Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Zika cases are down, but researchers prepare for the virus’s return

The number of cases of Zika in 2017 is much lower than 2016, which is seemingly great news, but let’s not stop being diligent in preparing for another wave. Zika made headlines across the whole world in 2016. It ravaged areas such as Colombia and Brazil, and it even came to the U.S. It left birth defects amongst many children in the Western Hemisphere.

Although the news has long since turned to other topics, researchers are still terrified of Zika. First, there is no evidence that a Zika outbreak will not return. According to a medical entomologist that works at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute, Zika can really come back any day now. So far, there is some optimism with laboratory work on Zika, as researchers have learned more on how the virus enters a host cell.

This is critical information to be able to come up with an efficacious vaccine in the future; however, one important caveat is the mode of transmission of Zika virus. It can actually be transmitted due to sex, having the ability to be in semen for up to 3 months. Therefore, very little is known on the persistence of Zika virus throughout a long-term timeline.

But, there is some good news. One vaccine developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has made to a second round of human clinical trials. In addition, other researchers are earnestly working on developing vaccines to combat Zika. Thus, a sustainable effort and communication among governments is needed to quell Zika from being a threat again.

Eyasu Kebede



You heard right! Terrorist groups may now use viruses as a biological weapon. This report is credited to an European Union official who is a world-renown expert on counter-terrorism efforts, Gilles de Kerchove. According to him, groups such as ISIS and those sympathetic to that organization may soon be using drones to drop viral attacks at a mass scale. In fact, in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, ISIS members have used drones in order to watch their enemy and plant targeted bombs at the locations of their enemies.

Due to increased technology that has led to more connectivity, radical ideas can be more easily spread. This helps the recruitment strategy of organizations, such as ISIS. If and/or when ISIS is able to recruit someone with an expertise in “synthetic biotechnology.” Some may argue that this may be overreaction; however, this is not the first time that recruitment strategies were targeted to improve their actions of evil deeds.

For example, in Al-Qaedea’s magazine, entitled Inspire?, there were portions dedicated to to making bombs in the home. It is not too far of a stretch to disseminate information on making bio-weapons, specifically if they got people with expertise of genetic engineering and such. Therefore, benevolent researchers and counterterrorism networks need to work tirelessly to ensure anything of this nature does not occur.

Eyasu Kebede

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Case of Yellow Fever Virus in Jundiaí, Brazil

On Thursday, Dec 7th- Jundiaí reported its first case of suspected yellow fever. A 55 year-old man had been placed in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Jundiaí since Nov 29th, and he is suspected to have yellow fever and leptospirosis. He was not vaccinated against yellow fever, but his family members believe they were (1).

Should he be diagnosed with yellow fever, it is highly likely that he contracted as a result of the forest near his neighborhood; the forest regularly has cycles of transmission. Furthermore, as a result of this case, and the hazard the nearby forest presents, the municipal government's Epidemiological Surveillance has been vaccinating individuals- going door to door. According to the municipal government, 92% of the population has been vaccinated against yellow fever.

More information on yellow fever:
Virus structure and morphology- +ssRNA, icosahedral, enveloped, nonsegmented (3).

Symptoms- 3-6 day incubation period; fever, chills, headache, back pain, body aches, nausea/vomiting, fatigue, weakness (4).

Transmission- ARBO virus (transmitted by mosquitoes)- mostly Aedes aegypti or Haemagogus (4).

Vaccine- Live attenuated virus vaccine. Recommended for everyone over 9 months of age who is travelling to high-risk areas in South America and Africa (4).

Treatment- No treatment for viral infection. Treatments aim at relieving symptoms: rest, pain medication, fluids (avoid aspirin and NSAIDs which can increase risk of bleeding) (4).



2. Helpful CDC vaccine suggestions for those traveling to Brazil:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Your T cells went to EBV and Flu Back again

95% of people in the world have EBV by the age of 30, but only a fraction of these individuals present with symptoms or illness (i.e. infectious mononucleosis). Notably, the vast majority of kids who are infected (which is when a lot of people get it) experience no symptoms at all. Similarly, in adults, EBV infection can also present as a minor to nonexistent illness. That said, the scientific community does not know what exactly predisposes some individuals to developing a syndrome-producing mono infection as opposed to an asymptomatic infection. Likewise, that's exactly what a research team in the University of Massachusetts Medical School were investigating in their analysis of T-cells found to be reactive to both influenza A and EBV.

