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    Bio-Terror Propaganda (2012) 2/2

    BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: The following propaganda was published within the calendar year of 2012. While some of the following reports may have been legitimate news stories, most if not all of them appear to be blatant propaganda with the overall goal of convincing American and the World that it is on the precipice of a bio-terror induced pandemic. The fact that this propaganda exists in mass confirms that an upcoming bio-terror attack is in the cards and may be played in a last ditch effort to regain political, economic and militarial control of society.

    Bio-Terror Propaganda (July, 2012 - December, 2012)
     

    Title: Tassie Devils Disease Could Be A Parasite
    Date: July 2, 2012
    Source: 9 News

    Abstract: Scientists say strong evidence is emerging that the catastrophic Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease should be regarded as a parasite.

    The disease, which has wiped out 80 per cent of the devil population in the wild, has been treated as a transmissible cancer.

    But immunologist Greg Woods from the Menzies Institute says it also shows many classic parasitical characteristics.

    "It's a cancer and a parasite," he told AAP before delivering his findings to the Australian Society for Parasitology's conference in Launceston.

    "It goes from host to host and using each host to survive, and it will damage its host and move on to the next host so it's behaving like what we classically regard as being a parasite."

    Also like a bona fide parasite, it uses the host's natural behaviour to spread itself, in this case the devil's insatiable appetite for violence.

    "You drink water so you pick up a parasite," Associate Professor Woods said.

    "With the devil, the tumour gets on the teeth and devils bite each other."

    There is other evidence too - the disease avoids the immune response of the devil by covering itself in its host's proteins.

    The question remains, though, whether it can be considered a "perfect" parasite like malaria because it has not yet managed to survive in more than one species.

    But it is its parasitic behaviour that makes the tumour disease fundamentally different from the form of cancer that humans contract, Prof Woods said.

    "The question is: Are cancers parasites because they live off the host?" he said.

    "The thing about the cancer that us humans get is that once the human dies or recovers the cancer dies as well, whereas this tumour goes from host to host."

    The origin of the disease has been traced to a single cell in a single female devil in the 1990s but it is unknown how she contracted it.

    Scientists are in a race against the clock to find a cure, with some estimates suggesting devils in the wild could be extinct in 25 years, and there have been few breakthroughs (9 News, 2012).

    Title: Nearly One-Third Of The Planet Is Affected By Roundworms: WHO
    Date: July 2, 2012
    Source: 
    Outbreak News

    Abstract: The parasitic roundworms, also known as soil-transmitted helminths are a huge problem, impairing children physically, nutritionally and cognitively worldwide.

    The parasites, transmitted to people through contaminated soil include the giant intestinal roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), the whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and the hookworms (Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale).

    According to a World Health Organization (WHO) Fact Sheet released Friday:

    Approximately two billion people, or almost 29% of the world’s population are infected with soil-transmitted helminth infections worldwide. Soil-transmitted helminth infections are widely distributed in tropical and subtropical areas, with the greatest numbers occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, China and east Asia.

    Over 270 million preschool-age children and over 600 million school-age children live in areas where these parasites are intensively transmitted, and are in need of treatment and preventive interventions.

    Some of the soil-transmitted helminths (Ascaris and Trichuris) are transmitted by eggs that are passed in the feces of infected people. The worms produce thousands of eggs daily inside the infected individual, and without proper sanitation facilities, the eggs are excreted in the feces wherever  the person chooses to defecate.

    This makes people, particularly children vulnerable to infection via contaminated soil, water or fruits and vegetables.

    In the case of hookworms, the eggs hatch in the soil, releasing larvae that mature into a form that can actively penetrate the skin. People become infected with hookworm primarily by walking barefoot on the contaminated soil.

    Illness depends on the worm burden. The more worms, the more serious the symptoms.

    The WHO says  the heavier infections can cause a range of symptoms including intestinal manifestations (diarrhea, abdominal pain), general malaise and weakness, and impaired cognitive and physical development. Hookworms cause chronic intestinal blood loss that can result in anemia.

    The worms can also have a detrimental nutritional effect because the worms feed on blood and other nutrients in the host and they can cause a loss of appetite and diarrhea.

    The WHO’s strategy for control of these parasites include:

    • periodic drug treatment (deworming) without previous individual diagnosis to all at-risk people living in endemic areas. Treatment should be given once a year when the prevalence of soil-transmitted helminth infections in the community is over 20%, and twice a year when the prevalence of soil-transmitted helminth infections in the community is over 50%.
    • health and hygiene education reduces transmission and reinfection by encouraging healthy behaviors;
    • provision of adequate sanitation is also important but not always possible in resource-poor settings.
    Albendazole (400 mg) and mebendazole (500 mg) are the WHO-recommended medicines; they are effective, cheap and have few side effects (Outbreak News, 2012).

    Title: New York Man May Have Used Chemical Weapon Against Hospital
    Date: July 3, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: A former pharmacist from Ulster County, New York, allegedly used a chemical weapon against an Albany hospital and may face life in prison.

    Martin Kimber, a former Poughkeepsie hospital pharmacist, was indicted on three counts of possessing and/or using a chemical weapon in addition to a violation of product tampering in May. Kimber was also allegedly linked to child pornography, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports.

    Kimber allegedly contaminated food and heating elements with mercury at Albany Medical. Mercury acts as a neurotoxin and can kill nerve cells, resulting in brain damage, lung damage and respiratory failure. At least one person consumed food on March 2 that was laced with mercury.

    Kimber was allegedly angry at Albany Medical over a medical bill he received. Surveillance camera footage and E-ZPass toll records connected Kimber with the mercury poisoning.

    Kimber was arrested on  April 25 and was indicted on May 17. His bail was denied after it was determined that he posed a potential danger to the community. Items found at his home during a search allegedly included two canisters of mercury, racist materials, 21 guns and at least three sexual images of young girls on his computer, the Times Herald Record reports.

    Once the FBI concludes its investigation, Kimber could face charges of child pornography as well (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Mexico Declares Emergency Over New Bird Flu Outbreak
    Date: July 3, 2012
    Source: 
    RT

    Abstract: The Mexican government has declared a national animal health emergency in the wake of a new outbreak of bird flu that has affected some 1.7 million fowl, leaving around 870,000 dead.

    We have activated a national animal health emergency with the goal of diagnosing, preventing, controlling and eradicating the Type A, sub-type H7N3 bird flu virus,” the country’s agriculture ministry said.

    The declaration implies that farmers would have to quarantine and slaughter the infected birds. Contaminated products are to be destroyed, while unaffected poultry are to be vaccinated. 

    It is unclear how many of the 870,000 dead birds were culled by farmers or killed by the virus. 

    The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization also confirmed the outbreak of the epidemic. 

    The H7N3 virus was detected in the western state of Jalisco, Mexico’s largest chicken-farming region, which produces 11 per cent of the country’s poultry meat and 50 per cent of its eggs.

    With poultry farming making up 40 per cent of the country’s total livestock production, the economic loss from the epidemic “is and will be irreparable,” the agriculture ministry stated. 

    Health officials in the country have been on high alert since the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 virus, dubbed “swine flu.” That virus grew into a global pandemic and killed up to 17,000 people. Although there have been cases of humans being infected with the H7N3 virus elsewhere in the world, the bird flu virus is not as readily contagious as H1N1 (RT, 2012).

    Title: Hong Kong Shuts Down Popular Bird Market After Detecting Deadly H5N1 Virus
    Date: July 5, 2012
    Source: Medical Daily

    Abstract: Hong Kong authorities said on Thursday that they closed a popular tourist spot where hundreds of caged birds were on display after detecting the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus in one of stalls of the Bird Garden.

    The agriculture, fisheries and conservation department said that the Yuen Po Street bird market in the city's busy Mongkok district will be closed for 21 days starting on Thursday, July 5.

    Authorities shut down the area after the virus was detected in a swab sample collected from a cage holding an Oriental magpie-robin at a pet bird shop during the department's routine avian influenza surveillance program.

    All the pet shop's birds will be killed, the department said in a statement.

    Officials are still investigating the cause of the virus as the bird itself was not infected, according to AFP.

    The Hong Kong Center for Health Protection Controller Thomas Tsang said in a news conference that the risk of transmission between pet birds and humans is "relatively low," but health experts say that people should avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and their droppings and should wash their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with the animals.

    Hong Kong has experienced occasional cases of bird flu in poultry but there have been no major outbreaks since 1997, when six people died from a mutated form of the avian virus and millions of birds were culled at the time.

    In June, the southern Chinese city reported its first human case of the of the H5N1 flu in 18 months when a two year-old boy from the neighboring province of Guangdong came down with the illness after travelling to the city for medical treatment, AFP reported.

    The virus has killed more than 330 people around the world, with Indonesia being the most affected country, suffering at least eight fatal cases in 2012.

    Experts say that most human infections happen as a result of direct contact with infected birds.

    Hong Kong is especially cautious about infectious diseases after an outbreak of the deadly respiratory disease SARS in 2003 killed 300 people in the city (Medical Daily, 2012)

    Title: Biosafety Practices Neglected In Africa
    Date: July 6, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: The implementation of practices related to biosafety in Africa have been held back and neglected as a result of insufficient training and laboratory equipment throughout the continent, according to a top biosafety official.

    Paul Okemo, the chief executive officer of the African Biological Safety Association, said that countries in Africa must improve their biosafety practices to reap the benefits and avoid the potential risk of biological agents. Okemo spoke at AfBSA’s third annual conference in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 26, SciDev.net reports.

    Okemo said that biosafety cabinets were rarely checked for efficacy, doctors and nurses use the same gloves when treating multiple patients and that equipment is not up to date.

    “(Africa) lacks the political and social environments conducive to encouraging such practices,” Julius Mugwagwa, the program officer at the African Biosafety Network of Expertise, said, according to SciDev.net. “There is a strong desire for biotechnology and its use in socioeconomic development, but a disconnection with implementing the necessary frameworks.”

    Mugwagwa said that the government funding simply isn’t there to increase biosafety.

    Edith Lem, an AfBSA member, revealed the results of a survey that found that 17 out of 23 laboratories in Cameroon had health standards that were unacceptable. More than two-thirds of staff members stored food and beverages in the same refrigerators as specimens.

    Lem did offer some encouraging news, saying that measures have been taken to implement biosafety training at laboratories that were found to have substandard practices (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Human-Animal Diseases - Top Hotspots Around The World
    Date: July 6, 2012
    Source: 
    Medical News Today

    Abstract: A new international study has published a "top 20" list of geographical hotspots for human-animal diseases (zoonoses), such as 
    tuberculosis (TB) and Rift Valley fever. According to the study, conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Institute of Zoology (UK) and the Hanoi School of Public Health in Vietnam, 13 zoonoses are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths every year. 

    A zoonose, or zoonosis is any kind of infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice-versa. Sometimes the human-to-animal transmission is called "reverse soonosis" or "anthroponosis".

    Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert with ILRI in Kenya and lead author of the study explained:

    "From cyst-causing tapeworms to avian flu, zoonoses present a major threat to human and animal health. Targeting the diseases is the hardest hit countries is crucial to protecting global health as well as to reducing severe levels of poverty and illness among the world's one billion poor livestock keepers.

    Exploding global demand for livestock products is likely to fuel the spread of a wide range of human-animal infectious diseases."

    The top four countries regarding zoonotic disease burdens, with widespread morbidity and mortality are:

    • India
    • Ethiopia
    • Tanzania
    • Nigeria

    In addition, the team found that Western Europe (especially the UK), parts of Southeast Asia, and the northeastern United States may be hotspots of "emerging zoonoses."

    Emerging zoonoses are those that are newly virulent, have recently become drug resistant, or are newly infecting humans. 

    The study, which receiving funding from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), also found that around 60% of all human diseases and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.

    Zoonose prevalence linked to poverty and market forces
    Around the world, 2.5 billion people currently survive on less than US$2 per day. As a result, many people depend on livestock for their food, income, traction, manure or other services. 

    Despite the danger of zoonoses, the global demand for meat and milk products is on the rise and provides a big opportunity for poor livestock keepers.

    Steve Staal, deputy director general-research at ILRI, explained:

    "Increased demand will continue over the coming decades, driven by rising populations and incomes, urbanization and changing diets in emerging economies. Greater access to global and regional meat markets could move millions of poor livestock keepers out of poverty if they can effectively participate in meeting that rising demand."

