Monday, January 30, 2012

Oral HPV More Common in Men Than Women

A new study talked about in the New York Times Vital Signs blog shows that about 1/15 Americans is infected with oral human papilloma virus. Of these numbers, more are men than women. The disease is a virus of the throat and can cause throat/larynx/pharynx cancers. Specifically, HPV Type 16 has tripled in prevalence over the last 20 years, a fact that is becoming more known in the public given the rise in throat cancer reports.

Aout 6.9% of adults and teenagers in the country are affected with any kind of strain of Human Papilloma Virus. The study also narrowed down behavioral practices that could make one more susceptible to oral HPV: increased age, sexual activity, and smoking cigarettes. Oral HPV can come about from engaging in oral sex.

Given the controversial political debate about whether or not men should also receive the HPV vaccine is likely to be affected by this new study. The fact that men had triple rates of throat cancers than women had until now been unexplained.


Could avoiding raw date juice and sap reduce Nipah infection?

Well experts in Bangladesh seem to think so. According to the Bb News (a Bangladeshi Newspaper) five deaths have already been reported this year in a recent outbreak in Bangladesh. Health department officials fear that more outbreaks of this Fruit babo virus loom on the horizon . However, experts are calling for a simple measure to reduce disease: “not drinking raw date juice.”

The link of date juice/sap to nipah is the fear that fruit bats can infect the dates while feeding. Consuming raw juice from infected dates could pass the virus onto unsuspecting victims, posing a serious threat to their health.

Once infected, there is no cure for Nipah infection and the disease is serious. Symptoms can include encephalitis and coma .(CDC)
Interestingly enough, at least according to this article, Nipah virus is currently only found in Bangladesh…I’ll have to look up that fact to make sure it is indeed true.

The original article can be found here:
And the CDC page can be found here:

--Elena Jordan

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Study Finds 7 Percent of People in United States Have Oral Infection of HPV.

A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported on in the New York Times, has determined that 6.9% of the American population, aged 14 to 69, has detectable levels of some serotype of HPV in their mouths/throats. The study was performed by PCR analysis of lysed cell extracts retrieved by a simple gargle-and-spit method using mouthwash.

The study also yielded numerous correlations between independent factors and rates of HPV infection. These ranged from the predictable, positive correlations with age and sexual activity since both increase the likelihood of exposure, to the thought-provoking, such as a tripled rate of infection for men vs. women(10.1%/3.6%) and a positive correlation between smoking and chances of infection. Of the serotypes tested, HPV-16, a type linked to both cervical and oral cancers, was the most prevalent of any given type but was still relatively minor at a 1% infection rate. Even so, if these numbers can be expanded for the entire population, that means ~2 million people are infected with an oral oncovirus.

Ultimately, this study alternately raises and calms fears at the same time. While the burden of dealing with potential oral cancers in the future appears grim, for now the numbers retrieved by the study pale in comparison to the rates of genital HPV infection and the chance of contracting cervical cancer. Still, investigations into the efficacy of vaccines to stop oral HPV transmission will likely be performed sometime in the future if the United States gets serious about reducing HPV infection rates.

-Zachary Herrera

Plantibodies in the fight against HIV?

Dr. Deborah Anderson, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and microbiology at Boston University, is currently developing a form of prophylaxis against HIV and HSV that uses plant-grown human antibodies to neutralize these viruses in the female genital tract. Anderson has been working closely with the industry to develop a system of producing antibodies to HIV cheaply and massively in tobacco plants. The so-called "plantibodies" are then hoped to be applied to numerous other viruses, perhaps even influenza and rhinovirus.

Trials for another anti-HIV gel were cancelled in November because they appeared to be ineffective at preventing infection. Here's hoping that this one shows happier results.


-Alan Le

How young adults handle epidemics

A study from the University of Michigan recently outlined how young adults handle epidemics such as the H1N1 influenza. The study was a survey of 3,000 people and focused mostly on people in their 30s, finding that only 20% of those surveyed had been vaccinated during the 2009-10 H1N1 scare. However, about two thirds of them said that they were following the issue closely and "moderately concerned, " which apparently is not concerned enough to be vaccinated (come to think of it, I can't think of one person I know in my age group who got the vaccine either). Even though they felt "well-informed" or even "very well-informed" on the topic, the average scores on an influenza knowledge test were "moderately informed."

