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:;_ylt=AkU.ITi4KVCHklpyl9zUUenVJRIF


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:;_ylt=Ao.C2c8.QADEILJFdj5VlWbVJRIF;_ylt=ArXf_80Paw5tNM7.sgik5bjVJRIF


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,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,40260

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,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,40256
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.,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,40246


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.



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

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:


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 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 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.



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
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!;jsessionid=MLYGYKBGOGQ2DQFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2007/11/12/wtree112.xml


Monkey vaccine for H5N1 ready human trials

This vaccine is now a potential human vaccine against Avian Flu! Keep your fingers crossed that it will protect humans in addition to African monkeys!

New Vaccine That Protects Monkeys against Avian Flu is Ready for Human Trials

ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2007) — Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and University of Maryland report that a new vaccine that protects monkeys against the avian influenza virus is now a candidate for clinical trial in humans.

In the study researchers developed a live vaccine incorporating the avian Newcastle disease virus (NDV), which expresses a common gene found in the H5N1 avian influenza virus, and tested it in African monkeys. The vaccine was administered both intranasally and through the respiratory tract in two doses with a 28-day interval in between.

Response after one dose showed low amounts of virus shedding indicating protection. Following two doses, high levels of neutralizing antibodies were present in all immunized monkeys. A substantial response to either dosage was noted in the respiratory tract indicating a likely reduction in transmission in the event of an outbreak.

"In this study, we have developed a vaccine candidate, NDV-HA, for immunization against H5N1 HPAIV and have tested it in a nonhuman primate model," say the researchers. "The vaccine was well tolerated and induced substantial local and systemic immune responses, demonstrating that NDV has potential as a live virus candidate vaccine against HPAIV."

Norwalk virus on Norwegian Cruise

Hundreds Sickened on Hawaiian Cruise

HONOLULU (AP) — A highly contagious virus that causes stomach flu sickened about 220 passengers aboard a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that returned Monday to Honolulu after its weekly seven-day cruise around the islands, officials said.

Lab tests confirmed a norovirus — which causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — aboard the Pride of Hawaii, said Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health.

"It's one of the common viruses we've been seeing on cruise lines," Okubo said. "Most of the time, people recover."

The Norwalk-like virus infected about 9 percent of the ship's 2,500 passengers, and no one was hospitalized, the cruise line said. Virus symptoms typically last a day.

Passengers who felt sick, as well as their cabinmates, were asked to remain in their rooms for 24 hours. Norwegian said it was giving those passengers a $200 on-ship credit.

Surfaces in the ship were cleaned to eliminate lingering viruses, it said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating, Okubo said.

Norwegian describes Pride of Hawaii as the largest and most expensive U.S.-flagged cruise ship ever built. It began service last year.

Norwegian was acquired in February 2000 by Star Cruises PLC of Malaysia, according to the cruise line's Web site.

Avian Bird Flu in Indonesia might be spreading

Might Avian Flu be spreading back West Timor?

West Timor is located in the East Nusa Tenggara province (Map link:, the capital of Indonesia and has not had a reported infection of avian flu since 2005.
However, in the past two weeks thousands of chickens have expired in Kupang, located in W. Timor. The East Nusa Tenggara
Husbandry Agency Unit head of the animal health, Maria Geong, said on Tuesday, November 6th (2007) that 7000 chickens had died in Kupang in the last 2 weeks. Local authorities are fearing avian influenza as the cause.

Source: The Jakarta Post, Wednesday, November 7th, 2007


Tomato Torrado Virus Identified!

Tomato Torrado Virus is identified for the first time!

The symptoms of this emerging virus were first recognized in 2003-2004 in Wielkopolska, a region of Poland and included leaf necrosis, severe stunting and malformation (apparently usual symptoms for a tomato virus). There was an association drawn between such affliction and greenhouse whiteflies (Trialeurodes vaporariorum).

In a recently published article, The first report of Tomato torrado
virus in Poland, by H. Pospieszny et al, the virus was identified and shown to be similar to the tomator necrotic dwarf virus (ToNDV) (California) and the newly identified tomato torrado virus (ToTV) (Spain). The association with the whitefly was also demonstrated as these flies were shown to vector the virus.

The American Phytopathological Society, Plant Disease 2007; Tue 13 Nov 2007

[Reference: H. Pospieszny et al: The first report of Tomato torrado virus in Poland. Plant Dis; 91(10): 1364; DOI: 10.1094/PDIS-91-10-1364A]

poor tomatoes!


