Thursday, January 31, 2008


Let's go to the 4th Int'l Symposium on Filoviruses!! It's during spring break... March 26-28, 2008... in Gabon. They'll be talking about our favorite "it's mutating!" virus family and trying to propose strategies for prevention and treatment. There will be 3 awesome sessions to check out: filovirus and the environment, filovirus on a cellular level, and treatment/prevention.

The list of previous locations is interesting, too:

Marburg, Germany (2000) --yay eponyms!
Bethesda, USA (2003) -- for our lovely Bethesda Classification System
Winnipeg, Canada (2006) -- not so interesting.

I'm sure we can get funding somehow, and it'd be fun. Straight into the heart of Ebola endemicity!


mo' mumps, mo' mumps mo' mumps mo' mumps-- CHECK IT OUT!

Just to continue with the Mumps in Moldova story that Deshka posted, they're saying that looking at the (very) spazzy trendlines, the general trend for the last 30 years has been a decrease in mumps incidence.

Poland looks like it's all over the place, and Moldova specifically looks like it's blending into Ukraine. In just 1996, I can't believe Poland had an incidence rate of 550 per 100,000 people.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bird Flu Craziness

Earlier this morning, a 32-year-old man died of bird flu in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since the virus began spreading among Asia's poultry stocks in 2003, 101 Indonesians have died and 23 more have recovered from an infection. This particular man's neighbor was a pigeon breeder, but health officials have yet to confirm whether any of his birds were infected with the virus.

Also, a bit more on the new flu vaccine (see Raquel's post)...The technique of administering the vaccine under the tongue has been successful in mice, per reports by Korean scientists. They reported that two doses of the vaccine under the tongue saved the experimental mice from what would otherwise have been a lethal dose of flu. Pathologically, the reasoning holds that a few drops of the vaccine under the tongue goes directly to the mucus membranes, initiating an immune response....The best part: if and when a vaccine like this gets approved for humans, it can be flavored. Sweet!


Norwalk virus shuts down elementary school!

An entire elementary school in Virginia was temporarily closed when over 1/3 of the student body was sick with the classic agent of viral gastroenteritis: Norwalk virus!

Norwalk virus + little germie kids = a wildfire epidemic of diarrhea

Check out the article here.


Doctors Need to Ramp up Efforts to Warn Pregnant Women of Congenital CMV

CMV infection of the fetus is the leading cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the US. Infection occurs in about 1 in 150 neonates and leads to hearing and vision loss, mental disability, and other problems. A nationwide survey showed that only 44 percent of gynecologists and obstetricians warned mothers-to-be of cytomegalovirus risks. A pregnant woman coming into contact with saliva or urine of preschool-age children is particularly at risk--the mother can then pass the virus on to her child through the placenta. Many children and adults may carry the virus but not exhibit any symptoms. Congenital CMV is serious; doctors must do their part to raise awareness so as to avoid such devastating health consequences.

-Tad Henry

Paraguay put on dengue alert

Health workers have detected some 150 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease so far this year. 11 cases have been confirmed by tests.

Link to BBC Article


Mumps epidemic in Moldova

The deputy director of the National Centre of Preventive Medicine, Vasiliy Sokhotskiy, released to journalists on January 23rd that there is a mumps epidemic in Moldova and specifically that the Ministry of Health is ordering 600 000 doses of mumps vaccine to deal with this situation. These vaccines will be used particularly for risk groups who have not been previously vaccinated. As far as numbers go, more than 2000 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the year.

Further, during the past two weeks, 16 cases of mumps have been registered in Pridnestrovye, probably imported to Pridnestrovye from Moldova because the director of the Pridnestrovye Centre for Hygiene and Epidemiology said that in 5 cases the infection was among people who had recently arrived from Moldova.

Mumps and Mumps and Mumps, oh my!


Source: Noviy Region-2 News Agency [in Russian, trans. Corr.ATS, edited]

Bluetongue virus update

To update from Rebecca's October 4th post...

Bluetongue tests prove negative at two farms in north Shropshire and Greater Manchester where the virus was suspected to have spread. Although this is a zoonotic disease, it has serious human impact because positive tests mean new and challenging restrictions for livestock farmers across most of Wales, north west England, and around the Bristol Channel.

Bluetongue is largely a virus of sheep and cattle.

The 1st case of bluetongue in the UK was detected last September at a farm near Ipswich. Signs of the disease
in species vary, but include a high fever, excessive salivation, neck and head swelling, lameness, and sometimes
tongue discolouration.

Source: BBC News


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oral Flu Vaccine

So it turns out that research is now showing that an oral flu vaccine may be more effective due to the mode of transmission being the same as real flu infection - "sublingual" or under the tongue vaccination. (Well BBC, anyone in H and V could have guessed that - we should so be teaching this stuff by now :) ) Anyway, BBC also says that vaccinating up the nose is dangerous because it can travel to the CNS. However, sublingual vaccinations do not hold this risk.

Okay so here ya go Nick, this is for you...

