Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Will FMOTQ get you in the end?

Recently researchers in the UK found that the virus that causes cold sores, Herpes Simplex Virus-1, may lead to increased levels of the proteins that cause Alzheimer's Disease. When the Manchester University group injected HSV-1 into human brain tissue culture, they found a "dramatic" increase in the levels of beta amyloid protein, the protein that acts as a building block for the neural plaque formations that cause Alzheimer's disease. That's something to make everyone sore.


The more you know...

Hey all you premeds, what do you know about bird flu? Medical students might just be the key to averting an impending viral disaster. With continued talk of influenza A (H5N1) threats, researchers at the University of Alberta decided to survey med students about both their knowledge of the virus and their willingness to serve in the wake of an outbreak. Should avian influenza reach pandemic proportions, there might be an official health personnel shortage. In such an event, med students may be called upon to fill in the gaps. The researchers were disturbed at the large number of students with inaccurate knowledge of the virus's mechanisms. For example, nearly 25% of those surveyed incorrectly identified blood transfusions as a major route of transmission, even though there is no supporting data. They were heartened, however, by med students' overwhelming willingness to volunteer and serve in the face of a pandemic. So all you MCAT crammers, put down that o-chem book and start prepping for the real world. It may be here sooner than you think!

MC Masters

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Don't We Do It in Our Sleeves?

After all the talk of rhinoviruses today, I thought this ridiculous, but legit video from the Stanford Environmental and Health Safety group was apt. The link to the EHS site is , but you'll have to scroll towards the bottom of the screen to the link that says "Cough and Sneeze video..." and then sign in with SUNetID


What do you have under your hood?

Posted by Marisa Dowling

UC San Diego scientists have explained how very large viruses can self-assemble at such a high rate. The secret? A tiny viral motor which procdues twice as much power, relative to its size, as car engine! This motor allows the virus (Bacteriophage T4 in this case) to package its long genome at incredible speed (around 5 minutes).

Using lasers, the researchers measured the forces generated by these molecular motors. The viral motor was found to be faster than any known cellular motor, including those in cells. It is also able to stop and speed up as appropriate, making it the first molecular motor to demonstrate this ability.

The scientists hope the discovery will aid in development of in vitro herpes virus and better antiviral drugs (knock out this motor to halt viral assembly).

Full Article

Virus shows cancer-killing abilities

The Seneca Valley Virus-001 (SVV-001) has been shown effective in treating lines of cells from small-cell lung cancer and some pediatric cancers, as well as lung cancer and eye cancer in immune-deficient mice.

People started noticing the virus's effects on cancer up to 100 years ago; however, its cancer-killing potential was only recently confirmed. This discovery represents an important and promising new approach to very serious forms of cancer!


Nidhi Bhat

AIDS Vaccine Warning.

The Merck and US Nat'l Institutes of Health clinical trials were halted when the vaccine was discovered to be ineffective, and even seemed to be responsible for increasing the risk of infection.
Bad news bears.

"Warning Is Sent to AIDS Vaccine Volunteers"
Washington Post (10/25/07) Timberg, Craig

-Rebecca Hebner

Stanford Malaria Vaccine Trials Use Adenoviruses!

Exciting news! The malaria vaccine currently undergoing clinical trials at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital Center here at Stanford uses a viral package to carry the malaria antigen.

According to the research team, the experimental malaria vaccine uses a type of adenoviruse that does not usually infect humans. People receiving the vaccine will not develop an immune response against the virus packaging, nor will they contract malaria from the vaccine. The antigen carried by the adenovirus is derived from the part of the parasite that triggers the immune response and is not the entire parasite.

The vaccine is produced by Crucell, a company in the Netherlands, and favorable studies in mice and large animals have led the NIH to sponsor himan testing, first at Vanderbilt and now at Stanford.

The vaccine center at LPCH is looking for healthy volunteers ages 18-45 to receive three injections of the malaria vaccine into the upper arm, if anyone is interested in promoting malaria research or earning a bit of extra money. :)

Read about the vaccine and the clinical trials at


Monday, October 29, 2007

Pinpointing US source of AIDS?

Crazy what science can do.
Through genetic analysis, scientists have discovered the initial source of HIV/AIDS in the US --> allegedly, it was brough to the USA in 1966 by a Haitian man.


Shingles Vaccine

Ask your grandparents if they've gotten the shingles vaccine! Here are some pretty interesting factoids:

-Shingles, or herpes zoster, can infect anyone who has had chickenpox (though it is not known whether it will infect those who have received the chickenpox vaccine)
-The virus causes a latent, persistent infection (in the theme of the week) that chills out for years in nerve roots near the spinal cord
-When the virus is reactivated, it migrates down the nerve to the skin, where it causes severe pain and a blistering rash, in addition to fever and headache. While rare, there is the possibility pneumonia, blindness, encephalitis, and death
-The vaccine, which has been approved for those 60+ who have had chickenpox is proven to prevent 50% of shingles (1 in 2 85-year-olds will have had shingles), is given in a single injected dose and contains the same attenuated virus as the chickenpox vaccine but is 14 times as potent

Link to NYTimes Article:,%20Conditions,%20and%20Health%20Topics/Viruses&oref=slogin


No Cold Medicine for Kids?

As we touched on a bit last week, drug companies are pulling their traditionally over-the-counter cold medications meant for young children. Here's an article describing the saga:

WASHINGTON --Drug makers pulled cold medicines targeted for babies and toddlers off the market Thursday, leaving parents to find alternatives for hacking coughs and runny little noses just as fall sniffles get in full swing.

The move represented a pre-emptive strike by over-the-counter drug manufacturers -- a week before government advisers were to debate the medicines' fate. But it doesn't end concern about the safety of these remedies for youngsters.

Thursday's withdrawal includes medicines aimed at children under age 2, after the Food and Drug Administration and other health groups reported deaths linked to the remedies in recent years, primarily from unintentional overdoses.

A remaining question is whether children under 6 should ever take these nonprescription drugs.

Baltimore city officials filed a petition with the FDA -- joined by the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and prominent pediatricians around the country -- arguing that oral cough and cold medicines don't work in children so young, and pose health risks not just for babies but for preschoolers, too.

"Pediatricians are taught these products don't work and may not be safe. Yet almost every parent uses them," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner and a pediatrician, who blames ads that overpromise relief.

The challenge, he says, will be to convince parents to try old-fashioned methods, like suctioning out infants' noses or using salt-water nose drops.

"If you can actually pull a booger out with a suction device, people can feel better," Sharfstein said.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association announced Thursday that manufacturers were voluntarily ending sales of over-the-counter oral cough and cold products aimed at infants. The list includes infant drops sold under the leading brand names Dimetapp, Pediacare, Robitussin, Triaminic, Little Colds, and versions of Tylenol that contain cough and cold ingredients.

CVS Caremark Corp. added that it would also end sales of CVS-brand equivalents.

"It's important to point out that these medicines are safe and effective when used as directed, and most parents are using them appropriately," said Linda Suydam, president of the industry trade group.

The American Academy of Pediatrics disagrees. It said, in general, the drugs shouldn't be used for colds in small children.

"This is not a situation in which pediatric data are lacking and we are unable to say one way or the other," Dr. Jay Berkelhamer, the academy's national president, wrote the FDA last month. In multiple studies, they have "been found not to be effective in this population at all."

Lark Hackney of Anchorage, Alaska, said her two grandchildren, 1-year-old Taylor and 2-year-old Julius have had many colds.

"We go to the doctor if it's gucky and it lasts very long, but a lot of times we just treat it with, you know, treat the symptoms" like fever or cough with children's medicine over the counter, said Hackney, who was at the National Zoo in Washington with her grandchildren.

She said they have used children's cold medicines and neither child has had a bad reaction.

The FDA is bringing its scientific advisers together Oct. 18-19 to debate the issues, but its own preliminary review concluded that very young children shouldn't take some of these commonly used medicines. And while the FDA's main focus is on children under 6, it also will ask if there's evidence that these drugs work in children up to age 12.

FDA praised the drugmakers' withdrawals Thursday as important for protecting babies.

For other youngsters, parents should understand that cold remedies treat only symptoms, they don't make viruses go away any faster, stressed FDA pediatrician Dr. Dianne Murphy, who urged parents to consult their pediatricians.

"What's the risk? That's what this whole meeting is about," she said. "You need to weigh 'Is that symptom that important to treat?' "

Most coughs shouldn't be suppressed -- that's how the body clears the lungs, she added. Low-grade fevers are how the body fights infection.

Maureen Javers of Silver Spring, Md., likes to let colds play out unless a doctor says her children, 3-year-old Declan and 1-year-old Evelyn have an infection.

"I don't really like to medicate them if they don't need to have the medicine," she said.

Health groups say that while low doses of cold medicine don't usually endanger an individual child, the bigger risk is unintentional overdose. For example, the same decongestants, cough suppressants and antihistamines are in multiple products, so using more than one to address different symptoms -- or having multiple caregivers administer doses -- can quickly add up. Also, children's medicines are supposed to be measured with the dropper or measuring cap that comes with each product, not an inaccurate kitchen teaspoon.