    According to the researchers, brucellosis - which reduces milk and meat production by around 8% - affects approximately 1 in 8 livestock in poor countries. 

    They note that even though the increasing demand for livestock in the developing world represents a pathway out of poverty for many, the presence of zoonotic diseases can perpetuate instead of lower poverty and hunger in livestock-keeping communities. 

    The team found a 99% correlation between the burden of zoonoses and country levels of protein-energy 
    malnutrition

    Staal said:

    "Many poor livestock keepers are not even meeting their own protein and energy needs. Too often, animal diseases, including zoonotic diseases, confound their greatest efforts to escape poverty and hunger."

    What is the burdenof zooonoses?
    After examining 1,000 surveys involving more than 10 million people, and 6 million animals and 6,000 food or environment samples, the team identified the 14 most important zoonoses. 

    These zoonoses were prevalent among livestock in developing nations. According to the researchers, at least one-third of global diarrheal diseases are caused by zoonoses. They explain that this type of disease is the biggest zoonotic threat to public health. 

    John McDermott, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said:

    "As production, processing and retail food chains intensify, there are greater risks of food-borne illnesses, especially in poorly managed systems. Historically, high-density pig and poultry populations have been important in maintaining and mixing influenza populations. A major concern is that as new livestock systems intensify, particularly small- and medium-sized pig production, that more intensive systems will allow the maintenance and transmission of pathogens. A number of new zoonoses, such as Nipah virus infections, have emerged in that way."

    Tuberculosis and its prevalence in poor nations
    According to the researchers, the most rapid changes in pig and poultry farming are expected to occur in India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, and Ghana.

    The team highlight that although bovine tuberculosis is rare in both humans and livestock in developed nations, it still affects around 7% of cattle in poor nations - reducing their production by 6%.

    The team's findings indicate that the burden of zoonotic forms of TB may be underestimated, with bovine TB responsible for up to 10% of human TB cases. 

    In developing nations, human TB is still one of the leading and most prevalent human diseases. 80% of the 12 million people who suffered from active disease in 2010, lived in developing nations.

    Zoonoses significantly underreported
    The researchers found that zoonoses and animal diseases in poor countries are being "massively" underreported. 99.9% of all livestock losses in sub-Saharan Africa are never registered in official disease reports. "Surveillance is not fulfilling its purpose", they added. Today's surveillance problem will grow as the climate changes.

    Ethiopia, Nigeria and India

    What do these countries have in common?

    • They have the highest burden of zonoses
    • They have the highest number of livestock keepers
    • They have the highest number of malnourished people
    • They are among the top five countries for both absolute numbers affected with zoonoses and relative intensity of zoonoses infection

    Grace explained:

    "These findings allow us to focus on the hotspots of zoonoses and poverty, within which we should be able to make a difference" (Medical News Today, 2012) 

    Title: Drug Resistant Cases Of TB On The Rise In Coventry And West Midlands
    Date: July 7, 2012
    Source: 
    Coventry Telegraph

    Abstract: THE number of drug resistant cases of tuberculosis in the West Midlands continued to rise last year.

    One in every fourteen cases of tuberculosis (TB) diagnosed in the region last year were resistant to at least one routine drug.

    More worryingly, a handful of cases were resistant to several drugs.

    Coventry has some of the highest rates of TB in the country.

    Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the Health Protection Agency, said: “The increase in drug resistant cases remains a concern and a challenge to our efforts to control TB in the UK.”

    There are four main antibiotics used to treat TB, but a growing number of cases are resistant to one or more of those drugs.

    Patients usually contract a drug resistant strain of the disease from another person or as a result of inappropriate or incomplete treatment. The number of patients who complete their course of treatment has risen during the last 10 years but one in every six patients still does not finish their medication.

    Professor Abubakar said: “Failing to complete treatment is one of the key causes of drug resistance.

    “TB disproportionately affects those in hard to reach and vulnerable groups, particularly migrants.”

    He said it was vital that NHS managers in cities like Birmingham and Coventry that have the highest rates of TB prioritised the disease to reduce the number of cases in future.

    The West Midlands saw cases of TB fall to 872 in 2010.

    However, that figure rose to 1,011 last year – similar to the number of cases diagnosed in 2008 and 2009.

    Of those 38 cases were resistant to at least one drug.

    Professor Abubakar said: “Although we are disappointed that there has been an increase in new TB diagnoses in the past year, we are pleased that TB cases overall have been stabilising since 2005.”

    TB is often considered a historic disease but rates remain high in many deprived urban areas.

    People who are born in areas where TB is common are at a greater risk as they are more likely to have been exposed to the disease.

    A regional project has been launched to tackle TB in hotspots such as Coventry.

    Target TB West Midlands is being coordinated by the Health Protection Agency and backed by councils, the NHS and the charity TB Alert.

    West Midlands director Dr Huda Mohamed said: “We must be aware that health services sometimes fail to reach some groups in the community and that increases the risk of delayed diagnosis and treatment.”

    “By working with these communities we hope to make a real difference” (Coventry Telegraph, 2012)

    Title: The Biodefender That Cries Wolf
    Date: July 7, 2012
    Source: 
    LA Times

    Abstract: As Chris Lindley drove to work that morning in August 2008, a call set his heart pounding.

    The Democratic National Convention was being held in Denver, and 
    Barack Obama was to accept his party's presidential nomination before a crowd of 80,000 people that night.

    The phone call was from one of Lindley's colleagues at Colorado's emergency preparedness agency. The deadly bacterium that causes 
    tularemia — long feared as a possible biological weapon — had been detected at the convention site.

    Should they order an evacuation, the state officials wondered? Send inspectors in moon suits? Distribute antibiotics? Delay or move Obama's speech?

    Another question loomed: Could they trust the source of the alert, a billion-dollar government system for detecting biological attacks known as BioWatch?

    Six tense hours later, Lindley and his colleagues had reached a verdict: false alarm.

    BioWatch had failed — again.

    President George W. Bush announced the system's deployment in his 2003 State of the Union address, saying it would "protect our people and our homeland." Since then, BioWatch air samplers have been installed inconspicuously at street level and atop buildings in cities across the country — ready, in theory, to detect pathogens that cause 
    anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases.

    But the system has not lived up to its billing. It has repeatedly cried wolf, producing dozens of false alarms in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

    Worse, BioWatch cannot be counted on to detect a real attack, according to confidential government test results and computer modeling.

    The false alarms have threatened to disrupt not only the 2008 Democratic convention, but also the 2004 and 2008 Super Bowls and the 2006 
    National League baseball playoffs. In 2005, a false alarm in Washington prompted officials to consider closing the National Mall.

    Federal agencies documented 56 BioWatch false alarms — most of them never disclosed to the public — through 2008. More followed.

    The ultimate verdict on BioWatch is that state and local health officials have shown no confidence in it. Not once have they ordered evacuations or distributed emergency medicines in response to a positive reading.

    Federal officials have not established the cause of the false alarms, but scientists familiar with BioWatch say they appear to stem from its inability to distinguish between dangerous pathogens and closely related but nonlethal germs.

    BioWatch has yet to face an actual biological attack. Field tests and computer modeling, however, suggest it would have difficulty detecting one.

    In an attack by terrorists or a rogue state, disease organisms could well be widely dispersed, at concentrations too low to trigger BioWatch but high enough to infect thousands of people, according to scientists with knowledge of the test data who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Even in a massive release, air currents would scatter the germs in unpredictable ways. Huge numbers of air samplers would have to be deployed to reliably detect an attack in a given area, the scientists said.

    Many who have worked with BioWatch — from 
    the Army general who oversaw its initial deployment to state and local health officials who have seen its repeated failures up close — call it ill-conceived or unworkable.

    "I can't find anyone in my peer group who believes in BioWatch," said Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2002 to 2010.

    "The only times it goes off, it's wrong. I just think it's a colossal waste of money. It's a stupid program."

    Officials at the 
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that would be chiefly responsible for rushing medications to the site of an attack, told White House aides at a meeting Nov. 21 that they would not do so unless a BioWatch warning was confirmed by follow-up sampling and analysis, several attendees said in interviews.

    Those extra steps would undercut BioWatch's rationale: to enable swift treatment of those exposed.

    Federal officials also have shelved long-standing plans to expand the system to the nation's airports for fear that false alarms could trigger evacuations of terminals, grounding of flights and needless panic.

    BioWatch was developed by U.S. national laboratories and government contractors and is overseen by the 
    Department of Homeland Security. Department officials insist that the system’s many alerts were not false alarms. Each time, BioWatch accurately detected some organism in the environment, even if it was not the result of an attack and posed no threat to the public, officials said.

    At the same time, department officials have assured Congress that newer technology will make BioWatch more reliable and cheaper to operate.

    The current samplers are vacuum-powered collection devices, about the size of an office printer, that pull air through filters that trap any airborne materials. In more than 30 cities each day, technicians collect the filters and deliver them to state or local health labs for 
    genetic analysis. Lab personnel look for DNA matches with at least half a dozen targeted pathogens.

    The new, larger units would be automated labs in a box. Samples could be analyzed far more quickly and with no need for manual collection.

    Buying and operating the new technology, known as Generation 3, would cost about $3.1 billion over the next five years, on top of the roughly $1 billion that BioWatch already has cost taxpayers. The Obama administration is weighing whether to award a multiyear contract.

    Generation 3 "is imperative to saving thousands of lives," Dr. Alexander Garza, Homeland Security's chief medical officer, told a House subcommittee on March 29.

    But field and 
    lab tests of automated units have raised doubts about their effectiveness. A prototype installed in the New York subway system in 2007 and 2008 produced multiple false readings, according to interviews with scientists. Field tests last year in Chicago found that a second prototype could not operate independently for more than a week at a time.

    Most worrisome, testing at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state and at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah found that Generation 3 units could detect a biological agent only if exposed to extremely high concentrations: hundreds of thousands of organisms per cubic meter of air over a six-hour period.

    Most of the pathogens targeted by BioWatch, scientists said, can cause sickness or death at much lower levels.

    A confidential Homeland Security analysis prepared in January said these "failures were so significant" that the department had proposed that Northrop Grumman Corp., the leading competitor for the Generation 3 contract, make "major engineering modifications."

    A spokesman for the department, Peter Boogaard, defended the performance of BioWatch. Responding to written questions, he said the department "takes all precautions necessary to minimize the occurrence of both false positive and false negative results."

    "Rigorous testing and evaluation" will guide the department's decisions about whether to buy the Generation 3 technology, he said.

    Representatives of Northrop Grumman said in interviews that some test results had prompted efforts to improve the automated units' sensitivity and overall performance.

    "We had an issue that affected the consistency of the performance of the system," said Dave Tilles, the company's project director. "We resolved it. We fixed it.... We feel like we're ready for the next phase of the program."

    In congressional testimony, officials responsible for BioWatch in both the Bush and Obama administrations have made only fleeting references to the system's documented failures.

    "BioWatch, as you know, has been an enormous success story," Jay M. Cohen, a Homeland Security undersecretary, told a House subcommittee in 2007.

    In June 2009, Homeland Security's then-chief medical officer, Dr. Jon Krohmer, told a House panel: "Without these detectors, the nation has no ability to detect biological attacks until individuals start to show clinical symptoms." Without BioWatch, "needless deaths" could result, he said.

    Garza, the current chief medical officer, was asked during his March 29 testimony whether Generation 3 was on track. "My professional opinion is, it's right where it needs to be," he said.

    After hearing such assurances, bipartisan majorities of Congress have unfailingly supported additional spending for BioWatch.

    Olympic Prototype
    The problems inherent in what would become BioWatch appeared early.

    In February 2002, scientists and technicians from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory deployed a prototype in and around Salt Lake City in preparation for the 
    Winter Olympics. The scientists were aware that false alarms could "cause immense disruptions and panic" and were determined to prevent them, they later wrote in the lab's quarterly magazine.

    Sixteen air samplers were positioned at Olympic venues, as well as in downtown Salt Lake City and at the airport. About 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, a sample from the airport's C concourse tested positive for anthrax.

    Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was at an Olympic figure skating competition when the state's public safety director, Bob Flowers, called with the news.

    "He told me that they had a positive lead on anthrax at the airport," Leavitt recalled. "I asked if they'd retested it. He said they had — not just once, but four times. And each time it tested positive."

