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.
In the 1860s, illustrator and idiot Leopold Trouvelot deliberately brought gypsy moths from France to America. Some outsmarted him and escaped, and they now cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year. This charming film tells the tale and explains our greatest and grossest hope for eradicating them: baculovirus. Read the rest
The Rider Institute has launched an Indiegogo campaign to develop DRACOS, which are broad-spectrum antivirals. If it doesn't work, Dr. Todd Rider (Ph.D. from MIT) could enjoy a great career as a charmingly nerdy YouTube star.
Currently there are relatively few prophylactics or therapeutics for viruses, and most that do exist are highly virus- or even strain-specific or have undesirable side effects or other disadvantages. We have developed a radically new, broad-spectrum antiviral therapeutic/prophylactic that has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of viral infections.Our Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) approach selectively induces apoptosis (cell suicide) in cells containing viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). DRACO should recognize virus-infected cells and rapidly kill those cells without harming uninfected cells, thereby terminating the viral infection while minimizing the impact on the host.
He is asking for $100,000 to fund his research. Read the rest
Antarctica's Organic Lake is 8 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water doesn't freeze, thanks to a heavy concentration of salt. But wait, it gets more awesome. Despite the cold and the salt, Organic Lake is also home to a diverse array of life. Read the rest
The answer: Because of a harmless-to-humans viral infection.
The bluish egg above was laid by an araucana, a breed of chicken native to Chile and one of two breeds well known for occasionally popping out a blue egg. Turns out, it's the result of the chicken being infected with a retrovirus — a virus that can insert its own genetic information into the host's DNA. In this case, the virus just happens to turn eggs blue.
Image: Lavender Araucana, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from julianjb's photostream
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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
Looking for a quick rundown of basic information about the new strain of bird flu that's infecting people in China? The Toronto Star's Jennifer Yang has a great, one-page breakdown that will get you caught up on just about everything you need to know — including how scared you should be. For the record, the answer to that is complicated. We aren't near a pandemic yet. But we do need to get a better handle on understanding how this virus works so we can stop it from spreading. It's a serious situation and the news is not all good news. But we don't seem to be at a point where anybody outside of China and the international public health community should be in an urgent crisis mode. Read the rest
Coronavirus — characterized by the halo of protein spikes that surround each individual virus particle — is the family that gave birth to SARS. Today, there's a new coronavirus stalking humans, especially in the Middle East. Scientists have documented 16 infections, and 10 fatalities. The good news is that there are probably lots of non-serious infections that aren't being reported, meaning the fatality rate probably isn't as high as it looks. Also, this coronavirus seems to have trouble spreading from person to person. But, in regards to that last factor, it's important to pay attention to a detail from the SARS outbreak that we still don't totally understand. Turns out, a handful of people were responsible for most of those infections. The Canadian Press' Helen Branswell writes about superspreaders and the scientists trying to understand how individuals can alter the course of an outbreak. (BTW: If you don't follow Helen Branswell on Twitter, you're missing some of the best infectious disease reporting out there.) Read the rest
Anne of Green Gables, by the time she reached middle-age, had apparently joined the majority of adults who test positive for the virus herpes simplex type 1.
Technology Review's list of 35 Innovators Under 35 includes Timothy Lu, an MIT researcher who is engineering viruses designed to seek out and destroy biofilms — bacterial colonies that stick together on a surface, like bits of pear suspended in the world's most disgusting jell-o salad. Biofilms have been implicated in human disease, especially chronic infections like those that can happen in the urinary tract and inner ear. But the first place Lu's biofilm-eating viruses will likely be put to work is cleaning out ducts in industrial HVAC systems. (Via Carl Zimmer) Read the rest
Short answer: We don't know. Despite its ubiquity, there's a lot scientists don't know about the influenza virus. Helen Branswell is a great medical reporter. In this piece for the Winnipeg Free Press she explains why the flu virus makes seemingly simple questions frustratingly difficult to answer. Read the rest