The study went on to break down the behavior of this group further: adults with young children at home were the most likely to pay attention to news concerning the epidemic. Most people got news from friends, family, and coworkers (but where did the friends, family and coworkers get their news from?) They most trusted doctors and most mistrusted Wikipedia. Overall, this generation was said to have done "reasonably well in their first encounter with a major epidemic" by the author of the report, Jon D. Miller.

--Sarah Kaewert

Viruses outrun us..and bacteria

A recent study published in Science invested gated viral replication in E.coli. The bacteriophage, lambda, attach via specific receptors and attack glycoproteins on E.coli. Scientists generated a bacteria that lack the virus-specific receptor required for viral entry and insertion of genome into host genome. However, within 15 days, the virus evolved to utilize a different receptor to gain entry into its host.

I think this article is interesting because bacteriophages are good models for human viruses. The speed of viral evolution to facilitate infection is impressive but threatening to our health. It would be interesting to learn more about how the virus evolved that fast and I wonder if there's a way for our immune system to adapt faster.

-Michelle Jin


Wisconsin-Madison Flu Study Censored for Security Measures

Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka's recent flu study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Toronto is under review after his lab created a more contagious form of the H5N1 avian flu. This study has been compared to that of Dr. Fouchier's H5N1 study at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. The main difference being that Dr. Fouchier's lab created a more contagious and a super-lethal strain of H5N1 that killed over 50% of the ferrets it infected. Dr. Kawaoka's strain is highly contagious, but has not been shown to be lethal- not to mention, the current flu vaccine remains effective against his mutated strain. This contagious H5N1 virus strain is a result of four point mutations that occurred after the team of researchers attached the hemagglutining gene of the H5N1 virus to seven genes of the H1N1 2009 virus.
In opposition to research involving genetically engineered flu viruses, Richard Ebright, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University stated, "this virus will not be the endpoint; the first experiment that will be done with it will be an effort to enhance its lethality." Many researchers are concerned that the gene-manipulation techniques as well as intermediate mutations are potentially as dangerous as the end products, which is why certain aspects of this research should be censored.
Censoring this research will make the reproduction of these studies difficult (if not impossible)- which brings into question the importance of reproducing studies in order to validate their results.

-Angela Cesena


Ross River Fever outbreak in Australia

Okay, I just have to report on this because the symptoms are so...not what I would expect from a Togavirus.

There's been an outbreak of Ross River virus in Australia that has hit hundreds of humans! This is a mosquito-borne togavirus, and the breeding season has been prolific, especially in the southwest. (For a island nation, Australia sure suffers a lot of weird disease outbreaks).

But what's fascinating to me is that Ross River virus causes a fever that used to be known as "epidemic polyarthritis." Because it causes arthritis/arthralgia in 95% of symptomatic infections!! (also flu-like fever, of course) This can last for months in chronic infections—hooray for feeling like your fingers, wrists, back, elbows, and knees are 80 years old instead of 20. Based on Bio230 last quarter, I'd suspect that this is probably caused by immune complexes (small batches of virus tied up with antibodies) getting stuck in joints, which causes a local inflammatory response that causes joint discomfort. Ouch.


Sindh Polio Campaign Begins Today

Sindh, one of Pakistan's four provinces, launches its polio campaign today, with hopes of immunizing 7.4 million children against the virus. 22,000 teams of vaccinators (primarily volunteers assisted by local paramedics) have as their goal to vaccinate every child under 5 in every part of the province. To avoid any vaccine shortage, the teams have been provided with 7.4 million orally-administered (Sabin) doses as well as an additional 10 million as back-up.

Although there was not too much information listed in the article, this seems to be a very positive note in the step of worldwide polio eradication. Pakistan recorded a total of 198 cases in 2011 (as compared to just 1 in 2010); there have already been 5 cases recorded since the start of 2012. Numbers certainly point to the start of an epidemic in the region, and it is likely that there are far more people actually harboring the virus who haven't displayed any symptoms yet. It's too late for a vaccine to be able to help those who are already infected, but it would certainly help inhibit the spread of the virus. Selection of Pakistan to receive this high number of vaccine seems like a good application of typical outbreak containment strategy (high dosages of vaccine administered in the surrounding area of an emerging outbreak).

Article here

- Elena Higuchi

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prion diseases hide out in the spleen!!