    The Olympics marked the first major international gathering since the Sept. 11, 2001, airliner hijackings and the deadly anthrax mailings that fall.

    "It didn't take a lot of imagination to say, 'This could be the real thing,'" Leavitt said.

    But sealing off the airport would disrupt the Olympics. And "the federal government would have stopped transportation all over the country," as it had after Sept. 11, Leavitt said.

    Leavitt ordered hazardous-materials crews to stand by at the airport, though without lights and sirens or conspicuous protective gear.

    "He was ready to close the airport and call the National Guard," recalled Richard Meyer, then a federal scientist assisting with the detection technology at the Olympics.

    After consulting Meyer and other officials, Leavitt decided to wait until a final round of testing was completed. By 9 p.m., when the results were negative, the governor decided not to order any further response.

    "It was a false positive," Leavitt said. "But it was a live-fire exercise, I'll tell you that."

    Pressing Ahead
    The implication — that BioWatch could deliver a highly disruptive false alarm — went unheeded.

    After the Olympics, Meyer and others who had worked with the air samplers attended meetings at
    the Pentagon, where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was building a case for rapidly deploying the technology nationwide.

    On Jan. 28, 2003, Bush unveiled BioWatch in his State of the Union address, calling it "the nation's first early-warning network of sensors to detect biological attack."

    The next month, a group of science and technology advisors to the 
    Defense Department, including Sidney Drell, the noted Stanford University physicist, expressed surprise that "no formal study has been undertaken" of the Salt Lake City incident. The cause of that false alarm has never been identified.

    "It is not realistic to undertake a nationwide, blanket deployment of biosensors," the advisory panel, named the JASON group, concluded.

    The warning was ignored in the rush to deploy BioWatch. Administration officials also disbanded a separate working group of prominent scientists with expertise in the pathogens.

    That group, established by the Pentagon, had been working to determine how often certain germs appear in nature, members of the panel said in interviews. The answer would be key to avoiding false alarms. The idea was to establish a baseline to distinguish between the natural presence of disease organisms and an attack.

    The failure to conduct that work has hobbled the system ever since, particularly in regard to tularemia, which has been involved in nearly all of BioWatch's false alarms.

    The bacterium that causes tularemia, or rabbit fever, got its formal name, Francisella tularensis, after being found in squirrels in the early 20th century in Central California's Tulare County. About 200 naturally occurring infections in humans are reported every year in the U.S. The disease can be deadly but is readily curable when treated promptly with antibiotics.

    Before BioWatch, scientists knew that the tularemia bacterium existed in soil and water. What the scientists who designed BioWatch did not know — because the fieldwork wasn't done — was that nature is rife with close cousins to it.

    The false alarms for tularemia appear to have been triggered by those nonlethal cousins, according to scientists with knowledge of the system.

    That BioWatch is sensitive enough to register repeated false alarms but not sensitive enough to reliably detect an attack may seem contradictory. But the two tasks involve different challenges.

    Any detection system is likely to encounter naturally occurring organisms like the tularemia bacterium and its cousins. Those encounters have the potential to trigger alerts unless the system can distinguish between benign organisms and harmful ones.

    Detecting an attack requires a system that is not only discriminating but also highly sensitive — to guarantee that it won't miss traces of deadly germs that might have been dispersed over a large area.

    BioWatch is neither discriminating enough for the one task nor sensitive enough for the other.

    The system's inherent flaws and the missing scientific work did not slow its deployment. After Bush's speech, the White House assigned Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Reeves, whose office was responsible for developing defenses against chemical and biological attacks, to get BioWatch up and running.

    Over the previous year, Reeves had overseen placement of units similar to the BioWatch samplers throughout the Washington area, including the Pentagon, where several false alarms for anthrax and plague later occurred.

    Based on that work and computer modeling of the technology's capabilities, Reeves did not see how BioWatch could reliably detect attacks smaller than, for example, a mass-volume spraying from a crop duster.

    Nevertheless, the priority was to carry out Bush's directive, swiftly.

    "In the senior-level discussions, the issue of efficacy really wasn't on the table," recalled Reeves, who has since retired from the Army. "It was get it done, tell the president we did good, tell the nation that they're protected.… I thought at the time this was good PR, to calm the nation down. But an effective system? Not a chance."

    Why No Illness?
    It wasn't long before there was a false alarm. Over a three-day period in October 2003, three BioWatch units detected the tularemia bacterium in Houston.

    Public health officials were puzzled: The region's hospitals were not reporting anyone sick with the disease.

    Dr. Mary desVignes-Kendrick, the city's health director, wanted to question hospital officials in detail to make sure early symptoms of tularemia were not being missed or masked by a 
    flu outbreak. But to desVignes-Kendrick's dismay, Homeland Security officials told her not to tell the doctors and nurses what she was looking for.

    "We were hampered by how much we could share on this quote-unquote secret initiative," she said.

    After a week, it was clear that the BioWatch alarm was false.

    In early 2004, on the eve of the 
    Super Bowl in Houston, BioWatch once again signaled tularemia, desVignes-Kendrick said. The sample was from a location two blocks from Reliant Stadium, where the game was to be played Feb. 1.

    DesVignes-Kendrick was skeptical but she and other officials again checked with hospitals before dismissing the warning as another false alarm. The football game was played without interruption.

    Nonetheless, three weeks later, Charles E. McQueary, then Homeland Security's undersecretary for science and technology, told a House subcommittee that BioWatch was performing flawlessly.

    "I am very pleased with the manner in which BioWatch has worked," he said. "We've had well over half a million samples that have been taken by those sensors. We have yet to have our first false alarm."

    Asked in an interview about that statement, McQueary said his denial of any false alarm was based on his belief that the tularemia bacterium had been detected in Houston, albeit not from an attack.

    "You can't tell the machine, 'I only want you to detect the one that comes from a terrorist,'" he said.

    Whether the Houston alarms involved actual tularemia has never been determined, but researchers later reported the presence of benign relatives of the pathogen in the metropolitan area.

    Fear in the Capital
    In late September 2005, nearly two years after the first cluster of false alarms in Houston, analysis of filters from BioWatch units on and near the National Mall in Washington indicated the presence of tularemia. Tens of thousands of people had visited the Mall that weekend for a book festival and a protest against the 
    Iraq War. Anyone who had been infected would need antibiotics promptly.

    For days, officials from the White House and Homeland Security and other federal agencies privately discussed whether to assume the signal was another false alarm and do nothing, or quarantine the Mall and urge those who had been there to get checked for tularemia.

    As they waited for further tests, federal officials decided not to alert local healthcare providers to be on the lookout for symptoms, for fear of creating a panic. Homeland Security officials now say findings from lab analysis of the filters did not meet BioWatch standards for declaring an alert.

    Six days after the first results, however, CDC scientists broke ranks and began alerting hospitals and clinics. That was little help to visitors who already had left town, however.

    "There were 100 people on one conference call — scientists from all over, public health officials — trying to sort out what it meant," recalled Dr. Gregg Pane, director of Washington's health department at the time.

    Discussing the incident soon thereafter, Jeffrey Stiefel, then chief BioWatch administrator for Homeland Security, said agency officials were keenly aware that false alarms could damage the system's credibility.

    "If I tell a city that they've got a biological event, and it's not a biological event, you no longer trust that system, and the system is useless," Stiefel said on videotape at a biodefense seminar at the
    National Institutes of Health on Oct. 6, 2005. "It has to have a high reliability."

    Ultimately, no one turned up sick with tularemia.

    Culture of Silence
    Homeland Security officials have said little publicly about the false positives. And, citing national security and the classification of information, they have insisted that their local counterparts remain mum as well.

    Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's public health director, whose department has presided over several BioWatch false positives, referred questions to Homeland Security officials.

    Dr. Takashi Wada, health officer for Pasadena from 2003 to 2010, was guarded in discussing the BioWatch false positive that occurred on his watch. Wada confirmed that the detection was made, in February 2007, but would not say where in the 23-square-mile city.

    "We've been told not to discuss it," he said in an interview.

    Dr. Karen Relucio, medical director for the San Mateo County Health Department, acknowledged there was a false positive there in 2008, but declined to elaborate. "I'm not sure it's OK for me to talk about that," said Relucio, who referred further questions to officials in Washington.

    In Arizona, officials kept quiet when BioWatch air samplers detected the anthrax pathogen at Super Bowl XLII in February 2008.

    Nothing had turned up when technicians checked the enclosed 
    University of Phoenix Stadium before kickoff. But airborne material collected during the first half of the game tested positive for anthrax, said Lt. Col. Jack W. Beasley Jr., chief of the Arizona National Guard's weapons of mass destruction unit.

    The Guard rushed some of the genetic material to the state's central BioWatch lab in Phoenix for further testing. Federal and state officials convened a 2 a.m. conference call, only to be told that it was another false alarm.

    Although it never made the news, the incident "caused quite a stir," Beasley said.

    The director of the state lab, Victor Waddell, said he had been instructed by Homeland Security officials not to discuss the test results. "That's considered national security," he said.

    The Dreaded Call
    In the months before the 
    2008 Democratic National Convention, local, state and federal officials planned for a worst-case event in Denver, including a biological attack.

    Shortly before 9 a.m. on Aug. 28, the convention's final day, that frightening scenario seemed to have come true. That's when Chris Lindley, of the Colorado health department, got the phone call from a colleague, saying BioWatch had detected the tularemia pathogen at the convention site.

    Lindley, an epidemiologist who had led a team of Army preventive-medicine specialists in Iraq, had faced crises, but nothing like a bioterrorism attack. Within minutes, chief medical officer Ned Calonge arrived.

    Calonge had little faith in BioWatch. A couple of years earlier, the health department had been turned upside down responding to what turned out to be a false alarm for Brucella, a bacterium that primarily affects cattle, on Denver's western outskirts.

    "The idea behind BioWatch — that you could put out these ambient air filters and they would provide you with the information to save people exposed to a biological attack — it's a concept that you could only put together in theory," Calonge said in an interview. "It's a poorly conceived strategy for doing early detection that is inherently going to pick up false positives."

    Lindley and his team arranged a conference call with scores of officials, including representatives from Homeland Security, the 
    Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Secret Service and the White House.

    None of the BioWatch samplers operated by the state had registered a positive, and no unusual cases of infection appeared to have been diagnosed at area hospitals, Lindley said.

    The alert had come from a Secret Service-installed sampler on the grounds of the arena where the convention was taking place. The unit was next to an area filled with satellite trucks broadcasting live news reports on the Democratic gathering. Soon, thousands of conventioneers would be walking from 
    Pepsi Center to nearby Invesco Field to hear Obama's acceptance speech.

    Had Lindley and Calonge been asked, they said in interviews, they wouldn't have put the BioWatch unit at this spot, where foot and vehicle traffic could stir up dust and contaminants that might set off a false alarm. As it turned out, a shade tree 12 yards from the sampler had attracted squirrels, potential carriers of tularemia.

    The location near the media trailers posed another problem: how to conduct additional tests without setting off a panic.

    EPA officials "said on the phone, 'We have a team standing by, ready to go,'" Lindley recalled. But the technicians would have to wear elaborate protective gear.

    The sight of emergency responders in moon suits "would have derailed the convention," Calonge said.

    On the other hand, sending personnel in street clothes would risk exposing them to the pathogen.

    "This was the biggest decision we ever had to make," Lindley said.

    When the conference call resumed, Lindley said the state would collect its own samples, without using conspicuous safety gear. "No one was willing to say, 'That's the right response, Colorado,'" Lindley recalled. "Everybody was frozen. We were on our own."

    State workers discreetly gathered samples of soil, water and other items for immediate DNA analysis. No pathogen was found.

    At 3 p.m., Lindley told participants in another national conference call that his agency was satisfied there was no threat. "I said: 'We are doing no more sampling. We are closing up this issue,'" Lindley recalled.

    Lindley and Calonge, having staked their reputations on not believing BioWatch, were vindicated: Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech on schedule. No one turned up sick with tularemia. And, to their surprise, news of the false alarm never became public.

    'An Opportunity'
    Officials responsible for BioWatch insist that the false alarms, which they refer to as "BioWatch actionable results," or BARs, have been beneficial.

    Each incident "has provided local, state and federal government personnel an opportunity to exercise its preparedness plans and coordination activities," three senior Homeland Security BioWatch administrators told a House subcommittee in a statement in July 2008. "These real-world events have been a catalyst for collaboration."