Click here for the article


More Chikungunya in Singapore

Another case of Chikungunya has been diagnosed in Singapore in a person without travel history. Since the government there has increased surveillance there, 1795 people have been screened. The newest case had spent little time in the area they are canvassing, suggesting that maybe the problem is larger than they considered it to be. I could be wrong, but wasn't Aedes the genus of mosquito that lives in your house? If so, why are authorities telling people to stay home in order not to get bitten?,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,41090


H5N1: Able to Migrate 3,000 miles??

Uh oh...

It has long been known that waterfowl are capable of migrating very long distances in the appropriate seasons. Bar-headed geese, one species that has been thought to be responsible for the spread of H5N1 around the world, are indeed capable of traveling up to 3000 miles from their breeding ground. Just last summer, scientists and conservationists together captured 50 wild geese in the Darkhad Valley of Mongolia, wrapped them to keep them still, took blood/oral/cloacal swabs, tagged the geese, and then released them back into their natural environment. One goose in particular was tagged with a yellow band and was labeled "E6." About a month ago (in December), an email from a man in India was received that reported the presence of the goose "E6" in his local area.

This "super migratory" ability of some migratory fowl may contribute to the spread of H5N1 to areas where there are no poulty, but poultry transport is a confounding factor.

Becca Briggs

see more:

Cold Medicines send 7000/yr to the hospital!

A new study came out, and apparently, every year, 7000 children are sent to the hospital due to incorrect consumption of cold medicines. The children are usually 2-5, and left unsupervised with the medicines.;_ylt=AhgAxZ31vTShd2K_UNzpHFTVJRIF


West Nile vaccine in the works.

USDA has given the go ahead to a Hawaiian Biotech company to begin human trials of a west nile virus vaccine.
This virus quickly swept across the US and is responsible for 3,404 cases and 98 fatalities.


More on influenza

To follow up on what Kelsey said, there's a drug-resistant strain of H1N1 going around Europe this year. Of 148 isolates, 19 samples of A(H1N1) were resistant to oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and of the 16 samples sent in from Norway, 12 of them were drug resistant. The drug-resistant strain is not more virulent or severe than non-drug resistant strains.

On a side note, there seems to be a strange flu going around the public schools and is invading Stanford dorms. Of the two cases I've seen, it's involved severe vomiting, fever of 102-104, violent coughing (coughing up yellowish sputum), and nosebleeds with blood clots.

Two people on my hall have fallen ill... and their roommates are now regretting not having gotten the flu shot. :-/


Monday, January 28, 2008

India bird flu disease 'alarming'

Hey Guys,

So my last post was about the growing incidence of brid flu in West Bengal, India.
Just to follow up, this article describes the govt of India's methods of dealing with the issue. Of course this is can only be done via culling; "More culling teams are needed in all the affected districts but these are things that cannot be hurried. The men in the culling teams have to be quarantined first before they can be asked to start the operations," Mr Rehman said.

What's worrisome in the article is the villagers had resisting culling of their backyard poultry- a source of income and food. Furthermore, the govt is doing something shady- hiring the villagers to kill the birds themselves: "The government employees have protective suits but the villagers are totally exposed. They don't even have a pair of gloves, so it is dangerous to use them but that has to be done," said animal disease expert Debojit Brahma. "


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Antiviral resistance and influenza

A recent survey by the CDC has revealed that about a quarter of primary care physicians were still prescribing older antiviral drugs for influenza during the last flu season. Why is this a problem? The CDC has warned against the use of these older antivirals because of viral resistance. In January 2006, the CDC recommended that physicians stop prescribing amantadine and rimantadine because of high rates of resistance among strains of influenza A. Despite the warning, an estimated 26.4% of physicians continued to prescribe these drugs in the 2006-07 flu season. Looks like we need some new antivirals...


Oh ya, here's the link to the story:

New Virus linked to powerful skin cancer!

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have linked a previously unknown virus with Merkel cell carcinoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. The new virus, called Merkel cell polyoma virus, will be a part of the Polyomaviridae family. The polyoma virus is the seventh virus linked to human cancers, Dr. Moore and Dr. Fauci said. The others, in addition to the Kaposi's sarcoma virus, are hepatitis B and C viruses, linked to liver cancer; papilloma virus, to cervical cancer; Epstein-Barr virus, to cancer of the nose and pharynx and to Burkitt's lymphoma; and HTLV-1, or human T-cell leukemia virus 1.

While further study needs to confirm the virus as the causative agent, its infection is so strongly linked to cancer incidence that it is likely to play an important role in the carcinogenesis.



Birth Control Pills Prevent Cervical Cancer????

After so much buzz about Gardasil (the new vaccine that protects recipients from infection by HPV strains 6, 11, 16, 18), my mind can't help but wander to the words "protects against cervical cancer" whenever I hear the brand name "Gardasil" mentioned. Recently, I heard (from a very noncredible source==>94.9 FM radio talk show) that birth control pills (in addition to the HPV vaccine) helped reduce women's risks for cervical cancer. Personally, I had never heard this before, so I checked it out. Turns out, just like I thought, I couldn't find any evidence for birth control pills conferring any protection against cervical cancer. However, a recent article published in the NY Times reported that women who have taken birth control pills for at least 15 years decreased their risk of developing OVARIAN (not cervical) cancer by a whole 50 FREAKING PERCENT!! Wow. Apparently, even after stopping the pill, these women continued to maintain such low risk levels for the development of ovarian cancer.


