Date: Januay 23, 2009
Abstract: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is very difficult to kill. This notorious “superbug” can withstand a broad and growing range of antibiotics, and is the leading cause of hospital infections in many countries. But it’s not restricted to hospitals. According to studies coming in from all over the world, MRSA has found a new route into our bodies -piggyback.
Pig farms throughout the world have become breeding grounds for strains of MRSA that can jump from swine to humans. These strains have already been isolated in the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada, and now, the latest study adds the USA to that list. The research was led by Tara Smith from the University of Iowa, who I know as a Scibling and who many of you will recognize as the author of the excellent Aetiology blog.
Smith found widespread traces of MRSA in two different production systems in the states of Iowa and Illinois. Within the nostrils of 49% of pigs and 45% of pig farmers, her team detected traces of the “superbug” (although it’s worth noting that none of the farmers had experienced any actual infections). Piglets had the highest rates of infection and in fact, every single pig under the age of 12 weeks harboured MRSA colonies.
The high levels of the bacterium in both man and pig suggest that it can spread readily between the two species. To MRSA, both four leg and two legs are good…
The link between MRSA and pigs was first discovered a few years ago in the Netherlands. Dutch hospitals have little to fear from MRSA – aggressive “search-and-destroy” policies and restricted antibiotic use have controlled the bug to such an extent that hospitals list “treatment in foreign hospitals” as a risk factor for infection!
But in 2003, Dutch researchers started to find unexpected cases of MRSA in pig farmers and eventually identified the culprit as a new strain that became known as ST398, or non-typeable MRSA (NT-MRSA). It’s this same strain that Smith found in the Iowan pigs.In 2007, Albert de Neeling and Xander Huijsdens found ST398 in 39% of pigs and 81% of local pig farms, suggesting again that the bacteria was jumping from pigs to humans. In the same year, Huijsdens, together with Inge van Loo, found further proof for this theory. By comparing 35 people with ST398 to 76 people carrying other strains, they found that the ST398 carriers were 12 times more likely to have come into close contact with pigs and 20 times more likely to have come into contact with cattle. On a map, they saw that the distribution of ST398 uncannily matched the spread of pig and cattle farms.
ST398 is a newcomer. By reviewing a national MRSA database, Dr Huijsdens and Dr van Loo found that the strain was non-existent in 2002 but now accounts for over one in five human infections. Its origin is unclear. It almost certainly jumped from pigs to humans, but the researchers think that this was just the return part of a round-trip. They think the bacteria may have originally jumped from humans to pigs.
In their new porky hosts, the bacteria developed new antibiotic resistances and returned, stronger than ever. Unlike other strains, ST398 strongly withstands tetracyclines, a group of antibiotics that is heavily used to medicate livestock. Unnecessary antibiotic use has been blamed for the evolution of MRSA strains in humans and the same could apply to pigs, especially since the farming industry uses more antibiotics than hospitals. Under such heavy assault, it is almost inevitable that bacteria, which reproduce quickly and swap beneficial mutations, will develop resistance.
So far, it is not clear if ST398 is spreading beyond pig farms or if it causes so-called community-associated MRSA, which occurs outside the hospital setting. For the moment, people who frequently come into contact with pigs or cattle, including vets, have the highest risk of infection. The bacteria could also spread to their friends and family by hitching a ride on clothes or skin.
Even the food chain is not entirely safe. Van Loo detected ST398 in 2 out of 79 meat samples from Dutch supermarkets and butchers, but only at low levels that are unlikely to cause disease if food is properly prepared. For the general population, there’s no need to panic over ham and bacon but the risks could be higher for people who handle meat directly, or those with weakened immune systems. At least one hospital outbreak began when an immunocompromised patient ate contaminated meat. Even though this was a different MRSA strain, it set a dangerous precedent.
The problem is not confined to the Netherlands either. Pigs are heavily exported around the world and ST398 may have stowed away inside them. It has already been detected in France, Singapore and Denmark. Scott Weese from the University of Guelph in Ontario found the Dutch strain in a quarter of local pigs and more worryingly, in a fifth of pig farmers. Human cases of ST398 are extremely rare in Canada but that could change as it spreads among the pig population.