    Biologist David M. Engelthaler, who led responses to several BioWatch false positives while serving as Arizona's bioterrorism coordinator, is one of the many public health officials who see it differently.

    "A Homeland Security or national security pipe dream," he said, "became our nightmare." 
    (LA Times, 2012).

    Title: Nigeria Is The Largest Contributor Of Global Polio Burden: WHO
    Date: July 8, 2012
    Source: 
    Outbreak News

    Abstract: Nigeria remains a stumblingblock in the world’s effort for global polio eradication according to a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Nigeria.

    There are three countries left on the planet that have not succeeded in interrupting polio transmission and are considered endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

    However, their are specific concerns about Nigeria in the global eradication effort according to the WHOCountry Representative in Nigeria, Dr. David Okello.

    According to a Channels TV report Sunday, Okello said in Lagos Saturday, “Indeed Nigeria is now the largest contributor of global polio burden -nearly 60 per cent. Nigeria is also the only country in the world to have all three types of polio virus — Type 1, Type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived Type 2 viruses.”

    He also noted that 2/3 of the 49 current cases in the country are from the northern states of Borno, Kano, Sokoto and Zamfara.

    Polio is caused by the poliovirus types 1, 2 and 3. All three types cause paralysis, with wild poliovirus type 1 being isolated from paralysis cases most often.

    This viral infection is primarily spread from person to person through the fecal-oral route. However, in places where sanitation is very good, transmission though throat secretions may be considered more important.

    Polio is recognized in about 1 percent of infections by flaccid paralysis, while over 90 percent of infections are unapparent.

    Paralysis of poliomyelitis is usually asymmetric and the site of paralysis depends on the location of nerve cell destruction on the spinal cord orbrain stem. Legs are affected more often than the arms.

    Paralysis of the respiration can be life threatening.

    Most cases of polio are in children under the age of three.

    Prevention of polio is through immunization, either through the live oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) or the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) (Outbreak News, 2012).

    Title: Worst TB Outbreak In 20 Years Kept Secret
    Date: July 8, 2012
    Source: 
    Palm Beach Post

    Abstract: The CDC officer had a serious warning for Florida health officials in April: A tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville was one of the worst his group had investigated in 20 years. Linked to 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, including six children, it would require concerted action to stop.

    That report had been penned on April 5, exactly nine days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill that shrank the Department of Health and required the closure of the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, where tough tuberculosis cases have been treated for more than 60 years.

    As health officials in Tallahassee turned their focus to restructuring, Dr. Robert Luo’s 25-page report describing Jacksonville’s outbreak — and the measures needed to contain it – went unseen by key decision makers around the state. At the health agency, an order went out that the TB hospital must be closed six months ahead of schedule.

    Had they seen the letter, decision makers would have learned that 3,000 people in the past two years may have had close contact with contagious people at Jacksonville’s homeless shelters, an outpatient mental health clinic and area jails. Yet only 253 people had been found and evaluated for TB infection, meaning Florida’s outbreak was, and is, far from contained.

    The public was not to learn anything until early June, even though the same strain was appearing in other parts of the state, including Miami.

    Tuberculosis is a lung disease more associated with the 18th century than the 21st, referred to as “consumption” in Dickensian times because its victims would grow gaunt and wan as their lungs disintigrated and they slowly died. The CDC investigator described a similar fate for 10 of the 13 people who died in Jacksonville.

    They wasted away before ever getting treatment, or were too far gone by the time it began. Most of the sick were poor black men.

    “The high number of deaths in this outbreak emphasizes the need for vigilant active case finding, improved education about TB, and ongoing screening at all sites with outbreak cases,” Luo’s report states.

    Today, three months after it was sent to Tallahassee, the CDC report still has not been widely circulated.

    Backer of Closing Hospital didn’t Know
    Meanwhile the champion of the health agency consolidation, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said he had not been informed of the Jacksonville outbreak and the CDC’s role as of Friday.

    Told the details, the chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Committee vowed that there would be money for TB treatment.

    “There is every bit of understanding that we cannot not take care of people who have a difficult case of TB,” Hudson said.

    The governor’s office asked a reporter to foward a copy of the CDC letter on Saturday, but did not comment by press time.

    Treatment for TB can be an ordeal. A person with an uncomplicated, active case of TB must take a cocktail of three to four antibiotics — dozens of pills a day — for six months or more. The drugs can cause serious side effects — stomach and liver problems chief among them. But failure to stay on the drugs for the entire treatment period can and often does cause drug resistance.

    At that point, a disease that can cost $500 to overcome grows exponentially more costly. The average cost to treat a drug-resistant strain is more than $275,000, requiring up to two years on medications. For this reason, the state pays for public health nurses to go to the home of a person with TB every day to observe them taking their medications.

    However, the itinerant homeless, drug-addicted, mentally ill people at the core of the Jacksonville TB cluster are almost impossible to keep on their medications. Last year, Duval County sent 11 patients to A.G. Holley under court order. Last week, with A.G. Holley now closed, one was sent to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The ones who will stay put in Jacksonville are being put up in motels, to make it easier for public health nurses to find them, Duval County health officials said.

    They spoke about CDC’s report Friday, only after weeks of records requests from The Palm Beach Post. The report was released late last week only after a reporter traveled to Tallahassee to demand records in person. The records should be open to inspection to anyone upon request under Florida Statute 119, known as the Government in the Sunshine law.

    TB Strain Spreads beyond Homeless
    In his report, the CDC’s Luo makes it clear that other health officials throughout the state and nation have reason to be concerned: Of the fraction of the sick people’s contacts reached, one-third tested positive for TB exposure in areas like the homeless shelter.

    Furthermore, only two-thirds of the active cases could be traced to people and places in Jacksonville where the homeless and mentally ill had congregated. That suggested the TB strain had spread beyond the city’s underclass and into the general population. The Palm Beach Post requested a database showing where every related case has appeared. That database has not been released.

    It was early February when Duval County Health Department officials felt so overwhelmed by the sudden spike in tuberculosis that they asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become involved. Believing the outbreak affected only their underclass, the health officials made a conscious decision not to not tell the public, repeating a decision they had made in 2008, when the same strain had appeared in an assisted living home for people with schizophrenia.

    “What you don’t want is for anyone to have another reason why people should turn their backs on the homeless,” said Charles Griggs, the public information officer for the Duval County Health Department.

    Even the CDC was not forthcoming about the outbreak. An agency spokesperson declined requests from The Post when asked to make an expert available to discuss a CDC-authored scholarly paper on the possible origins of the Jacksonville outbreak, offering only general fact sheets on TB.

    “After checking in with the Division of TB Elimination about your specific questions, they have suggested that you reach out to your health department,” wrote Salina Cranor of the CDC’s TB prevention office. . “They are really the best source for your questions.”

    “With TB it’s a judgment call,” said Duval County Health Director Dr. Bob Harmon in a telephone interview Friday, after the state’s new surgeon general referred questions back to him.

    “There have been TB outbreaks where we do alert the public, such as a school or a college,” Harmon added.

    For weeks, there had been a dissonant message coming from the Department of Health press office in Tallahassee. It released overall numbers of Florida tuberculosis cases showing a marked decline statewide, supporting the argument that A.G. Holley had become irrelevant. Asked whether she had been aware of the severity of Jacksonville’s outbreak while delivering that message, she did not answer.

    “Florida experienced a 10 percent decrease in cases for 2011 compared to 2010. For the period 2007—2011, there was a 24 percent decrease in cases,” wrote agency spokeswoman Jessica Hammonds in an emailed response to written questions on May 18. She declined, at the time, to make agency experts available for interview.

    In an article published in June’s American Journal of Psychiatry, CDC experts Dr. Joseph Cavanaugh, Dr. Kiren Mitruka and colleagues described the apparent origins of the current outbreak, when a TB strain called FL 046 came to claim two lives and sicken at least 15 mentally ill residents of one assisted living facility in 2008.

    A single schizophrenic patient had circulated from hospital to jail to homeless shelter to assisted living facility, living in dorm housing in many locations. Over and over, the patient’s cough was documented in his chart, but not treated. It continued for eight months, until he finally was sent under court order to A.G. Holley. That year, 2008-2009, a total of 18 people in that community developed active tuberculosis from the strain called FL 046 and two died. The CDC sent a $275,000 grant to help pay for the staff needed to contain it.

    After the money ran out, Harmon said, staff were redeployed to other needs. But in 2011, suddenly, the number of active cases of FL 046 spiked, rising 16 percent to 30 cases of a specific genotype, the one seen in 2008.

    “We thought after 2008 that we had it contained,” Harmon said. “It was not contained. In retrospect, it would have been better to inform the general population then.”

    Harmon said the Duval County Health Department will need more resources if it is to contain the current TB outbreak. In 2008, when the TB outbreak hit, his department employed 946 staff with revenues of $61 million. “Now we’re down to 700 staff and revenue is down to $46 million,” Harmon said. “It has affected most areas of the organization.”

    If he can raise at least $300,000, he will use the money to hire teams of experts — epidemiologists, nurses, outreach workers, to look under bridges, in fields — in all the places where Jacksonville’s estimated 4,000 homeless congregate, to track down the people who may still be infected unknowingly. Fortunately, only a few of the cases have developed drug resistance so far. The vast majority respond to the first-line antibiotics.

    In downtown Jacksonville, in the homeless shelters and soup kitchens, the TB strain called FL 046 continues to spread.

    On a recent June morning, 60-year-old Lilla Charline Burkhalter joined about 100 other poor and homeless guests being served a free hot meal of scrambled eggs, grapes, potatoes and butterless bread by a local church youth group.

    The youth group was volunteering at the Clara White Mission, where a man with active tuberculosis had been identified just three weeks earlier.

    Looking weary but friendly, Burkhalter described her life of late, sleeping in grassy fields and in shelter dormitories. She lived on a small Social Security disability check, she said. It had enabled her to pay for a room in an apartment, for a while. But her roommate had kicked her out for making his girlfriend jealous, she said, and she hadn’t been able to find any other accommodations. It had been a rough few months, she acknowledged. But she had been through tough times before.

    As she spoke, she coughed often. It was her emphysema acting up, she explained.

    Asked if she was fearful about the TB in the community, she shrugged.

    “The health department tests me for TB once a year, so I know I don’t have it,” she said. “I’m not worried.”

    The Clara White Mission is now playing a key role in helping Jacksonville fight TB. Its housing case manager, Ken Covington, had spent most of his career helping bank branches assimilate after mergers. Two months ago, he joined Clara White, charged with placing homeless veterans and recently released jail inmates into homes. But the job has became much larger.

    Today, Covington is the new chairman of the Duval County TB Coalition. In his hands he holds a massive binder with the intimidating title, “Core Curriculum in Tuberculosis: What the Clinician Should Know.” It was given to him by Vernard Green, the CDC’s visiting TB liaison.

    Covington said he was a banker, not a clinician. But he had learned what to watch for with TB – coughing up blood, night sweats, sudden weight loss. The coalition members were looking at buying air filtration equipment, drafting intake protocols, getting to know the TB experts in the community, and educating shelter staff on what to watch for and what to do if a client appeared ill.

    “We’re trying to do what we can to rein it in, and stay in front of it, and not let it get any worse,” Covington said. “I take it as a very important role for the community.”

    What the Post Unocovered 
    In 2008, a schizophrenic patient contracted TB but went untreated for eight months, wandering among many places where the homeless congregate, infecting at least 17 others.

    In 2012, the CDC was invited to help with a sudden spike in cases of the same rare strain the schizophrenic patient had. What they found is the worst outbreak they have investigated in 20 years, and it is not contained.

    On the Trail of TB 
    Hard to track: Homeless and mentally ill people and those they have come in contact with are especially hard to treat.

    Long, tough treatment
    Several pills a day of several virulent antibiotics for a minimum of six months, often up to two years.

    What’s at stake: If treatment regimen isn’t strictly followed, antibiotic resistent strains emerge.