4 transplant recipients infected with HIV in US

Just as we were talking about the blood/transfusion supply not being 100% safe from HIV earlier in the quarter, here we see the tragic consequences of the remaining tiny level of risk. In January 4 people received donations from a donor that turned out to be HIV+ despite the tests run before donation. It's likely that the donor had been infected recently and had not yet developed a high enough viral load to be detected by the current tests used. The patients themselves only learned of the problems in early November. I had been very comfortable with the thought of leaving such a small level of risk of HIV in the blood supply before this happened, because of the enormous amount of funding it would require to eliminate that risk, which could be better spent in other ways. But this example shows that maybe this level of risk is not ok. Perhaps we need to take steps to further secure our blood supply despite the high costs.


here's the USA Today link:

Turkey massacre in England-- and no, not for Thanksgiving

... because the Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, 6,500 birds, mostly turkeys, are being slaughtered on an open-range bird farm in England, because H5N1 was detected amongst them. It sucks to be that bird-farmer-- they're just doing their best to satisfy increasing demand for open-range birds but as a result, it puts them into more contact with wild migratory birds that might be carrying flu.

In the words of Environment Secretary Hilary Benn (and must be said with a Brih-tish ahc-cent):
"What we're doing is working our darndest to make sure that it stays where it is."

Jessie <-- check it out here

Dang! Dengue in Honduras

-A young girl died of dengue hemorrhagic fever on November 4 of this year, marking the disease's most recent casualty and the 14th death in Honduras in 2007 attributable to DHF. This figure is up from the DHF-related deaths in 2006. More than 26,500 people have been affected by dengue fever in Honduras this year.
-Honduras has spent approximately $2 million in cleaning operations such as fumigation intended to eliminate the breeding grounds for the Aedes aegyptis mosquitoes.
-For its part, the government has requested that its citizens eliminate standing water sources in and near their homes (such as tires, bottles, etc.) where the mosquito vector is able to reproduce and proliferate.

For more info, see: (this report is in Spanish; I've done my best to translate & summarize above)


Equine Influenza in Mongolia!

Here's the rundown:
-Equine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can be fatal to colts and severely weaken mature horses; transmission to humans has yet to be shown.
-Suspected equine influenza was discovered on October 26; on the 12th of November it was confirmed in Bugan Sum and Uyench Sum in Khovd Province (on the Chinese - Mongolia border)
-About 600 horses have been infected with the disease, which has prompted prevention agencies to quarantine the areas of the outbreak.

For more info on equine influenza:


It's Mutating!

I thought I'd post this for people who haven't seen it:
The best movie trailer ever... it's so epic:
Drama, viruses, Dustin Hoffman... what more could you ask for?


Monday, November 12, 2007

"It's mutating!": New evidence that Ebola-Zaire capable of recombination

Yes, you heard it here first. Check out the article.

Scary stuff. French scientists at the Institute for Development Research claim they have found a new variant of Ebola-Zaire (the most lethal of the four known Ebola stains) which has a genome that varies by 2-3% from the previously identified ZEBOV: this suggests genetic recombination has occurred. They are calling the new strain ZEBOV-B and the original ZEBOV-A.

This is bad news. It's like a not-funny version of the scene from Outbreak where the picture of the virus rotates and they shout, "It's mutating!"

Life is definitely not ebola cherries,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Get your flu shot!!!

This year has set a record for the number of influenza vaccines distributed throughout the U.S. at such an early phase of the flu season, with over 103 million doses in all 50 states. What does this mean? Well, it means that people are tired of getting the flu and more people are attempting to get vaccinated against it earlier in the flu season to prevent any torturesome infections. Experts predict that over 132 million doses will have been distributed throughout the U.S. by the end of the flu season. Remember, it's not too late to get vaccinated: "The time to get flu vaccine continues into December, January, and beyond," says the deputy director of the CDC (Immunization Services Division).

see full article at:

Becca Briggs

Rift Valley Fever Update

The epidemic of Rift Valley Fever in Sudan continues, with more than 250 human cases of hemorrhagic fever caused by the virus so far identified, and at least 84 deaths. Although the Sudanese Ministry of Health has now publicly confirmed the epidemic as Rift Valley Fever, they have denied that the spread of the virus is due to infection of sheep, cows and other domestic animals. Although infection with Rift Valley Fever virus can often cause clinical signs in animals (infected sheep, for example, have above average rates of abortions and deaths of lambs). However, infection is asymptomatic in many other animals. Given the growing spread of the epidemic, the Ministry has taken samples from animals found in the regions where the epidemic has spread, and are expecting results this week. The WHO and the World Organization for Animal Health suspect that infections of domestic livestock may be having a large impact on the human epidemic. If animal infections are prevalent, it will have enormous economic repercussions, given the importance of cattle farming to the national economy.


