The European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine for the deadly Ebola Virus Disease. The vaccine has already been administered to hundreds of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saving countless lives during an ongoing epidemic there. From Nature:
The decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to allow US pharmaceutical company Merck to market its vaccine means that the product can now be stockpiled and, potentially, distributed more widely, in particular in Africa. In 2015, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a global health partnership that funds vaccine supplies in low-income countries — told Ebola-vaccine manufacturers that it would commit to purchasing vaccines once they had been approved by a “stringent health authority” such as the EMA...
“This is a vaccine with huge potential,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi in Geneva, Switzerland, in a press release after the EMA decision. “It has already been used to protect more than 250,000 people in the DRC and could well make major Ebola outbreaks a thing of the past.”
Image: "Ebola virus virion" by CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith (Public Domain)
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The bizarre move worries public health experts
There's been an explosion and fire at the Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology (Vector), a facility near Novosibirsk in Siberia that happens to hold live samples of smallpox. Vector officials say there's currently no risk of contamination. Vector and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the only two approved labs known to hold live samples of smallpox. The World Health Organization certified the eradication of smallpox in 1980 thanks to a global immunization effort. However, concern remains that the deadly virus could still be used as a bioweapon. From CNN:
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In its statement, Vector said that no biohazard material was being stored in the room where the explosion took place. The city's mayor also insisted that the incident does not pose any biological or any other threat to the local population, according to TASS...
Dr. Joseph Kam, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (CEID) told CNN that rules for storing viruses are very strict and highly dangerous diseases such as Ebola and smallpox would be stored in the highest "Level 4" laboratory.
Access to the samples would be limited, special containers are used and the storage mechanism is different from other laboratories, Kam said.
He added that while fire would be hot enough to destroy viruses, an explosion could risk spreading the virus and there would be a danger of infecting those in the room or contaminating the immediate area.
Approximately 14 percent of the world's population suffer from dry eye disease (DED) but treatments are limited because it's difficult to model the complex human eye for drug development. Now though, University of Pennsylvania bioengineers developed an "eye-on-a-chip" complete with a motorized blinking eyelid. The hope is that the artificial eye will lead to a deeper understanding of dry eye disease, enable drug screening, and even become a testbed for contact lens technology and eye surgery. Their technology also received the 2018 Lush Prize awarded for innovations that could help eliminate animal testing for shampoos and other beauty product. From Eurekalert:
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In this study, (Dan) Huh and (Jeongyun) Seo focused on engineering an eye model that could imitate a healthy eye and an eye with DED, allowing them to test an experimental drug without risk of human harm.
To construct their eye-on-a-chip, Huh's team starts with a porous scaffold engineered with 3D printing, about the size of a dime and the shape of a contact lens, on which they grow human eye cells. The cells of the cornea grow on the inner circle of scaffolding, dyed yellow, and the cells of the conjunctiva, the specialized tissue covering the white part of human eyes, grow on the surrounding red circle. A slab of gelatin acts as the eyelid, mechanically sliding over the eye at the same rate as human blinking. Fed by a tear duct, dyed blue, the eyelid spreads artificial tear secretions over the eye to form what is called a tear film.
Britain is free of rabies; the specter of it being imported from Europe was an omnipresent whisper of menace in public information ad spots and print ads when I was a lad. Here's are three chipper segments from the early 1980s that I recall.
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A new study reveals that the Skrillex track "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" reduces mosquitos' success in foraging, host attack, and sexual activities of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro, and other nasty diseases. According to the researchers from the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and their colleagues, it's all about that bass. From their scientific paper published in the journal Acta Tropica:
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Sound and its reception are crucial for reproduction, survival, and population maintenance of many animals. In insects, low-frequency vibrations facilitate sexual interactions, whereas noise disrupts the perception of signals from conspecifics and hosts. Despite evidence that mosquitoes respond to sound frequencies beyond fundamental ranges, including songs, and that males and females need to struggle to harmonize their flight tones, the behavioral impacts of music as control targets remain unexplored. In this study, we examined the effects of electronic music (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex) on foraging, host attack, and sexual activities of the dengue vector Aedes aegypti. Adults were presented with two sound environments (music-off or music-on). Discrepancies in visitation, blood feeding, and copulation patterns were compared between environments with and without music. Ae. aegypti females maintained in the music-off environment initiated host visits earlier than those in the music-on environment. They visited the host significantly less often in the music-on than the music-off condition. Females exposed to music attacked hosts much later than their non-exposed peers. The occurrence of blood feeding activity was lower when music was being played. Adults exposed to music copulated far less often than their counterparts kept in an environment where there was no music.
The latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has proven a sumbitch to contain. Since this latest "oh shit" moment in the history of this infectious outbreak started on August 1st, the brave healthcare professionals and epidemiologists throwing their shoulders into the problem have reported 200 total cases of the disease, 117 confirmed Ebola-related deaths and 35 deaths that are probably related to the illness. This latest outbreak, the 10th to have cropped up in Congo since 1976, is proving more difficult, logistically, than past outbreaks have been. The epicenter of the outbreak is in North Kivu Province: chockablock with danger as government forces, local militias and regional warlords get their violence on. This makes getting folks in the region to the care that they need and, just as vital, containing the disease, far more difficult than it already is.
From The New York Times:
Congolese rebels have killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack in the center of the latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, Congo’s military said Sunday. The violence threatened to again force the suspension of efforts to contain the virus.
Congo’s health ministry has reported “numerous aggressions” in the new outbreak against health workers, who have described hearing gunshots daily. Many are operating under the armed escort of United Nations peacekeepers or Congolese security forces, and ending work by sundown to lower the risk of attack.
The World Health Organization hasn't classified the outbreak as a world health emergency, yet. Read the rest
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published a free graphic novel titled "The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak," some of which is set at a state fair where a teenage 4-H member is infected with swine flu. As CNN reports, the comic's plot is similar to what actually happened this summer at two state fairs. From CNN:
At the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, which took place in San Luis Obispo County from July 18 through 29, two people fell ill after attending the fair. Similarly, two attendees of the Fowlerville Family Fair in Michigan, which took place in Livingston County from July 23 through 28, also became sick in the days after.
Public health disease detectives in both states immediately tested the patients for variant influenza virus, a flu strain that normally circulates in swine but not people. Person-to-person transmission of variant strains is uncommon, and you cannot catch this type of flu from eating pork.
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Ben Taylor, a 47-year-old artist, was inspired to paint a trippy, colorful circle filled with abstract worm-like patterns. He never finished the work. Years later, Taylor identified the subconscious inspiration for the painting: a 1" African parasitic worm called a Loa loa that he didn't know had taken up residence in his eye but had caused years of illness. Now his painting is on the cover of the medical journal Emerging Infectious Diseases
(PDF). From the Washington Post:
“I suppose there was almost a sense of relief . . . just because I realized I wasn’t going mad,” Taylor said of his diagnosis...
While recovering, Taylor began painting again, and while rummaging in his home studio, he came across... the unfinished work he had shelved earlier...
He grabbed his paints and brush and began to finish it. He drew the lashes and the sclera, or the white part of the eye. He painted over the middle, so that the intricate wormlike patterns look like spiraling galaxies disappearing into the dark pupil. He added the worms — long, white and nearly transparent images slithering from the eyelids. “Untitled” became “The Host.”
"His health had been failing for years. Then he saw something crawling in his eye" (Washington Post)
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After three months and 33 deaths, the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been declared by the World Health Organization to have come to an end. The loss of 33 lives to the disease is absolutely tragic, but comes close to a miracle when you stop to consider the fact that the last time Ebola broke in West Africa, more than 11,000 people died. The high number of deaths in that instance was due to the fact that The WHO (not the one with Roger Daltrey,) was slow to react to the epidemic last time around, moving slowly to deploy medical resources to the regions that needed it the most. Additionally, no vaccine designed to fight the Ebola virus was put into play until near the end of the outbreak.
That wasn’t the case this time.
After being tongue lashed for dragging their ass during the last outbreak, The WHO sent specialists to Congo as soon as a handful of cases of Ebola were confirmed, back in May.
From the New York Times:
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Even though Congo is familiar with Ebola — this was the country’s ninth outbreak since the disease first appeared in 1976 — more than 350 support personnel were deployed there. They included vaccinators from Guinea, where a novel Ebola vaccine was first field-tested.
The Congo outbreak marked the first in which an Ebola vaccine was readily available. In addition to giving injections to all front-line health care workers, experts used “ring vaccination” to protect all contacts of each person with the disease.
Hey gang, let's talk Ebola: Everyone's favorite viral boogeyman.