And, since "the medicine isn't doing what the family wants, instead of giving as directed every six hours they give every four hours or every two hours," says Dr. Basil Zitelli of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, who sees such children in the emergency room. "What they in effect are doing is poisoning their child."

What to try instead? Pediatric and public health groups recommend:

--Plenty of fluids and rest.

--Suction bulbs to gently clear infants' clogged noses. Saline nose drops loosen thick secretions so noses drain more easily.

--A cool-mist humidifier in the child's bedroom.

--Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as recommended by your doctor, to alleviate pain or discomfort -- but check that they don't contain extra ingredients.

--Some chest creams can ease stuffiness with menthol or other fragrances, but check labels for age restrictions.

Article link:


Poor horsey...

Sad...It looks like a few unlucky horses, 24 to be exact, have fallen ill in Indiana just this past week. The horses are infected with the mosquito-borne viral infection eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), which causes permanent CNS damage in horses. Officials are on alert because EEE is capable of infecting both horses and humans. These 24 cases are spread out over the state, occurrining in 17 different counties. Experts say that these cases of EEE demonstrate the widest dispersion of the viral infection in the state over recent years, including regions other than the usual Northwestern corners. Officials expect to see even more cases of EEE as the season continues, at least until freezing temperatures manage to kill off the pesty vector.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Get those kids their nasal sprays!

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices announced last week that FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated) was recommended for healthy children between the ages 2-5 to prevent infection. Previously, only people between the ages of 5-49 were recommended to take the nasal spray over the vaccine. Contraindications for the nasal spray include people outside the age range of 2-49 and those with an underlying chronic health condition, such as heart or lung disease, diabetes or kidney disease.

The article didn't mention the effectiveness of the nasal spray vs. the injection, but that would be interesting to know...


Foot and Mouth Disease in India

The Bannerghatta Biological Park in India is experiencing an outbreak of foot and mouth disease - so far, 2 minthuns and a blackbuck have died. Authorities are taking many precautions to avoid further spread of the virus, including closing the park beginning on Monday. Many animals have been transferred to a different park to prevent spread of the disease to other animals. Captive elephants have been vaccinated. In addition, disinfectants are being sprayed around the park, vehicles are banned inside the zoo, and visitors on foot must step into water containing disinfectant before entering the zoo.

In reading this article I learned that foot and mouth disease virus is airborne and that foot and mouth disease virus is sensitive to UV radiation (extensive UV radiation works to inactivate the virus), which I think is pretty cool.

Read the article here:


New promising HIV drug

Yay! Another HIV drug is showing promise. This one called IDC16 interferes with splicing proteins. This is claimed to be mutating-resistent because it attacks the machinery of the cell rather than the actual virus itself.;_ylt=AnEhrDxLHNO4nFFBnBht1n3VJRIF

Lots of viral love,


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bird Flue Finds Children's Lungs Faster

New findings suggest that children are more susceptible to infection of the respiratory track by Avian flu than the general population.

(I feel like nobody reads long descriptions anyway, so if you're intrigued, Click Here


Parents use religion to avoid mandatory vaccinations

Mandatory vaccinations are always a hot-button ethical issue. By what power can the government require that one be vaccinated? When one chooses to not be vaccinated, is that person also making a choice for his fellow citizens whom he puts at risk by doing so?

An associated press examination of state by state vaccination records indicates a troubling trend of parents making false claims of religious objections to avoid mandatory vaccinations for their school-age children. You can read the article here, but the main points are:

- 28 states allow parents to opt out for religious or medical reasons only. In 20 of these 28 states, the number of kindergarten opt-outs doubled or even tripled between 2003 and 2007.

- It is believed that the false claims of religious objection may stem from parental distrust of shots due to the internet hype regarding the purported link between vaccination and autism.

- Children who are not vaccinated can spread disease to other non-vaccinated children as well as those vaccinated children that did not receive complete protection from their shot.


Sweet Name

Cocoa swollen shoot virus in found primarily in the eastern region of Ghana. It dries our plants' roots and leaf stems so that small pods are produced and the beans are not fit for sale. Swollen shoot disease has destroyed over 20 million trees in the east, and is not moving to the western region of Ghana. Unfortunately, western Ghana produces most of the country's cocoa and many farms are now at risk.

Interestingly, researchers for the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) have discovered a hybrid cocoa variety that is tolerant of the virus - it does not affect growth or development of the pods up to harvest. Ghana is trying to promote the hybrid variety so that cocoa production can increase.

Plant viruses are so cool! Read more here:,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,39820


Nobel winner Arthur Kornberg dies at 89

Pioneer in DNA, Stanford professor, and Nobel winner died of respiratory failure at the age of 89.

Check out his scientific memoir- "For the Love of Enzymes: The Odyssey of a Biochemist"- if you're looking for some pleasure reading.

- Elizabeth

Friday, October 26, 2007

Even more Dengue

Yes, I know, there have been lots of posts about Dengue. This article though hit Yahoo! news... so you know things are getting urgent. This one is based out of Vietnam:;_ylt=AvHQm7wjmv_WX5sl1F.f0QDVJRIF


Aww, I feel like pink eye is something that everyone can relate to as being super crappy :( -Raquel

Date: Thu 25 Oct 2007
Source: The Saipan Times [edited]

Pink eye, a viral eye infection that could lead to vision loss, is
sweeping through public schools in the CNMI [Commonwealth of the
Northern Mariana Islands], with 323 cases among its students and some
teachers. According to a Public School System report obtained by the
Saipan Tribune yesterday, [Wed 24 Oct 2007] at least 6 schools on
Saipan and one on Rota have reported schoolchildren and teachers
contracting the eye disease.

Kagman Elementary School posted the highest number of pink eye
infections with 87 cases, 2 of them teachers. The majority of the
infected children are in 3rd grade, totaling 20, while 17 are
kindergarten pupils. Following Kagman Elementary School is the
William S. Reyes Elementary School (WSR) with 80 cases: 75 students
and 5 teachers. Of these, 16 are 2nd grade students, while 15 are in
6th grade. Oleai Elementary School recorded 79 schoolchildren with
pink eye. No teachers there have been infected. Garapan Elementary
School reported 36 cases, while Dandan Elementary School has 35.
Gregorio T. Camacho Elementary School (GES) only has 5 cases, while
Sinapalo Elementary School on Rota reported one case.

WSR Elementary School vice principal Naomi Nishimura told Saipan
Tribune that a child who exhibits early signs of the infection is
usually brought to the main office for observation. If confirmed, the
school requires the child's parents to pick up the child from school.
Nishimura said parents are advised to have the child's eye checked in
an eye clinic and for the student to refrain from going to school
until the infection disappears. Those with severe eye infections take
about a week to completely recover. To make up for missing regular
classes, "the teachers provide assignments to students while they
stay home," she said.

GES principal Boni R. Gomez said whenever a student shows early signs
of the infection, teachers refer them to the school nurse, who
assesses whether the infection is only redness, the result of an
allergy, or the onset of pink eye. Once found to be a pink eye
infection, the student is advised to go home for proper treatment and recovery.

Marianas Eye Institute director David Khorram, M.D. said his clinic
has been receiving at least 12 patients a day for pink eye treatment
and consultations. Most patients complain of pain and itchiness in
their eyes. Khorram said the current outbreak is one of the more
severe forms of pink eye infection, falling into a class known as
"hemorrhagic epidemic kerato-conjunctivitis," with blood in the eyes.
The eye specialist said the disease is caused by a virus that could
be transmitted through physical contact. The symptoms of the
infection include redness of the eyes, extreme irritation, swelling
of the eyes, photosensitivity, and the presence of tears.

Cancer Killing Virus

Recently, researchers at Stanford have been developed a Vaccina virus to target and kill cancer cells. What's new about this cancer-killing virus is that it also stimulates the production of white blood cells to target the cancer cells. It was successfully used to suppress colon tumors on rabbits.

For more information at


Thursday, October 25, 2007

I <3 Taiwan

There are outbreaks of Coxsackievirus A24 in Taiwan!
Similar to Julia's previous article, the people are suffering from a disease known as "acute hemorrhagic conjuctivitis" more commonly known as pink eye. There are a total of 157 elementary and junior high school students infected as of Tuesday.

It's a long shot but I wonder if Julia's case and the case in Taiwan are related.

To find out more,

In addition if you want more information about the Cold Medicine issues that are occuring, here's a link to CNN. FDA panel: No Cold Medicines to Children Under 6.


Maybe prions aren't to blame for BSE

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is thought to be caused by prions, but researchers in the UK have demonstrated the occurrence of BSE-like symptoms in mice without the characteristic holes in the brain. Just when you think you've answered one question, another one pops up.

Hemorrhagic epidemic kerato-conjunctivitis!