Parents, officials struggle over right to refuse vaccines

Utah has one of the highest vaccination exemption rates in the US. In the state, parents are allowed to cite medical, religious or philosophical objections to immunizations (rather than just medical or religious reasons, as in most other states). In essence, this permits parents to refuse vaccination for their children for any reason they want. As a result, a substantial number of Utahian (?) kids don't get vaccinated- approximately 5% in the Utah County, which is the focus of this article.

This piece provides a thorough look at the arguments of pro- and anti-vaccination advocates. It notes that mandatory vaccination is a unique area of American public policy- a law that citizens can choose not to follow.

- Elizabeth

Encephalitis in India continued...

Hey all,

So I'm posting twice because I just came across more news on the viral encephalitis that has been going around in northern India. The experts have now identified it as "viral encephalitis", which seems like simply a symptom and not an actual disease, considering that I wouldn't even be able to tell which family it is from, etc.

I think there is a strong need to identify it as something, as an unknown disease may be even scarier for people. The virus is very strange--it rapidly damages a patient's liver and brain and causes incredibly high secretions of enzymes. The infectious rate has not been curbed, and it is a major epidemic in the region.


West Nile Treatment Discovery!

Apparently there may be a treatment to reduce paralysis of West Nile Virus. Researchers at USU have found a monoclonal antibody capable of reducing the negative effects of West Nile Virus by attacking the virus in the brain. (The drug is actually capable of passing through the blood brain barrier.) This may drastically change the way West Nile Virus is viewed and treated, since there is currently no effective treatment on the market for it. Clinical trials on the drug will begin shortly, as the treatment has been successful on hamsters.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Vaccine That Protects Monkeys Against Avian Flu Ready For Human Trials

Since H5N1 has been infecting increasingly more people, as is becoming more and more easily transmitted from birds to humans, there is pressure to create a vaccine.

One promising vaccine, which is live, has been shown in monkeys to induce an effective systemic and local antibody response. The vaccine itself is avian Newcastle disease virus, which expresses a common gene found in H5N1. Hopefully, the antibodies to this vaccine will confer resistance to H5N1.

Full Article


Will Smith is an awesome rapper/actor

Will Smith has a new movie: I am Legend. In it, a man-made VIRUS wipes out the human population. Our boy, Will, is the only survivor... or is he? There are mutant victims of the virus who are out for evil purposes... Who would have thought viruses could be spooky?;_ylt=Al8iPTvsJPHVeIhOp.685XVfVXcA


Friday, November 9, 2007

HIV cases growing in China

A recent report by the China Daily stated that the incidence of HIV cases increased by 30% in China to by 3,223 new infections/month during the period from January- October. 38% of these cases occurred through sexual transmission. A quarter of these cases became full blown AIDS. The Chinese government estimates that there are currently 220,000 cases while the UN puts that figure at closer to 650,000 people. Still, this demonstrates that China being increasingly open about AIDS.

Check out the article at


Merck Lawsuits

Today Merck and company offered 4.85 billion dollars to settle thousands of lawsuits over their drug Vioxx, a pain killer drug, which was pulled off the market 2004 due to the fact that research showed to double the risk of heart attack and stroke in some users. Merck claims that this is not a class action settlement, nor is it admitting fault, but that this is a change in strategy to try save billions of dollars in litigation fees and to ensure that those harmed receive adequate compensation.

Source: NPR Radio

Thought this was interesting considering Merck is the third largest drug producer in the US and we were just talk about who was responsible when things went wrong with drugs and vaccines on the market...


Migrating Bird Flu Samples

"The Jakarta Post" reports that Indonesian officials are demanding that the WHO return the 58 avain flu samples isolated from patients in that country. These leaders complain that the WHO sample sharing model is unfair. Currently the WHO has authority to send specimens to any of its member countries without requesting permission from the source country. Since August Indonesia has been requesting the samples' return so that their scientists can begin work on a vaccine, yet they have still not received them. Meanwhile the samples could be available for free to other research communities, gearing up for a possible epidemic. The vaccines developed from such initiatives would then be offered, at a cost, to Indonesia. For the country with the highest bird flu-related deaths thus far, these realities carry costly and grave implications.