Becca Briggs

Cigarette Smoke and Cervical Cancer?

Researchers from Penn State University found a direct interaction between cigarette smoke carcinogen and the human papillomavirus. This may increase the risk of cervical cancer, the third most common cause of cancer in women.

Epidemiological studies suggest that cigarette smoke carcinogens are cofactors which synergize with human papillomavirus (HPV) to increase the risk of cervical cancer progression. Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), a major carcinogen in cigarette smoke, is detected in the cervical mucus and may interact with HPV. Exposure of cervical cells to high concentrations of BaP resulted in a 10-fold increase in HPV type 31 (HPV31) viral titers, whereas treatment with low concentrations of BaP resulted in an increased number of HPV genome copies but not an increase in virion morphogenesis. BaP exposure also increased HPV16 and HPV18 viral titers. Overall, BaP modulation of the HPV life cycle could potentially enhance viral persistence, host tissue carcinogenesis, and permissiveness for cancer progression.

Article is here:


Avian flu in India

Hey all,

I loved the dinner last night! Thanks for showing up guys. :)

I found a pretty good summary article on the H5N1 situation in India. It is interesting because it is written more to calm people down than alarm them because it emphasizes that it isn't transmitted from birds to humans or humans to humans. I don't really think they believe that it will jump that soon (which we agreed last quarter that it almost certainly would). Anyway, very interesting.
Dr. Bob--do you think that people have bioterrorism strains of bird to human infections of H5N1 out there?

Another really random comment: Did you guys know there are strains of resistant TB on campus in the labs that people are working with? WHOA! There are so many things that go on right in the vicinity of us...Anybodyknow any more about this?


Silent and costly war... against raccoon rabies

Ontario apparently has spent $9 million dollars on dropping bait to vaccinate raccoons against rabies-- and sounded very proud of this in the following article:

The story itself is on a case of puppy rabies in the city, and about how bats are the main rabies carriers in the area. But I was most amused by the "bait dropping" they casually refer to when talking about fight on the "2 front lines of the raccoon rabies war".

I just can't imagine how many traps $9 million would buy--


"Summer Colds are the Worst!"

Like some other people in the class, I now get very excited when I hear references to viruses in pop culture. So the other day, I was pretty excited when I heard a GREAT viral reference in a movie. I was watching the movie Chinatown with Jack Nicholson, where he plays a private investigator. In one scene, he is questioning a very suspicious character. Jack asks the bad guy what he was doing the night of the murder of so-and-so, and the man answers, "I had a cold." And Jack answers (very menacingly), "Those summer colds are the worst." (And we know why -- because they're caused by enteroviruses and not rhinoviruses, like the milder, winter colds are!) No one else understood why I was so excited about this, but I thought this class would be able to appreciate.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Flu Cases in North Carolina Rise

Flu cases have been rising in North Carolina, especially at universities. Close quarters are very favorable to the virus. The number of cases in the whole state this past week was about three times the number from the week before. The article pointed out the fact that the flu is transmissible before symptoms arise, just as we learned. It also suggested that the following be vaccinated: pregnant women, child-care providers, the elderly, anyone with a chronic disease, and children from 6 months to 5 years. Taking antivirals within one to two days after contracting the virus can attenuate the symptoms.!business&s=1037645507703


Thursday, January 24, 2008


So according to our syllabus, we're not spending too much class time on HepE (just clumped with the other hepatitises/hepatiti/however you make hepatitis plural). This is probably due to HepE being very regional; for the 4 genotypes of HepE known to infect humans, Genotype 1 is geographically identified with Africa and southern Asia; genotype 2 with Mexico and West Africa; genotype 3, with industrialized countries such as North America, Europe, and Japan; and genotype 4, with eastern Asia and India. BUT according to a Jan 2008 article published in EID, HepE is showing up in England and Wales a whole lot more than in the past. A lot of the people who are being diagnosed are middle-aged, non-traveling Caucasian men, and doctors are missing the diagnosis. The article suggested that HepE should be part of the differential diagnosis of for people with hepatitis who traditionally aren't suspected of having HepE.


Malaria Vaccine on the Horizon?

A small malaria vaccine trial conducted in Mali has had promising results: The vaccine was entirely safe and induced a strong immune response -- a six-fold increase in malaria antibodies -- in 40 adults who received it. The vaccine is designed to prevent the malaria parasite from gaining entry to a host's red blood cells. A second study is now being conducted in 400 Malian children, ages 1 to 6. Could this particular vaccine bring an end to more than a million malaria deaths each year???

-Tad Henry

RotaTeq approved for Canadian children

This is only a little late for last week's lecture.

"Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has endorsed the use of RotaTeq to help protect against rotavirus gastroenteritis in young children. RotaTeq is a new vaccine made by Merck Frosst Canada, and it has been on the market in the United States since 2006. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians welcomed the recommendation of the vaccine for rotaviruses, which causes about 20 percent of bouts of diarrhea and vomiting in children. "Not only is it a common cause of stressful and costly emergency department visits, but its highly contagious nature makes it a common cause of hospital-acquired illness for patients and their siblings visiting the emergency department for any reason," said Dr. Vincent Grant, chair of the association's pediatric section. Individual provinces and territories still have to determine their funding plans for the oral, three-dose vaccine. The Canadian Immunization Committee will advise them on whether to add RotaTeq to the roster of publicly funded vaccines. A universal immunization program has the potential to eliminate 56,000 cases of rotavirus gastroenteritis, 33,000 visits to physicians, 15,000 emergency department visits and 1,000 to 5,000 hospitalizations a year, according to NACI estimates."

-Rebecca Hebner

Anti-Viral Kleenex

Do you remember we talked about Kleenex tissue having potent ability to kill cold and flu viruses? Anti-viral Kleenex is back on the market! Check it out at ...

A disclaimer says that the specially treated middle layer is virucidal against Rhinovirus Type 1A and 2, Influenza A and Influenza B, and RSV.

This product comes in pocket packs. I'm thinking we use class funds to buy some and test the efficacy of this anti-viral claim!


How you been vaccinated lately?

A study by NFID has found that many adults are skipping their vaccinations. There has been speculation about whether this is due to the high prices for the new vaccines ($150/shingles and $300/HPV) or some other reason. Right now, there isn't any mechanism to help those living on a low-income to afford them. Isn't this also the fault of doctors for not recommending them and explaining their benefits? Maybe people are skipping out on doctor visits, too. When did you last go to the doctor, for that matter?


"vaccinated" rabid dog kills Russian man

In Russia, a 26 year old man died of rabies after having been bit (3 months ago) by his pit bull terrier. Doctors had dismissed the possibility of rabies after he began experiencing neurological disorders, on the grounds that his dog had been "vaccinated." The dog ended up dying but no autopsy was performed to find out he cause of death. In retrospect, the vaccine was probably an "unregulated imported" one. I didn't think that there would be a black market for rabies vaccines, but I guess because they're so expensive, it would probably be profitable.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Previously unknown virus causes skin cancer!?

A married physician duo, Dr. Patrick S. Moore and Dr. Yuan Chang (both of whom are credited with the discovery of HHV-8) are claiming that Merkel cell polyoma virus, which was previously unknown, is the proverbial smoking gun that behind Merkel cell carcinoma.
Merkel cell carcinoma, which occurs most frequently on the head, the neck, and the face, is a rare disease - the incidence in the United States is roughly 1,200 cases per year - though these rates have tripled over the period from 1986 to 2001. They are claiming that the new polyoma virus is the 7th virus to be causally linked to human cancer. To learn more about this new development, follow this link:


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New: Bird Flu Tracker

Developed by the WHO (World Health Organization), this system helps countries track the H5N1 influenza. It was provided to international laboratories on Tuesday.

The WHO's website hosts an electronic database which presents specimens submitted by each participating country, as well as what specific work was done on each specimin. Other issues of public interest also presented include tests results showing sensitivity and resistance to specific drugs and genetics that have been worked out.

According to the CIDRAP article, "the database is the Geneva-based WHO's response to demands for more transparency in the virus sharing system, a senior official said".

"We were asked to specifically do this, and that's why we've done it," Dr. David Heymann, the WHO's assistant director general for health security and environment, said from Geneva.
"I think it's a reasonable request that countries know where their viruses are going."

Eventually the database will be used to track all influenza viruses that have been submitted to the lab network; but for now its is restricted to H5N1 viruses.


More Money = More Influenza

So I don't have a source for this, but I heard it on the radio and thought it was an interesting tid-bit, so I thought I'd share it. Although granted, I couldn't find it on the web, so it may not be credible. Either way, I thought I'd post another article seeing that Nick and I had the same one about Ebola...

But anyway, so I heard that recent studies have found that influenza virus can actually live on dollar bills for up to two weeks (yay - word of the day = FOMITE) and it is causing people like bankers - who have a high levels of contact with bills and change - to have a higher risk of catching the virus than if they were to work somewhere else. Interesting, dollar bills as fomites? I;m going to have to say, that is not a strong enough deterrent for me :)


Deactivating EBOLA!!!

WOW!! This reminds me of that intense video we watched last quarter... interesting, i wonder if this really works? I like how this article says "it's safe, but we're not quite sure it works," I think it's nice how the article really explains how they did the deactivating, but not 100% sure with ebola seems like a pretty big risk to me... Anyone want to volunteer for a test study to check deactivation of the virus? Lol.


'Safe Ebola' created for research

Scientists have made the lethal virus Ebola harmless in the lab, potentially aiding research into a vaccine or cure. Taking a single gene from the virus stops it replicating, US scientists wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. Ebola, currently handled in highly secure labs, kills up to 80% of those it infects. However, one expert said the new method may not yet be a fail-safe way of dealing with the virus.