Since we are going to be looking at prions, which are composed of misfolded forms of a protein called PrP, later on, I thought that this study presented an interesting set of facts regarding recent discoveries made about prion diseases.
It was recently found that Prion diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) are able to jump across species much more easily than previously thought; in fact, it seems that they can start replicating in the spleen without necessarily affecting the brain. This would mean that thousands of people could be silent carriers of a prion infection and not realize it! It also increases the risk of transmission of the prion infection to more people through surgery, organ donations or blood transfusions.
This also relates back to the question that we had in our problem set this week - do prions have a wide host range and is that why they are able to jump from one species to another easily, according to this new study? Is that why they are called the "barrier breakers"? Apparently, these pathogenic agents are not only able to replicate in the brain, but can also affect lymphoid tissue, such as the spleen, tonsils and appendix. Do these findings match the original assumption that species barriers are very difficult to cross?

- Julie

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Looks like HCV is losing!

A receptor called NPC1L1, or Niemann-Pick C1–like 1, present in the membrane of our liver cells has been known to aid in cholesterol absorption. For a long time, a few studies had hypothesized its potential role in also facilitating the entry of the Hepatitis C virus and thus allowing infection - however, the results of these studies had not been confirmed until now.
Researchers have shown that knocking down the NPC1L1 receptor completely prevents the virus from entering and infecting the liver cells, since this receptor is 'necessary' for infection. Thus if a drug that uniquely targeted NPC1L1 (a NPC1L1 antagonist) could be manufactured, imagine the number of lives that could be saved! This would be especially useful for patients who have received a liver transplant and who are at a high risk of infection (i.e. the virus infecting their new liver). The promising news is that such a drug does exist, and it is called ezetimibe! It has been approved by the FDA, is recognized as safe, and has been used for a long time to control cholesterol levels - now we know that it will kill two birds with one stone!

Here's the Nature article!

- Julie

Monday, January 23, 2012

Effective drug management could save lives

According to a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, the shortage of anti-infective drugs pose a great threat to clinical care and disease outcomes. Anti-infectives were shown to reduce the prevalence of multidrug-resistant pathogens. These drugs are able to treat syndromes such as encephalitis, neurosyphilitis, tuberculosis and many others. The shortage of these key drugs may result in loss of many lives of patients with such diseases. While the source of such drug shortage is hard to determine, several possibilities are "red tape" factors such as regulation, processing, distribution, and other factors that could be avoided with effective management. I think this article is interesting because it points to the necessity of effective non-medical actions to increase medical treatment. By increasing oversight of such processes, many people's lives could be saved.

Article source:

-Michelle Jin

Sunday, January 22, 2012

CCHF in Bangladesh

On Thursday a Bangladeshi man was admitted into the hospital and treated for Congo Crimean hemmorhagic fever, and sadly died, despite medical treatment. The bite of a single tick resulted in his infection and death, the closure of several restaurants, and has mobilized an entire hospital, the Ministry of Health, an infectious disease team, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. Though CCHF is transmitted by ticks, it has been known to spread to healthcare workers and nurses, possibly through exposure to blood. There are unconfirmed reports of several other individuals undergoing treatment for CCHF as well.

The aforementioned ministries are taking actions to prevent any other infections through ticks or infected animals, but control of an organism so small as ticks will no doubt prove extremely difficult, as control efforts with mosquitoes for mosquito-borne diseases have proved. Bad meat was also implicated in the infection, and though this connection is unconfirmed, several restaurants have been shut down and people have been told to avoid eating meat that was bought a week before the incident.

--Sarah Kaewert

Murray Valley Encephalitis in Australia!

Recent flooding in Australia (don't forget that it's summer there) has been followed by a spike in the number of Murray Valley encephalitis cases. MVEV is an arbovirus of flaviviridae (genus flavivirus, along with Yellow Fever, West Nile, and Dengue) and is transmitted by mosquitoes. In addition, MVEV persists in the bird population year round as a reservoir.

MVEV appears to cause no clinical presentation in the vast majority of infected individuals; however, a very small number of individuals develop encephalitis. According to the Health section of the New South Wales website, very young infants, travelers, and immigrants to Australia are at greatest risk of developing MVE, due to their lack of immunity and greater chance of becoming infected. Still, the vast majority of infected individuals exhibit no symptoms, and only a very small fraction present with MVE.

Some of you might remember the concerns over West Nile several years ago, when it was first spreading across the U.S. . While many infected individuals exhibited no symptoms, others would suffer from encephalitis and experience severe health problems. I'm not entirely sure what causes the discrepancy in how people react to the virus, but it might be an exciting topic for future reading.

-Alan Le

Mosquito-borne brain-swelling virus on the rise (ABC Australia)

NSW Health Factsheet for MVEV

Aerial Baiting

Texas has annually taken to the air to fight the ground war on rabies. Over the last 18 years planes were loaded with hundreds and thousands of packets of rabies vaccines that are dipped in fish oil and fish meat. They will deploy 1.8 million packets this year over a larger area of rural south and west Texas.

