Friday, February 29, 2008

New and safer smallpox vaccine?

Soybean oil, alcohol, water, and detergents as ingredients in the next smallpox vaccine???

No way!

That's what I thought when I read the tagline on a ScienceDaily article on using oil-based nasal nanoemulsion vaccines. They were first reported in 2003 to vaccinate against influenza, and it's since been tested for HIV and smallpox. They used gp120 to vaccinate against HIV and killed whole vaccinia virus for smallpox. In both, they "were able to promote an immune response." Apparently, for HIV, if mucosal immunity is induced, immunity is conferred for the genital mucosa as well. Crazy. Their HIV vaccine also induced cellular immunity and neutralized antibody to HIV virus isolates--

The smallpox vaccine with nanoemulsion-killed vaccinia would be safer than the current live-attenuated vaccine. This vaccine induced mucosal, antibody, and Th1 cellular immunity. \

Results from both smallpox and HIV vaccine were published this past moth in Clinical Vaccine Immunology and AIDS Research Human Retroviruses, respectively.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

HCV outbreak in Vegas!

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas... and that includes viral infections of all kinds.
There's recently been a Hep C outbreak from a Endoscopy center. Apparently, a sedative used was contaminated and 40000 people need to be tested! Go listen to CNN's impeccable Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more details:

Love and happiness,


First worldwide public health analysis says India is in trouble


I found this cool article about one of the first (the first?) worldwide public health study that looks at infectious disease outbreak regions. They studied past outbreaks and where they occurred from all over. We know that zoonotic jumps/recombinations are most likely to cause 'new' diseases, or epidemics. They found that the regions that had high population density, warm climate, and wildlife bio-diversity were the regions that were most vulnerable to new outbreaks of infectious disease. This makes India and China especially vulnerable countries!

Not surprisingly, they found that, "The study has indicated that disease surveillance resources are misallocated, with the best efforts limited to rich countries." (DUH!) I personally really appreciated this global study because its looking at the world as a whole--like maybe the rich countries actually have a real obligation to watch out for the poorer countries. 20 years ago (not that I knew anything back then) this would be been out of the question. Maybe we're all moving in a better direction?

Quoted from the study:

An international research team analysed 335 outbreaks of new infections over the past six decades and found that more than 60 per cent were zoonotic diseases, caused by microorganisms jumping from animals, mostly those in the wild, into humans.

These include HIV from chimpanzees, the deadly Ebola virus from fruit bats, the West Nile virus from common sparrows and avian influenza (H5N1 virus) from wild ducks.

“We found infectious diseases strongly linked to human population density, changes in population, rainfall, and wildlife bio-diversity,” said Kate Jones, a team member and research fellow at the Zoological Society of London. “These links allow us to predict where future outbreaks are most likely to occur,” Jones told The Telegraph.

High Hopes for TB Vaccine

Trials in children of a new TB vaccine are underway in South Africa.

Tuberculosis sample grown in the lab

This new vaccine, MVA85A, is being developed as a booster for BCG, and has been in testing on humans for six years now. It is currently being tested in South Africa on young children and adults with HIV. If successful here, it will go into a phase 3 trial next year. However, it still needs at least 8 more years of trials before it can be considered for a license.

Here's the link to the article!


New Flu Shot Recommendation

An advisory panel to the CDC recommends that all children ages 6 mos to 18 years should receive the flu vaccine, which extends the previous recommendation to immunize children up to age 5. This recommendation is likely to take effect in the 2008-2009 season and will add nearly 30 million kids to the list of who should receive annual flu immunizations.

The official CDC recommendation will increase the number of government-subsidized shots supplied to families who cannot afford to pay and may result in more insurance companies covering payment for the shots.

The move to vaccinate schoolchildren is an effort to prevent spread from children to adults and elderly persons, of which about 35,000 die annually in the US from flu complications.

Check out the article on the front page of today's (2/28/08) San Jose Mercury News.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A promising combination vaccine for Ebola and Marburg using VLPs!

Whoa! This is amazing! So exciting! So many exclamation points are warranted!!!

Scientists at USAMRIID have announced the creation of a promising combination vaccine for Ebola and Marburg which has been shown to be 100% efficacious in cynomolgous macaques. This breakthrough vaccine for filoviruses is composed of virus-like particles (VLPs) and is totally non-infectious in nature-- just like the Gardisal HPV vaccine! Monkeys treated with the VLP based vaccine were then challenged with lethal doses of virus and none developed signs of infection while all of the control animals succumbed to the agents of hemorrhagic fever.

VLPs are likely now to be the leading candidate for human filovirus vaccine development due to their high safety, efficacy, and immunogenicity. This is a truly exciting development and the primary researcher, Dr. Kelly Warfield, hopes that the vaccine will be in human trials in a matter of years.

Check out the news release here.

Check out a more scientifically rigorous description of the work here.

yours in filo-mania (!),


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carraguard microbicide for HIV

It doesn't seem like anyone has posted on this and since Jon mentioned it in his post, I thought I should include the whole story:
Carraguard, a gel substance made from seaweed, was being investigated as a possible microbicide for protection against HIV.  Results of the trial, though, found that those that used the carraguard got HIV at the same rate as those that used the control gel.  A number of explanations have arisen, including that the women in the experimental group didn't use the gel as much as they were supposed to.  The experimental group did not have any serious complications from the gel, prompting investigation into carraguard as a base into which antivirals could be added in the future.


'08 Flu Vaccine Strains

WHO has come out with the recommended strains for the '08 flu vaccine.

A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)
A/Brisbanse/10/2007 (H3N2)
I hope this year's vaccine is a better match than last year's.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Ashton Kutcher turns 30 and gets Hep A for his bday present.

Celebrities attending Ashton Kutcher's 30th birthday party had a little viral scare. 

Okay not REALLY.

