A 21-year-old California woman died from an amoeba that settles in the brain and destroys its tissue. The disease she contracted is called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). It is rare, with only zero to eight cases reported a year, says Inyo Public Health officer Dr. Richard Johnson. But it is almost 100 percent fatal.
Humans are infected by the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, when swimming or diving in fresh, warm water. The amoeba then migrates through the nose and skull, where it reaches the brain and begins to destroy brain tissue.
"I advise people to be cautious when using untreated hot springs in the Sierras," Dr. Johnson said, "The best way to do that is to keep your head above water."
Image: "Focal hemorrhage and necrosis in frontal cortex due to Naegleria fowleri." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The coolest gross-out toy under our tree this year is the $5 infectious disease ball, a squeeze-ball wrapped in mesh that erupts into disquieting, vividly colored buboes when you squeeze it.
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Over the past few months, West Africa has been experiencing the biggest and most deadly Ebola outbreak on record and deforestation is a key part of why.
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Anthrax bacteria. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Up to 75 scientists who work at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biosecurity lab in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax, because researchers there did not follow procedures for inactivating the deadly and highly contagious bacteria.
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More than 100 people reportedly fell ill with food poisoning while attending a high-profile Food Safety Summit in Baltimore, Maryland. The 1,300 attendees included representatives from the Food and Drug Administation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tyson, McDonald's, and many more agencies and food companies. (NBC News)
Narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease
— a finding that helps explain why the 2009 swine flu (and the vaccine used to prevent it) was correlated with increased cases of narcolepsy.
I'm 38 weeks pregnant now. Two weeks ago, my husband and I both got Tdap vaccines — tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. This despite the fact that we've both gotten Tdaps relatively recently, within the last six years, thanks to a home renovation lifestyle that involves regular exposure to rusty nails.
So why re-up on the Tdap before the birth of our baby? It's all about the pertussis. Also called whooping cough, pertussis is particularly hard on infants. Pre-vaccine, it killed 4000 Americans every year, and most of them were new babies — and infections are on the rise in this country, so there's actually a reasonable risk of a newborn coming into contact with the bacteria that causes pertussis. But the larger problem is with the pertussis vaccine, itself. It doesn't have the staying power it once did. A little over 20 years ago, we switched the formulation for pertussis vaccines. There were good reasons for doing that — the "new" formula has fewer side effects. But it also doesn't seem to protect people as well for as long. In fact, the protection starts to wear off within a year of vaccination.
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At Matter, physical therapy professor Eric Robertson writes about a very rare condition called rhabdomyolysis — it's what happens when chronically overworked muscle cells rupture and overload your kidneys with massive amounts of protein. The results are painful, reasonably disgusting, and potentially deadly. Rhabdomyolysis used to be something you only had to worry about if you were, say, part of an elite military squad or a professional athlete. But as more average folks have gotten into elite physical training regimens through programs like CrossFit, the profile of people damaged by rhabdomyolysis is changing
. Training like a bad-ass can bring along some of the physical risks of being a bad-ass.
Valley fever is a respiratory disease that can cause flu-like symptoms, rashes, and (sometimes) chronic lung problems. It's caused by a fungus that lives in dry soil, essentially hibernating for years until it's reinvigorated by moisture. Valley fever is best known for infecting prisoners in the American southwest, but it's also an occupational hazard of archaeologists
... who spend most of their lives sifting through the soils where the fungus lives.
Turns out, it doesn't kill absolutely everybody it infects. A 12-year-old girl in Arkansas is recovering
from her battle with the killer single-celled organism. She's the third known person to survive. Nobody knows yet how she, or the other survivors, made it through. Why? Well, that's more (sort of) good news. There've only been 130 recorded cases of brain-eating amoeba infection since 1962. It's so rare, that it's difficult for doctors to study.
Chocolate frosty pod rot
is not a poorly conceived cereal brand. Instead, it's a fungus that devours cocoa pods — turning them to nasty mush while still on the branch. Quietly spreading through Central America, chocolate frosty pod rot can devastate cocoa crops, wiping out entire plantations.
MERS — the deadly coronavirus related to SARS — has infected 77 people in the Middle East (that we're aware of
) and killed half of them (as far as we know). Now, scientists are starting to look for its source and they're focusing in on two animals
that have lots of opportunity to interact with local populations in Saudi Arabia, and other countries.
MERS is the SARS-related virus that's killing people in the Middle East — and the government of Saudi Arabia, where most of the outbreak is happening, has been reticent about releasing information on infections and deaths
. Now, the government of Jordan has admitted that the earliest recorded outbreak, which happened back in April of 2012, actually infected at least 10 people, rather than the previously reported two
. It sounds like this revelation was the result of an internal re-evaluation of previous records, rather than the suppression of something the government had long known. But it gives you a good idea of how bad the epidemiological information on MERS is right now, and how little we know about it.
In July, millions of people will travel to Saudi Arabia to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. When they do that, they might be at risk of contracting MERS — Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome — a coronavirus, similar to SARS. They could also be at risk of carrying MERS back to their home countries. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabian authorities have released so little information about MERS that global public health experts don't know how to advise these pilgrims as they prepare for travel. We don't know where MERS came from, we don't know what its infection patterns are or how the disease has changed since it was first identified. It's not even certain that we know the true extent of infections and deaths, given that the Saudi Arabian government has been releasing that information in batches, sometimes months after those infections and deaths actually happened.
Helen Branswell is one of my favorite sources on global public health and pandemic disease. She's got a guest post at Scientific American blogs that explains what we do know about MERS, and why the lack of information is such a big problem.
The new virus was first isolated in June 2012. But its existence came to the world’s attention only weeks before last October’s hajj, when an Egyptian infectious diseases specialist who had been working in Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah, reported that he had treated a man who died from an infection caused by a new coronavirus. Whether MERS has or can gain the capacity for sustained person-to-person spread is unknown.
... Infectious disease experts are aghast that this late into MERS’s spread the world still has no idea what puts people at risk of infection, how long the incubation period is, when people are contagious or whether there are mild cases that are being missed because surveillance is focused on finding sick people in hospitals. They put the problem squarely at the feet of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which accounts for 41 of the 55 infections to date.
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The Body Horrors blog has a new recurring series called Microbial Misadventures — all about times when people met disease-causing microbes under less-than-normal circumstances. It starts with an interesting question: Given the fact that most anthrax infections come from eating tainted meat, how did a vegetarian end up with the disease in 2009?
Two-word hint: Drum circle.
When SARS emerged in China in 2002, the Chinese government tried to cover it up, waiting months to inform the World Health Organization. In fact, the WHO first heard about SARS from a Canadian monitoring service that picked up and translated Chinese reports of a "flu outbreak". Something similar happened this week. Only this time, the disease was a different coronavirus related to SARS and the transparency-deprived government was that of Saudi Arabia. Maryn McKenna writes about how the WHO (and everyone else) recently learned of seven new cases, and five deaths, via an Arabic language press release published at 10:30 at night
... likely weeks or even months after the deaths happened.
At Outside magazine, Carl Zimmer has a great long read on why the tick population in the United States is increasing
— and why scientists are having so much trouble controlling both ticks, and the diseases they spread.