    TB Basics
    Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

    How TB Spreads
    TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. 
    TB is NOT spread by

    • shaking someone’s hand
    • sharing food or drink
    • touching bed linens or toilet seats
    • sharing toothbrushes
    • kissing

    TB Symptoms
    Symptoms of TB disease include:

    • a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
    • pain in the chest
    • coughing up blood or sputum
    • weakness or fatigue
    • weight loss
    • no appetite
    • chills
    • fever
    • sweating at night

    TB Risk Factors
    Once a person is infected with TB bacteria, the chance of developing TB disease is higher if the person:

    • Has HIV infection;
    • Has been recently infected with TB bacteria (in the last 2 years);
    • Has other health problems, like diabetes, that make it hard for the body to fight bacteria;
    • Abuses alcohol or uses illegal drugs; or
    • Was not treated correctly for TB infection in the past (Palm Beach Post, 2012)

    Title: Florida Closes Only Tuberculosis Hospital Amid Worst US Outbreak In 20 Years
    Date: July 9, 2012
    Source: 
    Guardian

    Abstract: Health officials in 
    Florida hastened their closure of the nation's only dedicated tuberculosis hospital on cost-cutting grounds as one of the worst outbreaks of the deadly disease in 20 years was taking a grip on the state, it has been revealed.

    At least 3,000 people in Jacksonville may have been exposed to the highly contagious respiratory illness that claimed 13 lives in the city and left another 100 sick in the last two years, a report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded.

    But news of the severity of the outbreak never reached Florida's politicians, who voted in March to bring forward the closure of the 100-bed AG Holley state hospital in Lantana by six months to July 2.

    As a result, patients once deemed too sick for contact with the public were released into the community and others newly diagnosed with the disease, mostly from the homeless population, are being put up in local motels in an effort to keep them on their medications.

    "The high number of deaths in this outbreak emphasises the need for vigilant active case finding, improved education about TB, and ongoing screening at all sites with outbreak cases," states the report written by Robert Luo, a senior doctor with the CDC's epidemic intelligence service, and obtained by the Palm Beach Post following a public records request.

    The CDC confirmed it was one of the worst outbreaks of TB anywhere in the United States for at least two decades.

    Meanwhile, the Florida department of health expects to save up to $10m a year by closing AG Holley, which had treated patients with the most severe cases of the disease since 1950. The hospital discharged its last patients a week ago.

    In a statement, the department defended the closure, insisting that patients in need of hospitalisation would receive adequate care at public hospitals in Miami and Jacksonville, which also agreed to take some of the most severe AG Holley cases.

    "We move into the future with confidence that these patients will receive continued high quality care in settings closer to their communities," said Dr John Armstrong, Florida's surgeon general.

    Yet before the closure was announced the department always claimed that patients admitted to AG Holley "cannot be treated and cured in the community".

    In its 2013 health plan, it stated: "All of AG Holley's patients have failed treatment in their communities or have been diagnosed as medically complex requiring specialised care and treatment."

    Of the patients discharged last week, 18 were released into the care of their own doctors, supervised by their county health departments. The state health board said that declining cases of TB statewide, 753 in 2011, a 10% decrease on the previous year, justified the hospital's closure.

    Opponents have demanded an investigation by Florida governor Rick Scott, saying that the hospital's closure was rushed and that the need for a purpose-built facility with rooms with individual air and water systems to combat virulent airborne diseases was greater than ever.

    Maria Lorts Sachs, a state senator who represents Lantana and a vocal long-term supporter of the hospital, told the Guardian: "Who knows how the vote would have been impacted by knowledge of this outbreak?

    "It's a serious thing when a major fact is withheld from us. There needs to be an inquiry into whoever kept this secret and there needs to be an inquiry into why there was such a rush to close the hospital. The governor should stop everything, stop the closure and have a review. This is a dangerous thing and we need to make sure our people are safe."

    The CDC's investigation into the Jacksonville outbreak revealed that only 253 people from about 3,000 exposed to the infection in Duval County's homeless shelters, prisons and mental health clinics had been traced and tested.

    Effective treatment often requires regular, long-term uses of drugs, which officials acknowledge is often difficult to administer. If medications are not taken regularly, strains of the disease can become drug-resistant.

    Charles Griggs, spokesman for the Duval County health department, said: "Since the identified outbreak cluster is primarily concentrated within at-risk individuals in Jacksonville's homeless community, we are concentrating our efforts in the most impacted areas of need.

    "We are also trying to guard against the further negative stigmatisation of an already challenged population. There is no evidence to suggest that the identified cluster outbreak has had a significant impact on the local general population.

    "The closure of AG Holley has very little impact on our local outbreak. Over the past two years, DCHD has been engaged in active TB outreach screenings at various locations that service our local homeless community.

    "No patient who requires the level of treatment and care associated with hospitalisation are housed at local motels. Only low-risk clients who may require directly observed therapy as treatment are potentially housed in motels" (Guardian, 2012).

    Title: False Alarms Plague DHS BioWatch Air Samplers
    Date: July 9, 2012
    Source:
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: A billion dollar government system for detecting biological attacks, known as BioWatch, has been plagued with multiple false alarms since its deployment in 2003, a new report has revealed.

    While the system was deployed in cities across the country to detect anthrax, tularemia, plague, smallpox and other deadly pathogens, it has produced dozens of false alarms in Phoenix, San Diego, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay and elsewhere. As a result, BioWatch may not be dependable in case of a real attack, the Los Angeles Times reports.

    “I can’t find anyone in my peer group who believes in BioWatch,” Ned Calonge, a former chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The only times it goes off, it’s wrong. I just think it’s a colossal waste of money. It’s a stupid program.”

    The system initially came about after the 2003 State of the Union address by President George W. Bush. Army Major General Stephen Reeves, whose office was responsible for getting BioWatch up and running, said that it was apparent from the start that the system was unreliable.

    “In the senior-level discussions, the issue of efficacy really wasn’t on the table,” Reeves said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It was get it done, tell the president we did good, tell the nation that they’re protected…I thought at the time this was good PR, to calm the nation down. But an effective system? Not a chance.”

    While new technology, called Generation 3, would potentially make BioWatch more reliable and cheaper to operate, field and lab tests have shown the novel technology still produces false readings.

    Through 2008, federal agencies documented 56 BioWatch false alarms, most of which were never disclosed to the public. While BioWatch officials insist that the false alarms have been beneficial, many public health officials think otherwise.

    “A Homeland Security or national security pipe dream became our nightmare,” David M. Engelthaler, the former bioterrorism coordinator of Arizona, said, according to the Los Angeles Times (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

    Title: Mexico To Vaccinate 1M Chickens Against Bird Flu
    Date: July 10, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: A shipment of 1 million doses of vaccine from China will be used to inoculate chickens over the next few days to contain a bird-flu outbreak, Mexico's National Union of Poultry Farmers, or UNA, said.

    According to UNA, the number of farms with a confirmed presence of the flu virus has increased to 29, five more than indicated in the previous report, so that the epidemic has now affected close to 2.5 million barnyard fowl in the western state of Jalisco.

    In a communique, UNA said that the first doses of the vaccine have arrived in Mexico and will be applied to the poultry population most likely to catch the "highly contagious" H7N3 strain of avian flu.

    They also reported that the flu has caused the deaths of "at least a million fowl" in the Jalisco municipalities of Tepatitlan and Acatic, either from the virus itself or because they were slaughtered.

    According to UNA officials consulted by Efe, another 7 million doses of vaccine are expected to arrive over the coming weeks to immunize a large part of the country's poultry farms.

    UNA figures show that Mexico produces close to 2.5 million tons of eggs and 1.2 million tons of feedlot poultry meat per year.

    Jalisco contributes 55 percent of national production and by April 2012 had exported close to 4.49 billion pesos ($335 million) worth of fresh, powdered, liquid and cooked eggs, according to estimates of Mexico's agriculture department.

    The state governor, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, said that "the spreading of the virus has diminished" because the infected farms have been kept in isolation.

    Once the avian flu virus is eradicated, state and federal authorities will be able to launch strategies to repopulate poultry farms and start recovering the market, above all the U.S. market, Gonzalez said.

    The outbreak has already cost 1,800 jobs in Jalisco, according to local farmers (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Record Year For Whooping Cough? Get The Shots, Health Experts Say
    Date: July 10, 2012
    Source: 
    NBC News

    Abstract: The U.S. is on course for a record year for whooping cough, health officials said this week. And while vaccinating kids is clearly the most important defense, health experts say adults may not realize they’re supposed to be getting regular shots, too.

    Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection best known for causing a deep cough in children. They cough so long and so hard that when they can finally catch a breath, they make a distinctive “whoop” sound on the intake. So far this year, the United States has seen more than 16,000 validated cases of whooping cough, said Stacey Martin, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    That’s more than the 15,216 cases reported last year. The latest peak was 27,550 cases in 2010, when it killed 27 people, 25 of them babies.

    “We are on track to have a record year, I think,” Martin said in a telephone interview.

    Pertussis has reached epidemic levels in the state of Washington, with more than 2,700 cases so far this year, and CDC is following outbreaks in 18 other states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Florida, Arizona, Maine, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Oregon.

    "This time last year we had about 200 cases, which was a lot," said Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington state department of health. "So to have 2,700 this time is just the most we have seen in my lifetime."

    The problem is caused by a number of factors. Babies less than two months old are too young to get the vaccine, so they are especially vulnerable. And the formulation of the vaccine was changed in the 1990s to make it safer, but that also made it a little less effective, Martin said.

    “We went to safer vaccine with fewer side effects but the duration of protection is not as good,” she said. Church adds that in Washington state, many parents have opted not to have their children vaccinated -- another factor that could affect the epidemic, although he said there is not data to demonstrate just how badly.

    The good news is that 95 percent of U.S. children are vaccinated, Martin says. The bad news is that only 10 percent of adults are.

    Children need five doses by age 6 to be fully protected and even then they may need a booster in their teens. Every adult should get at least one dose of the combined tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine, CDC says in its latest guidelines. The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends the shot once every 10 years. 

    "That’s been our big push in Washington state -- to help adults understand they need to get vaccinated too," Church said.

    This is extra-confusing because there are several vaccines on the market, some of which contain just tetanus and diphtheria and some that also protect against pertussis, said Dr. Kathryn Edwards, who directs the Vaccine Research Program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and who is a board member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

    To protect the youngest babies, pregnant women should be vaccinated in the later stages of pregnancy, the CDC says. “I think it is hard to vaccinate pregnant women, because pregnant women have this feeling that they aren’t supposed to put anything in their body,” Edwards says. While this is understandable, studies have shown it’s very safe and the mothers-to-be pass on their immunity to their newborns, she said. This is the same for flu, too.

    Even health experts often don’t realize the need for adults to be vaccinated. Edwards and colleagues surveyed 1,800 health care workers in 2007, and only 13 percent planned to get a whooping cough shot, with most saying they were unaware they even needed one. Half the time, when babies get whooping cough, a parent is the source, Edwards said. And whooping cough can make adults very sick, as well.

    “Adults get whooping cough, and they cough and cough,” Edwards said. The cough can persist for weeks, but doctors and patients alike often don’t even think to check for pertussis. “Certainly, whenever adults need their booster for tetanus and diphtheria, they should include pertussis,” Edwards advised.

    It’s not just whooping cough that adults need to be vaccinated against.

    The CDC just released updated its adult vaccination recommendations to say adults should think about getting vaccines to prevent a range of diseases: chickenpox; measles, mumps and rubella (German measles); influenza (every single year); hepatitis A and B; and meningitis. Younger adults also need vaccinations against HPV or human papillomavirus, which causes cervical, penis and head and neck cancers (after about age 26 it’s too late), while adults older than 60 need a dose of vaccine against shingles and also should get a shot that protects against a batch of bacterial infections called pneumococcal diseases every five years (NBC News, 2012)

    Title: Lung Worm Infections On The Rise, CDC Says
    Date: July 11, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: The number of U.S. infections from fluke worms in the lungs increased dramatically in 2009 and 2010, according to a new report, which traced the increase to the raw crawfish that people ate during recreational river trips.

    Nine cases of paragonimiasis — the medical term for infections with the parasitic worms — were reported in or around Missouri in 2009 and 2010, after all of North America saw only seven cases in the previous 40 years, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

    People become infected with the fluke worms by eating raw crawfish. Seven of the nine most recent cases occurred after people ate the crustaceans while on recreational river cruises.

    Because fluke worm infections are typically very rare in the United States, where shellfish is generally cooked before it is consumed, diagnosing and treating the patients was difficult, the CDC researchers said. Cases of paragonimiasis are much more common in Asian countries. The initial symptoms include cough and fever, and the infections are often misdiagnosed as tuberculosis, pneumonia, flu or bronchitis.

    Most of the nine U.S. parasiteDescription: http://global.fncstatic.com/static/v/all/img/external-link.png cases were treated for another disease before the true cause of their illness was determined, according to the CDC report. Eight were men, and seven ate raw crawfish in conjunction with drinking alcohol.

    All nine patients were eventually treated with the drug praziquantel, and seven of them recovered within three days. One patient experienced residual chest pain for four weeks, and recuperation was also slower for another patient, who had obstructive pulmonary disease.

    Shellfish are the worms' hosts, and the prevalence of fluke-carrying shellfish in Missouri-area rivers makes trying to eliminate the parasite unfeasible, according to the report. Therefore, the public should be educated about the parasiteDescription: http://global.fncstatic.com/static/v/all/img/external-link.png and possible ways of becoming infected, and physicians should be more aware of the disease’s presence, the CDC said (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Scientists See AIDS Vaccine Within Reach After Decades
    Date: July 16, 2012
    Source: MSNBC

    Abstract: At an ill-fated press conference in 1984, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler boldly predicted an effective AIDS vaccine would be available within just two years.

    But a string of failed attempts - punctuated by a 2007 trial in which a Merck vaccine appeared to make people more vulnerable to infection, not less - cast a shadow over AIDS vaccine research that has taken years to dispel.

    A 2009 clinical trial in Thailand was the first to show it was possible to prevent HIV infection in humans. Since then, discoveries have pointed to even more powerful vaccines using HIV-fighting antibodies. Now scientists believe a licensed vaccine is within reach.

    "We know the face of the enemy," said Dr. Barton Haynes, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and recent director of the Center for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). The research consortium was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), founded in 2005 by the National Institutes of Health to identify and overcome roadblocks in the design of vaccines for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. NIAID's funding of CHAVI ended in June.

    Unlike many viruses behind infectious disease, HIV is a moving target, constantly spitting out slightly different versions of itself, with different strains affecting different populations around the world. The virus is especially pernicious since it attacks the immune system, the very mechanism the body needs to fight back.

    "The virus is far more crafty than we ever thought," said Haynes, who will outline progress in vaccine research at the International AIDS Society's 2012 conference being held in Washington from July 22-27.

    First Sign of Hope 
    Thanks to drugs that can control the virus for decades, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. New infections have fallen by 21 percent since the peak of the pandemic in 1997 and advances in prevention - through voluntary circumcision programs, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and early treatment - promise to cut that rate even more.

     Still, as many as 34 million people are infected with HIV worldwide. And with 2.7 million new infections in 2010 alone, experts say a vaccine is still the best hope for eradicating AIDS.

    Teams have been working on a vaccine for nearly three decades, but it wasn't until RV144, the 2009 clinical trial involving more than 16,000 adults in Thailand, that researchers achieved any hint of success.

    The test of a combination of two vaccines followed several big failures, including the stunning news that Merck's vaccine may have increased the risk of infection among men who were both uncircumcised and had prior exposure to the virus used in the vaccine.

    "It had an extremely chilling effect on the whole field," said Colonel Nelson Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which led the RV144 trial.

     The Thai study tested Sanofi's ALVAC, a weakened canary pox virus used to sneak three HIV genes into the body, and AIDSVAX, a vaccine originally made by Roche Holding's Genentech that carried an HIV surface protein.

    Both vaccines had poor showings in individual trials. Researchers were so convinced the Thai trial would fail that 22 scientists wrote an editorial in Science calling it a waste of money.

    Then came the shocker. Results of the study published in 2009 showed the vaccine combination cut HIV infections by 31.2 percent. According to Michael and many other experts, the result was not big enough to be considered effective, but its impact on researchers was huge, says Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) based in New York.

    An extensive analysis of the Thai trial published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine offered clues about why some volunteers responded.

    The study, led by Haynes, scientists at Walter Reed and 25 other institutions, found men and women who were vaccinated made antibodies to a specific region of the virus's outer coat, suggesting this region provides an important vaccine target.

    Preparations are under way for a follow-up trial testing beefed-up versions of the vaccines among heterosexuals in South Africa and men who have sex with men in Thailand.

    Once again, the trial will use a Sanofi vaccine, but instead of AIDSVAX, researchers will use a different vaccine candidate with a boosting agent from Novartis.

    Michael said it has been a major effort to secure new research partners and funding, including support from host countries, as well as to persuade rivals Novartis and Sanofi to work together. The teams still need to retool the vaccines to work in South Africa, where the strain of HIV is different.

    "We're really working as fast as we can," said Michael, who expects large-scale effectiveness studies to start in 2016.

    The hope is to have at least 50 percent effectiveness, a level that mathematical modelers say could have a major impact on the epidemic. Michael thinks this might be the pathway for getting the first HIV vaccine licensed, possibly by 2019.

    Vaccine experts are equally excited about a vaccine that Michael's team is developing with Harvard University and Johnson & Johnson's Crucell unit, which uses weakened versions of a common cold virus and a smallpox virus.

    A study published in February showed this vaccine protected monkeys from a virulent strain of HIV. Animals that did become infected after repeated exposure also had low levels of virus in their blood. Safety studies in human patients are just starting, with large-scale efficacy studies slated for 2016.

    Next-Generation Vaccines 
    The current crop of vaccines is largely designed to train immune system cells known as T-cells to recognize and kill cells already infected with HIV. While these trials progress, scientists are working on even more advanced vaccines that activate powerful antibodies to prevent HIV from infecting cells in the first place. Both would be administered before a person becomes exposed to the virus.

    Most modern vaccines use this antibody approach, but HIV's extreme skill at mutating makes it difficult for specifically targeted antibodies to identify and neutralize the virus.

    Teams led by Dr. Dennis Burton of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, Dr. Michel Nussenzweig at Rockefeller University in New York, Dr. Gary Nabel of NIAID's Vaccine Research Center, Haynes at Duke and others have focused on rare antibodies made by 10 to 20 percent of people with HIV that can neutralize a broad array of strains.

    Researchers think a vaccine that can coax the body into making these antibodies before HIV exposure would offer a powerful foil to many forms of the virus.

    Such antibodies seek out and latch on to regions of the virus that are highly "conserved," meaning they are so critical to the virus that they appear in nearly every HIV strain. By attaching to the virus they make it incapable of infecting other cells.

    Until 2009, scientists had identified only a few broadly neutralizing antibodies, but in the past few years teams have found dozens.

    So far, scientists have isolated the antibodies, identified what part of HIV they target and even know the exact shape they make, Koff said. Researchers are now using this information to design vaccines that prompt the immune system to make them.

    "We're not there yet," Nabel said.

    NIAID this month said it will spend up to $186 million over the next seven years to fund the Centers for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery. The new consortium is focused on making vaccines that induce these protective antibodies, with major grants going to Duke and Scripps.

    Nabel said no vaccine being tested today "is likely to hit it out of the park," but many researchers do feel advances in broadly neutralizing antibodies are key to developing a highly successful HIV vaccine.

    "It's really a new day when we start to think about where we are with AIDS vaccines," Nabel said (MSNBC, 2012)

    Title: Dallas Is The West Nile Virus ‘Epicenter’ Of U.S. According To Health Director
    Date: July 16, 2012
    Source: 
    Examiner

    Abstract: Health officials in 
    Dallas County are growing very concerned about the West Nile Virus(WNV) problem this year as the cases continue to mount and the first fatality was recorded due to the mosquito borne virus.

    In the latest Dallas County “West Nile Watch” published Monday, 16 cases of WNV have been reported in the county with 10 cases from the city of Dallas. Of the 16 cases, 14 were of the neuroinvasive type, the more serious type of the disease.

    In addition, health officials report the first death of the year from WNV and the first fatality in Dallas County in 3 years. It is reported the victim was a man in his 60s with underlying medical conditions.

    In a news conference today, Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson expressed his concern saying, “When you’re in the epicenter right now of the country, it’s imperative we step up our prevention efforts” according to a WFAA.com report.

    Dr. James Luby with UT Southwestern Medical Center also offered a dire warning saying it’s probably going to be the most severe season ever in Dallas County. He went so far as to say the WNV outbreak is at “epidemic levels”.

    Officials blame the resurgence of WNV this year on the rains this spring allowing mosquitoes to thrive (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Whooping Cough Cases On Rise, N.Y. Urges Vaccinations
    Date: July 18, 2012
    Source: 
    MSNBC News

    Abstract: New York health officials on Wednesday reported a sharp spike in cases of whooping cough, a potentially fatal illness that has been on the rise around the country this year, and urged people to get vaccinated.

    Preliminary figures reported by New York's Health Department found 970 cases so far in 2012 of the highly contagious disease pertussis, or whooping cough, an infection that produces an intense cough that lasts weeks and can lead to pneumonia, an inability to breathe or death.

    In all of 2011, there were 931 cases reported in New York.

    By June the number of reported cases in the United States in 2012 was nearly 44 percent higher than the same period last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    "Here in New York, we are seeing an increased number of reported cases this year, as is the case across the United States," state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said in a statement.

    New York is one of more than a dozen U.S. states reporting a greater than three-fold increase in reported cases of the whooping cough since 2011, according to the CDC.

    Health officials attributed the rise in whooping cough to the cyclical nature of the disease where the number of reported cases hits a peak every three to five years.

    New York is seeing its latest peak after earlier outbreaks in 2004, and to a lesser degree in 2008, health department spokesman Peter Constantakes said. In 2004, the state reported over 2,000 cases and in 2008, over 550. In 2009, a trough in the cycle, the state reported just over 350, he said.

    "The cyclical nature of the disease is really something we don't completely understand, but it seems to happen in all states across the nation," Constantakes said.

    Other factors include families who choose not to vaccinate their children and the fact that many teens and adults who have not been immunized catch the cough but ignore it and pass it on.

    About nine out of every 100,000 Americans get pertussis each year, according to the CDC. While that number is considerably smaller than before the pertussis vaccine was introduced, it has been rising for the past two decades.

    Most cases don't result in death but in 2011 three infants died from the illness in New York.

    The infection is especially dangerous for children younger than a year old who have yet to complete the full cycle of vaccinations against the ailment.

    The whooping cough often begins with cold-like symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, or a fever and is accompanied by a mild cough that becomes more severe in the first or second week. Coughing fits are often followed by a high-pitched whoop, giving the illness its name.

    The pertussis vaccine, a five-shot series referred to as DTaP, is recommended for children at ages 2, 4, 6 and 18-months, and at 4 to 6 years old.

    The CDC recommends that at age 11 or 12 kids get the booster shot called Tdap.

    Teens and adults, especially those in contact with infants, should also get the Tdap shot, the state health department said (MSNBC News, 2012)

    Title: CDC: Whooping Cough Cases May Be Most In 5 Decades
    Date: July 19, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: Health officials say the nation is on track to have the worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades.

    Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far - more than twice the number seen at this point last year. At this pace, the number of whooping cough cases will surpass every year since 1959.

    "There is a lot of this out there, and there may be more coming to a place near you," Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

    Wisconsin and Washington state each have reported more than 3,000 cases, and high numbers have been seen in a number of other states, including New York, Minnesota, Kansas and Arizona.

    Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease. It leads to severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound as they gasp for breath. In rare cases it can be fatal, and nine children have died so far this year.

    Children get vaccinated against whooping cough in five doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the final one between 4 and 6 years. Then a booster is recommended around age 11. The vaccine's protection does wane and health officials have debated moving up the booster shot.

    The CDC is urging adults and especially pregnant women to get vaccinated so they don't spread it to infants who are too young to get the vaccine.

    Whooping cough used to cause hundreds of thousands of illnesses a year but cases fell after a vaccine was introduced in the 1940s. Starting in the late 1960s, fewer than 5,000 cases were reported annually in the United States, for a stretch of about 25 years. But the numbers started to rise in the 1990s (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Whooping Cough Could Reach Highest Levels Since 1959
    Date: July 19, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: Health officials said Thursday that the number of cases of whooping cough could reach the highest level in more than 50 years. 

    As of July, nearly 18,000 cases have been reported, more than twice as many as at this time last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. At this pace, the number of whooping cough cases will surpass every year since 1959.

    Public health officials are concerned the uptick might be due in part to a switch from one vaccine type to another 15 years ago. The change was based in part on now-discredited concerns about the dangers of the older vaccine.

    "We may need to go back to 1959 to find as many cases reported" halfway through the year, said Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

    Whooping cough, called pertussis by doctors, is a highly contagious bacterial disease and very dangerous to infants and young children. Half of babies who get it are hospitalized, Schuchat said.

    The disease leads to severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound as they gasp for breath. In rare cases, it can be fatal. Nine children have died this year.

    Though 95% of toddlers are vaccinated against the disease, only 8.2% of adults are, and they are the ones most likely to infect babies, Schuchat said.

    The highest rates of infection are in babies less than 12 months, and half of the cases are in those under 3 months. Babies are too young to be protected by the first vaccination, typically given at 2 months, so vaccinating their mothers and the people around them is key to protecting them.

    Children get vaccinated in five doses, with the final shot given at 4 to 6 years. A booster shot is recommended around age 11. The vaccine's protection wanes, and health officials have debated moving up the booster shot.

    Health officials don't know why pertussis, which tends to occur in waves every three to five years, is rising. They're investigating whether one reason might be a switch made in the type of vaccine given in the early 1990s.

    Unproved and unscientific claims that there was a connection between the pertussis vaccine and brain injury pushed manufacturers to switch to another safer version, acellular pertussis vaccine. It has been used in the USA since 1997.

    Health officials see some evidence that its effectiveness may wane more quickly than the previous form, contributing to a rise in whooping cough cases among children ages 10 to 14.

    The uptick in infections in that age group is "different than what we've seen in previous waves," Schuchat said. "That's why we're recommending a booster at 11 or 12."

    The vaccine is not 100% effective, but unvaccinated children are eight times more likely to be infected, Schuchat said.

    "Without the vaccine, we know that we would have hundreds of thousands of pertussis cases each year," she said, adding that even if vaccinated children do get whooping cough, they don't get as sick and they're less infectious to others.

    Public health officials push hard for pregnant women and all adults to get the pertussis booster vaccine, which is called Tdap and also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

    Washington state is in the midst of a major whooping cough outbreak.

    "As of the end of last week, we've had more than 3,000 cases," said Mary Selecky, secretary of the state Department of Health. "My biggest concern is for the babies."

    She said there have been no child deaths this year. Last year, two children died from the disease.

    Chelsey Charles' daughter, Kaliah Jeffery, was one of them.

    Charles of Lake Stevens, Wash., got whooping cough while she was pregnant. When Kaliah was 2 weeks old, "she started sneezing" and was hospitalized.

    After six days, she was put on a ventilator and began having seizures. When Kaliah was 27 days old, Charles said, doctors said, "We're going to have to let her go."

    On Aug. 15, 2011, Charles and Kaliah's father, Tanner Jeffrey, held her as she died. "They took her off life support, and she tried to take one breath and she couldn't," Charles said.

    Since her daughter's death, Charles has worked to educate pregnant moms about the risks of the disease.

    "A lot of people didn't even know about it before," she said. "I tell people, 'Would you rather have a baby die because they're not vaccinated?' " (USA Today, 2012)

    Title: Pertussis Outbreak May Be Worst In 50 Years, CDC Says
    Date: July 19, 2012
    Source: 
    ABC News

    Abstract: Reported cases of pertussis are at their highest level in 50 years, a top official with the 
    U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, adding that outbreaks in several states should encourage all children and adults to get vaccinated.

    Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said doctors across the nation have reported more than 18,000 cases of pertussis so far this year. That is more than twice as many cases as there were at this time in 2011 and the first time since 1959 that so many cases have been reported by this time in the year.

    Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a bacterial infection involving the respiratory tract that is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. It can start out start out like the common cold, but can be a very serious infection, particularly for infants under the age of 1, who are too young to complete the full vaccination series.

    While some doctors say that part of the surge in reported cases can be credited to better diagnostic tests and increased awareness, the casualties thus far underscore a very real problem. Nine infants have died from pertussis so far this year in the United States. The 13-to-14-year-old age group has been hit particularly hard. In Washington state, the number of cases this year has surpassed 3,000 -- already more than three times as many as all of last year. Washington state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared a statewide pertussis epidemic on April 3.

     The vaccine for pertussis, known as DTaP, should be given to all children as a series at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years, according to the CDC. An additional booster, known as TDaP, is needed at age 11-12.

    "Unvaccinated kids are at eight times higher risk to getting pertussis compared to kids who have been vaccinated," said Schuchat. "Vaccinated kids who do develop pertussis have a milder course. They're also less infectious than unvaccinated children."

    Health officials added that all adults who have not been vaccinated against pertussis should receive the TDaP vaccine, especially pregnant women and those who will have contact with babies. Pertussis outbreaks generally occur in peaks and waves. Even with vaccination, immunity tends to wane over time.

    An estimated 84 percent of toddlers in the U.S. have received their complete course of vaccination. However, only 8 percent of adults are currently vaccinated.

    "Our biggest work is to get adults immunized," said Dr. Mark Sawyer, chairman of the CDC's pertussis work group and professor of pediatrics at UCSD. "This is particularly relevant to pregnant women and new grandparents, who will have contact with infants."

    What's unusual is the fact that so many 13- and 14-year-olds are falling ill with the infection. The CDC is looking into whether this could be attributed to a change implemented in 1997 that saw the vaccine used to immunize children change from a version that was taken off the market in the U.S. because of possible neurologic side effects.

    The CDC is launching an investigation to find out what is contributing to the unusual features of this outbreak. Researchers are also looking at why the protection offered from the current vaccine is not complete.

    Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic has had personal experience with pertussis, not only as a physician, but also as a father of a child who suffered through pertussis at the age of 13 despite being fully vaccinated.

    "When I first heard my son cough, I knew he had pertussis," Poland said. "Even though I treated him immediately, the cough lasted for 100 days. He literally kept the family awake for months."

    Dr. Len Horovitz, an infectious disease specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, is frustrated that despite the prevalence of media coverage, adults are not requesting the vaccine.

    "How much relentless coverage and repetition of medical information [does it take] for the public to finally grasp an epidemic?" he asked. "People aren't listening, aren't watching or aren't paying attention" (ABC News, 2012)

    Title: Australian Secret Intelligence Service Warns Of CBRN Threat
    Date: July 19, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: The Australian Secret Intelligence Service warned against the multifaceted dangers of the 21st century in a landmark speech this week, comparing the threats to those posed by the Cold War.

    The service said that the menace of terrorists acquiring chemical, biological or nuclear-type weapons was one of the greatest threats to security, The National Times reports.

    This is the first public speech by a chief of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in its 60 year history.

    Nick Warner, the head of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, described the future as “more challenging, volatile and dangerous than any time since the service’s formation,” The National Times reports.

    ASIS was formed in May 1952 and kept a secret until 1975, when Gough Whitlam referred to the agency in Parliament. Malcolm Fraser publicly declared its existence two years later.

    Since the terrorists attacks of 2001, ASIS has seen significant growth, with its annual budget increasing from $54 million in 2002 to to $246 million this year, according to The National Times.

    Warner’s speech explained why the intelligence ASIS gathers is needed. He also discussed the increasing joint role the service undertakes with the military’s Special Operations Command, specifically its “support operations” with the Special Air Service (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Anthrax-Contaminated Heroin Spreads Across Europe After 47 Cases In The UK In 2010
    Date: July 20, 2012
    Source: 
    Talking Drugs

    Abstract: 
    Health officials across Europe have issued warnings after 2 new cases of anthrax have been reported this week among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Denmark and France, in addition to 3 cases in Germany. Reported dates of onset in all 5 cases range between early June 2012 and 11 July 2012.

    The cases in Germany have already been connected to an earlier outbreak in the UK in 2010, but no connection has yet been found in the most recent cases. The 2009-2010 anthrax outbreak among drug users, which primarily affected Scotland, was called the largest in the UK in 50 years, which is the reason behind grave concern regarding the most recent outbreak.

    A report released in January 2012 by Health Protection Scotland (HPS) recorded a total of 119 anthrax cases during 2009-10, with a total of 14 deaths. HPS’ investigation determined that heroin use was “the vehicle for transmission of anthrax spores" and that exposure was by a variety of routes, particularly injection (cutaneous) but also by smoking (inhalation). The report also said that the outbreak was the first associated with heroin use anywhere in the world. HPS warned in their report that “as long as the trade in illegal drugs exists, so does the risk of a similar occurrence.”

    During the 2010 outbreak, drug users were warned that they would not be able to tell whether or not a given supply of the drug was tainted and that either injecting or smoking the drug could be dangerous. But there was no further action taken to help those at risk, which has since raised questions about the connection to the recent cases.

    Anthrax is a very rare but serious bacterial infection caused by the organism Bacillus anthracis. Bacillus anthracis infects most farm animals and is usually spread to humans through a break in the skin. Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough, and doesn’t usually spread from person to person. However, if left untreated, anthrax can be fatal.

    It is thought that the current and previous cases derive from a common geographical source. There are dozens of strains of bacillus anthracis that exist naturally in the world, with certain types being endemic to specific geographic regions, all of which are distinguishable by their DNA. It was through studies like these that led experts to suspect that the anthrax-affected drug users from 2009-10 in Scotland and England were all infected by heroin that was contaminated while being smuggled through Turkey in an infected goat-hide. Health Protection Scotland concluded that a single batch must have come into contact with anthrax spores somewhere between the Af-Pak region and its destination, Scotland. Gordon Meldrum, director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency said in a statement: “Production processes (of heroin) can be basic and are often conducted in areas where there is contamination from animal carcasses or faeces.”

    Following the latest reports of anthrax-related deaths among heroin users, health officials across Europe are on guard. The Danish authorities have already called for heroin users with skin lesions to report to a health clinic to be tested for anthrax, which is likely to be copied by other nations in the coming weeks. Officials have warned that “there can be difficulty in distinguishing anthrax lesions from frequent soft tissue infections common in intravenous users.” There are also concerns that users with lesions will switch from injecting to smoking, which could be more deadly coming from a batch that contains anthrax spores, so they are desperately urging governments and the public to take this issue as a serious health threat.

    But what is quite disconcerting, is the general lack of public awareness about this critical endemic. Health officials are concerned that the outbreak is at risk of being categorised as being merely another skin or soft tissue infection, which are common health problems suffered by the IDU population. Therefore, most government officials have disregarded the importance of the outbreak, which could mean that it will continue to spread and worsen across the continent.

    It is thus vital that governments act quickly to warn those who are most at-risk, particularly the IDU population. Too often in these cases government officials delay releasing critical information about drug supplies, despite enough warnings that the drug supply is tainted and potentially deadly. It should be the duty of local governments to act swiftly, respectfully and with accurate information for drug users. The IDU community are challenging to reach out to – therefore by taking this issue seriously it will be a large step in combatting the outbreak.

    Examples of how this could be achieved were exemplified by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), who claim that the European authorities should consider providing more detailed information regarding healthcare and drug treatment, with descriptions of the symptoms of anthrax infection to ensure early treatment. They should also consider the provision of appropriately-dosed opiate substitution treatment to prevent further anthrax cases (Talking Drugs, 2012)

    Title: Bugs Like It Hot: Record Heat Kicks Insects Into High Gear
    Date: July 23, 2012
    Source: USA Today

    Abstract: As if this summer isn't bad enough already, the unusual warmth is turning bugs extra frisky.

    "We're calling it a breeding bonanza," says Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association.

    Across the country, as a result of record heat, pests from grasshoppers to crickets and ants to bees are arriving earlier and in greater numbers than usual, entomologists at HomeTeam Pest Defense say.

    "We're seeing an increase in a lot of different pests right now," company entomologist Russ Horton says.

    Pest controllers are battling grasshoppers in Texas, ants in Florida, and crickets and bees across the country, he says.

    "Insects develop more rapidly with higher temperatures," says entomologist David Denlinger of Ohio State University. He adds that insects did well this past winter given the lack of intense cold.

    Through June, the USA was sweating through its warmest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

    Insects such as grasshoppers and crickets can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they are "very devastating" in the agricultural world, Horton says.

    As harvesting season nears, the ongoing hot, dry weather could have grasshoppers and similar insects feeding in greater-than-normal numbers on alfalfa, tobacco and some vegetable crops, says Lee Townsend, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky.