Over the weekend, the AFP News Agency reported that health professionals in the Democratic Republic of Congo have uncovered five new confirmed cases of Ebola: three cases in the Bikoro area and two in Wangata. This most recent outbreak of the disease in the country’s northwest has resulted in more than 50 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. These numbers, of course, only reflect the incidents of the disease that health agencies such as the World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres and DR Congo’s healthcare system are aware of.
As such, the push to track everyone who has come into contact with the disease and take appropriate precautions continues, albeit slowly. One of the biggest hurtles in tracking and containing Ebola is that, logistically, the rural regions of DR Congo are a pain in the ass. The roads are often so pocketed with potholes that the only way to reliable traverse them is with a motorcycle—and that’s if there are any roads at all. Many of the smaller villages surrounding Bikoro are packed away by dense jungle. Additionally, cellular coverage in the country’s northwestern region comes with massive holes. This makes doing important work, such as sending field operatives into areas of infection, shipping vaccines or sending collected data back for processing extremely difficult.
According to the New York Times, because of these difficulties, researchers are having a hard time piecing together how the current strain of the virus was transmitted. This, in turn, makes vaccinating the right people in the hopes of stopping the spread of the disease an uphill battle. Read the rest
Cities in the south such as Montgomery, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., and Richmond, Va., dominate the higher reaches of the list, but you just can't hold down Philly.
The data used here comes from the CDC for 2013, and reflects reports of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. (Herpes data is not collected). To normalize the data, we measured rates per 100,000 people. We chose only to show cities with a significant amount of population, so rural counties are not show on this map. The CDC makes available a wide range of statistical, anonymous data about STDs in America.
The map was created and produced by RentApplication.com. Read the rest
David Goodsell of the Scripps Research Institute made this lovely watercolor illustration of a cell of Mycoplasma mycoides. This bacterium is the cause of a deadly respiratory disease that affects cattle and other cud-chewing animals.
If you've ever read much about zoonoses — diseases that pass from animals to humans — then you know that the domestication of livestock played a huge role in introducing many diseases to people. Living in close proximity to the animals we ate provided ample opportunities for those animals' diseases to jump over to us. What's interesting about Mycoplasma mycoides is that it represents a disease of animals that seems to have its origins in domestication, as well.
In 2012, scientists found evidence that suggests domesticating livestock — a process that resulted in closer living conditions for the animals and in animals from one herd being moved to other herds they likely wouldn't have otherwise had contact with — helped Mycoplasma mycoides evolve and spread. Today, different species of Mycoplasma mycoides cause a range of diseases that can kill between 10 and 70 percent of the cows they infect.
Goodsell's illustration is an attempt to show all the different parts of the bacterial cell, in the shapes, sizes, locations, and concentrations that those parts take in the real world. If you go to his site, you can see a legend explaining what everything is. Read the rest
The populations at lowest risk for developing gestational diabetes — namely, ladies of European decent — come from cultures that eat (and have eaten, for thousands of years) dairy and wheat-heavy diets that would, normally, increase your risk. Meanwhile, writes Carl Zimmer at The Loom, Bangladeshi women, who have one of the highest risks for gestational diabetes, come from a culture that traditionally ate a low-carb, low-sugar diet. What's going on here? The answer might lie in evolution. It's a particularly interesting read given the ongoing pop-culture debate about whether 10,000 years is enough time for humans to adapt to eating certain foods. This data on pregnant ladies would suggest the answer is, at least in some respects, yes. Read the rest
Given the ongoing outbreak of H7N9 flu in China (and, now, also Taiwan), this is a good time to listen to a fascinating podcast discussion with David Quammen. Quammen recently published a FANTASTIC book, Spillover, about zoonoses — the diseases that humans contract from animals. This includes bird flus like H7N9. It also includes AIDS and a whole host of familiar viruses and bacteria. Bonus: Scary disease girl Maryn McKenna has a cameo in the podcast, discussing the way news media (in China and the US) are covering H7N9 and what you can do to better understand what's happening. Read the rest
Meet the robot that pukes for science.
Here's a headline for you — Worse than sex parasite: Sex parasite with virus. Yes, trichomonas (a sexually transmitted parasite that you've probably never been tested for), can actually harbor its own diseases. When infected with a virus — dubbed trichomonasvirus — trichomonas becomes even worse. Kill it, and it releases the virus, which causes inflammation and can actually lead to worse side-effects for infected people. (Via Charles Q. Choi) Read the rest