The goal of this eradication effort is to vaccinate the foxes and coyotes in the rural areas to create a natural buffer zone from rabies that maybe passing into Texas from Mexico and surrounding areas. This program targets only fox and coyote transmitted rabies but is good start to keep enzootic levels down within these animals since they often have contact with livestock and humans. With the success of this program they will move onto skunk rabies.

The vaccination occurs when the animals eat the fish oil covered packets. January is the optimal time for this operation because food is in short supply because of the winter months and the bait becomes very enticing. Texas scientists got the idea for this aerial baiting system for the distribution of rabies vaccines from a program that was occurring in Canada. This method along with laws that mandate pet rabies vaccines keep rabies levels at an all time low.

Through the 18 years of running this program canine associated rabies fell from 122 to 0, and fox strain rabies fell from 244 to 0. Since the air drop began there have been no human cases of rabies in that region. This immunity circle is really doing its job in keeping rabies from spreading in wildlife and ultimately in the human population.

To read more click here

-Victoria Anikst

Polio Cases Triple in Afghanistan

Polio is currently pandemic in three countries- among them, the one posing the greatest world threat is Afghanistan. Even with the political and military unrest, vaccination teams have been allowed to fulfill their work by the government as well as the Taliban. Th Global Polio Eradication Initiative has stated a near eradication, but this year the cases in Afghanistan tripled- from 25 cases in 2010 to 76 in 2011. This three-fold rise is of international concern since the new cases appeared in regions that were previously believed to be polio-free.

The Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health has indicated that the new cases are of a polio strain seen in Pakistan. This strain has been imported by refugees from endemic areas in Pakistan as well as travelers and tourists. Cases in Pakistan also increased from 80 to 192 in 2011. But not all regions with endemic polio have had similar trends- India, on the other hand, saw a year with no new polio cases.

The World Health Organization and Unicef have devoted $32 million dollars to aid in the effort to eradicate polio. This week, WHO is declaring the three-fold rise in Afghanistan a global public health emergency.

-Angela Cesena


Can HIV Be Eradicated Without Vaccines?

I read an article recently that discussed the potential for eradicating HIV using prophylaxis and anti-retroviral drugs. It's a curious idea since we are taught in class that having a good vaccine is a dominant reason why eradication efforts have worked in the past. Given the nature of HIV spread, the effectiveness (in preventing transmission) and diversity of anti-retroviral drugs, and the lack of a capable, licensed vaccine, suppressing HIV and preventing it's spread may be the best solution; theoretically, it would take a few generations if our only option was to stop spread and wait until the last person with HIV dies, but people are banking on the possibility of reactivating latent HIV reservoirs--a popular area of HIV research--and flushing the virus out of an individual completely, leading to eradication within decades; it won't come cheap though (est. $24 billion a year) and drugs that change the chromatin environment in latent HIV infected cells would need to be developed and approved. One thing that might hamper the effort would be latency in in Hematopoetic Stem Cells!. If eradication through antivirals is successful, it might change the vaccine-centered paradigm. (Original Article)

- NGUyen

Other Cool Stuff:
*In 2006, CDC recommended routine HIV screening for everyone 13-64 years.

*Below: How the Oraquick test works. The way antibodies and enzymes are represented in the picture makes me chuckle.

Ethics of Bird Flu Research

As was discussed in class, the research surrounding H5N1 avian influenza could have benefits in helping understand the microbiology of influenza zoonoses (and thus any possible predictors), but it also carries with it implications of bioterrist weaponization.

On Friday, Ron Fouchier (the premier virologist involved engineering in the virulent strain of H5N1) and a group of other premier flu-ologists issued a letter announcing a suspension of this research, to allow for more discussion by public officials and academics of its possible benefits versus its possible threats. Such a moratorium is extremely rare - the last one having occurred from 1974 to 1976 following safety concerns in recombinant DNA research.

What I found particularly interesting was Fouchier's statement regarding the parallel debate in the Netherlands - where similar research was also taking place. Scientists seem to have taken much more active steps in the Netherlands throughout their research to keep politicians and citizens much more updated and aware of the research. As such, a heated debate as found in the US does not exist in the Netherlands. This strongly indicates that, in the future, any similarly controversial scientific research would really benefit from publicizing itself more than is typically necessary for other research.