BUT, the bartender at the event serving drinks to Lucy Liu, Salma Hayek, Madonna, and other celebs was found infected with Hep A! Since he was handling these with his bare hands, the New York Health Department was worried that he might have transmitted it through serving drinks. 

The vaccine should be administered within 2 weeks of exposure, and may minimize health risk and give the celebs a sense of comfort.

I'm not providing the link cuz no one REALLY cares...


China, Pakistan, and Vietnam are in Bird Flu Trouble.

China and Pakistan have announced bird flu outbreaks among poultry, a day after two women, one in China and one in Vietnam, died of the virus. In Pakistan, there was a fresh outbreak of H5N1 in chickens, the fourth case in a month. China needs to be on alert, especially because they have the largest poultry population in the world. The country has done its best to educate those who handle poultry and mass immunize birds. 

More Info:


New CDC in Nigeria

The country of Nigeria is opening up a new CDC, based after the US' to help them record and track infectious diseases. Why do we care? Because Nigeria is one of the countries that HIV is endemic in and this is a strong step toward reducing HIV prevalence within the country!


Click here for more info

Gardasil for Boys!

By 2009, Merck's Gardasil should be licensed for boys as well as girls, though Merck may be a bit up a creek in that it spent considerable time & money marketing the vaccine for girls. Now, How are they going pitch that to parents of boys. Think altruism. Responsibility. Chivalry, even? Oh, and yes: some explicit details about genital warts and sexual transmission. Will it work? What's the benefit if their sons won't get cervical cancer? Some thoughts!


Avian Flu Update

The Chinese Ministry of Health has recently confirmed a 29th case of human H5N1 infection in a 41 year old man from the Guangxi Region. The man died 8 days after onset of symptoms, and his infection has been traced to contact with sick and dead poultry prior to his first symptoms. His symptoms were characterized by a pneumonia-like syndrome, which manifested as chills, fever and cough. Of the 29 cases reported so far in this outbreak of H5N1, 19 have been fatal.

In response to the outbreak, the Ministry of Health as well as local Municipal Administrations of Industry and commerce have recently implemented avian influenza prevention measures, including contact tracing. Despite these measures, however, a 30th case of avian influenza is suspected in a women from Guangdong province in southern China (which is where SARS originated).

- Claire

Copper May Inhibit the Transmission of HIV Through Breast Milk and Blood

Researchers from the U.S. and abroad have developed an inexpensive copper-based filter that may prevent HIV from being passed through breast milk and blood.

Full Article


First Microbicide on the way?

An important clinical trial of a microbicide using the Gilead anti-retroviral drug Tenofovir has shown the gel to be safe and effective for women. The study comes after trials of 2 microbicides actually resulted in an increase in rates of transmission of HIV. The scientists claim that it is too early to tell how effective the gel will be in preventing transmission of HIV, and that this Phase II trial was merely to demonstrate the safety of the microbicide, rather than its efficacy. Something to keep a very close eye on in the future!

*Note that I believe this is a DIFFERENT microbicide than the "Carraguard" that others are expressing disappointment about.

Jon D

End of Ebola in Uganda!

On Feb. 20, the ministry of health in Uganda declared the end of the Ebola epidemic in Bundibugyo. The last person to be infected by the virus was discharged on 8 Jan 2008. This is more than double the maximum incubation period (42 days) for Ebola.

A national task force coordinated the response to this outbreak, comprising MoH, WHO and other international partners in the field. These forces set up an active surveillance system for the detection of cases and follow-up of their contacts.



Sunday, February 24, 2008


So my friend contracts a cold and she's been trying this zinc-releasing meds, Cold-eeze. After a little bit of googling research, I have the proposed mechanism:

Don't know if it all makes sense, but according to many a published article on the site and the claim of randomized placebo, double blind tests... it works? I'll have to follow up on her and see if it really does.


Friday, February 22, 2008

2 M doses of YF vaccines for Paraguay

Following up on what Cristin and Katie and several others have posted about the YF outbreak in Paraguay, the WHO is sending 2 million doses of the vaccine to help stop the outbreak. People are getting pretty panicked about the outbreak, understandably, and people waiting for vaccines have begun riots outside of at least one medical center.

There's not much to read but you can check out the article yourself:


Measles outbreak is switzerland

Currently Switzerland is experiencing the largest measles outbreak since the introduction of mandatory "notification of the disease" in 1999. 1,405 cases were reported between November 2006-February 2008. To give this number some perspective, the article reporting stated that for children under the age of 16 in the canton of Lucerne, this means 500 cases per 100,000 people. Not surprisingly, the outbreak is among school-aged children , particularly in the canton of Lucerne. The article states that the origin of the outbreak is unknown, specifically; however, it is the measles virus genotype D5 that has been frequently detected, as well as B3 and A. 

Specifically, the article points a concern for the European Football Championshio (EURO 2008), and notes that Switzerland experienced the highest rate of measles among European Countries in 2007. Check out the article if you want to know more...


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Map highlighting emerging infectious diseases released today

Thought this was cool. It uses data from the last 65 years and includes (but is not limited to) Nipah virus, SARS, H5N1, Ebola and West Nile. It shows that 65% of the emerging diseases are caused by animal reservoirs.

To read more click here


Bush Pushes for more HIV/AIDS Funding in Africa

President Bush is now backing an emergency HIV/AIDS response that is the largest in history to target an infectious disease. He is trying to increase the funding commitment from 15 to 30 billion over the next five years. Bush is proud of US citizens and their generous donations to humanitarian efforts worldwide. He also feels the moral imperative to instill hope and bring an end to human suffering -- and AIDS is certainly one pandemic wreaking much havoc. The president is also behind an effort to reduce malaria, a major killer of children in Africa.

-Tad Henry

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh Canada...