The need for a "biosecurity level 4" (BSL4) laboratory for any work involving Ebola means that very few research institutions are capable of doing this. Researchers wear biosafety suits with their own air supply, and the air pressure in the room is less than the pressure outside, so any leak would mean air flowing inwards rather than outwards. This makes anything more than small-scale study of the virus very difficult to arrange. If Ebola could be kept in a viable form, yet with the risk of infection removed, then conventional labs might be able to study it. The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, say that they have found a "great system" to do this. Key gene. They said that a single one of Ebola's eight genes, called VP30, is the key, as without it, the virus cannot replicate within host cells by itself.

However, the scientists still want the virus to replicate in order to study it, so they developed monkey kidney cells which contained the protein needed. Because the cell was providing the protein, and not the virus itself, it could only replicate within those cells, and even if transferred into a human, would be harmless. In an effort to prove this, they used the monkey cells for dozens of "cycles" of infection and replication, without once encountering a form of the virus capable of making another creature ill.

"We wanted to make biologically contained Ebola virus," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka. "The altered virus does not grow in any normal cells. This system can be used for drug screening and for vaccine production."

Monkey tests

However, not everyone in Ebola research is convinced. Professor Susan Fisher-Hoch, at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, was among those at the forefront of Ebola study in the early 1980s, at the UK's BSL4 lab at Porton Down.
She said that she would need to see more proof that the modified virus could do no harm.

"I wouldn't be comfortable using it until it had been thoroughly tested and did not cause disease in live monkeys, at a high dose. "There is no way you can prove that it is non-toxic unless this has been done."

Merkel cell polyomavirus MCP kills!

Check it out:
According to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, newly discovered (ie. isolated) merkel cell polyomavirus has been linked to serious skin cancer.
The article states, "Merkel cell carcinoma is a fast-moving skin cancer that develops from nerve cells and quickly invades other tissues and organs in the body. This incidence of this type of cancer has increased dramatically over the 20 years and now averages 1,500 cases per year." They report that as many as 50 percent of patients succumb to this disease within 9 months--thats an incredible rate for a type of skin cancer!
Random unresearched thoughts: I wonder if everything--cancer included is actually caused by viruses? Can we talk more about the mechanisms of how viruses lead to cancer?

Monday, January 21, 2008

West Bengal battles with bird flu

This is a recent blog entry on BBC about a journalist who recent traveled to the epicenter of the bird flu otbreak in Margram, West Bengal.

Margram is a large village in West Bengal - it is also the epicentre of the bird flu outbreak.

As I walk into the village, I can see a group of young children playing in the fields. Next to them are dead chickens.

Some of the children are picking up the dead bird's feathers to sell.

They have no idea of the dangers of touching infected birds.

Next to them, sat outside his hut, is an old man.

Anwar Hoque has his head in his hands.

As I walk past he starts shouting: "We have no help from the government - we want medicines but they are not providing us with them and we have cannot afford to buy them from the shops."

There is no sign of the flu anti-viral Tamiflu here.

Slow progress

What strikes me about this rural village is the lack of government officials.

Children look on as an official culls a chick 18/1/08
Officials say not everyone is co-operating with the cull

Many of the 60,000 people who live here keep chickens - indeed some estimate that there were 150,000 chickens in this village before the outbreak of bird flu.

For many, poultry farming is their only source of income.

Yet very few know anything about avian flu - and there seem to be few officials on hand to provide these villagers with information.

After walking around the village for 15 minutes I finally see a team of men in protective white suits.

They are part of the culling team. The state government here in West Bengal has ordered the culling of 400,000 birds.

But progress is very slow.

The man leading this team is Dr Ramchandratta. He tells me this morning they have only killed five birds.

He is angry with the villagers and says: "They are not interested in handing over their birds and that is making life very hard for us."

In front of me, one of his team has a young chick in his hand and is surrounded by a group of children.

He kills it by breaking its neck.


As I walk away Dr Ramchandratta asks me to come back.

Boxes of supplies stacked up at emergency HQ on 18/1/08
Local government has no experience of handling the disease

He tells me he is a "soldier of the government" and he is trying his best but people are not listening to him.

There are stories here of some villagers smuggling birds out to other areas and even of some culling teams being attacked.

It is a chaotic scene.

Just outside the village is a large yellow building. It is from here that Kakoli Mukherjee is directing operations to tackle the problem.

Sitting at her desk, she is surrounded by villagers.

She accepts that there are problems, but says: "none of us have any experience of dealing with this disease".

Avian flu is spreading across West Bengal.

As I drive out of Margram it is clear that unless the villagers and the local government start working together this problem can only get worse.


New Antiretroviral!

Pretty self explanatory: entravirine (Intelence) is a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor. It has recently been approved by the FDA. This will help lower viral titers of AIDS patients.;_ylt=AoXZmJKChXbboJ1QyPVJDr_VJRIF

Happy MLKJr Day!