Fouchier's letter

- Elena Higuchi

Bird Flu in China

Two people in China have died from H5N1 in less than a month. This is according to an article run in the New York Times today. China is a country known for agricultural practices that make perfect “breeding grounds” for bird flu and transmission to humans, namely the close proximity and mixing of birds and pigs. Still, these deaths come as a surprise.

The latest victim’s case was worrisome as the patient didn’t report any contact with poultry before falling ill. The concern was that H5N1 might have finally begun to be transmitted human-to-human. However they didn’t rule out other reservoirs that could spread the disease to humans and based on close relatives not becoming ill, it seems that no human-to-human transmission occurred.

However, with bird flu’s high mortality rate it’s no wonder people are so concerned. According to the WHO, bird flu has killed 343 out of 582 people who have reported being infected. This is a worrisome disease and 2 fatal cases in less than a month is a cause for alarm.

The original article can be located for further review at:

--Elena Jordan


Since we didn't really get around to Nipah and Hendra...

Hendra virus (a paramyxo) is an Australian BABO zoonotic virus (found in "flying foxes") that most commonly kills horses. Since discovered in 1994, many horses and 4/7 people have died from infection, but human-to-human transmission has not been recorded. Symptoms in horses include respiratory and neurological symptoms. The fatality rate is ~75%. Symptoms in humans can range from mild influenza-like illness to fatal pulmonary, neurologic, or systemic failure.

Most recently, a horse died from Hendra in Australia in early January, marking the 18th outbreak in a year. Some people are calling for the nearby bats to be killed or at least their population thinned, but others argue that this could distress the bats and lead to behavior that infects more horses.

It's interesting to me that we group Hendra and Nipah together in our panic about zoonotic viruses. Yes, they share many characteristics: structure, disease symptoms, spread by bats, and infection of local livestock. However, Nipah has killed many more people, infects a wider range of livestock (commonly pigs, our favorite mixing vessels), and can be transmitted from human to human (nosocomial spread!!). It has hit Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, and India, making it more geographically important than Hendra. Currently, we don't have to worry much about Hendra virus, but perhaps we ought to worry about Nipah...


Bubblegram Imaging!

Scientists at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) have come up with the most incredible way to view the inner workings of viruses by innovating a whole new imaging technique called: bubblegram imagery.
Until now, researchers had only been able to visualize structures on the surface of viruses. The imaging technique Cryo-electron microscopy was the most successful technique used to image these extremely small particles. The limitation of this imaging strategy, however, lies in the fact that it is unable to provide scientists with images of the inner structures of the viruses, which would be extremely helpful in understanding how viral particles interact with the host cell's machinery. The radiation used to image viruses is only employed in very small doses, which is insufficient for viewing any of the inner viral structures. Additionally, higher doses cannot be used since they would damage and possibly destroy the surface viral proteins that could have been seen in the first place.

In trying to determine an optimal level of radiation to view both the inner and outer structure of viruses, researchers at the University of Maryland realized a crucial feature of the inner viral proteins: that they are most susceptible to damage than DNA. Thus, they first used low doses of radiation and obtained images in which the inner structures of viruses were invisible. Next, they used very high doses of radiation, and found that to their surprise, the inner structures could be viewed as clusters of small bubbles. Thus, they simply had to superimpose the two images in order to reconstruct a 3D model of the entire viral structure! This technique has a great future ahead and could be of tremendous use in the development of vaccines, understanding the interaction between viral particles and cellular DNA, and even in visualizing the difference between cancer and non-cancer cells.

- Julie

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Possibly Novel Virus, Schmallenberg*, Already Leaving a Mark

*Not a human virus.

Research and public health agencies throughout Europe are currently racing to understand, characterize, and develop treatments for an apparently novel virus that suddenly and mysteriously appeared in livestock throughout Northern Europe. Though the Schmallenberg virus, named after the German town where the first positive samples were found, is not a human virus, its mysterious origin and potential economic impact make it a virus worth watching and studying. Emerging sometime last year, most likely between November and December, the virus went undetected until waves of abortions, reminiscent of the devastating effects of rift valley fever, began appearing in herds of livestock. This ability, coupled with severe teratogenic effect, threatens the survival and economic viability of herds as the rate of birth defects skyrockets to nearly 20 to 50% after infection. For this reason, quarantine measures have been put into place, including a recent ban by Russia on meat from the Netherlands, which is near the focus of the outbreak.

As of yet, scientists have not confirmed much of the virus' characteristics, including its route of transmission or exact pathology, but have identified the virus as a member of the orthobunyaviridae genus in the family bunyaviridae. Using the viral toolbox, one would guess, and many scientists already assume, that the virus is spread by mosquitos as many already characterized bunyaviruses use mosquitoes as a vector. For now, the virus's complete sequence is near completion and researchers have already successfully cultured it using insect cells, so a more complete description of the virus can be expected in the near future. What is already known though may present a unique case of a laboratory principle occurring very successfully in the wild. Current sequencing data indicates that of the virus' 3 genomic segments, a characteristic of all bunyaviruses, two have a strong resemblance to that of Akabane virus while the other segment resembles that of Shamonda virus. While these two other viruses are closely related, the sudden appearance of a novel virus with segments from both implies a wild reassortment event between the two bunyaviruses that created Schmallenberg. For now, much of this logic lies in the realm of speculation, but would help to explain the sudden, violent appearance of this never-before-seen virus.

-Zachary Herrera
New Animal Virus Takes Europe by Surprise

Russia bans Imports of Dutch Meat over Virus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Traditional Chinese Medicine as Influenza Treatment

A study recently found this summer that a traditional Chinese therapy known as maxingshigan-yinqiaosan (a mixture composed of 12 distinct herbs) showed promise in helping to treat influenza symptoms and reduce infection time. The mixture was compared to tamiflu, as well as a control group; it showed similar results to tamiflu in both the necessary time for fever reduction and the levels of viral shedding measured by PCR, while a combination of the two medications showed better results then either medication alone.

The reason that this popped back into the news is because another study recently evaluated the feasibility of introducing maxingshigan-yinqiaosan as a viable treatment in Western medicine. Overall, it was determined that samples of this treatment currently found in the Western world often varied widely in chemical composition - whether from variances in the herb themselves, variable growing conditions, different harvesting procedures, etc.

This is an interesting finding because it's evidence that there likely exist a multitude of different treatments from various cultures that could help supplement our current knowledge of drugs. If this treatment specifically was to be introduced in a medical sense, it would obviously be quite important to standardize the specific chemicals found within maxingshigan-yinqiason, but I think overall it shows a lot of promise in the pursuit of standardizing the quagmire currently known as "alternative medicine."

Original Study:

-Elena Higuchi

Monday, January 16, 2012

New and exciting Ebola target!

Scientists have discovered that the protein NPC1 may play a key role in preventing Ebola infections, or at least decreasing their severity. NPC1 is a protein that is found in the endosome and brings cholesterol into the cytoplasm. Individuals who lack NPC1 have Niemann-Pick disease, where cholesterol builds up in the brain, liver, and spleen. When cells from individuals with Niemann-Pick were infected with an experimental Ebola-ike virus, they were much better able to fight off infection than cells with normal levels of NCP1. This is because without functional NPC1, the virus can't enter the cytoplasm, and no infection can occur.

Researchers are now working on finding small compounds that block the interaction of NPC1 and viruses related to Ebola. So far several articles have been published in Nature, and the antidepressant imipramine has been found to block NPC1. While NPC1 trials have worked on Marburg-infected mice and cells, no trials with imipramine or other NPC1 blockers have been undertaken yet. However, these preliminary results are exciting: to think, that the key to fighting Ebola might be an antidepressant that's already on the market.

--Sarah Kaewert

From lollipox to measles parties: we’re talking about a whole new kind of crazy

So if the lollipox and the rise of chickenpox parties weren’t bad enough, here’s a kicker…Now on the rise: measles parties? My gosh, from what we’ve learned about measles and it’s complications, this is a highly contagious and serious disease for which we have an effective vaccination. So why are some parents insisting on purposely exposing their children to such danger.

According to an article this week, measles parties are on the rise. Organizers of such events usually take the stance that measles is a “harmless childhood disease” and tend to be opponents of immunization. They often believe that naturally induced infection has greater benefit for the patient than vaccinations.

Unfortunately, as we have learned in class, actually being infected with wild type measles virus carries with it significant health risks. For example, complications of measles include otitis and lung infections as well as post infectious measles encephalitis and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (a 100% deadly disease).

Measles can be a severe, debilitating and even deadly disease. On top of that, while people think they are exposing their child to measles, without a doctor present, a measles party could unintentionally spread other diseases. Lastly, due to the highly contagious nature, intentionally spreading the disease could likely have severe effects on infection rates of people outside of the measles parties. All in all, this sounds like a terrible recipe for disaster.

Now consider this: Conversation Parties and HIV. I’ll look into this next week but google it. CRAZY!

--Elena Jordan

(sorry for the late post, I accidentally posted this on the humanvirosphere blog last night...I got confused signing in and it turns out the passwords are the same)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Norwalk-like Virus: It is winter time again.

A conference in Victoria was cut short because of a Norwalk-like virus outbreak. The virus took out around 50 students at a hotel that was hosting a national student journalist's conference. It is proposed that someone had already been affected by the virus was the index case in this localized outbreak. Students began leaving the conference hall in the middle of a speech because of symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. There was no laboratory confirmation of the virus but all the symptoms reported matched the "norwalk-like gastroenteritis symptoms". Eleven student went to the hospital to receive fluids and medication, but none were held in care for very long. The route of transmission for noroviruses is fecal, oral, or direct contact. People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until 3 days after recovery. People were advised to stay in their rooms to prevent transmission and keep vigilant personal hygiene. This outbreak was quite mild. These types of the outbreaks are most common during the winter seasons and in confined spaces like hotels and cruise ships. Public health officials and going to return to gain laboratory confirmation of the causative agent.

See link for original article:

-Victoria Anikst

Imported bush meat: a unique source of zoonotic viruses

By now, we're all familiar with the threats posed by consumption of bush meat. However, in a recent research article, Kristine M. Smith et al. point out the severity of the situation in Western countries. By one estimate, approximately 273 tons of bush meat illegally arrive at a single airport in Paris each year, or over five tons per week (!!!).

The U.S. is not immune (teehee) to this illegal import either, although we currently do not have sufficient screening protocols to provide an accurate estimate of the amount of bush meat smuggled here. Samples are typically immediately incinerated. However, with cooperation from JFK Airport and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Smith was able to acquire 44 samples of bush meat (primates and rodents, both raw and barbecued). Analysis of these samples revealed the presence of CMV, simian foamy virus (SFV), and lymphocryptoviruses (LCVs, similar to Epstein-Barr virus). No SIV was detected, though Smith attributes this to the low number of primate samples (n=9).

These findings raise some interesting questions. For one, who's importing this bush meat, and why? Janet Raloff's commentary on the issue suggests that immigrants may "have retained their love of... bushmeat" and are responsible for having it imported. In addition, what can be done to reduce the amount of bush meat brought onto U.S. soil? Improved screening is one potential solution. Targeting the cultural source of the issue might also be possible, by emphasizing the dangers posed by consumption of bush meat.

Bush meat: not even once.

-Alan Le

Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products, Smith KM

More commentary with links to further reading at 1 and 2

Preventable Outbreaks and the Lasting Effects of a Flawed Study

As of October 14th of 2011, the Center for Disease Control was dealing with 214 measles cases, a 356% increase from the average 60-70 annual cases. What was most troubling about this statistic is that 86% of the 214 cases were attributed to individuals who were unvaccinated. This rise in cases also marks the largest outbreak of measles in the United States in the last 15 years.

This rise is often attributed to the falsely cited MMRV-autism correlation. Not to mention, the importation of diseases is also a key propagator of pandemics.

In Minnesota, 21 incidents of measles cases were reported with14 of these leading to hospitalizations. Patient zero in this case was a two year old toddler who traveled to Kenya and spread the disease in a child care center.

Utah experienced a similar scenario- in this case, an outbreak involving nine individuals occurred following an unvaccinated high school student's return from Europe. This outbreak was controlled by the Utah Department of Health at a hefty cost. It took $300,000 to cover infection control and examinations- approximately $33,000 for every individual that tested positive for measles. 12,000 individuals were contacted regarding possible exposure and 184 were quarantined. Of the 9 cases that tested positive, two thirds were unvaccinated claiming personal exemptions.

The United States is not the only nation experiencing rises in measles outbreaks- last year, Quebec, Canada experienced the largest outbreak in 22 years with a total of 757 cases as of the 5th of October. Europe experienced over 26,000 identified measles cases in 36 countries- also attributed to a decrease in the use and prevalence of the MMRV vaccine because of the Wakefield theory linking autism and the vaccination. These lasting effects from the flawed study should emphasize the importance of review panels and the ways in which findings are interpreted by the general public.

-Angela CeseƱa

References:, the U.S. National Library of Medicine has more information on measles.

A year without Polio for India

India's last case of polio was in January 12, 2011, which marks a year without a single case of polio. Wow, especially since India was considered the "epicenter" of polio and responsible for half the cases in the world! If the elimination was indeed successful, this leaves only THREE polio-endemic countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

The effort has been impressive, including two government-run, five-day campaigns that vaccinated some 172 million children each. This took some $2 billion over the last decade or so, and much of it came from within India itself.

Fun fact: most vaccines now are bivalent, since type 2 has been eradicated =] Additionally, governments that have recently eliminated polio but continue to vaccinate are determining how to switch to IPV, which carries less risk. This is difficult in poor countries, which can't afford the manufacture or infrastructure to support routine injection of IPV.

It's excited to think we might see the eradication of polio soon, and maybe even the eradication of many important diseases within our lifetimes! Makes me want to join vaccine science.

Article 1 and 2.

-Annelise Mah

One more interesting thing: an article about how HIV doesn't cause AIDS. Several nonscientific claims by the author—can you rebut?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Girls overestimate protection of HPV Vaccine

You know those parents who think that giving HPV shots to young girls encourages them to have (unsafe) sex? Maybe it's not something we can blow off as hysteria.

A study of 339 girls aged 13-21 done at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital (serving low-income populations) showed that while most girls understand the extend of the vaccine's protection, 23.6% of them believed that the HPV vaccine lowered their risk of getting other sexually transmitted diseases (though not necessarily that they are completely protected and will have unsafe sex, as we might claim and get ahead of ourselves). The cure for this is, of course, better education!

The paper and other experts report this as a low percentage, and indeed only ~4% thought they could get away with less safe sex practices after the shots. Still, 23.6% misinformation seems pretty high to me, even if it isn't "widespread." However, what's slightly more interesting are the other social factors examined in the paper. Risks for unsafe sex include belief that one is not at risk, alcohol use (since "good girls" are more concerned with safe sex?), misunderstanding or negative attitude towards healthcare by the mother, and getting information from a teacher rather than other sources.

The paper! or U.S. News Article

Also, did you know? HPV is the most common STI in the U.S., with more than half of adults getting exposed.

-Annelise Mah

Dengue and Antibody Dependent Enhancement

As we discussed Dengue numerous times last quarter, we always tried to keep in mind the concept of "ADE", or Antibody Dependent Enhancement, which is usually demonstrated upon secondary or tertiary infection with the Dengue virus serotypes. I recently found a very detailed article, released by researches at Berkeley (Oh bears..), that explains how this process occurs and that provides very precise data regarding the potential combinations of serotypes that would lead to the most severe cases. This could have amazing implications for potential vaccine developments in the future!
This study found that children who have had antibodies against Dengue virus serotype 3 were at a much higher risk for severe infections if exposed to the subtype 2B of Dengue virus serotype 2. The researchers additionally found that the risk for fatal infections is greatest for children initially possessing antibodies to Dengue virus 1 who are infected with subtype 1 of Dengue virus 2.
In response to these results, the director of viral genomics at the Broad Institute, Matthew Henn, said that "both the subtype of virus you get infected with and whether your body has antibodies to another type of virus matter. If you get the wrong combination of the two, you are more likely to get severe disease."
One of the most significant obstacles in the development of a vaccine for Dengue has been the problem of ADE. If scientists are able to distinguish which combinations of Dengue virus serotypes and subtypes upon primary and secondary infections produce the severest cases, or are able to predict which specific virus types will proliferate in various human populations, a groundbreaking treatment strategy could become available to Dengue patients.

Here's the article if you'd like to read more on this study!

- Julie

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Successful recombinant SIV vaccine may pave way for HIV equivalent

A new SIV vaccine has been developed; it’s a recombinant vector vaccine using an adenovirus ‘prime’ to carry SIV genes, and interestingly, the booster is a recombinant Pox virus! After the regimen, infections in rhesus monkeys were reduced by 80% from the experimental group to the unvaccinated control. The researchers found high titres of glycoprotein Abs in vaccinated monkeys and believe these were important in preventing infection, although 12% of said monkeys still did not clear the virus. Humoral responses may also be effective against HIV infection, as noted in the RV114 (Thai) trial, where the 30% of patients who were successfully immunized ‘produced the highest levels of antibodies against HIV’s envelope protein” (GP120). Researchers hope that recombinant vaccines may also work for HIV, but given the species barrier, these SIV vaccines may still not be a good model for developing one for the human virus.

Fun facts about the experiment;
* The monkeys were challenged with SIV intrarectally
* Some Rhesus monkey MHC Class I alleles correlate with stronger control of SIV, thus they were screened out of the study
* There was an 18% genetic difference between the vaccine and challenge strains

- NGUyen

Nature News Article

Full Article