There is an outbreak of Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The outbreaks occurred at two hospitals in the region, where many patients are suffering from a coryza syndrome caused by HMPV. Common symptoms of HMPV are cough, fever, headache, general malaise, and nausea or vomiting.

HMPV is a paramyxovirus of the order mononegavirales. It was first isolated in 2001, and has been determined to be the second most common cause (after respiratory syncytial virus) of lower respiratory infection in young children. Young children, elderly and immunocompromised individuals are at risk from more severe disease caused by HMPV.

For more info, check out:


“Airborne helps—I swear by it”

Like many other popular cold/flu prevention products, Airborne’s effectiveness has no basis in hard evidence. I hadn’t realized this, but it was created by a schoolteacher less than 10 years back who didn’t want to keep getting sick from her students. In 2006, it brought in $100 million in sales.

I’m staring at a tube of Airborne I have sitting on my desk right now, thinking about why I got it, and it was because everyone else swore that it worked for them.

What’s in it? 17 herbs, vitamins, and minerals, including zinc, vitamin C, lonicera, forsythia, and Echinacea, all things we discussed in class as being old wives’ remedies but not having gone through scientific trials. This article also calls them out on having a bit too much vitamin A—taken over a long period of time, the recommended dose would result in vitamin A overdose and cause bone deterioration and dry skin.,1,2611321.story?ctrack=4&cset=true


CJD in Redwood City?

I ran into Dr. Scott Smith recently, and he told me about the CJD scare they're having at the Redwood City Kaiser right now. Apparently a girl with a degenerative neurological disorder came in, and they performed brain surgery on her. Later when they sent samples in, it was suspect for CJD-- more tests I think are being run to confirm-- but in the meantime, the tools used in the surgery were washed with "clean" ones, so those tools and the entire surgical ward could be contaminated. They're running per a protocol Scott Smith wrote on what to do with a CJD case, just to be safe.

This is even cooler because my webpage/timeline is on prions, and damn, are they scary...


More Yellow Fever - in Paraguay!

Paraguay has declared a state of emergency this past week amid a nationwide crisis about an outbreak of yellow fever, the first since 1974. This comes right on the heels of another health alert declared last month due to a suspected outbreak of dengue.

At least 160,000 people have been vaccinated in the last few days, but people are already rioting at health centers. Paraguay's neighbor, Brazil, is in the midst of a yellow fever outbreak as well.




Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More Dengue - in Bolivia!

A 19-year-old man in Bolivia has died from dengue fever, marking the
1st death from the disease since massive floods began ravaging the
country in November [2008]. The teenager who died was from the
northwest part of Bolivia, among the areas hardest hit by the
torrential rains that have killed 53 people nationwide. [The floods
occurred in the northeastern Bolivian tropical lowlands, not the

With more than 100 cases of dengue fever recorded around the country,
authorities have issued health warnings, fearing epidemics due to
persistent flooding.



Monday, February 18, 2008

New Infectious Disease Info Website

Hey guys! I thought this might be a useful find for everyone, first as purely a matter of interest, but second of all as a resource for lots of New and Hots! It's essentially a new site that combines GoogleEarth with all of the latest Infectious Disease info from around the world. You can choose the news feeds from which it picks up the latest headlines, and even choose the types of diseases you want shown on your "Health Map". I was just looking at it and found out that Hyderabad just reported its first case of polio in 5 years. So, in conclusion, this site is totally wicked cool.


HealthMap | Global disease alert map

Stress and Cervical Cancer?

Recent studies conducted by the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia have demonstrated that stress levels may play a key role in a woman's ability to clear HPV infection and that stress levels may thus play a key role in the development of precancerous cervical lesions and the potential development of cervical cancer. A questionnaire asking about perceived daily stress levels was distributed to 74 women who displayed precancerous cervical lesions. Those women who reported to having a stressful day-to-day life were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV and thus much more difficulty in mounting a response substantial enough to clear the infection.

1. less
2. de-stress!!! (exercise, sleep, etc.)

becca briggs

see more:

A Smart Business Move: Creating a Tamiflu Competitor

It is interesting how much business and politics factors into th availability of drugs on the market. Here is an example of how a major business move could impact influenza drugs on the market, hopefully driving down the price and increasing the amount of available drugs should an epidemic hit.

Fujifilm bought out Toyama Chemicals and is developing what hopefully will become a major competitor for Tamiflu in the next couple of years. This could be very helpful, considering that there is proven resistance to Tamiflu AND there probably won't be enough to go around. (The business folks are betting on the bird flu epidemic--a sure bet according to Dr. Bob.)


Shingles vaccine not being used

Once again, damn the formatting!  Researchers have discovered that the shingles vaccine, which is approved as an adult vaccination for those over 60 years old, is not being used.  Coverage rates have reached just 1.9% of that age group since it was licensed in May 2006.  Although shingles is painful, it only lasts for a week or two.  The major complication the vaccine addresses is the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia, overwhelming pain due to secondary presentation with VZV that can last years longer than the rash.

Various reasons have been given for the low coverage rates, including suspicion over any new drug (let alone the first adult vaccination to come
out in a long time.  In addition, the CDC has not yet published official recommendations on use of the vaccine
in MMWR and there is no program to subsidize its use to low-income persons like there is for childhood vaccines.  The vaccine also requires a cold chain, so people picking up theirs from the pharmacy are likely to unintentionally thaw it before finding someone that can inject them.  One doctor from Vanderbilt is looking into the possibility of training pharmacists in administering the shot to avoid at least this problem.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Prion Possibility

Okay, so I know we haven't gotten to that part of the class yet but today the US recalled 143m pounds of beef that they think may have been contaminated since the beef plant did not consistently have inspections of cattle prior to their slaughter. Officials think most of the beef has already been consumed by Americans - could think lead to a Mad Cow outbreak 20 years down the road? We'll have to wait a long time to see...