Read more about it:

MC Masters

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Colds Suck

Everyone gets colds, even Professor Siegel.
Here's an article about how to prevent getting sick and some tips to get over the symptoms and make you feel better when rhinovirus strikes. Some of it is common knowledge, but it's an important reminder!

Ever heard of a nasal lavage or nasal irrigation? I'm not going to lie, this does NOT look comfortable. But it might help you for next week's lecture, Prof. Siegel.


Chikunguya could return to Europe next spring!

Thinking of traveling to Italy this spring break? Maybe this will force you to reconsider...I mean, I'd go anyway.

Nov 6, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Health experts who investigated Europe's first chikungunya outbreak involving transmission by local mosquitoes recently reported that cases could occur again next spring unless vigorous mosquito surveillance and eradication measures are used to control the disease in Italy and prevent its spread to other parts of Europe.

In late August, Italy's health ministry confirmed an outbreak of chikungunya in the Emilia-Romagna region of northeastern Italy. About a week later, health authorities said the outbreak represented the disease's first foothold in Europe, according to Sep 6 report in Eurosurveillance Weekly.

Soon afterward, experts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) traveled to Italy to assess the risk of chikungunya to the local population and the potential for its spread to other European countries. In late October the investigators posted their findings on the ECDC's Web site.

Chikungunya, spread by Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, usually causes fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, and a rash, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease is not life-threatening, but fatigue or joint pain can last for weeks to months. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for the illness, which is caused by an Alphavirus.

The United States has recorded some chikungunya cases among returning travelers but has not reported any transmission of the disease. Though two mosquito species that can spread the disease are found in the southeastern United States, CDC expert Dr. Ned Hayes has said the risk of indigenous transmission is probably low because lifestyle factors such as air conditioning and window screens protect people from heavy exposure to the mosquitoes.

As of Sep 21, Italian authorities had reported 292 suspected cases of chikungunya, of which 125 had been confirmed, according to the ECDC-WHO report. The outbreak started in late June when a local resident who had traveled to India fell ill with the disease. Soon afterward, the virus was believed to have spread among local A albopictus mosquitoes.

The outbreak was largely contained to two neighboring villages where the man and his cousin lived, but authorities reported that transmission through infected mosquitoes has occurred in at least three other towns.

Four factors helped the virus become established in Emilia-Romagna region, the investigators found:

* A albopictus populations were dense in the region, but surveillance had not yet noted their presence because it was so recent.
* Local vegetation was thick and many backyards had plant pots and watering containers that harbored mosquitoes.
* The virus was introduced by a visitor returning from an area where chikungunya is endemic.
* Human population density was sufficient for disease transmission.

Investigators said mosquito activity was expected to continue through October but could extend into November, depending on weather conditions.

Infected mosquitoes could reappear in the spring of 2008 when mosquito eggs hatch, the authors reported. Further, if the region has a mild winter, local mosquito activity could persist, causing sporadic cases that could maintain mosquito-to-human transmission cycles until spring, they added.

Careful surveillance and rapid mosquito-control measures will be the keys to preventing or limiting a recurrence of the disease in 2008, the report says. It notes data gaps on A albopictus populations in some areas of Europe where the vector could reside. A albopictus is found in several other European countries, including Albania, France, Belgium, Montenegro, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Croatia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and possibly more, according to the Eurosurveillance Weekly report.

"The current epidemic is a unique opportunity for better understanding of risk factors and virus and vector dynamics, in order to allow for a correct preparedness on the European level to prevent or limit future outbreaks," the report states.

The investigators wrote that a better understanding of the climate, humidity, and light needed to support A albopictus populations is needed to help predict the geographic spread of chikungunya.

West Nile Virus in..Swimming Pools?

As the West Nile virus season comes to a close (as of October 31. 2007), Santa Clara County reflects on West Nile virus activity. This year brought a 40% increase in human cases than last year; so far there have been 370 human cases, 15 of them fatal. The season in 2005 was much more severe--985 human cases reported.

Why an increase in West NIle virus activity? Officials blame neglected swimming pools at foreclosed homes through California. Who knew that green algae in a pool can attract mosquitoes? Compared to 2006, there are at least 3 times as many abandoned pools (from foreclosures or neglect) throughout the state, as identified though aerial surveillance.

To prevent further cases of West Nile viruses, pools were treated to kill breeding mosquitoes. In August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set aside $10 million to control mosquito breeding in the state. These preventative measures are expected to decrease the incidence of West Nile virus in California.

To read more about West Nile virus, see today's (11/8) San Jose Mercury News Peninsula section or visit

and...stay out of those algae-ridden swimming pools.


The AIDS vaccine. Why it failed and where to go from here

Hey all, this was an interesting overview of what went wrong with the AIDS vaccine trials that stopped in October. Apparently one of the theories is that because the vaccine was using an adenovirus shell with some HIV genes inside, the human immune response was too competent at recognizing and eliminating the adenovirus. In fact they apparently found that highest rates of HIV were found in people that had very high immunity to the common cold (usually an adenovirus). So where do they look now? Unfortunately, many of the other up and coming vaccines are based off of very similar technology as the failed Merck vaccine. A shift may be coming towards a live-attenuated vaccine, or others may try a different viral vector. It has been proposed that the chickenpox virus (a herpes virus) may in fact be a better vector. But that makes me a little skeptical, seeing as how many people already have strong immunity to the chickenpox... Other ideas are direct injections of HIV DNA fragments, which I guess must be cDNA rather than the actual RNA... Anyway, that's the update, I think it makes a lot more sense having spent time learning about vaccines this week. Here's the full article at the bottom.


Imagine not being able to smell the roses!!

The condition is called anosmia. The viruses seem to attack the nerve cells, which are located in the upper part of the nasal cavity, causing the loss of smell.Women usually develop anosmia in their 40s or 50s after suffering from a serious sinus infection, usually brought on by a common cold. Although some men contract it, middle-age women are more susceptible, because, doctors think, their immune systems are more fragile as they go through menopause.Apparently there is a cure though; doctors prescribe vitamins loaded with antioxidants to regain their smell, but it takes time and in most cases the smell never comes back 100 percent...


A cranberry a day keeps the virus at bay...

UC-Davis is starting up a study to test whether or not substances in cranberry juice (antioxidants and phenols), are effective at boosting the immune system of the elderly. The immunosenescence (deterioration of immune response) is hypothesized to be inhibited by these substances, which could increase the immune response to flu vaccines given to the elderly.
Cool beans... I mean berries.

-Rebecca Hebner

Avian flu!

Someone died in South Korea of supposedly bird flu. He had high fever and breathing problems. Sadly, that's all the info I have on him...


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HIV blood screening in Yemen

Hey dudes.

Check this out...we were tlaking in class about the idea of screening for HIV and the only times it is missed in the blood supply (or people getting tested) is when the person give blood right after they have gotten it--before the viral load is high enough at that point.

Well, apparently in Yemen they are giving all blood three types of screenings the Elisa test, Western Blot, and PCR. Do you really think this is cost effective?


Check it out:

Posted by Stacie at 8:52 PM

Public Health and Global Security; Developed Countries need to step it up

People across the world have never been so connected to one another -- and continued air travel and globalization in the 21st century will only bring us closer together. As such, the health of a certain country or region is no longer confined to just that area; the health of the world is now on the line. WHO recently released a report on the importance of developed nations to ramp up their efforts in supporting developing countries public health. New infectious diseases are ever emerging. Since 1967 39 new pathogens have been identified worldwide -- including SARS, HIV, Marburg fever and Ebola. Developing countries, with the support of developed nations, could prevent future outbreaks by ratcheting up preventative health care. And they would no longer have to rely on other nations to come to their aid in the event of an outbreak. Addressing global health and security will benefit patriots of developed and developing countries alike. We really are all brothers and sisters on this earth.

-Tad Henry

Vaccination against High blood pressure?

Posted by Marisa Dowling

1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure, predisposing these individuals to stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. Despite effective medicines, only 1 in 4 patients has their blood pressure consistently controlled due largely to poor drug regimen adherence. Preliminary results from the lab of Dr. Juerg Nussberger of University Hospital of the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland show promising treatment for hypertension in the form of a vaccine.

Angiotensisn II, a molecule in the blood, causes vessel contriction leading to high blood pressure. Current drugs prevent the synthesis of angiotensisn or keep it from binding to its receptors. The drug levels in the blood need to be kept at certain levels to work, requiring constant ingestion. The vaccine, made up of a non-infectious particle shaped like a virus and chemically-combined with angiotensin II, would replace the need for taking pills daily as the vaccine would induce the body to attack the virus and create antibodies to angiotensin II in the process. The body would thereby regulate angiotensin II on its own. This effect has been shown to last for months

The data currently presented, however, only considers results from 72 patients. And though results find the vaccine safe and effective, larger studies will be needed to confirm these results and lack of side effects.