And as we’ve seen, the US is affected too. As the largest importer of Canadian pork, their farms could have become contaminated by swine brought in from their northern neighbour, but only further studies can confirm that. It’s also unclear how widespread ST398 is in the US, but Iowa alone accounts for a quarter of all the swine raised within its borders.
It is clear that we need more research and better monitoring to fully understand the scale of the MRSA epidemic in pigs and the role that agricultural antibiotics have played in it. Only then we recommend the right control measures to protect farmers and the wider population (Discovery, 2009).
Title: Top 10 Animals That Carry Flu
Date: June 1, 2009
Abstract: Health organizations worldwide are struggling to contain a swine flu outbreak that has killed at least 149 people in Mexico and sickened many more throughout the world, including in the United States, Europe and New Zealand. U.S. cases have now been reported across the country, with victims in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas.
Flu was first found among pigs in 1930. Over subsequent decades, health
experts have identified influenza viruses in several other species as well. But
which animals can pass such viruses on to people? You might be surprised by our
top 10 list.
Could a whale flu be in our future? Whales can suffer from influenza, probably by catching germs spread by bird waste. In theory, people could be exposed to and infected by the virus if they came in close contact with infected whales or poorly cooked whale meat. But the risk of that happening, not surprisingly, is low.
"It's really unlikely, because the ocean tends to dilute
things," Gramer said. "Again, such a scenario would need a perfect
storm since, as it stands, wild waterfowl, like seagulls, poop out the virus,
which then has a slim chance of infecting whales."
While no "seal flu" has been known to spread to humans, the marine mammals can become infected with Type A influenza viruses. And Vaillancourt said other diseases have crossed the human-seal species line.
"Some populations consisting of people
who eat raw seal meat have been diagnosed with toxic parasitic illnesses,"
he said. "We've done studies that show cooking reduces nearly all of this
Cats, like dogs, enjoy close contact with people. While most experts believe that simple hand-washing can eliminate the risk of obtaining diseases from pets, there is a possibility that both dogs and cats could spread a recombined form of avian influenza to humans.
"Cases of tigers and domesticated cats coming down with avian flu
have been reported overseas," Johnson told Discovery News. "In most,
if not all, cases, I believe, the animals had consumed dead infected chickens
or other birds." The easiest way to stave off such risks would be to
monitor pets so they don't eat birds or any other wild, potentially infected
In 2004, cases of an unknown respiratory illness in dogs, initially racing greyhounds, were reported to the CDC. An investigation showed that this respiratory illness was caused by the equine influenza A H3N8 virus.
Scientists believe that this virus jumped from horses to dogs, and can now spread from dog to dog, leading to the canine-specific H3N8 virus. Experts consider the strain to be "a newly emerging pathogen in the dog population."
If it jumped from horses to dogs, could it move from dogs to humans?
"It's possible, but it would need a perfect storm," Gramer said. "The moment of transfer would have to involve the right person, the right place, the right animal and the right time."
According to the CDC, horses too can become infected with Type A influenza viruses.
"People with horses must handle them a lot, particularly around the facial area," said Marie Gramer, an assistant clinical professor of veterinary population medicine at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine. "When horses suffer from an influenza virus, they can cough, sneeze and have a runny nose just like we do."
"What's coughed out," she added, is of less risk to humans than avian germs, "because most pathogens that infect horses become more species-specific."
While not all birds can catch the flu, most are susceptible to Type A influenza that may spread to humans. Turkeys are no exception. Earlier this year, in fact, an H5 avian influenza virus surfaced on a turkey farm in southern British Columbia. It was quickly contained. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of turkeys have been slaughtered in Canada and elsewhere when such infections have been identified.
In 2004, for example, British Columbia's Fraser River Valley experienced an outbreak that affected 40 commercial farms and led to the culling of 17 million birds, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
Suppliers maintain rigid guidelines to ensure public safety. "We often criticize factory farms, but in this case modern production has helped to reduce direct contact with animals, thus staving off infections," Vaillancourt told Discovery News. "In Asia and Mexico, many families live with their poultry and other animals raised for food, so they remain in close proximity to them."
Both wild and domestic geese have been known to contract the infamous H5N1 virus. The birds' broad ranges can pose a problem: "These birds can fly 1,000 miles a day at maximum," explained Yi Guan, of the University of Hong Kong, China. If geese raised for poultry come into contact with infected wild geese, the risk of influenza spreading to humans increases. Most cases involving geese began with poultry workers in Asian countries who had direct contact with sick or dead birds.