Click here for more


Fiebre amarilla

Over the course of the past week, yellow fever has been diagnosed in both Paraguay and Brazil. The current count is 1 confirmed case in Paraguay (the first in 34 years!), compared to 30 in Brazil (of those 30, 15 have already died). Brazil flew 50,000 doses of yellow fever vaccine to Paraguay and Peru last week and is promising an additional 250,000 doses in this coming week.

More flu

So, I know this has already been posted, but official CDC numbers have come out that the new flu vaccine only covers 40% of all cases. It's a bad guess, ladies and gents.;_ylt=Ao.METIAOVdW7haHfBqKNVTVJRIF


Bird Flu kills another!

There have now been 105 deaths due to bird flu in Indonesia alone. Scary! This time it was a 3 year old boy.;_ylt=ApmGCryOx0f.0c7fqNCz0o3VJRIF


Stress may hit cancer virus fight

A stressful life may make it tougher to fight the virus which causes the majority of cervical cancer cases, say scientists.
Cervical cancer cell dividing

Women in this study with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. Even though we all know that correlation is not causation, it's an interesting study nonetheless.

Full article:


H&V Wannabe,

HIV vaccine research hits impasse

Scientists are no further forward in developing a vaccine against HIV after more than 20 years of research, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist has said.

HIV binds to the surface of the human immune (CD4) cell (PRNewswire dated 19/11/07)
HIV has evolved to protect itself from the human immune system (cool picture). Basically it's really good at evading the immune system, and we're not doing a good job (allegedly) coming up with a vaccine.

Full Article


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Flavivirus in Brazil

Of the 48 cases of yellow fever in Brazil, 13 people have died since December, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. In response, Brazilian authorities have suspended exporting any more vaccine until their outbreak is under control. Also, tourists have been warned to get vaccinated before visiting areas where the mosquitoes are concentrated, such as rural areas and national parks.


Ebola in a Lab Near You

In Nature's In the News column for March 2008, Ebola may become "safe" enough to be studied in a lab near you. Currently, Ebola virus can only be handled in a BSL-4 lab because it's dangerous (recall from the filovirus lectures that ebola causes 50-90% mortality & deadly hemorrhagic fevers). Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have removed VP30, a transcription factor that is necessary for viral replication, from the viral genome. This modified Ebola strain is genetically stable and morphologically identical to the wild-type strain and can only replicate in cells that have been genetically modified to express VP30. So, if this modified Ebola stain runs rampant in the lab, researchers need not be afraid about infection.

Further studies must be done to ensure that the modified Ebola strain does not revert to the lethal wild-type virus.

Who knows, those virophiles interested in Ebola may be able to study the virus in a BSL2 lab in the near future!


Friday, February 15, 2008

United Kingdom: H5N1 Found In Swan

I realize this blog is about humans, but it's just so interesting to track H5N1 in birds around the world.

On 04 February 2008, H5N1 influenza was found in a euthanized mute swan in a nature reserve called Radipole Lake in Weymouth City on the Dorset coast of UK. So far 10 swans on the Dorset coast have been infected. This incident is concerning because close to the site of outbreak, there is a popular feeding place for mute swans as well as one lakeside restaurant.

Check Pro-med listings for more data.


p.s. if you click the link above the text, you'll see a photo of two mute swans

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Smallpox Vaccine Switch

The US is now going to stock Acambis' version of the smallpox vaccine rather than using Dryvax produced by Wyeth to vaccinate the military, lab workers, and emergency responders.
Acambis vaccine is made from cell culture vs. the calve-skin-freezedry method of Dryvax.
Good news since Dryvax is no longer being produced...


Tipping the battle between host and virus in our favor

I got tired of trying to make this not get cut off. I think this is a really cool topic, though, so I encourage you to edit the text so you can see the whole thing!
Researchers at McGill University have found a way of tipping the battle between host and virus in our favor.  By knocking out two genes that suppress expression of IFN in mice, they were able to make the animals effectively immune to influenza virus (Orthomyxoviridae), encephalomyocarditis virus (Picornaviridae), VSV (Rhabdoviridae), and Sindbis virus (Togaviridae).  This technique has a lot of promise in reducing our
susceptibility to viral infection, especially because they found no adverse side effects in the mice that
underwent the therapy.  Obviously, you can't knock out genes in humans, but you can effectively
silence them by destroying their protein product or their transcription factors.  It is important to realize that this therapy probably wouldn't be useful in protecting against
DNA viruses, because it is the dsRNA that IFN responds to.  Furthermore, many of the
symptoms of viral infection (i.e., myalgia) are due to the IFN response, so you might be
miserable anyway, but you won't be infectious!  It's understandable how these less serious
complications  were overlooked in the study mice: you can't exactly ask a mouse how they're


McGill University (2008, February 14). Genetic Breakthrough Supercharges Immunity To Flu And Other Viruses. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from

HIV Persists In The Gut Despite Long-term HIV Therapy

The HIV virus has been known to hide out in the gut, but studies now show that the anti-viral treatment can't get rid of the virus in its hideout. This prevents HIV patients from recovering fully from the infection. The CD4 cells that HIV infects are contained in lymph nodes and patches of lymphocytes that are called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. A new NIAID study showed that antiretroviral therapy does not eradicate HIV from the GALT. Because of this, HIV also persists in the blood. This is bad news for HIV patients everywhere, and suggests that an even stronger drug is needed to flush the virus out of the gut.

More info here:


Measles in San Diego Update

Finally, a brief update on the measles in San Diego...

This outbreak constitutes the first measles outbreak in San Diego's County in 17 years. It was said to have expanded from 4 children to 10 by 2/11/08 and 6 new patients including 4 infants are awaiting diagnosis confirmation. 

