reference for the Japanese encephalitis story:


And you said Italy was your special place?

46 cases of measles (let's review: Paramyxoviridae, (-)ssRNA, helical, enveloped, monopartite, etc) have been linked to single outbreak in the Piemonte region on northern Italy, from September 19-November 19, 2007! The index case is reported to be an UNVACCINATED(!) 17-year old girl who had visited Cambridge (UK), London, and Norwich on a school trip (Sept 2-15, 2007) along with 54 other students....oh dear...

She developed a fever and a rash, 2 and 4 days after her return to Italy, while two other unvaccinated (again !) students on the trip also developed rashes on Sept 20 and Oct 1. Although the two siblings (who were not on the trip) of the Oct 1 rash case were vaccinated against measles on Oct 3, both developed fevers 7 days after vaccination, and rashes on Oct 11 and 12, 10 days after the onset of their sister's rash.

33 additional mealses cases were identified among adolescents and young adults living or attending schools in same city where the index case resides, while 8 cases were reported in nearby towns. Epidemiologhical studies conducted showed that the link was defined as contact with a measles case 7-18 days before the onset of rash. 96% of the cases were 12-21 years old, while 93% of the cases were unvaccinated against measles.

Given that there have been several reported cases of meales in the UK, it is likely that the index case was imported from the UK. Piemonte region health officials also reprt that the measles vaccination rates for the 1989-1992 birth cohort are low (70-85%), while a greater percentage of younger cohorts (90-92%) have been vaccinated.

Read more at http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ew/2007/071129.asp#1

My Mumps, My Mumps, My Lovely Little Mumps...Check It Out...

Reported as of yesterday, Saturday 12/01/07, there has been an outbreak of nearly 100 cases of mumps in Alberta, Canada. Within the Chinook Health Region, a majority of the 38 confirmed and 21 suspected cases of mumps have been linked to the local colleges: namely University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College. Within the Calgary area, approximately 57 mumps cases have been confirmed this year so far (January 2007 to October 2007), 43 of which were confirmed in the month of October. Even more intriguing is that six of these recent cases have been members of the University of Calgary's hockey team, thus explaining the public health officials' disease-prevention advice to local hockey-players to avoid sharing mouthgards and water-bottles.

Recall that mumps can cause fever, headache, and swollen glands around the jaw, but can sometimes (unfortunately) lead to more serious complications such as sterility, meningitis, and deafness. Thus, public health officials are working hard to put a stop to the spread of this viral infection.

Hypotheses to why such an outbreak occurred? Well, seing as how many of the cases are happening to college-aged students (age range typically 17-26) and how people in this age range received only one dose of mumps vaccine when they were children, it is thought that the immunity provided by the vaccine may have worn off. Thus, to help control the outbreak and prevent similar future outbreaks, the Canadian province is offering free mumps immunizations in two phases: first are the post-secondary students, and then everyone in the high risk 17-26 age group.

Becca Briggs

want more juicy details?

Jamaican Weed Helps HIV

Award winning scientsts extracted a substance called biosynthesise diapbenzyltrisulphide (DTP) from guinea hen weed found in Jamaica. It has been found to boost the body's production of dendritic cells and T cells, which can help the immune system in patients with HIV. It has been used in rural areas, and they are now attempting to make pharmaceutical drugs out of it.



Japanese Encephalitis

So far this year, 2450 cases of acute encephalitis syndrome have been reported in the Uttar Pradesh in India, and about 500 people have died from Japanense encephalitis. Japanese encephalitis is a flavivirus that is typically transmitted via a mosquito vector, often Culex tritaeniorhynchus. Domestic pigs and wild birds serve as reservoirs. Japanese encephalitis is the leading cause of viral encephalitis in Asia.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hanta's here!

Just in time for our problem set this week, New Mexico's health department announced the third case of Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. With the colder winter weather, the officials warn that mice will be entering homes, increasing the number of human-rodent interactions and, consequently, chances of hanta infection. The Department of Health recommends that the public take precautionary measures to protect their homes from murine visitors and familiarize themselves with the symptoms of Hantavirus. Who says that taking humans and viruses doesn't teach everyday life skills?


MC Masters

Friday, November 30, 2007

Yay for Africa!!

So, I was working on my viral model and sifting through reading on measles virus when I read about the UN 2010 initiative to reduce the numbers of African deaths due to measles infections by a whopping 90%. I remember thinking about this for a while after I finished reading the article and I wondered what the numbers were currently looking like and if the goal was actually going to be met. Well...I just read an article announcing that the UN 2010 initiative goal has already been met!! And, not only have the number of deaths due to measles been reduced by 90%, but it's only 2007!! The article specifically states:

"Measles deaths in Africa fell by 91 percent between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396,000 to 36,000, reaching the United Nations 2010 goal to cut measles deaths by 90 percent four years early. The spectacular gains achieved in Africa helped generate a strong decline in global measles deaths, which fell 68 percent worldwide -- from an estimated 757,000 to 242,000 -- during this period.The progress was announced today by the founding partners of the Measles Initiative: the American Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The data will be published in the November 30th editions of WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Record and CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report."This is a major public health success and a tribute to the commitment of countries in the African region," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "We need to sustain this success and intensify our efforts in other parts of the world, as there are still far too many lives lost to this disease."The significant decline in measles deaths in Africa was made possible by the firm commitment of national governments to fully implement the measles reduction strategy, which includes vaccinating all children against measles before their first birthday via routine health services and providing a second opportunity for measles vaccination through mass vaccination campaigns."