Ducks are often raised for their meat, especially in Asia. Health experts, therefore, often monitor duck illnesses in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries that have experiencedavian flu outbreaks.
"Ducks are more considered as carriers, however, than as direct threats," said Johnson, who explained that ducks seem less likely to spread influenza to humans, but that they can infect other animals. Researchers in Mexico have not ruled out the possibility that a bird, such as a chicken or duck, was the original source of the latest outbreak, which could have jumped to pigs and then humans.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has long warned that "pigs play a role in transmitting influenza virus to humans." Earlier reported cases, however, mostly involved agricultural workers, or others who were in close direct contact with pigs. A child on a communal farm in Canada, for example, came down with the swine flu in 2006.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been monitoring swine flu for some time as well, since pigs can be infected with human and avian viruses, in addition to their own pig-specific germs.
If an infection of more than one virus occurs simultaneously, "recombination may occur," Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Montreal, told Discovery News. He explained that the latest strain appears to consist of "a virus that's 80 percent swine, with the rest being a mixture of avian and human viruses."
Although world leaders, such as President Barack Obama, are urging
"concern" and not alarm over the outbreak, the potential for pandemic
exists, experts have informed Discovery News, since the disease is now
spreading from person to person.
Avian flu may not be the headline-maker now, but it has caused hundreds of human deaths over just the past decade, with chickens being the most common source of contagion.
"Many birds are susceptible to influenza strains that may transmit to humans, but butchering, handling and other forms of close contact heighten the risk," April Johnson told Discovery News. Johnson is an assistant professor of epidemiology and public health in the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Comparative Pathobiology. "The H5N1 avian virus continues to be of concern because 60 percent of all humans who have contracted this illness died after becoming infected" (Discovery, 2012).Title: Unique Strain Fuels Bio-Terror Fear
Date: April 27, 2009
Abstract: With more than 100 Mexicans succumbing to the deadly H1N1 virus in less than a week and cases found as far as Canada, US, Spain and New Zealand, conspiracy theorists now suspect that the new Mexican Swine Flu is not a naturally-occurring event but a genetically-engineered virus.
Such fears have gained momentum as WHO scientists said that the virus combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before. “We are very, very concerned,” WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham said. “We have what appears to be a novel virus and it has spread from human to human,” he said. John Brennan, White House homeland-security adviser, however, said on Sunday that there is “no evidence whatsoever” of bio-terrorism.
Conspiracy theorists say Mexico seems like an ideal ‘distribution point’ for terrorists as there are less safeguards there than in US. And it would also be very easy for the virus to make its way from Mexico to US, the primary target for terrorists.
Others say the outbreak ‘attack’ was timed for
US president Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico. White House press secretary Robert
Gibbs said “the president’s health was never in any danger,” when asked about
reports that Obama’s host on a museum tour in Mexico City died the next day,
and had flu-like symptoms. Asked if the president’s decision to golf at Andrews
Air Force Base on Sunday was part of a strategy to reassure people, Gibbs
chuckled: “I’m not sure I’d draw a direct conclusion” (DNA,
Title: Ever Heard Of Iraqibacter?
Date: July 9, 2009
Abstract: With MacDill AFB right here in town, there is a good chance you may know somebody who has been deployed to Iraq.
“Iraqibacter” is actually an extremely antibiotic resistant bacterium called Acinetobacter baumanii.
The bacteria enter the bloodstream through open wounds or tubes such as catheters inserted in the body. Initially, it was seen in military personnel being treated for life-threatening injuries in Iraq field hospitals. But hundreds of cases have since been reported.
Treatment is hampered by its growing resistance to all but one antibiotic, which can be highly toxic. Doctors say the bacterial strain has complicated the recovery of hundreds of injured service members returning from Iraq.
Acinetobacter species in general are found in soil and water. Acinetobacter baumanniispecies are rarely ever found outside of the hospital environment and thrive in wet or on dry surfaces.
It is typically transmitted in the hospital environment by not following the strictest infection control practices.