A funny flu story

Okay, this isn't really news, but I thought I'd share a story that my friend wrote for his Spanish class. It involves the secret to beating influenza! (notice all the factual errors)

By Jared Sun
Translation from Spanish:
Once upon a time, in the magical kingdom of Royo, there was a king named Tomas. King Tomas was no ordinary king. He was a magical king, with a court of intelligent people. They were his advisors and he listened to them for everything. When there was a problem, King Tomas asked his advisors for help. After, King Tomas would use his magic and solve the problem.
Everything was perfect until one day. A cheese factory exploded and the cheese fell all over Royo. The cheese rotted and Royo was stinky. "What do I do?!" King Tomas asked his advisors. "Rats each cheese, if you summon rats they will eat the cheese," said the advisors. King Tomas summoned rats, and the rats ate the cheese.
The next day, King Tomas was not happy. The rats were everywhere. They infested the houses. "What do I do!?" King Tomas asked his advisors. "Cats eat rats, if you summon cats they will eat the rats," said the advisors. King Tomas summoned cats, and the cats ate the rats.
The next day, King Tomas was not happy. The cats were everywhere, saying, "Meow! Meow!" "What do I do!?" King Tomas asked his advisors. "Bears eat cats, if you summon bears they will eat the cats," said the advisers. King Tomas summoned bears, and the bears ate the cats.
The next day, King Tomas went for a swim but was not happy. The ocean was filled with blood because the bears were eating the people of Royo. "What do I do!?" King Tomas asked his advisers. "Elephants trample bears, if you summon elephants they will trample the bears," said the advisers. King Tomas summoned elephants, and the elephants trampled the bears.
The next day King Tomas was eating dinner but he was not happy. The queen was not there because she had been crushed by an elephant, elephants were everywhere. "What do I do!?" King Tomas asked his advisers. "Elephants are particularly susceptible to influenza, if you summon influenza it will kill the elephants," said the advisers. King Tomas summoned influenza and the influenza killed the elephants.
The next day, King Tomas was extremely furious! King Tomas and all the people of Royo had influenza, and they were sick. "What do I do!?" King Tomas asked his advisers…very weakly. "Alcohol kills bacteria, if you summon tequila it will cure the influenza," said the advisers…very weakly. King Tomas summoned tequila, an ocean of tequila flowed through Royo, and the tequila cured the influenza.
The next day, everyone was happy.


'Safe Ebola' created for research

Scientists have made a "safe" ebola virus strain for study int he lab. They mutated the VP30 protein, which the virus needs to replicate. Since they need the virus to replicate for study purposes, they have also made special kidneys which have functional protein so the virus can replicate. Some scientists are still skeptical about the safety of this virus, but it's a step in the right direction.

Full Article


Rheumatoid arthritis increases risk for Shingles virus

Scientists have found a very robust correlation indicating that people with rheumatoid arthritis are far more likely to develop shingles, the reactivation of herpes zoster.

Doctors who published the study aren't sure if the drugs used to treat RA are behind the link or if general dysregulation of the immune system in these patients is to blame.

Reuters article here is a quick and easy read. Hope you've all had a great three day weekend!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Forget Not the Medicinal Plants!

Many plants offer chemicals that are used in pharmaceutical drugs, yet they are in the face of extinction! As of now 50% of drugs rely on these plants, but scientists are trying to produce the chemicals in the labs. The problem with this, according to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, is that potential cures could be lost. They specifically referenced possible cures for HIV or cancer. In addition, these medicinal plants are the number one source of treatment for 5 billion people, many of whom live in developing countries.


Poor puppies...

Due to the 3,380 people in China that died last year due to Rabies, the country is now mandating that all dog-owners get their dogs vaccinated, or else they will face "severe punishment." As of now, less than 10% of all dogs are vaccinated against this deadly rhabdovirus. The majority of the dogs that are vaccinated are those that tend to dwell in large cities...leaving the rural people less likely to abide by the vaccination recommendations and thus leaving the rural people most exposed to this deadly virus. Thus, the new vaccine guidelines, mandating vaccination of all dogs, should help address this problem of the existence of so many unvaccinated puppies in the rural regions. This mandatory vaccine regimen should drastically decrease the number of human rabies cases this next year.

Becca Briggs

Chikungunya in Singapore

Singapore is kicking up surveillance for Aedes breeding sites after 8 people came down with the fever. The virus hasn't firmly established itself within Singapore yet (so they say), so it is especially crucial that they limit the breeding areas for the vector so that it isn't introduced there.


Etravirine for HIV

Hey guys, I just saw that Tibotec recently got FDA approval for its new non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor called Etravirine. I couldn't find out more about how it works, but apparently it was approved under the rapid assessment process for potentially life-saving drugs. Here's the link to the article, but I think you might be more interested in looking at the drugs Tibotec has in the pipeline which you can look at here . I couldn't figure out if Etravirine was one of these on the list, but they're still interesting.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Hantavirus in HUMAN SALIVA?

oh dear.

As many of us from Durham's class know, Hantavirus is a robovirus that was was famous in the US for its epidemic in the four corners region. El nino caused increased rainfall -> which led to increased food for mice -> increased mice population -> more mice competition -> more mice biting (and spreading the disease) -> mice coming into homes, pooping and peeing everywhere -> humans infected with the sin nombre virus.

Apparently there was an outbreak in Sweden as well, and the virus caused the characteristic hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome.

In connection with last year's epidemic, a research team at UmeƄ University in Sweden has managed for the first time to show that hantavirus exists in human saliva. This raises the question of whether this contagion can spread among humans.