50 children at a city charter school and day care have been told to say at home because of having had potential contact with one of the patients. These specifically are children who had not been vaccinated because they were two young or their parents chose not to have them vaccinated. 



Rabies Death in Brazil

Also, a 14-year-old teen died from rabies in Brazil on Feb 7th, 2008. In the hospital report, the he arrived at the hospital with "contagious-infectious diseases"; he had been bitten by a tamarin, a type of monkey. This was the first case of reported rabies in Ceara of the year, 2008. 

check it out:


Argentina: Suspected Yellow Fever Outbreak in Monkeys

Two species of howler monkeys in Pinalito Park in Argentina are being investigated for potential Yellow Fever infection. There have been 17 reported deaths thus far and the monkey organs tested positive for YF antibodies. 

Check it out:


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Potential Measles Outbreak Scare

An interesting virus scare is affecting some 250 people that were aboard a Hawaiian airlines flight over the weekend. Apparently a 10 month old child on the flight from San Diego to Hawaii (I assume Honolulu, the article doesn't specify the arrival city) developed symptoms of measles aa dy after the flight, indicating that she was likely infectious during the flight itself. Apparently the child contracted the disease at a pediatrician's office 2 weeks earlier. She was not immune because the MMRV vaccine is usually given at 12 mos. So this is interesting in that it demonstrates the potentially dramatic consequences of pre-symptommatic infectivity and its potential to create a high transmission rate, particularly with a disease like measles that is ultra-infectious. Furthermore, it demonstrates how modern transportation can lead to the spread of a disease to far reaches of the Earth very quickly.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Prions Link Cholesterol To Neurodegeneration

Prion infection of neurons increases the free cholesterol content in cell membranes. A new study suggests that disturbances in membrane cholesterol may be the mechanism by which prions cause neurodegeneration and could point to a role for cholesterol in other neurodegenerative diseases.

Basically, a study showed that cholesterol levels were much higher in neuronal cells infected by a prion than normal cells. Levels of cholesterol have been implicated in many neurological diseases.

Full Article


Global Warming (for Nick)

So, not too surprising, but it appears that global warming could be responsible for an increase in flaviviruses popping up in the near future. Vaccination is currently being debated as a preventative measure by scientists and doctors.

Click here to see more


Alaska Readies for Future Pandemics; Respiratory Synctial Virus Outbreak

17 children from Barrow, Alaska have recently been medevaced to Anchorage. They have all come down with respiratory synctial virus (RSV), which can cause serious respiratory tract illness and block the airways of small children. The upside is that the two hospitals which have received the patients, The Alaska Native Medical Center and The Providence Alaska Medical Center, are re-assessing their abilities to accommodate patients in future outbreaks--outbreaks that could be much worse, such as an H5N1 pandemic.

-Tad Henry

No association between MMR vaccine and Autism

Among the many reasons people are coming up with as an excuse NOT to get vaccinated, autism was thought by many to be on the rise due to the MMR vaccine. A new community-based case-control study in England found no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism disorders. This newest study is not necessarily ground-breaking: it reinforces the results of 2 case-control studies from last year, and 3 epidemiological studies that have been published since 1999. In each of these studies, a connection between the vaccine and autism disorders has not been established.

Full story can be found at


Tamiflu resistance

The CDC is reporting that 5% of the flu samples collected this season in the U.S. were resistant to Tamiflu. Prior to this season, Tamiflu resistance has been extremely rare in the U.S. - it has been much more of a Japanese phenomenon, where the drug is heavily prescribed. The reason behind the increased resistance is not known. Silver lining: all the samples tested were still susceptible to Relenza.

Scientists find a new HIV receptor

Scientists have identified the integrin alpha-4 beta-7 as an additional HIV receptor. Chack it out here.

Anti-Herpes Drug Does Not Reduce the Risk of HIV Infection in People with Genital Herpes

More news from the NIAID. A recent clinical trial funded by the NIAID found that acyclovir use did not reduce the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted HIV when given to men and women infected with HSV-2. Researchers speculated that acyclovir could reduce HIV transmission by suppressing HSV-2 and preventing genital sores and breaks in the skin.

HSV-2 is especially prevalent in areas with high rates of HIV infection. While many individuals infected with HSV-2 are unaware they have the virus given its inapparent state, HSV-2 can be a risk factor for HIV transmission. Sores and breaks in the skin can make it easier for HIV transmission to occur and active HSV-2 infection attracts specific immune cells to the genital region that are easily infected with HIV.

How did they ethically conduct this study investigating HIV transmission? Participants received wither a twice-daily, 400 mg dose of acyclovir tablets or placebo tablets and were extensively counseled on how to avoid exposure to HIV and were supplied with condoms. The difference in the experimental and control groups’ incidence of HIV was not statistically significant (3.9% HIV incidence rate in the acyclovir treated individuals and 3.3% incidence rate in the placebo group).


NIAID-NIH Scientists Identify New Cellular Receptor for HIV

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have recently identified a cellular protein that helps guide immune cells to the gut as a target of HIV.

NIAID scientists identified the cell adhesion molecule known as integrin alpha 4 beta 7 as another potentially important HIV receptor. HIV has been found to bind to several other immune cell receptors – the primary receptor being the CD4 molecule. CCR5 and CSCR4 serve as co-receptors used by HIV to enter target cells.

During the early stages of HIV infection, the virus invades and replicates in the immune cells of the gut - the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). The gut is then rapidly depleted of CD$+ T cells, thus triggering the process that leads to AIDS. The natural function of alpha 4 beta 7 is to direct T cells to the GALT. NIAID researchers fond that the gp120 protein (part of the HIV envelope) binds to integrin alpha 4 beta 7 on CD4+ T cells, which facilitates the formation of stable junctions between neighboring cells. This ability allows HIV to readily gain access to uninfected cells!