Frequently, T-cells are virus (or pathogen)-specific in their cellular receptors; likewise, the effector memory T-cells that are produced after an infection is cleared theoretically retain this specificity. Memory T-cells (like memory plasma cells/B cells) are responsible for initiating a more rapid, more robust immune response upon a secondary, tertiary, or quaternary (and beyond) infection of a pathogen the body has encountered before. So, a flu memory T-cell would optimally be effective against the exact same strain of flu if infected again.

This medical school team, however, has found that some T-cells are cross-reactive to both EBV and influenza A, and an increase in that population of T-cells results in more severe immune response (and more severe symptoms). Specifically, children with severe cases of mono (from EBV) had 25 times more of these cross-reactive cells than those who experienced no symptoms (and those with mild symptoms had 10 times more).

How do you avoid these cross-reactive cells and severe infection? By avoiding the flu!!! (or EBV!) One of these easier than the other because we have a vaccine for it (you should know which one that is).

EBV, in addition to causing mono, has several interesting factoids. First, it's a herpesvirus (human herpesvirus 4) and has known latency in tonsil cells. This means it can recurrently appear in times of stress both in its shedding and its presentation of symptoms; it's an infection that is never actually cleared. Furthermore, EBV has been associated with some cancers and autoimmune diseases, such as Hodgkin lymphomas and multiple sclerosis, respectively. All this from the infamous "kissing virus".

While this is only a drop in the bucket to understanding EBV infection and variability in symptoms, it's a start!

Miss ya, kiss ya, wouldn't want to E  B V ya!


Killer Flu in Ghana

The Kumasi Academy, a public, senior high school located in Asokore-Mampong region of Ghana (4), was recently afflicted with the deaths of four students out of forty-four reported cases (1). A type A Influenza virus is though to be the culprit, as it was present in 12 out of 19 samples that were taken from those who reported cases.

The minister of health urged students to stay on campus so that they may get vaccinated (and to be able to more easily control the outbreak) (1).

Over the course of 2017, there have 11 deaths from influenza. As the death toll rises, and parents of the students visit the school to urge the students to return home, the minister of health urges families to leave their children there- as the exact mechanism and cause of death for the deceased is not yet completely known (1).

Since the 2006/2007 H5N1 outbreak, Ghana raised awareness of the prevalence and danger of influenza transmission, but it might have scared people living in Ghana more than it compelled them to receive vaccinations (2).



Shingle me Old Timbers! Shingrax the New Vax!

A new Shingles vaccine called Shingrix developed by GlaxoSmithKline has been recently approved by the CDC in October and is approximated to cost $300 for the vaccination. Both shingles and chickenpox are caused by varicella zoster, a herpesvirus. Shingles, which is more prevalent and more of a risk factor as you get older, has been a problem for the older more elderly population because of the long-lasting symptoms associated with it. Some symptoms, apart from rashes and blisters that is present in both shingles and chickenpox, include nerve pain and some serious symptoms like the development of pneumonia, the development of hearing problems, and occasionally brain inflammation. 

The old Shingles vaccine was called Zostavax, a weak-live attenuated vaccine with a 51% efficacy against the disease, approved by the FDA for individuals aged over 50. The CDC however, noted that people who got this vaccine before the age of 60 showed that they were more susceptible to developing Shingles later on rather than if they waited after 60 years of age. An improvement upon Zostavax then, revolves around the notion that Shingrix, an inactivated vaccine, has proven to be effective in stopping Shingles in individuals that are over 80 years of age according to Dr. Rudolph Kotula, an infectious disease physician involved with the new Shingles vaccine. The most notable improvement in Shingrix however, is a high 90% efficacy rate in preventing the development of Shingles, even for individuals older than 80 years old. Shingrix is also recommended for individuals who have taken the old Shingles vaccine Zostavax.

Basically, if you are around the age where you should be worrying about Shingles, you should probably go ahead and get the vaccination and almost guarantee that you won’t get Shingles ever.


-Daniel Gutierrez

Hawaii says Aloha to Mumps

This year, Hawaii has seen a dramatic 6000% increase in mumps cases. The state has averaged less 2 cases per year from 2007-2016, but there have been 632 reported cases in 2017!
   Mumps is very contagious viral infection that can be asymptomatic but most often causes painful swelling of the parotid salivary glands and ins some cases other respiratory symptoms.  The disease is very contagious, spreading through respiratory transmission. 
    The state heath department is reportedly unsure of why there is such a drastic increase of cases this year, but across the United States there have been an increase in the number of cases of mumps over the last 5 years. Part of  this increase is because the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine does not give lifelong immunity. Since immunity to the disease wanes over time and because of the antivaccination movement, many people are vulnerable to get the disease. 
    The Hawaiian Health Department and the CDC recommends that everyone under the age of 60 gets another MMR vaccine to develop or boost immunity to mumps. 
- Chris LeBoa 

More Information:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Celebrate Robert Koch Day!

Today, December 9th, Google's doodle celebrates Robert Koch, one of the forefathers in epidemiology and microbiology. Koch is more well known for his work with bacteria by winning the 1905 Nobel prize for identifying Tuberculosis and for also discovering anthrax and creating the first version of the petri dish by culturing bacteria on slices of potato.
    His postulates on what makes an infectious pathogen have also helped define and found modern virology. His four postulates help us define the basics of viruses as pathogens.
     1) Organisms with the disease have the pathogen while those without the disease do not have the               pathogen. 
  2)  The pathogen must be culturable on a medium
  3) The pathogen can be taken from the culture and then used to infect a different susceptible host
  4) The pathogen can be isolated from a host that infected and then be identified as the same original            infecting pathogen.

While different viruses break each one of these postulates the postulates still give a basic way to define viruses as pathogens. Viruses break the first postulate because many viruses are asymptomatic in some people and those people act as carriers of the virus, or there are orphan viruses that do not cause any symptoms.  The second is broken by viruses because viruses can't replicate without cells to infect. Viruses also are tissue and host specific, so some break the 3rd postulate. And finally while some viruses are genetically stable, the some viruses have high rates of mutation so the genetics of the given virus changes year after year (influenza and HIV especially).

- Chris LeBoa

St. Louis Encephalitis Virus Strikes in Stanislaus County

     St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) , a Flavivirus spread by Culex genus mosquitos was once a common disease in many bird populations across the United States. This disease occasionally spilled over into human populations and interesting infected people of different ages with drastically different syndromes. While the majority of cases are asymptomatic forty percent of children infected with SLEV developed only a fever and headache while over 90% of elderly patients infected developed acute meningitis and encephalitis which occasionally progressed to death.
    SLEV was much more prevalent in the US in the 1970s and 80s. In `1975 there were over 2,000 cases in humans across the country, but by the 1990s it had vanished from many parts of the US and was not detected anywhere in California for over 30 years.
     However, the disease has recently made a comeback. It reemerged in California in 2016 and this year has been detected in birds in 14 out of the 51 counties in the state.   Today marks a fateful day in the return of SLEV to California in that the disease has claimed the life of its first victim in the State. The Stanislaus Health Department confirmed that a patient who contracted the disease in September has died as a result of his symptoms. He was in his 70's. 
     Only time will tell if if this rebirth of SLEV is a temporary outbreak or if will continue to rise in the US due to warmers temperatures.

- Chris LeBoa

For more Information:

The Gut "Microvirome"?

We've all heard of the gut microbiome and the important role it plays in many aspects of human health, but what about the so called microvirome? Jeremy Barr and his research team of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have found that humans absorb nearly 30 million bacteriophages daily through their intestines and into the blood stream. It was originally though that bacteriophages interacted exclusively with bacterial hosts and had to interplay with eukaryotic cells. However, this viewpoint is now being questioned as further research is conducted.

It has been hypothesized that the bacteriophages that get into human tissues play an important role in immune modulation. Specifically, when normal human leukocytes were exposed to 5 different bacteriophage species, they were found to produce molecules that decreased inflammation. Additionally, people who suffer from autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and Type 1 diabetes have been found to have altered bacteriophage communities when compared to healthy people. There is a lot of potential in bacteriophage research and how it can interplay with the bacteria in our bodies, and potentially even with our own cells. However, Barr says "Given our current ignorance of phageeukaryote interactions, medical uses are probably decades away.”



Hep A hunting the homeless: A Tale of 3 Outbreaks

       Across the United States a serial killer has been killing our nation's most vulnerable people. This silent killer has attacked over 1200 people so far this year, sending 883 of them to the hospital and killing 41. The killer, Hepatitis A virus, began its work in the City of San Diego specifically infecting those that use injectable drugs. It spread parentally through infecting over 500 people in San Diego.   The city of San Diego soon deployed teams of first responders to administer vaccinations among the homeless population of the city and to clean the streets of homeless encampments around the city (Since Hep A is generally spread through fecal oral transmission). 
       Their interventions in San Diego may have kept more people from becoming sick with Hep A but the disease escaped and ended up also spreading to Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, infecting about 100 more. This ongoing Hep A outbreak, the worst in the United States since the vaccine became available in 1996.
       This highly virulent Hepatitis A did not just stay in California but also spread to Michigan where it is responsible for 85 cases so far and to Salt Lake City Utah where officials are still trying to get a hold on the outbreak that has sickened over 500 homeless in that city so far. 
    If you are homeless or work closely with the homeless it is recommended that you get a Hep A vaccine and make sure to wash your hands and avoid used needles.
    The CDC website provides up to date information on the state of this outbreak:

- Chris LeBoa

We need more viruses!!

Viruses are an essential part of the mechanism of gene therapy delivery systems. Specifically, disabled adenoviruses or lentiviruses are often used to insert the necessary genetic material into the affected cells so that it can exert the desired effects. Unfortunately, these disabled viruses are difficult and costly to produce and gene therapy companies are often unable to do it themselves. Thus, they outsource this step in the production to large biotech firms such as MilliporeSigma, or Oxford BioMedica. There are long waiting lists to obtain viruses from these firms which leads to a back-up in the assembly line of gene therapy production.

Because obtaining these viruses is so expensive, it leads to a major price hike for the getting the actual gene therapy. For example, a gene therapy treatment made by Novartis for a rare blood cancer can cost approximately $475,000 for one dose. Many of these gene-therapy treatments are targeted at extremely rare diseases (oftentimes that only affect about 10 people) so there is much debate surrounding whether or not it is worth the exorbitant cost to produce a treatment that is so limited in scale.

There is a massive amount of therapeutic potential contained within the burgeoning gene therapy research, but we are going to have to find cheaper ways to manufacture them if it is ever going to be a feasible and accessible treatment. The viral vectors are a good place to start.



Can Dengue Protect You From Zika?!

Researchers at  La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI) conducted a study in which they infected mice with Dengue virus and then subsequently infected them with Zika virus, in order to determine whether or not prior Dengue infection could confer any subsequent immunity against Zika. When infected with Zika and then tested, the mice that were previously infected with the Dengue virus presented with a significantly smaller viral load in their blood and tissues, suggestive of an enhanced immune response to the virus.

Additionally, these researchers looked into the implications of both B cell and T cell immunity in fighting Zika infection. Currently, 26 of the 28 vaccines that are approved for human use only stimulate B cell response but there exists mounting evidence that T cell response may also be very important in developing immunity against viruses like Zika. To test this, the researchers extracted cytotoxic T cells from ice that were infected with Dengue and injected them into mice that were infected with Zika. The mice who received the cytotoxic T cell injections displayed much less severe illness than the infected mice that did not receive T cells. This is strong evidence towards the idea that Dengue confers cross-immunity against Zika and that T cells are an important part of this process. Both of these findings are extremely important as we work towards developing an effective vaccine against Zika virus.



The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

The idea that viruses could be used as medicine certainly seems farfetched. Hasn't modern medicine been working to fight against viral infections? Aren't we working towards eradication of every last virus in existence?

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem for many reasons including increased prescription of antibiotics, the fact that people do not always finish their full course of antibiotics, and an increasing proportion of people that are immunocompromised. Currently, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the globe each year. However, at current rates, it seems likely that this number will increase to 10 million deaths per year as a result of anabiotic-resistant bacterial infection, by the year 2050. 10 million. It is abundantly clear that something must be done to prevent this.

Heather Hendrickson from Massey University in New Zealand has been researching a potentially groundbreaking method of using bacteriophage viruses to combat bacterial infections, much like the way antibiotics are currently used. Hendrickson and her research team are investigating bacteriophages found in soil and their therapeutic potential. Bacteriophages can be very specific which is useful in targeting a single type of bacteria rather than wiping out a person's entire microbiome. Considering the current trajectory with regards to antibiotic resistance, it is important that we begin to look into alternative methods for fighting bacterial infections. And viruses might be just that.



What are the bats brewing in Yunnan?

Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (Part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) spent 5 years monitoring bats in caves in China's Yunnan province to investigate whether or not these bats could potentially be the original source of the SARS virus in humans. SARS is a devastating coronavirus that 8,000 people and killed 774 in China in 2003. It was originally thought that civet cats were the source of the virus that spilled over to humans but upon further investigation and research, it was suggested that the virus may have actually originated in horseshoe bats.

The ongoing study of the bats in the Yunnan caves produced some intriguing results. The researchers found that there are 11-different strains of viruses related to SARS found in these bats and  that all of the genes necessary to create a virus like the one that caused the 2003 epidemic are contained within these strains. With a little bit of recombination and reassortment, it is very plausible that these bat strains could give way to a virus with the potential of causing human infection.

Interestingly enough, SARS does not actually cause illness in the bats that it infects so there is potential to figure out possible treatments for SARS by studying the ways in which the bat immune systems handle the infection.



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Watch out for the Mumps!

At Syracuse University, located in New York, there have been 45 confirmed cases of mumps and 81 probable cases (unconfirmed). The first case was reported in August, but it has been spreading at a slower pace than had been expected (1).

Furthermore, mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the U.S. have been occurring somewhat commonly with the following colleges also having cases in recent years: The University of Missouri, The University of Illinois, and The University of Iowa.

The mumps virus can be spread through the respiratory route or through direct contact. Sneezing, coughing, touching objects that are then touched by others (with unwashed hands) are all common behaviors that further the spread of the virus (2). Given the nature of its transmission, them, it comes as little surprise that the virus has spread quickly on campuses in which students live in close contact in their dorms.

More information on the mumps virus:

Common symptoms - fever, headache, muscle ache, tiredness,  loss of appetite, and swollen salivary glands (3).

Morphology - mumps virus is a member of the Paramyxoviridae family (4). It has a -ssRNA genome and an enveloped capsid with helical symmetry.



New Developments of Zika Vaccine

On December 4, the NIH released a statement explaining that recent Phase I clinical trials are showing that a new, inactivated vaccine against Zika virus has been shown to be effective and safe. The research is being conducted in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The vaccine is an inactivated vaccine with Zika virus that still has its protein shell in order to be recognized by the immune system as something to attack. This is ultimately safer than creating a live vaccine with live virus that has the potential to replicate and cause diseases within humans.

The study had 67 participants, of which 55 received the vaccine and 12 had the placebo. The vaccine consisted of two intramuscular injections that were separated by four weeks. The blood samples of participants were tested at various times after the distribution of the vaccine. In 90% of the participants, antibodies to Zika virus were detected after just four weeks from receiving the second dose.

One of the biggest concerns with Zika infection is the congenital anomalies that can occur. It is currently unclear how many antibodies need to be present in order to protect against these viral effects. However, the antibodies produced in humans in this trial were then transferred to mice. After being infected with Zika virus, the mice were able to respond very effectively to the virus given the antibodies they had which provides promising strength of the vaccine. 

Other vaccines are currently also in development against Zika. These other vaccines target separate parts of the virus and come in different forms, such as DNA vaccine, mRNA vaccine, and a live-attenuated vaccine. The program leader of this research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is hopeful. He states that "Zika remains a threat to U.S. military personnel and families of service members. We aim to develop a vaccine to protect the military, as well as the global community."



Friday, December 8, 2017

Nightmare on Flu Street

A parent’s worst nightmare is to see their child suffer and not being able to do anything about it. This reality rung true in a recent case of flu infection in a 4 year old boy, who contracted a very rare disease from flu termed acute necrotizing encephalitis,  a disease that affects children and infants, where there are only around 300 cases documented in the world.  Acute necrotizing encephalitis is a disease that is caused by gastrointestinal or respiratory infection that leads to severe symptoms such as high fevers, vomiting, rapid neurologic decline, seizures, and different levels of liver disorder severity. And the worst part is, the boy, Andre, has only been given a 30% chance to live.

Despite the odds that are stacked against Andre, he has battled courageously for months now, but continued therapy in the hospital is key to improving and ensuring that Andre has a chance to beat this thing. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to afford treatment that could potentially save a loved one’s life, especially a child’s life. Kamareia, Andre’s mom, says that she cannot afford this therapy, and although Chronic Tacos from Fresno has already committed itself to giving 20% of its total sales for the treatment, more money is direly needed. So if anyone of you has a dollar to spare, please, let’s help Andre beat this so he can live his full life. Share this on Facebook, Twitter, wherever, spread the news, spread the life.


Link to Fundraiser:

Daniel Gutierrez

H3N2 Dominates US

Flu season is well underway, and as of late one particular strain of influenza A has pushed itself to the top.  According to the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) from the CDC, there has been 566 documented cases of hospitalizations in the US, where most of the patients were above 65 years of age, suggesting that older people are more at risk of developing severe symptoms from the flu. The particular strain that was observed to be dominantly present in these individuals was the H3N2 strain. Moreover, in lab, a total of 135, 202 specimens were tested, where 3.7% were tested positive for influenza, where 73.4% tested positive for influenza A, and furthermore where 90% of the influenza A was the H3N2 strain. Of course, the flu season is not even close to over, so these percentages may well be subject to change along with the H3N2 strain being the current dominant strain. The CDC believes that data from the US will be the best indicator of how the flu will behave this season, and it should be noted that last year, a H3N2 component that was used in the previous flu season vaccine was 32% effective against the strain H3N2.

MD Dugan it should be noted that the current H3N2 strain is less antigenically similar than the H3N2 strains utilized for the production of a component of the flu vaccine. The reason for this discrepancy can be explained through the nature of influenza A viruses themselves, where what is called genetic drift caused by the accumulation of point mutations on the virus occurs, leading to slight changes in the neuraminidase and hemagglutinin receptors. This change in the receptors thus makes the vaccine less effective.

All in all, the reality of the matter is that the worst is yet to come, so brace yourselves, because we are in for a flutastic season.


-Daniel Gutierrez

A mother got the flu from her children — and was dead two days later

This story begins on Thanksgiving in Phoenix, Arizona. Initially, the children fell ill, exhibiting flu-like symptoms. This began spreading until everyone in the family also became sick. After some time, everyone recovered, except for the twenty year old mother of the two children. Her name is Alani “Joe” Murrieta. After her condition worsened, she finally went to urgent clinic. There, she was prescribed Tamiflu, a neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat against influenza.

However, her condition did not improve. Eventually, she began coughing up blood. After a couple of days, unfortunately, she passed away due to pneumonia. This news shocked the whole family. Everyone else in the family that exhibited the symptoms Alani had recovered while Alani sadly did not.

This chilling story is a striking example of the potential consequences of not being vaccinated against influenza. Experts believe if a vaccinated person gets the flu, which is much less likely compared to an unvaccinated person, the symptoms are more slight for the vaccinated. According to the CDC, this year alone, at least 6000 people have been infected with influenza, which is much higher than previous years. The dominant strain that is circulating for this flu season is H3N2, which has caused more devastation than previously circulating strains. Although it is difficult to assert that vaccination would have saved Alani’s life, it is certainly important noting the grave importance of vaccination to protect against influenza.

Eyasu Kebede


Uganda ends Marburg virus disease outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) just wrote a report today essentially congratulating Uganda’s officials for being able to stop the outbreak of Marburg virus disease in their country. WHO was informed about the situation in Uganda on October 17 of this year. That was around the time that a case of Marburg virus disease was found in Uganda. The person infected with Marburg virus was a lady who was 50 years old.

When WHO found out about the circulation of Marburg virus disease in Uganda, it gave $623,000 to Uganda to be able to help contain the outbreak. Other than financial assistance, WHO offered supported with laboratory work as well as monitoring at-risk individuals. Because Kenya is a border of Uganda, there was fear that the Marburg virus would spread there, so quick action needed to be taken and it was.

Throughout the time that Marburg virus disease was circulating in Uganda, a total of 3 people died. In addition, Marburg virus is not new in Uganda. In fact, since 2007, there have been four other outbreaks of Marburg virus disease within the nation. In addition to the Ministry of Health of Uganda, Kenya and WHO, a plethora of other organizations were involved in helping contain this outbreak. Some notable ones include: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and many more. WHO believes that Uganda needs to keep building up its health infrastructure and be ready for any more threats that might come in the future.

Eyasu Kebede


Four-in-one flu shot may mean lifelong protection against the flu

A research team from the Nebraska Center for Virology now believe that there could be a universal influenza vaccine developed through the combination of the four main wild type strains circulating in the world today. This finding comes from experiment they did on mice, where mice that were vaccinated with the special form fared much better than mice that were treated with conventional influenza vaccines.

The hope for these researchers is to eventually replicate this to work on humans so that there will not be constant immunizations needed every season. Current vaccines are usually at most 60% effective, and researchers believe this needs to be improved. Although it is a very difficult journey they are embarking on, some say that a universal vaccine could be out in the ten years or so.

Eric Weaver, the leader of the laboratory doing this research, originally got his idea while working as a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University. At that time, he was working with HIV, specifically on how species jump occurred from primates to human beings. So, he began looking at phylogenetic tree for influenza. He is hopeful that the vaccine his team is aiming to develop will be able to confer universal immunity against all of influenza.

Eyasu Kebede


Thursday, December 7, 2017

First Hantavirus Case Resulting in Death in Panama (In Two Years)!

According to the Ministry of Health (MINSA) in Los Santos, Panama, the first case of hantavirus (in over 2 years) was reported just earlier this month (1). 

A 47 year old woman sought medical care at the Joaquín Pablo Fran Hospital on Wednesday, Dec 6. She was transferred to the Anita Moreno Hospital in La Villa, after her symptoms worsened and she needed access to a ventilator (1).

According to the patient, she began experiencing fever, headache, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing starting on Friday Dec 1st (1).

Unfortunately, according to the MINSA Director of Epidemiology in Los Santos, her symptoms worsened quickly, and she passed on Friday, Dec 7th (1).

More information on Hantavirus:

Hantavirus is a  tripartite ROBO virus with a -ssRNA genome (2). It has a 30-40% mortality rate. There is a vaccine available, but it is only effective against certain strains (mostly those present in East Asia). The only people who are typically vaccinated against this virus are military personnel of South Korea (3). 



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Wild Rabies Case in Israel

Figure 1: A jackal

Jackals infected with rabies were found on Monday, December 04 in the Meggido region of Israel. Two human cases have been reported in this region, just 10 km apart from each other. Resultantly, the Israeli Minister of Health, has urged everyone living in this region, who has been in contact with wild jackals, to get checked for rabies and take preventive measures (i.e. getting vaccinated) (1). 

As the jackal population has been increasing in recent years, the incidence of rabies had remained relatively low; therefore, no one foresaw the sudden cases that have taken place over the last couple of days (3). Especially given that the World Health Organization has consistently categorized Israel as a nation with a low risk of contracting rabies (see 2010 map below).

Prevention: Vaccine available. Furthermore, in most cases rabies is transmitted by dog bites, so vaccinating pets is of the utmost importance. In this case, the virus was transmitted by a jackal, so minimizing contacts with these animals is an important prevention strategy (5).

Symptoms of Rabies: First few days- flu-like symptoms, weakness, fever. Within a few days symptoms may include itching at the bite site and psychological/behavioral changes including: delirium, hallucinations, anxiety, insomnia, etc. Once the clinical signs appear, rabies is almost always FATAL (6).

Treatment: Cleaning the would and obtaining the vaccine (prophlyaxis)- live and passive virus, if first time being vaccinated- and immunoglobulin (2).

Figure 2: Map of the Middle East
Figure 3: 2010 Rabies Map by the World Health Organization
The low-risk speck right next to Jordan indicates a low risk of contracting rabies in Israel.



Ancient Retroviruses can be Excised from Pig DNA

I used to work in a lab that had the very ambitious goal of engineering animals to grow human organs and serve as the ultimate workhorse of organ transplantation. This required the manipulation of embryos isolated from various animals and some nuanced and drawn out genetic manipulations that I never fully grasped. However, implicit to this method of generating organs was the production of human organs in animals rather than using animal organs to transplant into humans. Using pig organs, or even tissues, to make heart valves or even serve as a human heart presents some problems. Host-graft rejection and immune response to even parts of pig organs are the defensive responses that make such a transplant challenging, but another adverse viral consideration lies in PERVs, porcine endogenous retroviruses. These sequences have been though to contribute to tissue rejection because the viruses are expressed when put in humans. The article uses CRISPR-Cas 9 to excise these sequences and has been shown to be effective because the regions that need to be treated are localized. I thought that this could be used to excise the proviruses of chronic viruses affecting humans, like herpesviruses or HIV. However, this method works only when the genetics in need of alteration aren't everywhere, like in grafts, rather than every single T cells and dendritic cell. Still, this article exemplifies the way in which CRISPR can change how we combat viruses.