Full Article

Blast that virus with a laser!

At the University of Arizona, physicists have come up with a novel way of destroying pathogens such as viruses and bacteria using a laser. Yes, a laser.

Revolutionary Laser Technique Destroys Viruses And Bacteria Without Damaging Human Cells

The technique (which I don't claim to understand) uses Impulsive Stimulated Raman Scattering (ISRS) and causes lethal vibrations in the pathogen protein coat resulting in inactivation while leaving the host cell undamaged. The physicists aren't sure why the human host cells are left unscathed by the femtosecond laser, but they speculate that it's probably due to differences in protein composition.

Pretty cool.


"Hurt" through the grapevine...

Apparently, there is a booming wine industry in India, and the "Napa Valley" over there, Maharashtra, is being debilitated by two plant viruses. The industry is growing at a rate of 30-40%, and many vineyard owners are afraid they've over-invested. People who have been in the industry awhile may be calling wolf, but they're afraid it knock out the industry.

So, even though these viruses don't infect humans, I thought this was a good example of how viruses are EVERYWHERE and touch every part of human lives, even our Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.


Mix Your Old Medicines With...

An interesting story on medicines this morning in the San Jose Mercury, entitled "Unused medicine? Mix it with cat litter".

Intrigued? I was.

In order to get rid of old and unused medicines, new government guidelines advise mixing the meds with cat litter, preferably used cat litter. If no cat littler is available, old coffee grounds, dog poo, or sawdust would suffice.

Why all the fuss about proper disposal of meds? The US has seen an increase in prescription drug abuse. Research has cited that more than half the people that abuse drugs obtain them from friends or relatives. Clearing meds from your medicine cabinet can prevent risky usage of the drugs.

Previously, people were advised to flush unused medications down the toilet, but recent evidence of hormones in the environment has caused the FDA and the government to rethink this advice. Another program in the works to deal with leftover drugs includes drug "take-back" programs run by pharmacies or hazardous waste sites.

Bottom line: take care to dispose of your unused drugs.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Mumps in Canada

Nova Scotia mumps outbreak hits 715 cases!

There are 9 new cases of mumps in Nova Scotia this week, bringing the total number to 715 since the outbreak began last winter, according to he Department of Health Promotion and Protection on Friday Nov 2nd. Dr Shelly Sarwal, the province's medical officer of health, said last week that between 10 and 20 new cases have been reported each week since the outbreak started in February, with a jump since students went back to class.

Since schools reopened in September there have been 129 new cases in the province. The increase was not unexpected because a second round of vaccinations has yet to fully kick in, Dr Sarwal said. In July, the province announced Nova Scotia's post-secondary and Grade 12 students would be offered a second dose of mumps, measles and rubella vaccine.

The mumps can be spread through coughing, sneezing and exchanging of saliva through kissing or sharing drinks. Symptoms include aches, pains, fever and loss of appetite. In extreme cases, mumps can lead to meningitis, inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, hearing loss and, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, reduced male fertility.

Source: The Chronicle Herald Nova Scotia, November 3, 2007


TB vaccine sickens some HIV-positive children before their disease status is known

This is a serious public health issue in developing countries and is worth considering.


Outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in Sudan

An outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever has spread through the White Nile, Sennar and Jazeera provinces of central and eastern Sudan. Originally though to be Yellow fever, a WHO-led investigation recently discovered the outbreak is in fact Rift Valley fever, after laboratory tests results came through last Friday. A

lthough the specific epidemiology of the outbreak (including when and where the first cases occurred) is currently unknown, it is estimated that more than 125 people have been infected, of which over 60 have died. For Rift Valley fever virus, a species of the Bunyaviridae family, genus Phlebovirus, this fatality rate is unusually high. However, the WHO believes that it may be skewed by the under-reporting of mild infections.

“Rift Valley Fever kills 60 people in Sudan – WHO.”,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1010,39927


Sunday, November 4, 2007

HPV Vaccine May be Available to Older Women

As of now, Merck's vaccine for HPV (Gardasil) is only offered to females from age 9 to 26. However, a study recently showed that the vaccine can be effective in women up to age 45. Use of the vaccine in older women still requires FDA approval. Since we were just talking about vaccine licensing and which companies produce which vaccines, it is interesting to note that Glaxo-SmithKline has their own HPV vaccine called Cervarix. We actually discussed this in class last Thursday since one of the charts shows that the Glaxo-SmithKline vaccine is in phase III. After two years, their vaccination elicits an antibody response at the cervix, the site of infection. Also of interest is the fact that cervical cancer is the second most common type of tumor in women. It accounts for the highest number of cancer deaths in some countries. Over 25% of females from 14 to 59 are infected at some point (since the infection usually goes away).

Jasmeen Miah

Could that cold sore be a risk factor for Alzheimer's?

A study by British researchers suggests a link between Herpes Simplex Virus and Alzheimer's. Previous research has indicated that many affected by Alzheimer's have a high proportion of the virus in their brain cells, and recent studies show that one of the effects of HPV infection is to increase the proteins known to cause plaques in Alzheimer's patients.

Professor Itzhaki, the lead researcher, suggests that the HPV may account for at least 50% of Alzheimer's cases.

- Elizabeth

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Studying Cats May Save Us!

Studying the cat genome has been and will be very useful for understand human disease. In the 1960s scientists found out about feline leukemia virus, which first showed them that viruses can cause cancer. This knowledge enabled them to come up with drugs for cancer. Also, cats are the only animals other than humans to suffer from an immunodeficiency virus. Instead of HIV, they have FIV, feline immunodeficiency virus. We have a lot to learn from cats!

Jasmeen Miah

Holy polio vaccine, Dr. Salk!

This link isn't tremendously new and its hotness is debatable, but it is a nice break from poring over Fields. In gripping comic book form, PBS narrates Salk and Sabins' heroic efforts to save American children from that dastardly poliovirus. KAPOW!

Check it out:

MC Masters

How One Virus Uses Mimicry To Replicate Successfully: Related Mechanisms May Trigger Some Cancers

Adenoviruses use a protein which inhibit pRb, a normal cell protein which stops cell division when certain cancer-causing mutations are present. Lack of pRb has been correlated with certain cancers.

Although adenoviruses haven't been shown to cause cancer themselves, it was shown that the adenovirus protein E1A inhibits pRb by mimicry - it is similar to a normal protein in cells which is used to inhibit pRb naturally.

This research could be used to enlighten how viruses can contribute to cancers.

Full Article


Acute Stress at the Time of Vaccination

Someone in class brought up Professor Dhabhar's lecture from Human Biology last year. Since I actually work in his immunology lab, I thought I would bring up the article that he was talking about.

"Short Term Stress Experienced at the Time of Immunization Induces a Long-Lasting Increase in Immunological Memory" Dhabhar and Vaswanathan

The experiment was done on mice. Researchers acutely stressed the mouse by placing them in restraints for 2.5 hours - mimicking a "collapsed" tunnel which is stressful for burrowing rodents.

"One group was not immunized but was exposed to keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) on the pinna for the first time in parallel with the recall phase of the following two groups (nonimmunized control). The second group of animals remained in their home cages before primary immunization as the nonstressed immunized controls and were reexposed to KLH on the pinnae 9 mo later, also under resting conditions. The third group was stressed before primary immunization and reexposed to KLH on the pinnae 9 mo later under resting conditions. This was the only group that was acutely stressed, and stress was administered only once for 2.5 h before primary immunization."

These results show that acute psychophysiological stress exerts adjuvant-like effects on the immune system. Animals acutely stressed before immunization showed increased numbers of activated-effector (CD62Llow and CD44hi) and Tcm-like (CD45RA–CD62L+) Th cells during the early phase of the primary immune response

The only stress manipulation that was performed in these experiments occurred 9 mo before the recall CMI response was measured. Interestingly, acutely stressed animals mounted a significantly larger recall response that was marked by a robust increase in macrophages and lymphocytes infiltrating the novel site of antigen reexposure.

I guess maybe we should stress out babies before vaccination. Although I'm pretty sure that if Bob were there, he'd stress out his babies enough trying to explain to them what a vaccination is, what types there are, and how they were discovered... etc.

Woohoo! <3 Immunology!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cell Immunology movie

Since we talked about it in class, I thought I'd share the link to the voyage of a white blood cell movie made at Harvard. It's fun to guess what all the processes are:


"Double-barreled epidemic"

I think it's always cool to see how the popular press handles outbreaks/epidemics. I don't know if this is a little late, but Yahoo (and the AFP) has today reported a "double-barreled epidemic" of HIV and TB in Sub-Sarahn Africa. The combination makes it harder to wipe out either.;_ylt=AnQaXXMRSXKT1NJJoGr9GPTVJRIF

Hugs, kisses, and mononucleosis,

“Kill the Virus, Stop Cancer”

As we all know, several viruses have oncogenic potential (ie Epstein-Barr- lymphoma, cervical cancer- human papillomavirus).