Conjunctivitis = pink eye
Keratoconjunctivitis = + corneal inflammation

Ever had pink eye? Well pink eye, know as keratoconjunctivitis, is a viral eye infection that is sweeping through public school in the Northern Mariana Islands. There have been 323 cases reported thus far. Some schools have many as 87 cases, with the majority of infected children in the 3rd grade, followed by kindegarteners. Most of the infections have been involving children - very few teachers have developed pink eye. Eye doctors in the Mariana islands report that they have been receiving at least 12 patients a day for pink eye treatment. Doctors report that the current outbreak is one of the more severe forms of pink eye, classified as "hemorrhagic epidemic kerato-conjunctivitis," resulting with blood in the eyes.


A few terms:
conjunctivitis = pink eye (symptoms include redness of the eyes, extreme irritation, swelling, photosensitivity, tears)
keratoconjunctivitis = pink eye + cornal inflammation

Julia (ok, I think I've caught up now...)

The link for the Canadian mumps article is

The 2007 Canadian Mumps Epidemic!!

Back again concerning our northern neighbors...

While WNV is on the decline, mumps is running westward across Canada. 3 student teachers have recently come down with mumps at the University of Prince Edward Island (anyone read Anne of Green Gables?!?), causing practicums to be postponed. If no new cases are reported, student are allowed to return to practical teaching in mid November.

These are the most recent cases of mumps in the 2007 Canadian mumps epidemic, which originated in New Brunswick (north of Maine) as has spread westward as university students returned home from school. As of October 12, 2007, 848 cases of mumps have been reported from 9 of the 13 Canadian provines and territories, but remains centered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Mumps is caused by a paramyxovirus and is spread from person to person by saliva droplets.


Women and children first...

A draft of the federal plan outlining the distribution of vaccines in the event of an influenza pandemic, detailing that the first in line would be those people "vital to national security, vital to battling the pandemic, and vital to enabling a functioning society." This first tier of patients include pregnant women and infants, medial and emergency workers, and the military.

-Rebecca Hebner

West Nile Virus Update for the Western Hemisphere

In Canada, health officials believe the WNV transmission season is ending with the onset of colder weather! The number of birds being submitted for testing is decreasing (at least in Canada, I think), and no new WNV positivies are being reported.

But...did you know that in the US, WN fever is NOT currently on the list of nationally notifiable disease due to the less sever cases that show no evidence of neuroinvasion that are typical of the WN fever? However, West Nile meningitis and West Nile encephalitis do refer to severe disease cases where the virus does invade the brain. Either way, it is optional whether or not state health departments in the US have to report West Nile fever cases to the CDC.

But data is being collected on a weekly basis from state and local health departments. Pretty much all the states (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, Maine - hmm may have missed one. I had to read the list while singing the 50 state song in my head to see which ones weren't listed) have cases report of human, avian, animal, or mosquito WNV infections. I had no idea the virus was that well spread in the US!

Check it out on PROMed.

Julia Liebner

hep c in tainted blood products in japan

There were 165 people exposed to HCV after receiving tainted blood products at a hospital in Japan. For over five years, the Ministry of Health denied that it knew that the blood products were tainted and there is now an investigation going on to figure out why they covered up the truth. The company says it didn't tell the patients in order to "protect [their] privacy". Sounds like fishy logic to me.


Possible Vaccine Failure in India???

So my bad: my last post about this virus said it was Japanese Encephalitis. Apparently three major institutions checked it, and they haven't confirmed it. (Media is confused on the topic.) Healthworkers are hugely opposed to the idea of it being Japanese encephalitis virus because they immunized 7.5 MILLION children for it in the past year. So...did the virus mutate? What is going on here? They are actually fogging the area because it might be airborne.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Good vs. Evil (Viruses): Adenovirus Possibly Key in Beating down H5N1

A molecular virologist from Purdue University, Suresh Mittal, is investigating a new way to provide broader immunity to various strains of the influenza virus by using adenovirus as the transmitting agent. There are multiple benefits of converting adenovirus into an avian flu vaccine. One: adenovirus can be grown in large amounts quickly -- unlike vaccines made via fertilized chicken eggs which take a couple months. H5N1 infects chickens too, so this mode of creating vaccines would be completely compromised in the event of a pandemic. Two: adenovirus can hold avian flu viral components and provide a broad range of immunity from multiple strains of avian influenza; current vaccines made with eggs only target one particular strain, which is problematic considering the H5N1 virus is ever mutating. If Mittal is successful with this vaccine, concerns about worldwide mortality and morbidity in what scientists view as an inevitable avian influenza outbreak will be greatly assuaged.

-Tad Henry

More good viruses! sort of...

Continuing with my theme this week, which is apparently the attempted redemption of virus's reputations, I've found another example of viruses being put to good use. Apparently new research indicates that Cytomegalovirus may help doctors target cancer cells in the brain. The virus is present in upwards of 90% of cancer patients with the deadliest form of brain cancer. Scientists are hoping that by developing a vaccine for CMV they might be able to boost the body's immune response to the brain tumor cells and help kill the tumors. So indirectly the virus may actually help save lives!

Jon Dyal

Prepare to be Disgusted!

I know someone posted an article on hand washing earlier. This one is similar, but it includes many other prevention techniques. It lists 12 places in a day you may encounter a lot of bacteria and viruses and then gives tips on how to protect yourself. A lot of them are more focused on bacteria, but a few apply to viruses.

Jasmeen Miah

FluMist Expands

This is interesting since we just talked about the flu vaccine versus the nasal spray, FluMist. The FDA just approved the aerosolized vaccine for children as young as 2. Formerly, children younger than 5 could only receive a flu shot. I guess this is good for all those kids who hate shots and go screaming down the hall and/or cling to the underside of a table (like I did when I was little haha). But, according to what Professor Siegel said, I guess it could be annoying for an hour or so.

Jasmeen Miah


Major Condom Recall in South Africa

"South Africa is recalling millions of locally manufactured condoms after tens of thousands failed an air burst test, dealing a further blow to the country's campaign to prevent the spread of AIDS.",8599,1675193,00.html

- Elizabeth

Dengue, Dengue, Dengue...(sigh)

1. Cayman Islands-two confirmed cases of Dengue, which are hypothesized to be imported and isolated (the two individuals had travelled to 2 different countries prior to visiting the Cayman Islands)

2. Jamaica-282 confirmed cases of Dengue, with 1770 suspected cases; 11 suspected cases of deadly DHF (secondary infection)

3. Barbados (Uh, oh Chad)-255 confirmed cases (as of end of Sept), 592 suspected cases, currently no reported cases of deadly DHF

4. Mexico-22, 943 Dengue infections, 5,000 are infected with fatal hemorrhagic variant
**in 2000, only one case of the hemorrhagic variant was found in every 50 cases; now in 2007 the ratio is about one in five
**In Mexico, the existing DENV 4 infection may develop into the hemorrhagic variant, but luckily the mortality caused by the hemorrhagic variant is still currently low...only 6 have died so far this year of this variant)

5. Honduras-13 deaths so far in 2007; about 1230 of DHF type have been confirmed and about 24, 207 cases of classic dengue fever have been confirmed thus far; in 2006 68 people died of DHF

6. Brazil (San Paulo)- 1 in every 5 municipalities is facing an epidemic (due to worsening of disease during the summer months); the Ministry of Health has declared the current state of infections as an "epidemic" when 300 cases occur per 1000 inhabitants; this year 127 of the 645 San Paulo cities have registered at least this level (300 per 100,000); state of epidemic has only been declared in these individual cities, not the entire state
**Sales is the city with the highest rate of Dengue in 2007: 1 in 20

-Becca Briggs

Aren't Birds Great?

Just this past weekend, a young Indonesian girl died of what doctors and local officials suspected to be avian flu. She was admitted to the hospital on the island of Sumatra just this past Saturday, displaying symptoms characteristic of H5N1 infection. Considering that Indonesia has already had 88 confirmed cases of H5N1 infection and that the virus is endemic in the birds that widely populate the area H5N1 was not an unlikely hypothesis. On Monday, officials confirmed that the tests came back negative: the young girl did not die of avian flu. However, this little scare of H5N1 infection has re-affirmed locals' fears of an H5N1 outbreak. Scientists worldwide are very concerned that H5N1 may mutate in the near future and achieve a form that is more easily transmitted between humans...thereby triggering a global pandemic. Scientists and other officials are especially concerned because with Indonesia having a plentitude of vector for H5N1 (all the local bird species that carry H5N1) and also being the fourth most populous nation in the world, there is substantial risk of a global pandemic should such a mutation occur in Indonesia.

Becca Briggs

Encephalitis in India

Hey guys,
I'm not sure that they have identified Japanese encephalitis virus as the 'mysterious disease' that Rohan had talked about in India. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary called a major meeting to come up with preventative and control measures for the disease. It has already killed 400 people and has caused over 1200 cases from this state in the past year. With a population as large as India's, you can imagine how fast it might spread! It will be interesting to watch this unfold.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stanford part of expanded liver cancer outreach education

The Asian Liver Center at Stanford has partnered with the American Cancer Society California Chinese Unit to develop a new outreach program aimed at the Bay Area Asian American population. The program will offer educational panels about hepatitis B with free on-site screening tests.
According to the article (in yesterday's Palo Alto Daily news), San Francisco has the highest rate of liver cancer in the country. This is because of the large Asian American in the area and hepatitis B, the virus that can lead to liver cancer, infects Asian Americans at a higher rate than other populations.