Read more on what NIAID scientists are up to at


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vaccine no match against '08 flu

Hey all,

This might explain why SO MANY people on campus have gotten sick! Even Dr. Bob who got his flu shot is at RISK!

Remember the bet that scientists make with predicting the next year's flu? Yeah, well they lost it. Maybe this time the flu vaccine is just a way for them to make money, haha.

Sta"5 friends with tested influenza"cie

Undiagnosed disease killing villagers in India

Not necessarily virus-related, but nevertheless interesting...

Residents of Kuilong village under Tamei sub-division of Tamenglong
district are in a dire plight since the outbreak of a highly
infectious disease (something like malarial typhoid) which has
claimed a life since November 2007 last year and has infected
members of nearly every household in the village and its surrounding area.

The disease which started spreading in Kuilong village since November
last year has so far claimed one life while 35 patients are
seriously ill from the disease which remains a mystery to the

Even though doctors at the Catholic Medical Hospital, Koirengei,
believe it to be malarial typhoid from the symptoms, there has been
no confirmation of the same and besides the state authorities are yet
to investigate into the matter.



Human adaptation of influenza virus

This article in Nature Biotechnology has some cool info about glycosylation and influenza and evolution. Neat!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

U.S. Governmental Support of Needle-Exchange Could Help Lower HIV Incidents

Many groups and people, including the NAACP and the director of NIAID, are appealing the ban on federal funding of needle-exchange programs. This ban has been in effect for 20 years. People against this idea point out that it supports intravenous drug use. People appealing are doing what is most effective. 30% of new HIV cases in the U.S. are caused by injection drug use. There are existing needle-exchange programs but their funding is unstable. The campaign for the appeal occurred on February 7th, the National Black HIV/AIDS awareness day. Even though black people made up 13% of the U.S. population in 2005, they contributed to half of the new HIV/AIDS cases.


Bee Virus Could Wipe Out Mankind, Warn Scientists

I know- the title is a bit incredible and hard to believe!

So the gist of the article is that this bee virus, which is killing "a billion bees" is triggering a huge environmental change that can result in a greater threat than climate change. The thinking is that since bees are extremely important in pollinating crops, more than a third of the world's crops would be killed off. Food plants like onions, cabbage, almonds, apples, soya beans, berries and nuts are susceptible. Moreover, plants important to the clothing industry like cotton and flax are also at risk.

Best quote in the article- "If bees disappear, mankind will not have much time left."

Gave me a new perspective on human-bee interactions

Have a great afternoon all,

This Year's Influenza Vaccine: A Bad Prediction?

Several Internists in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area have reported having seen a very large number of patients who reported having received the 2007-2008Influenza vaccine this year but yet are still presenting with flu symptoms and are showing up as infected with Influenza A or B on the QuickVue Test. Doctors back East are marveling at the amount of patients they have seen this year that seem to demonstrate vaccine failure. Although Doctors recognize that the strains included in the vaccine are always a prediction and thus the vaccine does not always provide widespread protection against Influenza, doctors are postulating whether the relatively late emergence of Influenza this year has contributed to the large numbers of influenza illnesses (due to waning immunity...people got vaccinate too early in the flu seaseon) or whether the vaccine was just a poor prediction of currently circulating strains. Regardless, it looks like this year the flu shot may not have been the most effective that it's ever been. Sad.

Becca Briggs

Friday, February 8, 2008

New arenavirus in transplant patients!!

NEJM just came out with a report in which they found a new arenavirus in three transplant recipients that ended up dying. The clinical course of the disease was encephalopathy followed by death four to six weeks post-exposure. The authors warn that they haven't filled Koch's postulates, but that they are strongly led to believe that the new arenavirus is what caused their fatal disease. 1) all three donors seem to have died the same number of days post-exposure; 2) identical sequences were recovered from all three; 3) it is not found in people outside of this cluster; 4) serologic analysis of the donor revealed evidence of recent infection (he died, too). Beyond finding a new arenavirus, they also used a new method in order to search for the virus--unbiased high-throughput sequencing. This method involves first using RT-PCR, then random PCR amplification, then adapter ligation (it was unclear from this article, but I think that means ligating a protein that will attach to the bead in the next step for oil-water emulsion PCR), then oil-water emulsion PCR (use multiple identical sequences attached to a bead in order to selectively sequence them by pyrosequencing), sequencing by pyrosequencing, the adaptors are trimmed, redundant sequences of the reads are ignored, and the entire sequence identified by BLASTN and BLASTX. Okay, so maybe I don't fully understand that process, but it seems cool!

"A new arenavirus in a cluster of fatal transplant-associated diseases" 2008 in NEJM by G Palacios et al, p 1-8


Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis treatment for HIV?

A paper only published 3 days ago (Feb 5, 2008) showed that antiretroviral drugs may protect from HIV transmission. Macaque monkeys who were all infected with SHIV (a virus close to HIV) anally were less likely to get infected if they were taking antiretroviral drugs. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis treatment has been found to be effective in Malaria, but it has not been proven to be effective in a virus relating to HIV until now. To simulate sexual transmission of HIV, researchers gave the virus to the monkeys at their anus.

The article and references can be found here:


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Retroviral Conference

Yesterday, 06 February 2008, marked the end of the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. CROI 2008 was held in Boston, MA, and attracted speakers from all over the world to represent international health organizations or universities. This conference strives to create a forum for scientists and clinicians to discuss the biological and epidemiological role of retroviruses in disease, especially AIDS.

Check out the CROI 2008 website at Under the webcast and podcast tab, you can access copies of the lectures/talks given.