Recently, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have shown that the growth of cancers linked to viruses can be reduced or even stopped. Using a process called radioimmunotheraphy, researchers tagged antibodies with radioisotopes which recognize viral antigens responsible for the proliferation of the cells. When the growth of tumor cells outstrips the blood supply, the viral antigens are released. The antibodies recognize these antigens and then release radiation which kills the virus as well as nearby tumor cells. The technique has been used successfully in mice infected with cervical cancer and liver cancer.

This holds great potential for cancer prevention and therapy.
See the article from Scientific American for more information


Thursday, November 1, 2007

The vaccine myth on Oprah

Check it out--my mom told me to look up Oprah because she had this show on vaccines. You guys may have heard Jenny McCarthy talk about how her child became was diagnosed with autism shortly after getting a vaccine shot. After doing some reading on the comments that Oprah got back, there are a TON of people that believe this myth.
It was interesting that Oprah brought on another doctor to talk about it--he pointed out in McCarthy's book that she said her child wasn't smiling like the other kids before he even had the shot, putting holes in her story. McCarthy does believe in vaccinations, but believes there should be a safer schedule for them.

Dr. Bob--is there absolutely no danger in giving vaccines at birth when nervous system is still developing?

Betcha can't detect just one...papilloma virus molecule

Researchers at Iowa State have developed new technology that can detect just one molecule of the papilloma virus. The current PCR test requires 10-50 molecules for detection. The test allows earlier detection of the virus, and vaccination could still be effective at stopping the virus. The researchers also hope that the same technology can be adapted to detect single molecules of other viruses.

link here:

-Becky Grossman-Kahn

Polio Outbreak in Nigeria due to Oral Vaccine may Thwart Global Eradication Efforts

Sadly, a recent outbreak of polio in Nigeria could lead to another boycotting of the vaccine campaigns -- which would only increase global polio cases. The oral vaccine is to blame for paralyzing 69 children: those vaccinated passed the "weakened" virus into the water and unknowing, unvaccinated children picked it up -- and in some of these children the polio virus mutated into its virulent form. Global officials know that the oral vaccine -- which is cheaper -- is the best bet in Nigeria, even though certain side effects do result. Nigerians may blame the vaccine for this outbreak; however, not enough vaccinations is the issue here. In Northern Nigeria only 39 percent of children are immune to the virus. Let's just pray the Nigerian people do not respond by boycotting the polio eradication efforts a second time.

-Tad Henry

New Research on HIV's voyage around the world

According to an article released on October 30th, 2007 entitled, "Out Of Africa: HIV's Path From Haiti To The US Then The World", it has been shown with high probability that HIV probably traveled to Haiti from Central Africa before infecting in the US.
Within this research it was also identified that HIV probably arrived in the US earlier than previously believed. Michael Worobey, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at The University of Arizona in Tucson and senior author of this research is quoted:

"Our results show that the strain of virus that spawned the U.S. AIDS epidemic probably arrived in or around 1969. That is earlier than a lot of people had imagined."

"Haiti was the stepping stone the virus took when it left central Africa and started its sweep around the world...Once the virus got to the U.S., then it just moved explosively around the world."

Interesting that there is still so much to find out about the epidemiology of a virus that is studied by so so many people today!

check it out:


WHO says vaccine capacity will soar- I'm not convinced

Perhaps one of the biggest fears in a pandemic is the fact that we won't have enough vaccines (a given at this point). This brings up tons of questions, like who deserves the vaccine more than others? Now the WHO is expecting vaccine capacity to soar, but other experts aren't convinced- not to mention the fact that these viruses are constantly changing. What a mess!

WHO expects pandemic vaccine capacity to soar

Oct 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) today estimated that by 2010 the world may be equipped to make enough pandemic influenza vaccine to immunize 4.5 billion people—vastly more than in previous projections, though still well short of the world's population of 6.7 billion.

See story-

Laser Zaps Virus

A physicist and his biologist son at the University of Arizona used a superfast pulsing (femtosecond pulses) laser to shatter the capsid of tobacco mosaic virus. They are now testing it on HIV and hepatitis, and hope to use it for cleaning blood supplies.

PS is it ok that I added myself as a user?