For more information, check out the Asian Liver Center's website: or the American Cancer Society Northern California Chinese Unit:

-Becky Grossman-Kahn

Prevent Dengue with the 4 S's!

Posted by Jessie

Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the Philippines are entering their wet "summer" season. The rainy season brings more than just a few storm clouds and typhoons, however; because of poor water/drainage systems, all the rain water has nowhere to go and collects into stagnant pools-- a public health ministry's worst nightmare and a virologists' study site.

Just this last week, the Philippine Department of Health released a public notice to warn people about diseases, such as dengue, that are preventable. Even in the dry months, dengue was already a problem (with 12,734 reported cases and 130 deaths in the Philippines in the first half of 2007).

I thought the "4-S campaign" of the Filipino Department of Health was clever:

* Search and destroy possible breeding grounds for dengue-carrying mosquitoes, such as old tired, broken vases, and bottle caps
* Sleeved shirts (long) and pants for protection
* Seek health professionals for fever if it persists for more than 2 days
* Say no to indiscrimiate fogging.

I'm not sure what that last one means, but I thought recommendations using those 4 S's were really clever...

Full Article

Australia attempts to ban HIV immigrants

Posted by Marisa Dowling

On Friday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard stated that the Australian government is investigating means of tightening immigration restrictions against people with HIV.

HIV-AIDS social workers have come out strongly against this, stating the Minister is blaming sufferers for their illness and that such measures are irrational and immoral.

To aid his position, the Minister cites statistics that state that 20% of newly diagnosed HIV cases are from recently arrived immigrants.

Under current policy, potential immigrants are already tested for HIV, and are already normally rejected due their "unfair" burden on their new country's healthcare system. Many other countries, including the United States, employ this practice.

Full Article

Good viruses after all

Hey guys, this may not be new to some of you, but I ran across it this morning and thought it was so hot I had to share. Apparently these people at MIT have been able to manipulate viruses into making ultra tiny batteries! Through genetic engineering they make the viruses collect metals like Cobalt Oxide and gold, and then create a nano-sized plate with the viruses and metals. This plate works as an anode because the viral capsids are negatively charged. I wasn't able to find out which specific virus they're using, but how cool!

Jon Dyal

Risk Factors for Liver Cancer

In light of the recent problem set question on viruses that have oncogenic potential, an article published 2 days ago in the New York Times talks about a major cause of liver cancer. Viruses that cause hepatitis B (HBV of hepadnaviridae) and C (HCV of flaviviridae)can lead to chronic infections that initiate tumorigenesis.

There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B used in this country, but not used as routinely around the world. The frequency of liver cancer is rising in part due to immigration. During the 1960s and 1970s, Hepatitis C was spread among IV drug users. There is no vaccine for Hep C.

Check out the article here:


Troops and key doctors will be first to receive U.S. bird flu shots

The Department of Health and Human Services has designed an emergency response plan in the case of a bird flu pandemic, which proposes creating four categories of people to be immunized with the bird flu vaccine, and vaccinating the top tier of each category first. The categories are homeland and national security, critical infrastructure, health and community support services and the general population--deployed military troops, emergency workers, pregnant women and children and among those who will receive first access to vaccines.

Companies are working to make a vaccine against H5N1, but the fact is that when a pandemic hits, scientists won't be able to develop a truly effective vaccine until they have samples of the pandemic virus strain--once the pandemic is already under way. Because of this, the U.S. government has recognized the need to prioritize which groups will have access to limited vaccine supplies!

The plan is going to be released at public meetings and online, for public review and revisions. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out!


Monday, October 22, 2007

it lives! ...maybe?

On a Halloween-y note, scientists are hard at work creating life from scratch, starting with a minimal genome while still trying to produce critters that is technically "alive". It's an interesting to think about, they based the genome off Mycoplasma genitalium, then knocked out genes until it could no longer function. What would happen if they took a large viral genome like pox and added genes until it "lived"?
Dr. Frankenstein would be proud.

-Rebecca Hebner

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mystery virus death toll rises in India

An unidentified virus has killed a dozen people in the northern state of UP in India. The virus and its mode of transmission are unknown, although some suspect it to be a variation of Japanese encephalitis.


Replacing Pap Smears?

There may be a more effective way to screen for HPV and cervical cancers. The new method is the HPV test. It has been shown to detect cancers 95% of the time, wheras the Pap smear detected cancers only 55% of the time. There are more false positives with the HPV test, but it only rises from 3% with the Pap to 6%. RIght now, the test is available only for women over their 30s who also get a Pap smear. The hope is to see if it is possible to move to using it soley.

Jasmeen Miah

Ebola viruses 'capable of merging' into new strains

Scientists have discovered that a strain of Ebola virus isolated from wild apes in the Gabon/Congo region belongs to a new lineage and is capable of genetically merging with other strains of the virus to create new variants.

This ability of the lethal virus to 'recombine' genetic material has important implications for vaccine development, write the researchers. A vaccine that is made up of weakened viruses could merge with the wild virus to form new strains, making the spread of the virus in humans and apes harder to predict and control.


Great apes face not just bush meat and deforestation hardships; Ebola is adding to the toll

The most common type of gorilla, the Western Gorilla, is now critically endangered. The fate of the gorilla is looking pretty dismal as commercial hunting, loss of habitat (largely due to palm oil plantations), and Ebola wreak havoc. Russ Mittermeier, head of IUCN's Primate Specialist Group, says, "We could fit all of the remaining great apes in the world into 2 or 3 large football stadiums." The Western Gorillas main subspecies, the Western Lowland Gorilla, has been decimated in the past 15 years by the Ebola virus -- 1/3 of the gorillas in protected areas have been effectively killed off. Peter Walsh, a member if IUCN's Primate Specialist Group, says, "The rate of decline is dizzying. If it continues, we'll lose them in 10-12 years." The sad part is, gorilla populations may never rebound. Females typically do not have their first offspring until 10 years of age and thereafter only give birth every five years. Immediate, decisive action must be taken. Now the pressure is really on, as the measures to save the gorilla from extinction are two-fold: protecting their habitat and developing a vaccine.

-Tad Henry

Virus-linked cancers on the rise

While US cancer deaths have been decreasing by 2.1% annually, deaths from Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C-linked cancers are becoming more frequent.


HIV vaccine development effort update

As of symposium on HIV vaccine development in Cape Town on October, 11th, The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise appointed Dr. Alan Bernsteinof as its premier executive director. Bernsteinof was the founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and will now be at the forefront of the international alliance working to develop an HIV vaccine, comprised of researchers, funders and advocates.

The Enterprise was initially proposed by 24 pivotal HIV vaccine researchers in 2003 and has mobilized over $750 million US dollars for the vaccine development effort. According to The Enterprise’s website (, the organization focuses on six specific areas of research:

1)vaccine discovery
2)laboratory standardization
3)product development and manufacturing
4)clinical trials capacity
5)regulatory issues
6)intellectual property (

The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise is also opening its first independent secretariat in New York, which Dr. Bernsteinof will have a critical role.

According to the Enterprises press release regarding the secretariat's opening,
"[t]he US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded up to US$7 million over the next seven years, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $20 million over the next four years to support the secretariat’s activities".


US Companies Prepare for Possible Avian Flu Pandemic

The US Treasury ran a computer-simulated program to simulate the effects of an avian flu pandemic on the US economy. More than 2,500 insurance companies and banks participated. They talked about it on NPR:

Crazy that a virus could put the entire global economy in danger.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

T-cell exhaustion reversed

A new study looking at immune responses to some of the big viral killers (HIV, Hep B etc) and cancers show that chronic infection exhausts the T cells over time, but that by blocking some of the pathways of this exhaustion process, it can sometimes reverse the T-cell exhaustion.

The study was done in mice, but the authors say that the findings have implications for human infections as well.

The study article was published in Immunity on October 18th, 2007, but also got covered by ScienceDaily.

Interesting to see where this research goes!


West Nile Virus Can Make Your Limbs Unresponsive!

Researchers found that West Nile Virus can enter nerve cells, replicate, and move to infect other nearby nerve cells. By doing this, it is able to penetrate into the CNS and cause acute flaccid paralysis, which can lead to limbs going limp and being unresponsive. Currently, there is no treatment for this.

Fortunately, the researchers showed that injection of a West Nile antibody prevented this condition in animals models.

Read the article


Friday, October 19, 2007

Yellow Fever Vaccine Associated Deaths in Peru

Since the article is in summary, I'm going to copy and paste it here and provide the Spanish Link.

A 73-year-old man from Nazca is the 3rd presumed
fatality as a result of the application of yellow
fever vaccine. An autopsy will be performed in
Lima in order to confirm that the cause of death
is the same as that of the young woman, a
university student, who died a few days ago.

Meanwhile, there are other 3 people under medical
observation at Ica Regional Hospital. They
present the same symptoms as the 2 victims:
diarrhea and fever.

A 79-year-old man [73 years old according to
other media reports] is the 3rd victim of the
alleged adverse reaction to yellow fever vaccine
that has been reported over the past 5 days in
Ica. According to the Regional Hospital in Ica,
the cause of death was "multiorgan dysfunction."

Clarens Campos, attending physician and head of
the Epidemiology Department of the hospital said,
"The patient was rushed to the hospital from
Nazca, with irregular hearth rhythm and acute
renal failure added to a severe pulmonary
problem, which resulted in his death given his
old age."

However, the patient's children maintained the
man was in good health before he and his wife,
66, were vaccinated by nurses who setup an
ambulatory post in Nazca's Central Market. "They
vaccinated them without asking their age." they

The regional health director, Bryan Donayre,
indicated that the person responsible for the
vaccination campaign is preparing a report to
justify the vaccination of elderly people given
that it is indicated for people between 15 and 59
years of age.

The Ministry of Health, Carlos Vallejos, said
only that the cause of the deaths would be
revealed when the results of tests on samples
sent to Brazil and the United States become

There are 13 persons that remain under
observation in Ica's regional hospital (8) and
San Jose de Chincha Hospital (5), after reporting
adverse reactions to the yellow fever vaccine.

According to the Pan American World Health
Organization (PAHO), during 2007, there have been
11 deaths attributed to yellow fever vaccine
associated viscerotropic (YFV-AVD) disease and 26
cases of encephalitis [neurotropic (YFV-AND)

The vaccine used in Ica is produced by
Biomanguinhos, a laboratory that undergoes strict
quality control evaluations.

PAHO performs tests on the vaccines.



2007 CDC Report of West Nile Virus Activity

The CDC just released a report detailing the number of cases of West Nile Virus in the United States in 2007. It's categorized by syndromes- encephalitis/meningitis (31% of cases) and fever (66% of cases). The state with the most reported cases? Colorado...

Check it out at


James Watson Controversy

Watson has been heavily criticized for comments he made in an interview over the weekend, in which he expressed his fear for the future of the continent of Africa, as studies suggest that Africans are not as smart as Europeans. Wow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Won't somebody puh-lease think of the children?!

So American Academy of Pediatrics and the Trust for America's Health thinks that America's pandemic plans for a potential poultry plague are poorly planned. They are concerned for children's welfare if schools close, and how to protect children in the first place (46% of reported deaths are among people 19 or under.)

"Report: Flu Plans Overlook Children"
USA Today (10/18/07) P. 8D

-Rebecca Hebner

Bird flu vaccine candidate

Medicago is developing a highly immunogenic vaccine for H5N1 from virus like particles (VLP).


For all the Mac users out there...

As we all know, Al Gore and the U.N Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for spreading awareness on the impact of global warming on our planet. The fact that global warming is a problem is old news to Humans and Viruses students because global warming is the answer to all questions.

To do your part in keeping track of international global warming news, Mac users can download the Widget. For PC users, Widgets are applications found on the dashboard of Mac computers and can range from reference databases to the timely Halloween costume generator.

This widget displays current news and shows the planet's estimated accumulated carbon footprint from January 1, 2007.

So why is this widget applicable to Humans and Viruses? Global warming can greatly affect the incidence of diseases transmitted by mosquitos because they are relocating to locations around the world that are warmer and now more habitable than before. Erratic weather patterns (floods, hurricanes) create standing water in places where mosquito infestation was not a problem previously. Proper education of the effects of global warming can help us combat emerging infectious diseases (and prevent our planet from withering away).


MMR Vaccine & Autism

In the spirit of last week's lecture focusing on Rubella and the MMR vaccine, here are some articles meant to dispel the 'crazies' who claim autism is a severe side effect of the vaccine.

Interestingly, supporters of the MMR vaccine as a major cause of autism site two observations as 'proof':
1. The incidence of autism has increased steadily since the MMR vaccine was introduced
2. Children with the regressive form of autism tend to show symptoms of disease around the time that the vaccine is administered

Thankfully, both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have confirmed that the vaccine does not induce autism.

NYTimes link:
CDC Site:


New Malaria Vaccine!!

The New York Times just published an article about a new malaria vaccine that is shown to work in infants less than a year old, the age group must vulnerable to vaccination risks. The vaccine, called RTS,S, or Mosquirix, has been shown to reduce the risk of catching malaria by 65% after three shots in 214 babies in Mozambique. Produced by GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine could be ready for distribution by 2012 if it passes larger clinical trials set to start in seven countries next year. Glaxo has been working on the vaccine for over 20 years and anticipates spending up to $600 million on it by the time it reaches the market.

Here's a link to the article if you want to learn more:

yay vaccines,

Did you use soap?

Another great achievement in the annals of science: The Cochrane Collaboration issued a review revealing that hand-washing is the most effective way to stunt the spread of viruses spread via a respiratory route. These recommendations can help prevent a multitude of outbreaks, from the common cold viruses to deadly strains of flu. So lather up folks!

MC Masters

Someone clearly didn't take humans and viruses....

"This is North Scotland" recently ran the headline "Inverness-shire Woman Passes Deadly MRSA Virus to Her Springer Spaniel." Clearly if this reporter had checked his facts he would have learned that that troublesome superbug, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), is actually a bacterial infection. Those crazy Scots!

Check it out:

From: MC Masters

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Using religion to avoid vaccines

Although all 50 states have some requirement that youngsters be immunized against such childhood diseases as measles, mumps, chickenpox, diphtheria and whooping cough, 28 states, including Florida, Massachusetts and New York, allow parents to opt out for medical or religious reasons only. In recent years, the numbers of religious exemptions for kindergartners has dramatically increased, doubling or tripling in some states.

Many skeptics of the anti-vaccine movement accuse that parents citing religious reasons are really afraid to give their children vaccinations because of autism or other complications. Either way, unvaccinated children can spread diseases to others who have not gotten their shots or those for whom vaccinations provided less-than-complete protection. The article cites several relevant (and scary!) examples of this. The anti-vaccine movement will no doubt continue to stir conflict over the social and ethical aspects of disease prevention.



horse flu

In Australia, many horses are coming down with equine influenza. In order to stop the spread of the virus, law enforcement is requiring disinfection upon leaving infected properties. Many don't follow this rule, so the virus is spreading.


Structure Of Influenza B Virus Protein Gives Clues To Next Pandemic

A new study that compares the structure of influenza B virus hemagglutinin (which infects only humans) with a similar protein on influenza A virus (which infects birds and humans, and has been the source of past global pandemics) may provide insight into how avian flu virus must change to infect humans easily.


Oops, Bad Link

Here it is:

Link to Article

Conjunctivitis Breakout in China Causes Tension between CDC and Chinese Nationalist Party

Authorities from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) slammed the doors on the CDC yesterday, accusing them of not taking a conjunctivitis outbreak that infected over 10,000 students seriously (conjunctivitis is more commonly known as pinkeye, and in this case was caused by Coxackievirus type 24, an enterovirus).

Link to the article


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dengue Fever Rife in Caribbean: Is Global Warming Implicated?

Multiple factors have come into play to produce a large scale dengue epidemic in the Caribbean region. According to an MSNBC article, the number of dengue fever cases are likely to top one million in the hemisphere by the end of 2007. There has been a recent escalation in the number of cases because the rainy season is now in full force. An unprecedented increase in the number of people living in crowded, urban areas (where there is a lack of public services) coupled with "radical, destabalizing" climate changes due to global warming have contributed significantly to this epidemiological disaster. Increased travel and tourism have not helped to slow the epidemic. For the time being, before a vaccine is developed, it is imperative that countries raise awareness on the issue through education and by urging its citizens to minimize stagnant pools of water.

-Tad Henry

Obesity causing Virus?

Posted by: Marisa Dowling

Not new, but definitely caught my eye.

University of Wisconsin in Madison scientists found that mice and chickens infected with cold-symptom causing human adenovirus-36 were more obese than non-infected animals. And even more interestingly, adenovirus-36 is more common among overweight people (20-30% v 5%).

Through their experiments, the researchers found that infected animals weighed 7% more than non-infected animals, but their bodies had two times as much fat.

Considering that other viruses are known to cause chronic conditions, it may not be so far-fetched that a virus may play a partial/facilitative role in obesity.

Full Article

Herpes Virus used in cancer treatment

Herpes Virus Can Be Used As Nanomachines For Cancer Treatment

No surprise- Dengue is on the rise!

Many of us are in Environmental Change and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and have learned about possible reasons for the recent increase in Dengue- likewise it was a probelm set question this week. Also, my best friend from home was infected with Dengue while she was in Thailand this summer, so I'm Dengue has certainly been on my mind recently.


Dengue cases up sharply in Latin America, Asia

Global health officials have noted sharp rises in the number of dengue fever cases in recent months, particularly in Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian countries where the disease is endemic.