Find info here:

Will Hantavirus spread from human to human then?
... does this mean Hantavirus could be a new, but more dangerous, virus like mono?


Merkel cell Polyoma Virus

Newly discovered virus, and stronly associated with Merkel cell carcinoma, is a member of the polyoma family. This cancer is most often found in immunocompromised persons, such as those afflicted by AIDS or taking organ transplant drugs which suppress the immune system.
According to the NY Times, this is the 7th virus linked to human cancers. (The others are Hep B & C with liver cancer, papilloma virus to cervical cancer, EBV with nose and pharynx cancer, and HTLV-1 to Human T cell leukemia.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

NEJM on H5N1

The New England Journal of Medicine just published a comprehensive article on avian influenza, its ecology, and epidemiology. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bird Flu gets even scarier

Hey guys, just found this article that says that the nature of the transmission of up to 25% of H5N1 cases cannot be explained by respiratory or parenteral transmission. They theorize that the virus may somehow be transported along surfaces carrying the virus or "kicked up in fertilizer dust". They explain that for some of the patients, their only risk factor was having visited a live poultry market. That sounds reasonably risky to me, but I guess if they got the disease without touching the infected birds there needs to be another explanation. If this means that H5N1 can survive in the environment in someway, it could be a scary discovery.

Here's the article:


FDA to declare cold medicines too risky for babies, toddlers

FDA is issuing a public health advisory on Thursday to warn parents to avoid these drugs for children under age 2 "because serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur."

It's not the first warning about cold remedies and tots: Drug companies last October quit selling dozens of versions targeted specifically to babies and toddlers. That same month, the FDA's own scientific advisers voted that the drugs don't even work in small children and shouldn't be used in preschoolers, either -- anyone under age 6.

Thursday's advisory marks the government's first ruling on the issue: Don't give the drugs to children under 2.


Its not a virus...but its on our syllabus!

As a preview, here is a pretty scary story about prions.

A British woman who died of a brain disease suggestive of variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (vCJD) had a genetic marker not seen in any previous vCJD patients, raising the possibility that her illness represented a new form of the disease that could signal a new wave of infections, according to a recent research report.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the December 2007 issue of Archives of Neurology, found that the 39-year-old woman carried the VV (valine-homozygous) version of the prion protein gene (PRNP), a type previously thought to confer protection against vCJD.

Scary stuff! For the full story, which is really interesting, see


yellow fever in brazil

there has been a significant increase from the number of expected cases of yellow fever in brazil. in order to combat the virus, public health officials are going after its vector, aedes aegypti, with blanket spraying of the area. the company that produces the vaccine in brazil has suspended all exports of the vaccine and is now upping their production as well.


Flu Vaccine: Cell Death Suppression Increases Efficacy Of M2 Vaccines

Significant public attention has recently been focused on the development of new anti-influenza vaccines that provide protection against a broad spectrum of viral strains. One proposed strategy is to utilize conserved viral protein, M2. Clinical trials of M2-containing influenza vaccines were recently initiated by US and European companies.

Full Article


Diarrhea in Britain!

Between Christmas & New Year's, over 200,000 British people contracted norovirus - effectively inducing vomiting, mild fevers, headaches, and diarrhea. It is said to be the biggest outbreak of a norovirus in 5 years (since the last epidemics); many hospital wards have either been placed on red alert or have been shut down to prevent further spread of the disease.

In the weeks following New Year's, officials estimate that an additional 200,000 people have been infected each week, bringing the total number to 2.8 million. Wow!


ps. See the TimesOnline for additional info:

Global Warming and Dengue in the States

Dengue fever, arguably the most threatening emerging infectious disease(in terms of its prevalence and morbidity and mortality: 50 to 100 million annual cases), may have just gained a foothold in the United States. For a long time dengue has been confined to warmer, tropical regions where the mosquito vectors, A. aegypti and A. albopictus, can readily replicate the virus. However, with the world warming, dengue has come as far north as Texas recently. Dengue is poised now to spread throughout the rest of the states -- especially with poor mosquito control measures, urbanization and population growth, and air travel. An effective dengue vaccine and curbing carbon emissions in a world expected to increase energy demand ten-fold this century have never been more critical.

-Tad Henry

Monday, January 14, 2008

Surgical Glue contaminated with HCV

This is sort of crazy, but it appears that 57 people contracted HCV from contaminated surgical glue in Tokyo after undergoing heart surgery.

The glue is made using fibrinogen, a blood product, and apparently was tainted with the hepatitis C virus. The glue may have been used on up to 79,000 patients! A class action suit is pending.

Check out the article here.

two posts, one evening!

Childhood exposure to Mumps linked to increased risk of Schizophrenia Later in Life

Swedish scientists published an article today in the American Journal of Psychology finding that childhood exposure to mumps virus (in cases of CNS infection) was correlated with a 3-fold increase in the later development of schizophrenia. Even more stunning, infection with CMV was related to a 16 fold increase in later psychosis! As we virophiles are well aware, both mumps and CMV are highly neurovirulent viruses.

While prior studies have examined fetal infection and psychosis, this is the first large study on childhood exposure.

Maybe in our lifetime an infectious basis to schizophrenia will be elucidated. Pretty cool stuff! More and more reasons to get your children vaccinated (if you ask me!)

Check out the article here.


Yellow Fever Scare In Brasil


The Brazilian government has confirmed that a man who died in hospital in the capital, Brasilia, was suffering from yellow fever. Hundreds of thousands of people have been queuing for vaccinations for the disease in parts of Brazil, after 12 suspected cases in recent weeks. Eight of those cases, three of them fatal, are still being investigated. In the last 12 years, the country has reported 349 cases of the disease, with 161 deaths. Brazil has not had a case of urban yellow fever since 1942 but now this man has died in hospital in the capital with the disease. However, the latest victim spent the New Year's holiday in a rural area in the neighbouring state of Goias and the authorities are working on the belief he was infected outside the city.

Since the recent alert, more than 560,000 people have been vaccinated against yellow fever and the government says there is no risk of an epidemic. Public concern was initially raised when two monkeys were found dead in a public park in Brasilia, but tests on one of the animals have shown it did not have the disease. During this busy holiday period in Brazil the government is issuing reminders to tourists, both from home and abroad, to check on the need for vaccinations, depending on their travel plans.


H5N1 Prevalent in Egypt

With a total of 43 cases of human bird flu since the disease was first recorded in the area around this time last year, making Egypt one of the most affected countries in the world thus far. While national authorities try to impose limitations/bans on the purchasing/consuming of farm-raised fowl, the public is resistant as they feel their government "profit from bird flu" and are "trying to get people to buy frozen chickens. That way they'll make money off [their] backs." Due to such governmental distrust, those with neighbors whose farm poultry were afflicted with bird flu continue to sell or eat their own chickens instead of killing them as is recommended by the authorities. Unfortunately, most of the cases of human bird flu are women and children mainly because they are the most frequent handlers of the infected birds. Overall, because of these people's close contact with poultry, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has declared that as a country, Egypt is one of the most likely places for the spontaneous bird flu mutations to take place that will allow the virus to be more easily passed between human and bird.

Becca Briggs

find more:

Smallpox vaccine alternative identified

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have identified an alternative to the existing smallpox vaccine, which can hopefully replace the current biodefense stockpile that seems to have amassed.

The vaccine in question was developed from a modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA). MVA produces the same antiviral response in humans and animal studies as the current smallpox vaccine named Dryvax. Dryvax has caused serious complication in some people, and MVA has been administered with little or no adverse side effects.

Read more at, particularly regarding the use of microarray chips to determine how serum antibodies responded to the vaccinia proteins.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Non-viral vaccine

So far, there's only one vaccine for cancer (Gardisil)... But now, clinical trials are undergoing specifically for breast and ovarian cancer (cool!). The technology uses specific, pre-exposed dendritic cells to attack the tumor cells. Hopefully, this pans out soon!;_ylt=AgEM6gNxtg_1rQr0af_bpQPVJRIF


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dengue-related Deaths in Cambodia Rose Significantly

Last year, 407 people in Cambodia died from dengue fever out of 40,000 people infected; most were children. This was the highest number of deaths since 1998 when 474 people died. Cambodia constantly faces cases from dengue fever. The outbreak last year was linked to an early rainy season. This is a good illustration of how environmental factors can affect diseases. To try to prevent further deaths, residents were told to keep still water away from mosquitoes. Last year there were also significant outbreaks in other parts of Southeast Asia. The WHO states that 50 million people a year contract the virus.

Jasmeen Miah

Potential New Drug Targets for HIV

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified 273 proteins that HIV requires to survive in human cells. The article was published Thursday in Science magazine. Until recently, only 36 protein targets were known.

These findings expose many new potential targets for better drugs to combat HIV infection in the body.

The mechanism of RNA interference, in which short bits of interfering genetic code are introduced into the cell to knock out the cell's ability to make a single protein, was used. Each sample, now unable to produce one protein. was placed in separate wells and dosed with virus. Inability of the virus to replicate suggested necessity of specific protein for HIV survival.

*Stanford trivia: Andrew Fire of Stanford Medical School won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Craig Mello of MIT) for work on RNA interference.

See this link for the Science article:


Friday, January 11, 2008

Thimerosal may not cause Autism

Hey guys
Many people thought that the mercury-rich preservative in some childhood vaccines may be causing autism, but it seems that autism numbers have stayed constant in the last few years. The preservative thimerosal hasn't been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, but is used in some flu shots.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Scientists Home in on Required H5N1 Mutations for Human Transmissibility

Researchers have recently cracked a portion of the avian flu puzzle. Flu viruses can bind to two different receptors in human respiratory tissue: a small cone-shaped receptor and a long umbrella-shaped receptor. So far, H5N1 human cases have been the result of viruses attaching to the cone-shaped receptor in the upper respiratory tract. To date, the H5N1 virus has not been able to attach to the umbrella-shaped receptor. However, if the virus mutates in such a way that its tropogens can link up with these receptors, human to human transmissibility is very likely. The most contagious human flu viruses in the past have been able to bind to the umbrella-shaped receptors. This latest discovery will likely help to improve surveillance and to open doors to new drugs.

-Tad Henry