Dengue Resurfaces in North Queensland

Dengue has not struck the Cairns, Australia area in ten years. But just the other day two individuals were confirmed having acquired the disease. Efforts are being ramped up, thanks to Queensland medical entomologist Dr. Scott Ritchie, to eliminate mosquito breeding sites--in flower pots, blocked gutters, and buckets. Let us hope this is not just the tip of the iceberg of a dengue outbreak in the area.,23599,23176246-29277,00.html

-Tad Henry

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Chew and swallow! Pre-chewed food thought to transmit HIV

Investigators reported the posibility of HIV transmission when HIV-positive caregivers pre-chew infant's food. In three previously unreported cases of pediatric infection, dating back to 1993, the common thread was that caregivers had pre-chewed food to give to infants, according to Kenneth Dominguez, M.D., of the CDC.
This study came about when 3 children became infected between 1993 and 2000 without any known route of transmission. What did they all have in common? Pre-chewed food! In two cases, the mother was HIV-positive and transmitted the virus to her child, while in the third case -- with an HIV-negative mother -- the virus was passed from an infected great aunt who had been caring for the infant.
The researchers said that in two cases, the caregiver was known to have had bleeding gums or sores in the mouth at the time she was pre-chewing food for the baby. The third caregiver could not remember such lesions. Also, one of the infants was teething and had had oral candidiasis during the period when she was given pre-chewed food, the researchers said. The combination of lesions in the mouths of the children and their HIV-positive infected caregivers might have allowed viral entry.
Two of the children are still living, while a third died of AIDS.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Breast Feeding: A Must

With the massive amounts of HIV infecting women throughout the developing world, "safe" breastfeeding is fast becoming an important issue. In general (but particularly in the developing world), breast feeding is crucial in that it has been shown to directly lower rates of malnourishment in infants/young kids as well as decrease rates of infectious diseases (in young kids). Thus, it is important that young infants have access to the benefits of breast milk...without the risk of contracting HIV.

Despite efforts to give pregnant women antiretrovirals prior to labor and during labor as well as giving the antiretrovirals to the baby being born have helped decrease the amount of kids that will acquire HIV infection during the birthing process. However, a problem still exists in that many kids that are born uninfected are becoming infected by contaminated breast milk. In fact, breast feeding is responsible for nearly half (48%). Since breast milk may be the only form of nutrients available to young infants in developing nations (for many reasons including limited access to sanitized water to mix in with formula, limited finances, cultural taboos, etc.), it may be too steep a tradeoff to risk stopping breast feeding practices to prevent potential HIV infection (if knowledge of having HIV is even available).

Researchers have recently found that extending the use of antiretrovirals in infants and breast feeding mothers for a longer amount of time (up to 6 months) can DRASTICALLY reduce the incidence of post-natal transmission of HIV. Specifically in a study in Malawi, out of the infants who were given antiretrovirals (Nevirapine) for the first 10 weeks of life, only 3.1% became infected from contaminated breast milk...compared with the control group which only received one dose of nevirapine and one week's worth of AZT which experienced 10% infection with HIV.

How it is ethical to have a control group in an HIV treatment study, I am not sure.

Becca Briggs

HPV causing oral cancers in Men

Although I just wrote, this was just so interesting!

Apparently, a report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology is reporting that not only is HPV causing cancer of the upper throat in men, but its causing rates EQUAL TO CANCER RATES CAUSED BY TOBACCO AND ALCOHOL! It's suggested that this is due to an increase in rates of oral sex, although this is not proven. Unfortunately the article does not state which strain of HPV is causing the cancer, however, it states that one of the strains in Merck's Guardasil vaccine protects against oral cancer. Just another reason why this vaccine needs to be approved for men!

Jon Dyal

Human/Chimp virus cross-over

Hey all,

We usually talk about the similarity of chimp viruses to human viruses as it relates to human risk for disease. But I found an interesting article that actually reports human viruses, specifically Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Human Metapneumavirus. Chimps in the Ivory Coast have been dying of the diseases, adding another threat to the already endangered animals. It sort of puts an interesting spin on the idea of zoonoses, huh?

Jon Dyal

Shake that virus like a Polaroid picture!

Scientists at Arizona State University are experimenting with different resonance frequencies to inactivate viruses by shattering the viral capsids much like the way an Opera singer can shatter a wine glass with a reverberating voice.

The scientists pulse a laser of a certain frequency and they can mechanically "break" the viral capsids. They've had a hard time finding which frequencies to use; it's a lot of trial and error, but they've found a frequency of 60 gigahertz is effective for the satellite tobacco mosaic virus.

A new way of inactivating viruses for vaccine development? Pretty cool stuff!

Check out the article here.

Shake it!


Monday, February 4, 2008

What is long and hard and full of seamen?

I mentioned today in class that the HIV found in semen is far more virulent than HIV alone. Well, I went back to the article and it turns out it is 100,000 times more virulent!!

Researchers "found that fragments of prostatic acidic phosphatase isolated from human semen form tiny fibres known as amyloid fibrils, which they call Semen-derived Enhancer of Virus Infection or SEVI. Those fibrils capture HIV particles and help them to penetrate target cells, thereby increasing the infection rate by up to several orders of magnitude."

Powerful stuff! Talk about viral evolution adapting to its environment. :)


MMR 'does not trigger reaction'

A new study shows that children with autism do not react differently to other kids to the MMR vaccination. Fears of such adverse reactions were raised in 1998.

Full article

Nicky P

PS let's have another class dinner.

When you give a mouse a cold...

Researcher-professor Sebastian Johnson at London’s Imperial College has created GMM (genetically modified mice) that can get colds! They modified a receptor on a mouse epithelial cell to be susceptible to respiratory infection. One of the (many) reasons we don’t have a silver bullet for the common cold is because most viruses that attack respiratory tracts have a narrow host range… of only humans. Rhinoviruses are the biggest culprit for the non-serious cold, but it can also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, aka chronic bronchitis and emphysema. There are currently no good treatments for COPD, and having a good animal model will be the first step in finding a cure for COPD, virus-induced asthma attacks… and rhinovirus-associated colds! (This is what the BBC article would like you to believe J at least.)