If you want to read more:


Becca Briggs

Circumcision aired on radio

An interesting story about a radio personality who documented his circumcision experience in order to publicize the procedure's ability to decrease the risk of AIDS transmission/contraction. This was met with much dissent by listeners, but it was aired in Zambia in which AIDS is a huge problem:



Viral Politics

We've learned so much about viruses this quarter: history, molecular biology, clinical pictures. I thought'd it'd be interesting to post some stories about virus in politics. The AIDS epidemic is being used in campaigns by both political parties, of course for the humanitarianism, but I also suspect to make their side look better:




National Influenza Vaccination Week Nov 26-Dec 2

Apparently this last week was National Influenza Vaccination Week. I wonder if Dr. Bob knew about this... what a coincidence!

According to results from the National Health Interview Survey regarding the two most recent influenza seasons, approximately 84% of all influenza vaccinations were administered during September--November* (Figure). Among persons aged >65 years, the percentage of September--November vaccinations was even higher, at 92% (CDC, unpublished data, 2007).

Each year, on average, approximately 15--60 million persons in the United States are infected with influenza virus; an estimated 200,000 persons are hospitalized from influenza complications, and an estimated 36,000 persons die from those complications (1). Influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza and potentially severe complications. CDC recommends that anyone who wants to reduce their risk for influenza infection should be vaccinated every influenza season. Annual vaccination is particularly important for the following groups (1).

  • persons at high risk for influenza-related complications and severe disease, including:
    --- children aged 6--59 months,
    --- pregnant women,
    --- persons aged >50 years,
    --- persons of any age with certain chronic medical conditions; and
  • persons who live with or care for persons at high risk, including:
    --- household contacts and caregivers of persons in the above groups,
    --- household contacts and caregivers of children aged <6 months (these children also are at high risk for influenza-related complications but are too young to receive influenza vaccination), and
    --- health-care workers.
Maybe our class should have a group field trip to Vaden. All the cool cats are getting their flu shots! (not me though, I'm scared of needles)


DC Has Highest HIV Infection Rate amond US cities

A recent report by city officials found that nearly 1 in 50 residents of DC have HIV or AIDS. This is much higher than the number per 100,000 people Baltimore, NYC or Philadelphia.

The report found that it is increasing at an epidemic rate among children, heterosexual men, women and the elderly. African Americans comprise a disproportionately large number- 86%- of those with AIDS.

Ineffective tracking and public health awareness (particularly in the case of children getting HIV at birth) were blamed for these high numbers.

For more information, Check out



Thursday, November 29, 2007

Uganda confirms 16 Ebola deaths & 5th psossible strain

A new strain of Ebola virus has infected 51 people and killed 16 in an area near Uganda’s border with Democratic Republic of Congo, U.S. health experts said on Thursday.
Analysis of samples taken from some of the victims show it is a previously unknown type of Ebola (according to the CDC).

Ugandan health officials have said the virus appears to be unusually mild




Chikungunya Strikes Again!

But this time it's in Italy, where 205 cases have been identified between June and the end of September. One death was reported, although the patient had "significant underlying co-morbidities". Researchers are calling this the first outbreak of the usually tropical disease in a "temperate" nation. Which brings us back to... Global Warming! The spread of the Aedes mosquito continues its march to the North.



RVF in the Comoros

Sorry to post again so soon, but I was on ProMed mail and a new report of a case of Rift Valley Fever was just reported in the Comoro Islands. Only one case, a 12-year old boy from Grande Comore Island, has been reported so far – he is currently in the hospital in critical condition, although the onset of his symptoms began 3 months ago and was confirmed as RVF in September. Health officials are working hard to improve surveillance on the islands, especially in indigenous animal populations on Grand Comore and other islands. The boy had not previously traveled to East Africa or any other location where there are current RVF epidemics, so it is suspected that he caught the disease from local livestock. This has not yet been confirmed, but samples from various animal populations in the islands have been collected and sent for testing.

- Claire


Deadly Backache in Zambia

An unknown disease, first reported last Sunday, has infected more than 20 and already killed 4 in southern Zambia. Health officials are currently investigating the cause of the disease, and the remaining 20 patients are in quarantine. The characteristic signs and symptoms of the disease are vomiting and a severe backache. Using these symptoms, the GIDEON (Global Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Network) database gives a 30% probability that the disease is caused by Rift Valley Fever. The differential diagnosis includes viral, as well as bacterial and parasitic diseases. Besides Rift Valley Fever, these include leptospirosis, influenza, malaria, and bacteria meningitis (to name a few). However, necessary data and specimens to confirm the diagnosis are lacking at present.

- Claire

In keeping with tradition, I am again writing about plant viruses! Today's virus has an especially cool name: Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV). The virus has been discovered for the first time in the Netherlands. The virus has been incredible harmful in the European Community and specifically regulated on tomato plants intended for planting. Currently, there are a very low number of infected plants. Detection has been carried out using PCR tests for begomoviruses. Plant viruses are so cool!!



Is it flu?

This website is really cool. People post their symptoms, which are tagged to their geographic location. So you can know ahead of time that people eating wilbur food are projectile vomiting, or if your home town is flu central.

-Rebecca Hebner

Handwashing and masks more effective than drugs

According to a review in BMJ, handwashing and barrier methods (gloves and masks) are more effective than drugs in fighting pandemic flu.



Measles immunization in Africa- a success story!

Africa has cut its measles deaths by 91% since 2000. This success demonstrates the benefits of an effective vaccine, increased political commitment, etc. Experts are hoping to transport the African strategy to India in upcoming years.




What is suspected as chikungunya has just broken out in a village in Central Java. It has affected mostly children and has caused arthralgia and fever. Officials will fog the village tomorrow to kill the arthropod vector.



Wednesday, November 28, 2007

US, Indonesia spar over virus samples

Apparently sharing isn't caring...

Remember the "tree-man"? Well, the Indonesian health minister has criticized an American scientist for taking tissue samples from the man & exporting them out of the Southeast Asian country. The minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, said that foreign drug companies could use the samples, taken from the man named Dede, to develop profitable pharmaceuticals without remuneration for Indonesia.

But Anthony Gaspari, the University of Maryland dermatologist who took blood and tissue samples from Dede, said his intentions were purely medical and not commercial

Dede, 35, suffers from a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that has covered his body with abnormally aggressive growths.

Also, this same minister has also had issues with people exporting H151 out of the country.



Gates Foundation pledges $220M to fight polio

Speaking of problem set #7, we are making progress towards eliminating poliovirus. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with Rotary International is giving $220 million to help fight polio through public education, immunization campaigns, and surveillance. The virus remains endemic in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Will it be enough? WHO officials estimate that $650M is needed by 2009, and eradicating polio will still cost an extra billion dollars. Additionally, sociopolitical factors may ultimately pose a larger obstacle than funding.


-Becky Grossman-Kahn

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sick birds in South Korea

Posted by Marisa Dowling

South Korean birds have shown signs of a flu outbreak officials confirmed on Friday, prompting the slaughter of 17,000 ducks. Fortunately, the flu found in the birds is H7 (not H5N1), which has never been shown to infect humans.

Earlier H5N1 outbreaks among birds in South Korea in Nov. 2006 to March 2007 lead to the slaughter of 2.8 million birds in that country.

Since 2003 across the world, hundred of millions of birds have been slaughtered and 206 people have died due to H5N1.

Full Article

Patients Contract 2 Viruses From Donor in Transplants

Four transplant recipients in Chicago recently contracted H.I.V. from an organ donor, the first known cases in more than a decade in which the virus was spread by organ transplants. The same organs also gave all four patients hepatitis C, in what health officials said was the first reported instance in which the two viruses were spread simultaneously by a transplant.

Though exceedingly rare, this type of transmission highlights a known weakness in the system for checking organ donors for infection: the most commonly used tests can fail to detect viral diseases if they are performed too early in the course of the infection; the incident may result in a complete overhaul of testing policies and procedures for organ transplantation.


Link: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04E5D81E3EF937A25752C1A9619C8B63

Global HIV Prevalence Leveling Off

The World Health Organization just released an encouraging report on the attack against HIV and AIDS. The percentage of people living with HIV has leveled off and the number of new infections has declined, in part due to HIV programs. The peak years for HIV prevalence were in the late 1990's with an estimated 3 million new cases per year; In 2007 this number will be about 2.5 million additional cases. However, WHO warns that the fight against this global killer is not over -- in 2007, 33.2 million people are estimated to be living with HIV -- and that efforts should only be ratcheted up.

-Tad Henry

The perils of gene therapy

Targeted Genetics resumed a gene therapy trial yesterday after a halt by the FDA due to the death of one of the participants. The therapy was aimed at alleviating arthritis by injecting patients with a virus genetically modified to encode an anti-inflammatory protein. A federal gene therapy committee will discuss the implications of this death at an NIH conference in Washington on Dec. 3.


MC Masters

More on HIV

Hey guys! I just found a paper recently published in the Journal of Virology by Jolly et al showing that integrin-ICAM interactions have an important function in cell-cell spread of HIV-1 by contributing to virological synapse (VS) formation and function. In the absence of this integrin leukocyte function associated antigen, HIV-1 spread from cell to cell is significantly impaired. This suggests that adhesion molecules are required for HIV-1 dissemination in infected hosts--information that could potentially be used in the development of new HIV antiviral therapeutics.



A laboratory in the U.K. reported a "probable" new leak of foot and mouth disease virus. The laboratory where this occurred also experienced a leak in August of 2007. The incident came to light when a malfunction was found in a valve on a pipe leading from a centrifuge that's used to separate the live virus from waste product. Britain was proclaimed free of foot-and-mouth disease in September after the first outbreak which began at the beginning of August. This particular outbreak cost the industry approximately $20.6 million a week. Needless to say, a leak which could prompt an outbreak is not a good thing... Just goes to show you, you can never be too careful!


Archive Number 20071126.3829
Published Date 26-NOV-2007
Subject PRO/AH> Foot & mouth disease - UK (England): poss. accident. release

A ProMED-mail post

ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

[ProMED apologizes for the delay in posting this report - Ed.LM]

Date: 22 Nov 2007
Source: Bloomberg.com

U.K. Has 'Probable' Leak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Update3)
The U.K. experienced a "probable" new leak of the foot-and-mouth
disease virus at the same laboratory that was at the center of an
outbreak in August [2007].

The incident occurred on 19 Nov 2007 at the Merial facility at the
Pirbright laboratory in Surrey, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn
said in an e-mailed statement. A malfunction was found in a valve on
a pipe leading from a centrifuge that's used to separate the live
virus from waste product, Benn said. Operations were immediately
stopped and the machine and pipes decontaminated.

"Merial judged that the valve had been leaking, allowing an
unintended probable release of live FMD virus into the contained
drainage system, which was then pumped to the final chemical
treatment facility without being heat-treated," Benn said. Merial's
license to produce vaccines using foot-and-mouth disease was
suspended. The live disease hasn't entered the environment, a
government spokeswoman said in a telephone interview.

The August [2007] outbreak at the same laboratory site was probably
caused by faulty drainage at a research facility, the Health and
Safety Executive said on 7 Sep 2007.

It wasn't possible to identify which of the 2 units that share the
laboratory site, the government-run Institute for Animal Health or
Merial Animal Health Ltd., was responsible for that incident, the HSE
said. Leaking pipes at the site probably contained the virus, which
spread to 2 nearby farms after being brought to the surface by rains
and contaminating the vehicles of workers renovating the site.

Vaccine Production
"Merial Animal Health can confirm that on Monday, 19 Nov 2007, we
shut down our vaccine production center at Pirbright," Merial, which
manufactures veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines said in an
e-mailed statement. "The site's bio-security waste treatment
facilities handled the situation exactly as they are designed to do,"
the group said. "We expect to be operational again soon."

The then Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said on 7 Sep 2007
that Britain was free of foot-and-mouth after the disease was first
confirmed on 3 Aug 2007. The outbreak prompted a cull of 576 animals
and cost the industry 10 million pounds ($20.6 million) a week.

The August outbreak led to a 10-kilometer (6-mile) protection and
surveillance zone being placed around the Pirbright site and
neighboring farms. The government took the precautions to prevent a
repeat of the 2001 outbreak when it failed to impose a transport ban
for days, allowing the disease to spread to 2,030 animals. That
prompted a cull of 10 million animals and cost the economy 10 billion

'Extremely Concerning'
"It's extremely concerning that part of the system at Merial has
failed," the National Farmers' Union said in an e-mailed statement.
"Given what has happened this summer and the massive financial loss
still being felt by many farmers, we are naturally very sensitive
about foot-and-mouth disease."

Foot-and-mouth is an infectious disease affecting cloven-hoofed
animals, in particular cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer, the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said on its Web
site. Since 3 Aug 2007 there have been 8 confirmed cases of
foot-and-mouth in Surrey and Windsor and Maidenhead, the government

Farmers Shocked
"Another leak of foot-and-mouth virus at the government-licensed
Pirbright site will shock the farming community, the British science
community and the public," the opposition Conservatives' Shadow
Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said in an e-mailed statement.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown "spent the whole summer boasting of his
competence in handling the foot-and-mouth outbreak," said Ainsworth,
adding, "This Government's credibility is rapidly falling apart."

Merial is a private research venture of Merck & Co., a Whitehouse
Station, New Jersey-based drugmaker, and Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis
SA. The company employs about 5000 staff, and sales last year were
nearly $2.2 billion dollars, the company said on its Web site. The
vaccines produced at the Pirbright laboratory are for export purposes
only, a Merial spokesman said in a telephone interview.

"Tree man" saga continues

An Indonesian fisherman who developed tree-like growths on his hands and feet is at the centre of an international medical spat after his country's health minister criticised doctors trying to treat him...


- Elizabeth

Monday, November 26, 2007

HIV testing

I'm not sure if we were supposed to post over break or not, but just in case, here's another one. I think this article nicely addresses the struggle to find a balance between perfect health and economic feasibility.



Aids experts call for more tests
By Paul Kirby
EU reporter, BBC News

EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou (courtesy European Commission)
Markos Kyprianou says HIV/Aids is the forgotten disease
More than 300 European health experts are calling for earlier HIV testing to tackle increasing infection rates.

They are attending a conference in Brussels, described as the first time patients, policy-makers and physicians have gathered in the same room.

One proposal being considered is for wider testing for people considered to be low-risk.

There were 86,912 new infections reported in the World Health Organization's European region in 2006.

'Remember Me'

Delegates at the conference agreed that the impact of late HIV diagnosis on individuals and healthcare was an urgent problem.

In his opening speech, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said "we need to act".

He said attention on the issue had slipped from the top of the political agenda because of a new generation that had not been aware of high-profile Aids campaigns in the 1980s.

"We allowed it to become the forgotten disease," he said. "That's why, for the European Commission, the basic motto, the basic phrase for this disease is 'Remember Me'."

Lives wasted

One of the co-chairs of the conference, Professor Jens Lundgren, said that around half of patients who contracted HIV entered treatment too late and the situation had not changed in the past decade.

There's a reluctance to go out and do widespread testing
Professor Jens Lundgren
Director, Copenhagen HIV Programme

Europe's HIV/Aids cases rise

"Many lives are being wasted because we, as health professionals, are unable to get people into care early enough to have saved them," he said. He is the director of the Copenhagen HIV Programme.

Prof Lundgren said that the problem of late diagnosis was becoming more and more significant across Europe. He said around 30-40% of patients had already developed Aids by the time they entered the health system and no country had been able to deal with the disease effectively.

"All Western European countries have a plan for cervical cancer or breast cancer but there's a reluctance to go out and do widespread testing of populations (for HIV)," he said.

Doctors' responsibility

Prof Lundgren said that the conference was calling for testing of at-risk groups including homosexuals and drug-users every five years. But, he said, there had to be other initiatives for categories classed as lower risk.

Where doctors found cases of illness linked to HIV, such as tuberculosis or, less obviously, skin and oral disease, they should recommend testing.

"The thinking is that much of the testing is voluntary and we believe the provider of care should be more active," he said.

One potential obstacle could be funding, although the organisers are adamant that treatment is far cheaper if patients are identified before the onset of Aids.

While governments in Western Europe are likely to welcome the proposals, the conference expects the reception in Eastern Europe to be lukewarm.

Vaccination Drill in Colorado

Colorado recently performed vaccination trial run, immunizing 10,000 people against the flu. Such efforts provide not only vaccines to those who participate, but tested the ability of public health initiatives to respond if mass immunizations were to become necessary.

-Rebecca Hebner

Gates donate $200 million to fight Polio

Thought this was particularly relevant to two weeks ago...


The global campaign to eradicate polio has been given a grant of $200m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International.

It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more donations to boost its drive to eradicate the disease altogether.

In the last 20 years, immunisation programmes have dramatically cut the number of new polio cases.

But it is still endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

In the late 1980s, about 360,000 children a year were being paralysed by the disease.

Now that is down to just over 700 a year, but attempts to eradicate polio altogether have so far failed.

Critical catalyst

Earlier this year the WHO launched a fresh campaign calling for greater commitment from the developed world.

The WHO's director general, Dr Margaret Chan, said the donation is coming at a critical moment.

"The last pockets of this disease are the hardest and the most costly to reach," she told the BBC.

"This investment is also precisely the catalyst we need to mobilise additional resources. We can achieve a polio-free world if the rest of our financial partners stepped up to the challenge."

Polio is still endemic in four countries, including Afghanistan
In countries where the virus is still endemic, immunisation programmes have met a range of problems.

The communities where people are most affected tend to have poor health services. It can be difficult to reach the children and to keep track of them for repeat doses.

Parents do not always understand that the vaccine needs to be given more than once and may refuse it.

Sometimes there are cultural obstacles. If the people doing the vaccinations are young or inexperienced, for example, they might be refused.

If they are male, the women in conservative households may not let them in.

Sometimes false rumours that immunisation will harm children also puts people off.

But health workers insist that, with extra support, eradication is now within reach.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mysterious viral outbreak in western Uganda

The disease has symptoms similar to Marburg [hemorrhagic] fever. Thankfully,there are no more infections, and deaths have reduced. The patients are also recovering quickly. "The viral attack has been contained, and we hope there will be no more deaths," Dr. Okware said. By press time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States had not yet determined what the disease was, after analyzing the 20 blood samples Uganda's health ministry sent them.
The cause of this outbreak of lethal disease remains obscure. A viral
causation is still favored, but there is little supporting evidence. None
of the locally proposed diagnoses seem appropriate. The outcome of
laboratory investigation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
in Atlanta is awaited.



Tamiflu Side Effects

Apparently, Tamiflu, the newest drug against the flu, is suspected of causing "abnormal behavior" in children, including hallucinations and delirium. Not fun times.



An Important Reminder about the Global AIDS Pandemic

... just to keep things in perspective:


NASA technology for prevention of infectious outbreaks!

According to an article published on November 6th, "NASA technology helps predict and prevent future pandemic outbreaks", The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's 14 satellites work to observe the environment of the earth and consequently are being used to predict and prevent infections disease outbreaks around the world. Specifically, the article mentioned the used of remote sensing technology use in the prediction of Rift Valley Fever, Ebola and West Nile Virus outbreaks.

Daily data is collected regarding changes in the environment (which is a common factor in infectious disease emergence). This data is then transferred to the CDC for one, where it is analyzed.

“The use of this technology is not only essential for the future of curbing the spread of infectious diseases,” explains John Haynes, public health program manager for the NASA Earth Science Applied Sciences Program. “NASA satellites are also a cost-effective method for operational agencies since they are already in orbit and in use by scientists to collect data about the Earth’s atmosphere.”

NASA also claims to be targeting malaria in particular, although I am personally somewhat skeptical of the necessity of remote sensor technology in tracking this parasite as its prevalence is already so high in much of the world and the environmental changes that foster increased malaria infection rates, such as deforestation are quite apparent on the ground level.

Source: American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
or check out the article:


Rift Valley Fever Update

As of November 22, Rift Valley Fever Virus is reported to have infected about 450 people in Sudan, killing 164. The RVF epidemic continues to exacerbate the population, incurring about 221 new infections in the past two weeks.

Normally, Rift Valley Fever is a fairly mild human disease with about a fatality rate of one percent; however in those infected who develop the hemorrhagic fever form, the fatality rate is significantly higher--around 50 percent, says the U.N. health agency.

Although Sudan was quick to alert the international community about the epidemic, the infection rate continues to grow.

Check out the article: www.physorg.com/news114964652


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yet another reason to avoid mosquito bites

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston recently published an article showing that West Nile viral infection is exacerbated by earlier bites from uninfected mosquitoes. The experimenters acknowledge that these findings may seem a bit counter-intuitive in light of other infectious disease research. For example, with parasites or bacteria, usually prior exposure stimulates an immune response that can counter further attacks from that organism. With West Nile the scientists also hypothesize that early nonvirulent foreign mosquito saliva triggers an inflammatory response. However, in this case the influx of immune cells only provides more susceptible cells for the virus to infect.

Check out more of the details:

MC Masters

UN HIV estimates reduces the number of cases

Hey Guys,

So the UN has slashed the estimated number of people infected with HIV to 33 million. The original number of cases was 40 million and this number is as recent as 2007. Much of this decrease is attributed to the revised number of infections from India.The figures show there were 2.5m new cases in 2007, down from a peak in the late 1990s when there was over 3m new infections a year.

However because the majority of people who are infected with HIV don't know they are infected, there is fool-proof method to find out if the WHO figures are any more reliable than the previous estimation.



Sudanese turning vegetarian

100 Sudanese people have died from Rift Valley Fever (with some 360 more infected) in the recent RVF outbreak. The Ministry of Health's epidemiologist announced infection might be caused by eating uncooked meat, being close to infected animals, or drinking unpasteurized milk. (I thought mosquitoes usually transmitted it to humans, but I guess other animals can be hosts too and can be vectors as well?) Either way, people have started eating significantly less meat as a result of this outbreak.

Check out the article here.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Adding onto Ani's post a couple back, I was watching TV (like I never do at Stanford) and saw Irv Weissman from Stanford's Immunology department on TV talking about the breakthrough in stem cells. The news anchor said that this development is as big as the Wright Brothers (questionable?). I went onto their website and found this cool video (I'm a visual learner) and supporting article which presents some views on this stem cell development.

Have fun! Happy Turkey Day!



WHO urges nations to share birdflu virus samples

What else to encourage the Thanksgiving spirit!

According to Margret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, "The sharing of currently circulating viruses is the only way to monitor the emergence of drug-resistant strains". This effort to help countries prepare for a human influenza pandemic and share samples linked to the H5N1 bird flu virus is rooted in the thinking that sharing the viruses is the "foundation of risk assessment". Analysis and comparison of viruses expose first clues and are the warning signs that the virus may be evolving in a dangerous way.Both China and Indonesia have shared the samples of the virus from its cases this year. The H5N1 virus has killed 206 of 335 people infected since 2003 in 12 countries, according to the WHO. Experts fear the constantly mutating virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world in months. A pandemic could kill millions of people, shut down businesses and overwhelm health care systems. Sixteen companies are at various stages of licensing a vaccine against H5N1, the virus most experts suspect could spark a pandemic.


Sharing is caring!


Retroviruses+Embryonic Stem Cells?

Hey, I hope Thanksgiving break is treating you all well. I just saw this article in the New York TImes. Two teams of scientists from Kyoto University and the University of Wisconsin Wisconsin have turned skin cells into embryonic stem cells without making or destroying an embryo, which could ease ethical concerns. They did this by adding four regulator genes which reprogrammed the skin cells by basically blanking them out (turning off aspects specialized to skin cells).

But the really interesting part is that they used retroviruses to randomly insert genes into the cells' chromosomes. For more information,


Australian bees acquitted

Because I love Australia, and I love honey, I thought I'd include this:

We learned in Scott Smith's parasite's class about the disappearance of US honeybees, something called colony collapse disorder. One prevalent theory was that this was caused by a virus that Australian honeybees had brought over. Fortunately, genetic evidence shows that the Australian honeybees are not the culprit, which has made a number of Australian beekeepers very relieved.



Monday, November 19, 2007

Searching for the Marburg animal reservoir

A new study aimed to discover what the animal reservoir is for Marburg virus. They conducted this study in a mine, and tested many species of animals. Of note were bats, which were shown to harbor both Marburg Virus DNA as well as antibodies, reaffirming previous notions that bats are the natural reservoir of Marburg. However, this evidence is not conclusive, and the researchers failed to isolate the virus itself from these bats.

Link to the article


Live Zoster!

Have you ever seen shingles in real life? I for one have not, but I am sure that some of you have witnessed the spread of zoster in parents or older neighbors. On a shadowing shift that I did yesterday in the SCVMC emergency department, a fairly young man (in his 30s) came in with a body rash in the right lower quadrant of his abdomen that started 2 days before. The emergency physician quickly diagnosed the rash as zoster (or herpes zoster), or commonly, shingles caused by reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV). The spots were impressive, according to the infectious disease consult called down to the ED. What is even more impressive is that during the time that the patient was waiting in his room (almost 5 hours), more spots began popping up all over his body--his face, neck and chest.

The man presented no other concerning symptoms and was treated with intravenous acyclovir.

What I learned yesterday--keep your eyes open for cool viral infections!


Mutated adenoviruse kills 10 people

Hey all,

There is a mutated form of adenovirus 14 out there that has killed at least 10 people and sent many more to hospitals. It is spread like a common cold, but is actually much more deadly. There have been cases in New York, Washington, Orgeon and Texas. The CDC has acknowledged it, but hasn't given any specific warnings to people as of yet. This will be interesting to follow.



Thanksgiving virus

A little bit old, but kind of a fun article about the turkey virus. I thought it'd fit in nicely with all the holiday festivities. Not to mention give everyone a chance to brush up on their molecular techniques, like real-time reverse PCR:


Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes,


Mumps in Maine

The CDC has confirmed an outbreak of seven mumps cases in southern and central Maine. To stem the infection rate, health officials are updating vaccination recommendations, especially for priority populations, such as children, college students, and hospital workers.

The mumps virus infects the salivary glands and is transmitted via a respiratory route. Complications can include meningitis, inflammation of the pancreas,transient or permanent hearing loss, and inflammation of the testicles or ovaries (ouch).

Read more about it:

MC Masters

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Meet my grandpa, the virus."

Do we have viral ancestors? Researchers seem to think so. Click here for the article.

New Meningitis Vaccine Could Help Infants

A new combined meningitis vaccine that protects against 4 different strains is in clinical trials, and has been shown to be more effective in infants than the single vaccine alone. This would be a great and needed improvement because meningitis is a serious threat to infants in specific parts of the world, like parts of Europe and Africa.


Jasmeen Miah

Friday, November 16, 2007

Highly Contagious Virus in Santa Cruz

During Nov 9 - 15th, 80 people in a unnamed Santa Cruz hotel became ill due to a highly contagious virus. The virus apparently spreads by direct contact and results in gastrointestinal illness (maybe Norwalk virus?). Nearly 1000 people were exposed during this time.

Check this out for more info


Fever, diarrhea, and death in Uganda

The Ugandan Ministry of Health reported that 14 out of 51 people infected with a strange new febrile illness have died in the last 3 months. Patients didn't have Marburg or Ebola, and the infectious agent hasn't een identified yet. They suspect it is *viral*.

Even though victims succumb to some strange fever, it definitely isn't hemorrhagic. People who have died died not of bleeding but from diarrhea (severe dehydration). Symptoms were fever and abdominal pain.

As one Health Ministry official put it, "There are a lot of funny viruses in those mountains."

If that's not disconcerting enough, he said that cases are still continuing to pop up and the infection is definitely not yet contained.

Happy Thanksgiving! Learning about all these viruses makes me thankful we've only got Ad14 to worry about... for now.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Winter qtr class conflict spreadsheet info!

Hi guys,

I know this is supposed to be a blog about viruses, but I think the spreadsheet can warrant a posting :).

I've set up a Google spreadsheet under the Humansandviruses account for all of us to input our winter class schedule. Instructions:

1. Go to http://docs.google.com and sign in with the humansandviruses account (like we do to post on this blog).
2. Open the (only) document entitled "Class Conflicts - Winter Qtr", and follow the instructions!

Quick note: If your class is already listed, change the tally to the right of the cell. If your class is at the same time as another class already listed, insert another row and add your class below the one listed. AAAnd... when you list a new class, change the tally to "1".

Shoot me an email at jessliu@stanford.edu if you have any questions.

Have a wonderful break!!

Rift Valley Fever Kill 100 in Sudan

Reports surfaced a week ago about an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in Gazeera State, Sudan. Now, the WHO is reporting that 96 people have died, most in the area close to irrigation canals. The disease in humans is normally preceded by infection in animals but officials in Sudan have publicly denied that there are any confirmed cases in cattle.Despite the official govt stance, reps from the Food and Agricultural Organization have been deployed to to contain any possible outbreak amongst livestock.



Virulent form of cold virus spreads in US

A virulent strain of adenovirus is causing colds across the US which have already killed 10 people. The Adenovirus 14 strain can cause severe respiratory disease in individuals of any age. Watch oooout!


- Elizabeth

New Hepatitis C virus transmission route found

Posted by: Marisa Dowling

Researchers have recently determined that Hepatitis C does not need to leave its first cell to infect the next cell. Rather it can pass directly from one cell to another. This explains why the body's immune system is so ineffective against the virus, and does not bode well for drug development efforts. The University of Birmingham scientists also found that the co-receptor CD81 is not necessary for cell-to-cell transmission as previously thought, undermining current drug research in this area.

One should note that the virus is still transmitted by extracellular routes, but infection will not be stopped until this cell-to-cell route is hindered as well.

Full Article

West Nile vaccine in the works.

Plans for a vaccine against West Nile Virus has been announced Sanofi-Pasteur and Acambis. The CDC estimates that over 80 million people are at risk of transmission from mosquito vectors.

-Rebecca Hebner

Adenovirus 14 emergence in the US

Adenovirus serotype 14 (Ad14) can cause deadly respiratory illness. There has been a jump in the number of cases of Ad14 in the States recently with 140 cases happening between March and June of this year (fyi: the virus had a 5% mortality). This strain was genetically different from a strain that circulated in 1955, suggesting it is an emerging pathogen. There is currently no evidence to believe the cases were spread by direct transmission.



HSV-2 drugs prevent HIV transmission

Researchers published a study today indicating that drugs used to suppress herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) also decrease the infectiousness of HIV by decreasing levels of the virus found in blood and rectal secretions. It has been shown that HSV-2 outbreaks increase replication of the HIV virus in the body and can usually increase infectiousness. The study reveals a promising strategy for prevention of HIV transmission, and can delay the initiation of anti-retroviral therapy in HIV patients. More research in this area has yet to be done.

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-11/idso-sss111507.php


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bird Flu to Babies

Chinese researchers studying a 24-year old pregnant Chinese woman who had died of Avian Flu say that bird flu can be spread to the fetus! The fetus in this woman had been infected.

"He said that as well as being found in the woman's placenta, the virus was detected in the alimentary canal, brain, blood cells and respiratory tract of both victims. It was also found in the lungs and liver of the fetus."

It doesn't seem like they're too worried thought.

"'So far, no substantiated case of interhuman transmission has been observed,' Gu said. "It largely depends on how the virus further mutates."

Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said the passing of the virus from mother to fetus was not really a case of human-to-human transmission as the two effectively function as a single body."

More details here:

Stephanie Hwang

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

False Alarm: Bird Flu in New Zealand

On November 13, 223 passengers on a Korean airplane were quarantined on the tarmac at Auckland Airport, New Zealand. Flight attendants had noticed en route a woman vomiting and exhibiting other flu-like symptoms. Airport authorities were alerted and after landing a paramedic in protective clothing boarded the plane to examine the woman. Thankfully, it turned out that the woman was suffering from gastroenteritis, not H5N1. South Korea declared itself bird flu free in June after 3 months without cases of H5N1 in birds or humans. New Zealand has not seen any cases of bird flu to date. Let's hope it stays that way. But the tension builds as H5N1 continues to ravage its victims.


-Tad Henry


Need to be convinced that the flu is serious? Check out www.facesofinfluenza.org
The American Lung Association has launched a campaign called Faces of Influenza to "put a face on influenza in the United States" and encourage high risk groups to get vaccinated. The site aims to dispel common beliefs about the flu (such that it is just a cold) and feature profiles of individuals who are representative of populations that should get vaccinated.
Jennifer Garner is getting her daughter Violet vaccinated! Take the quiz to see if you are a Face of Influenza too!

-Becky Grossman-Kahn

Half man half tree!!!

Hey all, so I found this article about a 35-year old Indonesian fisherman who developed HPV at the age of 15. Instead of developing warts, however, he developed tree-like growths on his extremities, due to an additional affliction a rare genetic disorder (?no info on what disorder) that compromised his immune system when combined with HPV. The virus caused sicells to undergo proliferated cell growth, resulting in the formation of cutaneous horns on his hands and feet. Apparently his condition can be significantly controlled by daily doses of Vitamin A. Anyways, I've attached the link to the article and a couple pictures. Enjoy!