A recent surveillance update from the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Southeast Asia office in New Delhi reported that Thailand has more than 40,000 cases so far this year, reflecting a 27% increase over 2006, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) reported on Oct 9. Indonesia's total of 100,000 cases represents a 10% increase over last year, and Myanmar has reported almost 12,000 cases—a third more than it reported in 2006.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which tracks and manages health issues for the WHO in Latin American and Caribbean countries, reported on Oct 4 that the disease is reaching epidemic levels in some of the locations it monitors. In a statement released to journalists, the organization said it has recorded 630,356 cases so far this year, an 11% increase from 2006. Of this year's cases, 12,147 were the more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), and 183 cases were fatal.

Dengue fever is a flu-like illness transmitted by certain species of Aedes mosquitoes. Symptoms include headaches, rashes, cramps, and back and muscle pain. DHF, a potentially deadly complication, is characterized by high fever, bleeding, thrombocytopenia, increased vascular permeability, and in particularly severe cases, circulatory failure. No effective treatment or preventive vaccine is available.

The virus occurs in four serotypes, and infection with any one induces immunity only to that serotype, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A second infection with a different serotype increases a person's risk for DHF.

Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, PAHO's manager of health surveillance and disease management, said in the press release that all four dengue serotypes were in circulation, "which increases the risk for appearance of the most serious forms of the disease—namely, dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome."

For the first time, Paraguay has reported cases of hemorrhagic fever and deaths from the disease this year, Barbosa da Silva said.

Southernmost Latin American countries have accounted for 60% of the region's dengue cases, with Brazil reporting the most, the PAHO report said. The Andean region has had 19% of the cases, with Columbia and Venezuela reporting the highest numbers. Other countries reporting high rates are French Guiana, Martinique, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

PAHO's report says Mexico has reported 67,563 dengue cases, of which 5,212 involved hemorrhagic fever.

Health officials in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, on the US border, recently reported 71 pending or confirmed dengue fever cases, according to an Oct 9 report in the Laredo Morning Times.

A recent article in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said that dengue fever is gaining a stronger foothold in southern Texas. The report documented the first DHF case in a Texas resident native to the Texas-Mexico border area and found that 38% of surveyed Brownsville, Tex., residents had IgG antibodies to dengue, indicating that a substantial proportion of the city population had been infected with the virus.

Puerto Rico's health department is recording 500 cases a week, with a cumulative of 6,175 cases and 4 deaths this year, according to a Reuters report. Local press reports in the Dominican Republic say the country has logged 6,000 cases and 30 deaths.

PAHO noted that one contributing factor is waste tires and dumps filled with discarded plastic that create potential breeding sites for mosquitoes.

In July, the WHO's Western Pacific regional office in Manila warned countries in the area that a major dengue outbreak could occur unless they quickly undertook coordinated efforts to curb the spread of the disease. The WHO said the disease had arrived earlier than usual, but it was difficult to estimate the magnitude of the outbreak because official information from most of the counties was incomplete.

John Ehrenberg, a WHO regional adviser, said several factors were contributing to the spread of dengue: population explosion, migration, and rapid urban growth, all of which strain public health services and access to clean water.

"People exposed to these settings often rely on containers to collect water for their own drinking supply. These containers can become mosquito-breeding sites," he said. "Water storage practices are therefore a key target of dengue prevention and control programs."

See also:

Aug 9 CIDRAP News story "Dengue fever expanding its foothold in Texas"

July 23 WHO Western Pacific Regional Office press release

Jun 21 Eurosurveillance report on dengue status and implications for Europe

CDC information on dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever

Government pays big bucks for development of eczema safe Smallpox vaccine

Image of a 22 year old woman who developed Eczema vaccinatum. Photo credit:

Do you have atopic dermatitis, also called eczema? You certainly aren't alone. Approximately 10 to 15% of the US population has eczema, and it is estimated that around the same amount of Americans have a medical history with the common skin condition.

Your red, bumpy eczema might just be annoying, but it could be deadly if it is ever necessary that you receive the current smallpox vaccine. The problem is that the smallpox vaccine is contraindicated in individuals with eczema, those with a previous history of eczema, and even those living in close quarters with family members who have the condition. Individuals with eczema have an extremely high risk of developing a condition called eczema vaccinatum, in which the live virus in the vaccine spreads through the body and causes severe rashes over the area once affected by the eczema. The CDC recommends that members of this large, high-risk population NOT be vaccinated against smallpox.

The federal government has expanded a previous contract with a company called Bavarian Nordic by $15 million with the hopes of developing a new smallpox vaccine that would be tolerated by those with atopic dermatitis. The contract provides the funding needed to test the experimental vaccine IMVAMUNE in Phase II trials.

Developing a smallpox vaccine that would be safe for this considerable high-risk portion of the US population is of strategic importance.

The press release about IVAMUNE and Bavarian Nordic is here. Bavarian Nordic is headquartered in Denmark, but operates a subsidiary right next door in Mountain View!

Still interested? Check out this great article about the search for the pathogenesis underlying the vaccinia-eczema relationship.

Lauren Smith

PS. As a child, I had pretty severe eczema. There's no way I could get the current smallpox vaccine!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Just Kidding...

It was reported on Thursday, October 11th that a few sheep and cattle about 300km outside Baghdad were displaying odd symptoms that might have been indicative of infection by Rift Valley Fever Virus. These animals were immediately tested by veterinary experts and possible confirmation of one case was announced. However, it was announced today that the cases of mortality in the livestock were not due to Rift Valley Fever, but instead were attributed to hemorrhagic septicemia. It is thought that recent cases of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) that are endemic to the area may have played a role in the clinical recognition, identification, and faulty diagnosis mainly because livestock with FMD, as well as livestock with RVF, die from infarction and myocarditis.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Killer disease hits shrimp exports hard

A shrimp-killing virus hits fanglers hard in India.


(fangler= farm angler)

Another Bird Flu Death

This makes me sad :( According to the Indonesian Health Ministry an Indonesian boy died from bird flu in the capital yesterday, bringing the country's death toll from the virus to 88.

The 12 year old junior high school student from Tangerang, on Jakarta's south western outskirts, died after being treated for 5 days at Persahabatan Hospital -- a designed bird-flu hospital in Jakarta -- said Daswir Nurdin of the ministry's bird flu center. "He was reported to have had contact with dead chickens close to his school," Nurdin said, adding that the boy 1st developed breathing problems and a fever on 30 Sep 2007 and initially visited a local clinic. The boy was brought to Persahabatan on Tuesday [9 Oct 2007], Nurdin said. "His death raised Indonesia's death toll of bird flu to 88 deaths out of 109 cases, he said.

Indonesia has been hardest hit by the virus since it began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003. Its human death toll now accounts for almost half of the recorded 200 fatalities worldwide [actually 88 of 202 worldwide (43.6 percent) as of 14 Oct 2007 - Mod.CP], according to the World Health Organization.


Wider prevalence of Adenovirus 21

A new test was developed by the CDC that showed the adenovirus 21 was more common and more dangerous than previously thought.

Adenoviruses are responsible for the stomach flu, common cold and more serious syndromes such as myocarditis. Adenovirus 21 is especially dangerous for immuno-suppressed patients, killing 50%.

Check out
for more information


Flu shots at Vaden!

Sorry for the third post, but I just saw this and thought everyone would like to know.

Influenza vaccine clinics are scheduled at Vaden Health Center at 866
Campus Drive on the following Wednesday afternoons from 3:00 pm to
6:00 pm:

October 17, 2007
October 24, 2007
October 31, 2007
November 7, 2007
November 14, 2007
(no clinic on Nov. 21)
November 28, 2007
December 5, 2007

The vaccine will not be given to individuals with severe cold or other
infection or who have an allergy to eggs. Pregnant women in their
first trimester will require medical clearance from their obstetrician.

University employees will not be charged for the vaccine. Please
bring your Stanford Employee ID. Their spouses/domestic partners can
receive the vaccine at Vaden Health Center for $22. The term
"employees" includes faculty, staff, emeritus faculty, retired staff,
medical school and research faculty and staff. It does not include
Stanford Hospital and Clinics employees.

The cost for students and spouses/domestic partners is $22. For
students enrolled in Cardinal Care the cost is $11. Medical students
must present their Medical Student ID card for a free shot.


Scientists explain chocolate cravings

This has absolutely nothing to do with viruses or the class, but I thought it was interesting. And it makes me think of those wonderful chocolate-chip bagels that was brought to class last time.;_ylt=AsmqVqiEsEAa6tVv8Rkh0knVJRIF


Man to row... er... for AIDS

I always find it fascinating and odd what people come up with in order to get people to donate to good causes. I guess this is creative: a man is going to attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean in order to raise awareness for AIDS. This will be the second time that he will try this (his first boat sank... sad). I don't know how HIV and boats are really related, but I guess his publicizing is going well, because, well, people like me are posting it on blogs.


Kind of old news, but canine rabies was declared eliminated in the US

Well done, America! We were declared canine rabies free. This accomplishment was achieved by dog licensing and vaccination. Unfortunately, a lot of other animals can still carry rabies, so watch out!

CDC Article Link

Also, can you guys at least once type the specific virus(es) addressed in your article, so people can just search a virus in the search function if they aren't sure about whether their article was posted or not? For example, the 4 people who re-posted the polio vaccine article could just type "polio" into the search and be shown all the article with polio in it, and would see someone already posted the vaccine one.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

H5N1 kills 88th in Indonesia


New HIV drug

The FDA has approved new drug by Merck to fight HIV. It is in a new class of drugs--integrase inhibitors, intended to work for those who are resistant to all the current protease inhibitors and reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Integrase is the enzynme that HIV uses to insert it's genome into the host's


Chicken Soup and Dwight Schrute

With the recent removal of children's cold medicine from drugstore shelves, researchers are considering the effects of chicken soup as a cold remedy. Turns out, it's more than a placebo!

And I'm obsessed with The Office and couldn't believe they filmed this sequence in their deleted scenes from last week. Zoom to -0:46 and enjoy!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Chickenpox Parties are Actually Harmful!

I found this article quite interesting since we were just talking about chickenpox parties. It is an op-ed; however, the author, Julia Snyder Sachs, has good credibility. She used to manage Science Digest, and is coming out with a book "Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World." The article "lyses" the myths about childhood illnesses being beneficial. It had been shown, by Dr. David Strachan, that exposure to early illnesses helped children not develop allergies or asthma. However, the cause was incorrect. It is harmless bacteria that seems to protect children. Having many childhood illnesses actually increases risk of dying from heart disease or cancer! It creates a wear and tear on the immune system. Ms. Sachs warns: "In a world abounding in harmless, even beneficial microbes, don’t embrace the tiny fraction that can make you ill." She includes chickenpox as a virus to avoid. I suppose that is safer now since there is a vaccine, because, as we discussed, it is more dangerous to get the disease as an adult. Ms. Sachs thinks it is important for anyone who is eligible, which includes children 6 months to 5 years, to get a flu shot to possibly help protect against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Appartently, it can be carried in the body via viral respiratory infections.

Jasmeen Miah

New HIV Drug Approved: Integrase Inhibitor

The FDA has recently approved of a new drug, Isentress, to fight HIV infection by stoping the virus from integrating into the host's DNA. It is still rather expensive, but the benefits to having another drug of a different class from proteases or reverse transcriptase inhibitors is a great thing.
-Rebecca Hebner

HPV vaccine = :(

Hello Friends,
The HPV vaccine that I'm receiving hurts. This is one of the few times I wish I was a boy.
It is a 3 shot series, and I'm deathly afraid of shots. Not to mention the 3 shot series costs 120 per dose, so 360 for the three (an interesting fact that my doctor just happened to leave out). But considering that it might save my life, I sucked it up and have gotten 2 out of the 3 shots. Just for you boys out there who I'm sure are quite jealous, the shot is injected into your muscle and you can FEEL IT going into your muscle. The rest of the day, you can't move your arm. It's sad, really, just plain sad.

Since it's probably more interesting for you to watch than read, here is a video I converted from youtube - specifically for your viewing pleasure. Have fun!


Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, Oh My!

Six years ago in the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming, there was an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) that significantly reduced the white-tailed deer population. Authorities suspect that the disease may be back. It is an insectborne infectious disease that affects wild ruminants, which include animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, camels, deer, llamas, etc. Ideal summer conditions facilitated the disease outbreak - hot temperatures encourage the deer to concentrate around water sources where a certain species of gnat hangs out. When the deer come to the water source the gnats are able to bite them and infect them with the virus.

Anyways, I thought this was an interesting article because I never consider viruses that infect animals or the associate diseases they cause. If you want to know more, including how the disease progresses, go to the following link:



Potentially deadly pneumonia linked to adenovirus in Oregon

Dear friends,

PROMed tells me there is a potentially deadly form of community aquired pneumonia linked to adenovirus type 14 running around Oregon. This type of viral pneumonia was first encountered in 2005 in the Pacific Northwest and leads to a 20% fatality rate.

Six months of actualy surveillance has revealed that the number of cases increases between January through April, and almost all the cases involved adenovirus 14. This serotype was first identified more than 50 years ago but has rarely been detected since then and never in association with outbreaks!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dengue Fever in the Philippines

Dengue Fever in the Philippines

According to a Promed article, Dengue fever is moving fast and on the rise. I chose to report on the Philippines because that is where my family is from.

As of September 2007, there has been 4000 new cases of Dengue fever. Since January 2007, 283 cases out of 24, 689 have been fatal. The wet weather (it's rainy season from June to November) provides a breeding ground for Aedes aegypti, a day-biting mosquito that prefers to feed on humans. recommends those traveling to the Philippines that the best protection against Dengue fever is to "avoid mosquito bites". Now that doesn't sound hard!

The Philippine Health department has initiated a 4-S Campaign against Dengue:

S - Search and destroy mosquito breeding grounds
S - Seek immediate consultation
S - Self-protection (i.e. avoiding mosquito bites)
S - Say "no" to indiscriminate fogging

*indiscriminate fogging makes use of insectides to target mosquitoes. In some cases, fogging has led to an increase in Dengue fever.


Stop posting the Nigeria polio vaccine story!!!

We're up to four or five posts about the same event - please pick another virus!


Hippo eats croc at around 7:00.

Some of these hippos have colds.


Live polio vaccine mutates, paralyzes, kills

Polio in Nigeria Traced to Mutating Vaccine

New Yotk Times
Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: October 11, 2007

Nigeria is fighting an unusual outbreak of polio caused by mutating polio vaccine, world health authorities say, but the only remedy is to keep vaccinating children there.

Officials of the World Health Organization fear that news of the outbreak will be a new setback for eradication efforts in northern Nigeria, where vaccinations were halted in 2003 for nearly a year because of rumors that the vaccine sterilized Muslim girls or contained the AIDS virus. During that lull, polio spread to many new countries, although most have snuffed out the small outbreaks that resulted.

Officials deny suggestions that they kept the outbreak, which began last year, a secret, and say that they did not realize until recently that as many as 70 of Nigeria’s last 1,300 polio cases stemmed from a mutant vaccine virus rather than “wild type” virus, which causes most polio.

“It was an oversight on our part,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, director of the polio eradication campaign for the W.H.O., said yesterday. The agency discussed the first 16 cases it knew of at meetings early this year and posted information on its Web site in April, he said, “but only in places where lab people would look.”

Outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio are unusual but not unheard of. Individual cases have been known for years. For example, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia was partly paralyzed in 1973, apparently after changing the diapers of his son, who had received oral vaccine.

The first spreading outbreak of a vaccine-derived strain, in which 22 children were paralyzed, was detected in 2001 in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Experts now believe another took place in Egypt in the late 1980s but went unnoticed amid the much larger numbers of wild-type infections. There have been others in the Philippines, Madagascar, China and Indonesia.

All were eventually eliminated by immunizing more children, and experts argue that the latest outbreak was able to spread because, until recently, only 30 to 40 percent of the children in northern Nigeria were vaccinated. About 70 percent are vaccinated there now, Dr. Aylward said.

In 2000, the United States switched to injected vaccine made from killed virus, which cannot mutate. But oral drops with the live, weakened version of the virus are still used in most poor countries, including those where the disease has never been eliminated: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This vaccine, invented by Albert Sabin, is easier to give, offers much stronger protection and can beneficially “infect” other family members or neighbors, protecting them too.

But in rare cases, it can mutate into something resembling wild polio virus, which can paralyze or kill. Dr. Aylward pointed out that 10 billion doses of oral vaccine had been given in the last 10 years, so such mutations are presumably extremely unusual.

Polio often circulates undetected; in only one of 200 infections will it cause paralysis, which signals health officials to look for the virus in the area.


Rift Valley Fever in Iraq

As though things weren't crazy in Iraq already, lab tests on four sheep and cattle in the town of Nassiriyah in Southern Iraq tested positive for Rift Valley Fever. Although the results have yet to be confirmed at the National Laboratory in Baghdad (surprising that such a lab is up and running...) this could mean even more problems to an already troubled region. Rift Valley Fever is a Bunyavirus virus that can be transmitted to humans via mosquito vectors and can in rare cases cause a hemorrhagic fever. Fortunately, some vaccine is available and has been sent.

See the link here

-Jon Dyal

Mouse mammary tumor virus Might Be Implicated in Human Breast Cancer!!!

- Elizabeth

Equine Influenza Down Under

Since we learned about the alpha/roller coaster viruses on Tuesday, thought this article about 5 horses in New South Wales who have contracted the Equine Influenza would be appropriate.

New South Wales deputy chief veterinary officer Steve Dunn on Saturday [6
Oct 2007] confirmed that 5 horses near Rosehill racecourse have contracted
equine influenza (EI). Tests came back positive late last night after a
number of horses stabled in the north east corner away from the main
racecourse showed signs of the disease.

Mr Dunn said the sick horses were stabled with a group of 40 horses, but
said every effort would be made to prevent the virus spreading to another
240 horses stabled at the main complex. "This confirmation is another
disappointment for the racing industry, and indeed for everyone working
round the clock to prevent spread of this disease," he said.

"We will be investigating how the disease moved to the Rosehill area. Again
we must stress the importance of people adhering to the movement
restrictions and taking all necessary biosecurity precautions when moving
between horses. We can only successfully manage this outbreak if everybody
does the right thing and follows the movement and biosecurity directions."

Mr Dunn said because the Rosehill racecourse complex and surrounding
stables was located in the red zone, strict quarantine measures were
already in place. All horses in the Rosehill racecourse complex were
vaccinated a week ago [1 Oct 2007], however, as the vaccine takes about 2
weeks to be effective, strict movement controls will be in place to help
give the vaccine the best chance of having an impact. "However, we will now
be adding extra quarantine measures as of first thing this morning to
prevent any further spread of the virus to nearby racehorses, or to any
other area."

Horses at the NSW Department of Primary Industries Elizabeth Macarthur
Agricultural Institute (EMAI)'s Belgenny Farm near Camden have contracted
equine influenza (EI). The historic property had been free of the disease
but recently some horses have returned positive EI tests despite the strict
quarantine measures maintained by staff. Belgenny Farm has 11 horses, all
of which have been moved into a higher level quarantine area away from
public access. The boundaries of this area have been marked by red/white
DPI Quarantine signs.

Belgenny Farm, which is situated on the EMAI property, is a popular
function centre for weddings and other events and as a school education
centre. These functions will not be affected by the EMAI quarantine --
visitor restrictions apply to the farm area only.

EI will not infect other animals or human beings, but the virus may be
carried by people who come into close proximity to an infected horse
thereby spreading the disease to uninfected horses. The public and visitors
are not to approach any horses located within the bounds of EMAI.

If you're interested in learning about the quarantine protocols or the vaccine, here is a link to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries:


Makers withdraw cold meds

I didn't know how to post last week and someone took my story (virus misshipments, etc, at bio labs dealing with dangerous pathogens) before I learned how to publish. I've forgotten to post since then, but this is my post for last week.

Companies that make cold meds (the common cold is caused by a rhinovirus (family Picornaviridae)) specifically for infants are removing these products from the market. The reason is that there has been some overdosage of infants. Also, anecdotal evidence suggests the meds may actually be unsafe in young children. They have been reported to cause hallucinations and death in some cases.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

West Nile Virus in Indiana

I thought this was especially pertinent since some of the extra credit problems this week are on West Nile Virus, one of many human viruses in the Flaviviridae family. Three new cases of WNV were reported in Indiana, bringing the state's total to 13 human infections this year. Apparently, the hot, dry summer weather is great for the mosquitoes...

Go here to read more:


Tissue Tropism at Work!

Remember that question on the last pset that asked what determined what viral syndromes a virus will produce? Well, tissue tropism definitely affects the syndromes produced by H5N1 and Human Influenza A, a study from the Netherlands reports. They tested which cells these viruses targeted in their hosts. For Human Influenza, they found it binds strongly to tracheal and bronchial cells, and less so in the bronchioles or alveoli. H5N1, however, attached strongly to the bronchioloes and alveoli- thereby explaining why it causes severe alveolitis (pneumonia) whereas human influenza causes tracheobronchitis. Additionally, the tested which animal models are most effective and found that ferrets, pigs, and cats resemble how viruses like H5N1 attach in humans.


A good summary:

The actual article from American Journal of Pathology:

Not new, but certainly hot

Dr. Bob's inspired me to do some early holiday shopping:


Can you say "baller"?

Instead of buying me a new car, Bill Gates is going to put $100 million into AIDS research. I know, how unfair, right?;_ylt=AubZmxZbflYuinVqthtLV2zVJRIF

Hugs and kisses,

Vaccine-Derived Polio Outbreak

69 children in northern Nigeria have been infected with a vaccine-derived form of polio. Due to the temporary halt of vaccination efforts in 2003, not all children in Nigeria have been vaccinated against the virus. Those left unvaccinated are susceptible to catching a mutated form of poliovirus from immunized individuals.

Unfortunately, this outbreak will likely lead to more opposition to vaccination efforts in the country, rather than support for the scale-up that is required to prevent such occurrences.

- Elizabeth Kersten

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

H5N1 Pandemic: Has the Inevitable just been Postponed?

Looking back on the annals of history, influenza pandemics have happened on average four times a century. The 20th century brought three notable outbreaks: The infamous 1918-9 Spanish influenza and the 1957-1958 and 1968-1967 outbreaks. Many influenza experts agree a fourth pandemic was averted in 1997 when H5N1 first reared its ugly head; Hong Kong responded in 1997 by promptly culling all of its infected poultry. But has the outbreak only been postponed? Some experts believe the arrival of a strain of humanly transmissible H5N1 is imminent. However, as someone else posted earlier, H5N1 vaccines are being manufactured -- and many countries are taking measures to prevent the worst case scenario in the event of an outbreak. Preparedness will also include improved surveillance systems and procedures in place to contain the spread of the virus. Let's just hope we're ready when this thing strikes -- especially developing nations which will be hit hardest.

-Tad Henry

Since we know so much about Parvoviridae now, let's talk Human Bocavirus!

Human Bocavirus is another Parvovirus that infects humans. Previously, B19 was the only Parvovirus thought to be pathogenic in humans. But not anymore!

Originally, Human Bocavirus was thought to be involved in respiratory illness, as it was commonly found in the respiratory tract. However, since other Parvoviruses are known to cause enteritis, it was hypothesized that perhaps Human Bocavirus did as well, and actually did not cause respiratory illness (I guess this is why we classify viruses into families and look at commonalities...).

Long story short, it was found that Human Bocavirus can be found and replicates in the human gut, but it was inconclusive if it is linked to gastrointestinal disease. But add one to the list of parvoviruses that infect humans!

Link to the CDC article

- Nick

ARVs: Made in Uganda

30 million of the 40 million global cases of HIV/AIDS is in Sub-Saharan Africa, and numbers aren't coming down anytime soon, since it also has the highest rate of new HIV infections.

Although debates whether treatment or prevention strategies should be targeted are still heated, the consensus that both are necessary to ensure the success of the other is growing; if people know there is a treatment, they will be more likely to get tested and know to prevent transmitting the virus to partners or unborn children.

I'm preaching the choir here. But I was super excited to hear that Uganda will be opening a factory to produce antiretrovirals for HIV and anti-malarial drugs. This would cut out import costs and would keep some money in the country (or bring money to the country, depending on whether international organizations will be purchasing the drugs or whether buyers will be mostly internal. Not all of the money would be staying in the country, though, since the Indian pharmaceutical company, Cipla, is the one bringing the factory in.)

I hadn't known until I read this article that Kenya and South Africa already had pharmaceutical factories, and that other sub-Saharan African countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Congo, and Ethiopia have plans to build pharmaceutical factories, too.


"Sometimes Trojans break..."

Posted by Jessie

While reading through smutline band emails last night in the viral library, Dave read off an idea for a Band-sponsored t-shirt to commemorate Stanford football's unexpected victory over USC last Saturday: "Sometimes Trojans Break" (or something along those lines, sorry if i'm butchering it).

Anyway, since we were working on the problem set and viruses were taking over every thought running through my brain, I thought about how many similarities there were between what happened on Saturday and a potential viral infection caused by tearing a condom:

1. Condoms have a very low failure rate. According to Stanford's SHPRC website, male condoms have a failure rate of 3-14%. While it's debatable whether the odds of Stanford winning against USC were higher or lower than that, I think it is fair to say we were on the lower end of the probability spectrum.

2. Stanford students' reaction after the victory could be compared with lysis of a host cell. On the viral side, some viruses replicate using the host machinery and assemble within the cytoplasm of the host cell. Once a threshold level of viruses is reached, the host cell bursts, releasing all these virus particles to wreak havoc in the system. Similarly, each loss Stanford football had accumulated over the last 4 years has been creating this build-up of unspent celebratory energy. This win over USC was the breaking point that allowed Stanford students to release all this pent-up energy (that can be measured by the liquid volume of alcoholic substances consumed on campus between 8pm and 8am).

3. Some viruses have a latent stage, when they fly under the radar of the immune system, and then catch the body by surprise when it becomes virulent. Stanford football's pitiful winning record in past years made it all the more surprising that this upset was pulled off.

4. At Maples Pavillion at midnight when the football team returned to campus, a HUGE crowd had gathered to welcome them back. As the buses pulled up on Campus Drive, the entire crowd rushed toward the buses like macrophages toward a foreign antigen, and the crowd consumed each player or team staff member as they got off the bus.

5. The immune system sometimes responds to viral infections by inducing fever. Analogously, several enthused students started a bonfire in the middle of Main Quad to fan the flames of a rising Stanford-excitement response.

6. It may take a long time to control a viral infection, and even after it is contained, "memories" of the virus are created in the form of B and T memory cells, so that a more robust and rapid response can be mounted against a secondary infection. The campus is still simmering from the victory, and the victory is still on the minds of a lot of people on campus. If Stanford football were to continue its one-game winning streak a secondary, tertiary, or quaternary response may be successively greater.