The work was published in Nature magazine, but I couldn’t find the article. I’m guessing it just came out…

read about it here for now.


We're saved! A defense against influenza drug resistance

Jessie and I have been writing recently about drug resistant strains of influenza A, a very scary phenomenon considering our expectation of a serious pandemic. Penn researchers might have found another target in the influenza virus- so we're saved (not really, you should still be scared).
In a normal influenza A virus, amantadine works by blocking the M2 surface protein. Essentially, amantidine acts like a cork, preventing the flow of protons into the virus, which is necessary for infection. However, new mutations in the M2 protein are changing its shape so that amantadine does not fully block the flow of protons, and the virus is still infectious.
The Penn researchers have discovered a new channel next to the amantadine pocket which is conserved in all influenza A viruses. This might be another avenue for antiviral medications, but no research in the development of such medications, or their efficacy have been conducted.

The article can be found at


Bird Flu makes an appearance in Turkey!

Turkish authorities in the northern coastal town of Samsun have
erected a quarantine zone and begun slaughtering poultry after
suspected cases of bird flu.

Last month [January 2008], the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu was
found in a village about 350 km west of Samsun, which lies on
Turkey's Black Sea coast.

In January 2006, bird flu killed 4 children in a small town in
eastern Turkey after the virus spread to more than 1/3rd of Turkey's
81 provinces.

Authorities in Turkey, the 1st country outside east and Southeast
Asia where humans have contracted the virus, had declared the country
bird flu-free in April 2007.


WORMS! (Last non-virus post, I swear) [fun parasitic worm you don’t want to get] – I credit Rebecca Hebner for this.

Also, resistance to ivermectin is emerging in onchoceriasis! NOT GOOD.

Onchocerciasis in an infection caused by Onchocerca volvuls, a fun parasite nematode worm that is transmitted to humans by a Simulium black fly. Fly larvae develops in fast-flowing rivers, and those infected suffer from severe skin lesions in addition to eye damage that can lead to irreversible loss of site. This is why onchocerciasis is also called “river blindness.” 99% of the 37 million people infected live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ivermectin is the only treatment known for onchocerciasis control. It can kill the parasite embryos circulation in patients, temporarily interrupting the nematode’s reproduction.


Bird flu in Bangladesh

Bird flue has spread to 3 more districts in Bangladesh – affecting now more than half of the country’s 64 districts. While government officials are taking measure to contain the disease, millions of “ignorant” farmers are posing a problem to their efforts. Even though the governments requires dead birds to be burned or buried, farmers and backyard poultry breeders are ignoring warnings. As of now, no human infections have been reported in Bangladesh – however, 4 million people are involved in poultry farming. In contrast, the neighboring state of West Bengal has isolated 26 people with bird flue symptoms following the most serious outbreak of H5N1 in poultry.


Some non-viral, but still really cool infectious news regarding Anthrax

Assam State Zoo in India is beginning to vaccinate their rhinos (and all other ruminant mammals) against anthrax due to a report about contagious Bacillus anthracis on the campus. A 30 year old rhino named Jon died sudden from an acute case of anthrax. The public has been told not to panic, because “Jon led a charmed life until anthrax killed him.” How comforting.


YELLOW FEVER! – in Brazil!

So I have to admit that Yellow Fever has a place in my heart because I spent most of my childhood running around Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But bad news bears, Brazil has reported yet another fatal case of yellow fever, bringing the 2008 total (mind you, its only been 2008 for 35 days), up to 12 out of 17 confirmed cases in the Goias state of Brazil. The victim was an unvaccinated man who worked in the fields in the rural zone of Planaltina de Goias.

On February 2, 2008, the first confirmed fatal case of YF was reported in the Federal District.

Read on at (but the site is not in English…). Check out ProMed for the English version.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fighting Malaria with Chimp Adenovirus

So scientists are trying to use Adenovirus to trigger an immune response to fight off malaria in infected cells, since the virus is good at getting the immune system's attendtion. The only problem was that too many people already have immunity to human adenovirus, so now they are trying to create a vaccine using Chimp Adenovirus, since it rarely infects humans. Crazy!

To Read More Click Here


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Resistant Superbug: H1N1 Flu

This winter’s most common influenza stain, H1N1, is showing resistance to oseltamivir (aka Tamiflu) in Europe and North America. Of the virus samples taken in Western Europe, 10% were resistant to Tamiflu; 10% of samples resistant in Canada; and 7% of samples resistant in the United States. Of the 16 samples taken of the flu virus in Norway, 75% were found to be drug-resistant.

The World Health Organization says that people should not be worried because, “Influenza Type A has been circulating for many years. It’s not likely to cause a pandemic.”

Read more at:,8599,1708867,00.html


Friday, February 1, 2008

Smallpox Research Update!

One of those brave research groups out there messin' with the virus has discovered something new about the poxvirus smallpox, particularly about how it messes with our immune system. 

The interferon gamma binding protein which allows the virus to replicate has been studied and its structure and action were published in a paper by researchers at St. Louis University and University of Alabama at Birmingham. This paper focuses on how  this protein immobilized interferon, something that was previously not understood. 

More information? 
Saint Louis University. "How Poxviruses such as smallpox evade the Immune System" Science Daily 1 February 2008. 1 Feburary 2008


BABO - Bats are dying!

Hibernating bats in New Jersey and Vermont are dying by the thousands from what has been dubbed the 'white nose syndrome'...The syndrome is named for the white circles of fungus found around the noses of affected bats; those same bats deplete their fat reserves and die months before they are expected to emerge from hibernation. Though the infectious agent has spread to 9 bat caves in the two states, there is no evidence of BABO transmission - that humans might be infected. But people are encouraged to be 'cautious', all the same.
See national geographic for more info: