Friday, October 20, 2017

Zika Twins: A Window Into Much More Than a Virus

One form of transmission for the Zika virus is the vertical form, and this article takes us to Brazil where it goes through the effect of the Zika virus on the fraternal twin babies of a woman that was exposed to Zika-infected mosquitoes during the time of her pregnancy. What was interesting about this case was that only one of the fraternal twins was symptomatic, as he was born with microcephaly. The other twin, his sister, was perfectly healthy.

Twin cases are fascinating because they have a lot of similarities from their genetics to their general environment, which allows researchers to extrapolate data that they otherwise would not be able to. Out of the known cases of twins exposed to Zika virus through the mother, both sets of identical twins had brain damage. However, in six out of seven cases of fraternal twins, only one of the twins suffered from brain damage while the other one was normally functioning.

Throughout the rest of the article, the writer highlights the extreme poverty that the family with the fraternal twins was in and how they were essentially incapable of caring for this child in need, leading them to give the child to another caretaker.

- Eyasu Kebede

Thursday, October 19, 2017

‘Brilliant,’ 41 and Lost to AIDS: The Theater World Asks Why

Michael Friedman was well-known in the world of theater. A composer an lyricist, he was much loved and a rising star. However, his life was tragically cut short by AIDS, leaving family and friends wondering what they could have done to prevent this.

Michael Friedman was diagnosed with AIDS only July of this year after experiencing difficulty breathing, weakness, and splotches on the face. Some of his friends had thought that the splotches were reminiscent of Kaposi's Sarcoma at the time, but dismissed it due to it being 2017 and not the 80's. Today, HIV/AIDS is viewed as a manageable chronic disease that allows people to live almost as long as someone who is not infected.

However, this was not to be the case for Mr. Friedman. Less than three months after his diagnosis and despite hospitalizations and relentless anti-retroviral therapies, it was too late. In the wake of his passing, the theater community tries to continue his work and are more aware of the fact that HIV/AIDS is still very much capable of taking away those we cherish in the prime of their lives.

‘Brilliant,’ 41 and Lost to AIDS: The Theater World Asks Why

~Scarlett Guo

Ebola's Legacy: Children with Cataracts

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa that ran from 2013 to 2016 was the worst outbreak in history, and claimed thousands of lives. While the outbreak is effectively over, many survivors are still dealing with the consequences. It turns out that one of these consequences can be blindness.

It was noted that the virus can be found hiding in the eye for months after the infection. However, it has recently been noted that about 20% of Ebola survivors experience eye complications including Uveitis followed by severe scarring and cataracts. This can lead to permanent blindness without treatment. Surgeons that operate on Ebola survivors must take extra precautions to remove cataracts or perform other procedures since the virus is known to be active in the eye while the patient is experiencing Uveitis.

Today, there are around 17,000 Ebola survivors in West Africa, meaning that there are around 3,400 survivors continuing to deal with serious eye complications that can stand in the way of livelihoods.

Ebola's Legacy: Children with Cataracts

~Scarlett Guo

Another bird virus, but this isn't flu! (It's Usutu)

A virus called Usutu virus has shown up in viral news recently. It's normally considered to be a songbird virus (i.e. it infects and replicates and lives in viruses, if you can say viruses live), but it can infect humans via the bite of infected mosquitoes. Recently, it has been active in Austria; a Viennese research team found the virus in sixteen songbirds and the blood of seven separate blood donors, indicating human infection is more common than originally thought.

While this virus is actually an African-borne Flavivirus, it's first discovery occurred in Austria in 2001 when it caused a large bird die-off. In the past, it's been observed to infect humans, but it's generally asymptomatic (possibly with minor fever and rash). However, in some individuals (especially immunocompromised folks), it causes severe courses with neurological presentations. No fear, however, because it's not considered a communicable disease (so maybe humans are dead-end hosts).

Of the seven donors, none had clinical symptoms. The viruses collected from these individuals have been studied by Austrian and Hungarian scientists, and these strains are noticeably different from the 2001-2005 viral samples. So, this viral species might be one to watch out for in the future if you're traveling to Austria/Hungary!

I'll see Usutu-you later! ;)

-Javarcia Ivory


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Other Viral Pathogen: Cancer

We may have learned about the contagious cancers of Tasmanian devils and the parvovirus plaguing sea stars, but a bridge between the two may have been found in clams. About a year ago, researchers found free-floating infectious cancer cells that could be linked to clams. The discovery came as a surprise and instantly led to speculation of what could give rise to such a pathogen.

One hypothesis (which is the only relevant one to this class) posits that ~viruses~ may be the cause of these infectious cancers, but how they do it is still under investigation. Viruses that cause tumors do so by altering regulation if gene expression in host cells. Doing so ensures that viral genes are expressed, but it comes at a price to its host whose cells may begin to divide uncontrollably without regulation. This much has been characterized, but the jump from malignancy in the body to transmissible cancer has yet to be explained.

The next consideration people made after this discovery was whether or not such a pathogen could arise in the human population. The article cited a study in which hamsters with cancer were able to transmit their cancer cells to healthy hamsters via mosquitos. With that in mind, the focus is more on using infectious cancer as a model to shed light on metastasis, but it may also develop ways of understanding pathogenic cancer such that it can be prevented in humans.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Protect Your Cats!

While flu season is beginning to approach us humans, cats around the world have been showing signs of a deadly virus of their own. From the United States to the United Kingdom, Feline Panleukopenia virus is spreading and killing cats. Five cats in an animal shelter have died recently in Cleveland from what is believed to be Feline Panleukopenia Virus. Feline Panleukopenia Virus is in the feline parvoviridae family This virus shows similar signs as that of K9 Parvovirus, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures (1). 

An outbreak of the same virus has been reported recently in the United Kingdom in various shelters, killing upwards of 30 cats. The virus is spread most commonly through infected feces and fluids. It "can survive in the environment for up to a year", according to Joanna Szkutnicki, a clinician at one of the effected shelters (2). These two instances suggest even further the importance of vaccinating your cats as well as your dogs as this virus can be deadly in both animals. There are no signs of transmission to humans. 


-Alexandra Ulmer

Breaking: Immunization of 874,000 against Yellow Fever in Nigeria

Today, October 16th 2017, the Government of Nigeria mobilized over 200 volunteers to help vaccinate residents ages 9 months to 45 years old. This campaign comes after the first case of Yellow Fever (of this outbreak) was reported on September 12th of this year.

The Nigerian Government has partnered with the International Coordination Group to obtain vaccines against the virus which causes Yellow Fever, and the campaign is currently taking place in two states: Kwara state and Kogi state. Yellow Fever is caused by the Yellow Fever Virus a member of the Flaviviridae family.

The World Health Organization has also partnered with the Government of Nigeria in order to continue to: monitor outbreaks, provide health education in at-risk communities, and implement public health measures.

News source:

World Health Organization statement:

Information on the Yellow Fever Virus from Viral Zone:


H3N2 Makes Its Way To The UK

The NHS is preparing for the worst as a difficult and deadly strain of the flu makes its way from Australia to the UK. It is expected to be transmitted via travelers and tourists from Australia to the UK. In the biggest flu outbreak Australia has ever seen, the H3N2 flu virus infected 70,000 people this past winter (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) and killed more than 370. The H3N2 flu virus is the same one that was responsible for the 1968 outbreak in Hong Kong that killed over a million people. The virus is mutating quickly, in a process called antigenic shift, and there are concerns that this year's vaccine will thus be ineffective.

The NHS has already had a very difficult year, with too many patients and too little funding. There are approximately 3.83 million people on the waiting list for hospital care and NHS staff and administrators fears that a H3N2 outbreak could completely overwhelm the NHS. Dr. Nick Scriven said, "If, as we expect, we see a flu outbreak, I think the NHS – in terms of both beds and clinical staff – will break far worse than last year and elective activity will almost certainly cease for several months." Elderly and immunocompromised populations are unsurprisingly most at risk of H3N2 infection, but there has also been a spike in infection rates in children between the ages of 5 and 9.

- Emma Mathers


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Yellow Fever in Nigeria

Multiple cases of yellow fever have been recorded in the African country of Nigeria. Since September, 10 cases (spread across various states [Kwara, Kogi, Plateau, Abia, and Edo]) have appeared in Nigerian residents. This has prompted response from the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, and the Federal Executive Council. Beginning in December, the Nigerian federal government plans to begin a nationwide vaccination against Yellow Fever Virus as a method to combat the current outbreak. Before the nationwide program, the Ministry of Health plans to start vaccinating residents of Kwara and Kogi, the regions with the highest number of reported cases thus far. Since this announcement, no new cases have come to light.

Yellow fever vaccines are relatively prices, costing around $150 (including some consultation  but not administration fees). Likewise, a nationwide vaccination campaign, while extraordinarily useful, is likely to be quite the bill to fork up at the end of the year. Yellow fever vaccine was discovered in the 1950's by the Rockefeller Foundation (and was merit for a Nobel Prize). The current versions of the vaccine are live-attenuated vaccines distributed as single doses, granting "lifelong" immunity against the yellow fever virus. It's recommended only for those 9 months and older (preferably under 60 years old), but it is only regularly administered to those who live in or travel to Africa or South America with booster shots.

Yellow fever virus is a RNA virus of the Flavivirus genus, transmitted by Aedes or Haemagogus mosquitoes infected by infected primates (including humans). This virus is so common in myriad environments that its transmission cycle has been broken down into three intertwined cycles (the jungle, urban, and savannah) reflecting its ability to survive in tropical and subtropical climates across large areas.

I'll Yellow fev-ah see yah later. ;)

-Javarcia Ivory

Got Calcium? Calcium helps T cells proliferate and fight viruses

A recent study at NYU School of Medicine has provided a new perspective on how our bodies, specifically T-cells, respond to a viral infection. It turns out that calcium is extremely important in helping T-cells proliferate by activating a transcription factor called NFAT, which turns on genes that regulate the uptake and breakdown of glucose. Moreover, a specific calcium channel present in T-cells, or SOCE (store-operated calcium entry), is directly responsible for regulating and activating NFAT, which means that SOCE, or calcium flow into these T-cells, are directly responsible for the breakdown of glucose that is required for T-cell proliferation. This new finding helps explain how drugs like tacrolimus help fight autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, (diseases where an oversensitive immune system ends up attacking the body's own tissues) since it shuts down the NFAT pathway therefore inhibiting glucose usage and T-cell proliferation. Furthermore, the research team also found that human patients with deficiencies in these calcium channels did not have T-cells that were proliferating or taking up glucose upon T-cell isolation.

Looking forward, Martin Veath, a postdoctoral researcher that works under Dr. Feske at the Department of Pathology in NYU, states "These results are timely because the field is currently exploring whether a drug class CRAC channel inhibitors can be used safely against autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in human patients, and our study fills in key details on some of the relevant mechanisms." If such a drug class was approved, treatment of viral infections would certainly improve.

-Daniel Gutierrez


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Are We Part-Human/Part-Virus?

Our genome is not entirely made up of human genes, there are roughly 100,00 pieces of viral DNA in our genome. This constitutes 8% of our entire genome. This past July, scientist found a protein called Hemo in the veins of pregnant women. What was more surprising was that this protein is not made by the mother, but in the fetus in the placenta. Hemo is made from a viral gene that infected our mammalian ancestors more than 100 years ago.

DNA viral genes in humans can be good and bad. While some can help defend us from disease, others increase our risk for diseases like cancer by through activating cells to switch on other genes. Others like, Dr. Coffin, a virologist from Tufts University, argue that viral DNA has played a vital role in human evolution as some viral proteins aid in reproduction. For instance, syncytins are made from viral DNA and fuse placenta cells together, which is necessary part of normal fetal development.  

There are many hypotheses on the significance of Hemo. Some experiments suggest that this protein helps the embryo develop different tissues. Researchers like Dr. Odile Heidmann from the Paris cancer research institute, suggests that Hemo proteins are the fetus’s message to the mother from the fetus to prevent the mother’s immune system from attacking it. Others suggests that viruses like Hemo may have exploited embryos to make more copies of themselves.

-Jessica Ngo

Wake up HIV

While anti-AIDS drugs such as, antiretroviral therapy, are effective at suppressing HIV in people but these drugs do not get rid of the virus in the body. The patient is unfortunately still infected. If a patient with HIV stops taking their antiretroviral medication then the virus reemerges, replicates, and weakens the immune system. Using animal models, scientists from UCLA, Stanford, and the NIH may have developed a way to eliminate the “reservoirs” in which HIV hides.  They call this technique “kick and kill”, which is where a particle agent is sent into the body to wake up the dormant virus so that it either begins replicating to “kick" the immune system or the virus itself to kill cells with HIV.

To give more information about the study: HIV infected mice were given antiretroviral drugs and then given SUW133, a synthetic compound (developed at Stanford) that activated the dormant virus. It was found that 25% of the previously dormant HIV cells that were woken up died within 24 hours.  Matthew Marsen, assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, believes that “With further development, the technique could lower the viral reservoir enough for people with HIV to be able to discontinue their anti-viral therapy.” With that said, this has many positive future implications. With more significant findings and human studies, using a less toxic version of SUW133, and a higher effectiveness rate, this molecule could potentially improve the quality of life for HIV patients.

-Jessica Ngo

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

San Diego Hepatitis A Outbreak Infects 481 People

Despite health officials following protocol, one of the largest hepatitis A outbreaks the country has experienced in decades continues to worsen in San Diego. So far, at least 481 people have been infected and 17 have died of the infection in the last year just in this particular outbreak. In Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties, another 88 cases have been identified. This outbreak is unusual for the USA in that it has been attributed to a lack of basic hygiene and sanitation, with Homeless populations especially impacted, while Hepatitis A is most commonly transmitted through contaminated food. In 2003, 935 people in multiple states were infected with hepatitis A by eating contaminated green onions at a restaurant, and there were no fatalities. It was the largest outbreak since 1998, according to the CDC.

The model for public health officials addressing hepatitis A is to first determine how hepatitis is being spread, vaccinate the at-risk community and make special efforts to improve sanitary and hygienic practices to eliminate fecal contamination. Over the summer, San Diego’s public health officials have shifted focus to sanitation, including hand washing and street cleaning. Streets where nearly 85 percent of confirmed cases were located are being cleaned, pressure washed with bleach in an effort to sanitize any feces, blood, bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces. In September, portable hand-washing stations were delivered in locations where homeless residents tend to congregate. According to Dr. Jeffrey Engel, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, these sanitation efforts might not be enough. "I can tell you that washing the door knobs is not going to do it," Engel said. "This is more about human behavior than anything else." This hepatitis A outbreak is complicated by the fact that eliminating a food source will not stop its spread. "You're starting out with a very difficult patient population; probably the most challenging population we have," Engel said. "They don't have any address, they're hard to find and it's a population that's associated with substance abuse and mental illness." I will be looking for future updates to see how effective the sanitation efforts prove to be slowing the spread of hepatitis A.
-       Hannah