Acinetobacter is classified as an opportunistic pathogen. Healthy people can carry the bacteria on their skin with no ill effects, also known as colonization.
But in newborns, the elderly, burn victims, patients with depressed immune systems, and those on ventilators, Acinetobacter infections can kill.
The spread of a pathogen that targets wounded GIs has caused military officials to look at ways to stop the spread of the bacterium in military hospitals and to develop better ways of tracking infections.
There has been some evidence that the bacteria has spread to some hospitals here in the states. There are certain things you can do to help prevent spreading or getting the infection as a patient in a hospital.
According to Betsy McCaughey, founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, you can do the following:
• Practice infection-protection. If you're having surgery, ask the surgeon about infection rates. Surgeons know their rate of infection for various procedures, and you have a right to know.
• Stay clean at the hospital. If you're visiting a hospital, wash yourself and your clothes right after. Don't use bar soap in any hospital bathroom or set your purse on the floor.
• Be pushy. Ask medical personnel to wash their hands. Don't be falsely assured by gloves, if caregivers have pulled on gloves over dirty hands, the gloves are contaminated, too (Examiner, 2009).Title: Leiter Warns Of Bioterror Threats
Date: September 14, 2009
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: Michael Leiter, the newly-retired head of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently predicted no easing of threats by the terrorist group al-Qaeda, including the use of biological weapons.
Leiter, a former Obama administration official, said that al-Qaeda still hopes to attack the United States by any means it can, according to Time.com.
Nonetheless, Leiter told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center that al-Qaeda’s core leadership is set to be eclipsed by several offshoots of the organization, including al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.
Leiter said that the single most effective means of destroying the group has become the drone air strike, referring to the Central Intelligence Agency’s campaign against the organization’s leadership.
Leiter called on the United States to stay resilient because it is almost certain that al-Qaeda will manage to penetrate U.S. counterterrorist defenses and launch a successful strike, Time.com reports.
The National Counterterrorism Center is the U.S. government agency responsible for the analysis and integration of terrorism intelligence as well as the strategic planning center for antiterrorism activities.
Leiter has been the recipient of several major awards in
recognition for his service to the United States, including the Intelligence
Community Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award given in the
intelligence community (Bio
Prep Watch, 2009).
Title: Report: White House Neglecting Bioterror Threat
Date: October 21, 2009
Abstract: The Obama administration is working hard to curb nuclear threats but failing to address the more urgent and immediate threat of biological terrorism, a bipartisan commission created by Congress is reporting today.
The report obtained by USA TODAY cites failures on biosecurity policy by the White House, which the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction says has left the country vulnerable. The commission, created last year to address concerns raised by post-9/11 investigations, warns that anthrax spores released by a crop-duster could "kill more Americans than died in World War II" and the economic impact could exceed $1.8 trillion in cleanup and other costs.
The government's efforts "have not kept pace with the increasing capabilities and agility of those who would do harm to the United States," the report says. "The consequences of ignoring these warnings could be dire." Says commission Chairman Bob Graham, a Democratic former senator from Florida: "The clock is ticking."
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said protecting the nation from deadly weapons is among President Obama's "top national security priorities."
Among the Commission's Criticisms:
*President Obama's National Security Council has no senior political appointees with a biodefense background. "That was not the case in the Clinton and Bush administrations," the report says.
*Programs created after the 9/11 attacks to develop and buy vaccines and drugs to prevent and respond to a biological attack are not being funded adequately. Although the report is critical of the White House on this topic, Congress has the power of the purse. The report cites a funding shortage for a program to ensure there are enough drugs to respond to a bioterrorist attack.
The Obama administration asked for $305 million in its fiscal 2010 budget request. "Insufficient by a factor of 10," the report says.
*Disease surveillance programs fall short.
The government needs to invest in rapid diagnostic tests to "improve the nation's ability to treat people by providing a more timely and accurate diagnosis" -- something that can be critical to treating the victim of a biological attack.
Shapiro says the government is spending $3.5 billion to protect the public from the H1N1 flu and is "carefully evaluating" broader "all-hazards" spending.
Commission Vice Chairman Jim Talent, a Republican former senator from Missouri, says: "The fact is, it is only getting easier and cheaper to develop and use biological weapons. ... It is essential that the U.S. government move more aggressively" (Homeland1, 2009).