    "Grasshoppers should be abundant, because the bacteria and fungi that normally provide natural control are not very effective under hot, dry conditions," Townsend says.

    Grasshoppers are already plentiful in New Jersey because of the hot weather, says entomologist George Hamilton of Rutgers University.

    And the most annoying summer pest of all, mosquitoes, are enjoying the warmth, despite the record drought.

    "Mosquitoes can breed in as little as a quarter- to half-inch of water," Henriksen says.

    Texas and Florida are two spots where mosquitoes are particularly bad, Horton says, because those two states have been both unusually warm and rather wet this year.

    Forty-seven human West Nile virus infections, which mosquitoes spread, have been reported this year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One man in Texas died from the virus.

    Drought can drive insects into homes: Ants, for instance, Henriksen says, will come into homes to find water.

    "If they're not finding it outside, they'll come inside," she says.

    If the warmth stays into the fall, insects will continue to do well until the frost comes, Denlinger predicts.

    And beyond that, "if we have another mild winter, we'll continue to see more pests out there," Horton says (USA Today, 2012)

    Title: Researchers List Top 10 Airports For Spreading Disease
    Date: July 26, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: It may not be the coughing, sneezing passenger next to you on your next flight who is spreading disease, it could be the airport you just took off from.

    Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Civil and Environmental Engineering department looked at the 40 largest U.S. airports and figured out which ones would be the most likely to spread a disease in the event of an outbreak in the cities they serve.

    They factored in passengers' travel patterns, the airports' geographic locations, interactions between airports and even passenger waiting times for their study, published July 19 in the journal PLoS ONE.

    One of the surprises in their findings was that an airport's ranking on the researchers' list was not necessarily tied to its size or busyness.

    While John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport were first and second on the list, respectively, Honolulu International Airport ranked third, even though it carries only 30% as much traffic as Kennedy.

    The researchers said that's because of Honolulu's place in the air transportation network: in the Pacific Ocean, with many connections to distant, large, and well-connected hubs.

    Though Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ranks first in the number of flights, it was eighth on the researchers' list of potential disease spreaders. Boston Logan International Airport ranked 15th.

    Following Kennedy, Los Angeles and Honolulu on the list are San Francisco International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport. Atlanta, Miami International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport round out the top 10.

    Public health crises of the past decade, like SARS in 2003 or the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, have highlighted how easy it is for diseases to spread around the world, including through air travel.

    But existing models, the researchers said, look only at the final stages of an epidemic and the places that ultimately develop the highest infection rates.

    The researchers say the new model can help determine ways to contain an infection in a specific area, and can also help public health officials made decisions about treatment and vaccines in the early days of a contagion.

    "We are currently capable of modeling with some detail real disease outbreaks, but we are less effective when it comes to identifying new countermeasures to minimize the impact of an emerging disease," said Prof. Yamir Moreno of the University of Zaragoza, who studies complex networks and spreading patterns of epidemics.

    "The work done by the MIT team paves the way to find new containment strategies" because it allows a better understanding of the patterns characterizing the initial stages of a disease outbreak, he said in a comment on the research.

    The SARS outbreak spread to 37 countries and caused about 1,000 deaths. The H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic killed about 300,000 people worldwide (CNN, 2012)

    Title: Hot, Dry Weather Heightens West Nile Virus Risk
    Date: July 26, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: Hot, dry weather in the Midwest has created the perfect conditions for mosquitoes that carry 
    West Nile virus. 

    The Culex mosquito breeds in still-damp ditches and underground storm water basins.

    Indiana, Ohio and Illinois are reporting higher rates of infected mosquitoes compared with past years. More infected mosquitoes means a higher West Nile risk for humans. Illinois and Oklahoma report earlier-than-usual cases of human infection.

    What's more, the dry weather means the pesky floodwater mosquito is scarce. That makes people think mosquitoes aren't a problem and gives the Culex mosquito a chance to sneak up and bite.

    Health officials urge people to wear insect repellent though they may not be noticing biting mosquitoes (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: Hot, Dry Weather Heightens West Nile Virus Risk
    Date: July 26, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: 
    West Nile virus is spreading faster than it has in years, and the pace of the mosquito-borne disease is getting worse, health officials report.
    States are reporting more cases than usual, says Marc Fischer, a specialist in mosquito-borne diseases with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (
    CDC) in Fort Collins, Colo. "There's been a lot of mosquito activity in most states" this year, Fischer says.

    Texas is getting the worst of it.

    Sixteen people have died of West Nile virus this summer in Texas. That's out of 381 cases of the illness. "We're on track to have the worst year ever," says Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services in Austin.

    Nationwide there have been at least 693 cases and 28 deaths, according to the CDC and state numbers released Tuesday. That's up from 390 cases and eight deaths last week.

    A mild winter and ample spring rains allowed the mosquito population to build up early. Heat and scant rainfall are creating stagnant water pools, which make great breeding grounds, says Michael Merchant, an entomologist at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Dallas.

    Thirty-two states have had cases of West Nile, the CDC says.

    Louisiana has had six deaths in 68 cases, Oklahoma one death in 55 cases, and Mississippi one death in 59 cases. In Arizona, there's been one death in seven cases.

    California had 23 cases, one of which was fatal, andSouth Dakota had one fatality in 37 cases.

    It's going to get worse, says David Dausey, a professor of public health at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. He says climate change means warmer winters, milder springs and hotter summers, all of which "create a longer season for mosquitoes to breed and ideal conditions for them to survive." That will mean more West Nile and, public health workers worry, other mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and dengue fever, Dausey says.

    Most people who are infected with the West Nile Virus, 70% to 80%, never know they have it. Twenty percent to 30% develop West Nile fever, with headaches, fever, joint pains, vomiting or diarrhea and rash.

    Less than 1% of those infected with the virus develop West Nile neuroinvasive disease involving inflammation of the brain, spinal cord or the tissue surrounding the brain. About 10% of those will die, Fischer says. People over 50 and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop this forms (USA Today, 2012)

    Title: Experts Condemn Plans To Lift Ban On Research Into Deadly H5N1 Birdflu Virus
    Date: July 27, 2012
    Source: 
    Independent 

    Abstract: Plans to lift a voluntary ban on research into the deadly H5N1 birdflu virus have been denounced by leading scientists who are appalled that the work has already led to flu strains that are potentially infectious between humans.

    Flu researchers announced the moratorium last January after growing concerns about two experiments funded by the US Government where scientists deliberately mutated H5N1 birdflu to see whether it could be transmitted between ferrets, a standard animal substitute for flu in humans.

    The moratorium on deliberately creating highly infectious strains of H5N1 was supposed to last 60 days but has continued for six months.

    This weekend, influenza scientists will meet in New York in the hope of lifting the ban and allowing the work to continue.

    However, leading experts contacted by The Independent said that lifting the moratorium would be wrong given that a highly-transmissible form of H5N1 birdflu - which is known to be extremely lethal to humans - could escape from a research laboratory to cause a deadly flu pandemic.

    “The moratorium should be continued until a broader, dispassionate, international discussion can be held to carefully consider the risks and benefits,” said David Relman, professor of infectious diseases at Stanford University in California.

    “The consequences of misuse or accidental release are potentially catastrophic on the global human and animal populations. Scientists have a deep moral and ethical responsibility to back off...it should not be decided by a group of flu researchers,” said Dr Relman, who also sits on the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.

    The meeting in New York is being organised by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose director, Tony Fauci, has gone on record as saying that he would like to “expedite as quickly as possible the lifting of the moratorium”.

    The institute is part of the huge US National Institutes of Health (NIH) which funded the two research projects into highly transmissible H5N1 virus. One was led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the other by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Richard Roberts, a Nobel prize-winning molecular biologist and expert in genetic engineering, said the moratorium should continue and that many experts are privately appalled that there are plans to lift it but are afraid of speaking out over fears that it might affect their funding from the NIH.

    “It’s a big mistake at this point. The flu community is behaving as if they are the only show in town. I think for them to be allowed to create the most dangerous virus around is sheer lunacy,” said Dr Roberts, who although born in Britain works for a biotech company in New England.

    “I’m not so much worried about terrorism but I am worried about an accidental escape from a laboratory. If it’s as dangerous as they believe, it could kill half the world’s population,” he said.

    The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has caused the deaths of millions of birds and has decimated the poultry industry but so far it is known to have infected only about 600 people because it cannot be easily transmitted from one person to the next via coughs and sneezes.

    However, it has kill six out of ten people it has known to have infected, making it far more lethal for instance than the 1918 strain of flu, even though it killed around 50 million people, about 2 per cent of the estimated number it actually infected.

    Stanley Plotkin, a world authority on vaccines at the University of Pennsylvania, has written to Dr Fauci urging him to continue the moratorium. He said that creating a strain of H5N1 virus that is airborne transmissible would be like creating anthrax bacteria that could be easily spread from one person to another.

    “History is full of incidents of escape of microorganisms from laboratories, and scientists are not always good at risk evaluation,” Professor Plotkin said.

    Paul Berg and Stanley Falkow, two veteran scientists at Stanford who helped to organise the Asilomar conference in 1975 where a moratorium on genetic engineering was agreed, have told The Independent that they too oppose lifting the existing ban on H5N1 research.

    Professor Berg said that lifting the moratorium is “a bit ludicrous” given that there is no scientific rationale to support an end to the voluntary research ban.

    “There should be a serious review and evaluation of the concerns that led to the moratorium and a scientifically rigorous analysis of why the concerns can be managed before the moratorium could be lifted,” Professor Berg said.

    Professor Falkow said: “The moratorium is essential until such time as there is a dispassionate international meeting to address the issues brought to the fore by the H5N1 affair.”

    The view of the experts...

    Two veterans from the Asilomar conference of 1975, when a moratorium was imposed on recombinant DNA technology, comment on proposals to lift the moratorium on attempts to make highly infectious strains of H5N1 virus:

    Paul Berg, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine:

    “Frankly, I don't know who and under what circumstances the moratorium was declared. But once having announced it as being in effect, having the same people declare it undone without some public and clear scientific rationale is a bit ludicrous.  

    Ostensibly, the moratorium was called because it was perceived that continuing to modifying the H5N1 virus genome could result in serious consequences; what consequences? Does lifting the moratorium mean they now believe there cannot be any serious consequences?

    On whose assessment will that decision be made? It seems to me that having raised a caution there has to be a process that either recommends continuing the moratorium, modifies it in a scientifically justifiable way or agrees to lifting the moratorium because the original concerns were unwarranted.  

    In short, there should be a serious review and evaluation of the concerns that led to the moratorium and a scientifically rigorous analysis of why the concerns can be managed before the moratorium could be lifted. That analysis would logically examine the kind of experiments investigators are planning, what scientific value can be gained by those experiments, how the results will be communicated and very importantly how the products of those experiments (the novel strains being produced) will be monitored and contained to prevent inadvertent release.

    The H5N1 debate and the recombinant DNA debate are eerily similar and it's possible that an international meeting of stakeholders, like the one at Asilomar which included representatives of the public could agree on a way to proceed.

    Stanley Falkow, Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine, Stanford University:

    “I  agree that the moratorium ought to be continued. My reasoning is that the moratorium is essential until such time as there is a dispassionate international meeting to address the issues brought to the fore by the H5N1 ‘affair’.  In my judgment there has been a lack of  leadership by the scientific community in dealing with this issue. The majority of statements from scientific leaders recently were often self-serving remarks and communications to journals from either biased virologists or those promoting doom and gloom.

    What was needed was a plan for a way forward based on the premise that H5N1 was simply an acute exacerbation of a long smouldering problem that was diagnosed in the Fink report a decade ago  but still not treated appropriately for over a decade.

    In contrast, I believe the behaviour of the scientists in the face of the recombinant DNA discovery in terms of their initiative and responsibility was admirable  and this kind of leadership  has been notably missing now. Of course, that was over 35 years ago and while there are certainly parallels between the implications for public health and society from the discovery of recombinant DNA technology and similar implications for dual use research, it is a different time and a different world. However, the social responsibility of a scientist remains the same regardless of the time” (Independent, 2012)

    Title: Hepatitis C 'Serial Infector' Could Have Spread Disease To Thousands
    Date: July 28, 2012
    Source: 
    Yahoo News

    Abstract: The New Hampshire hospital lab technician indicted last week for infecting 31 people with Hepatitis C might have infected "tens of thousands" of patients in at least 13 hospitals, ABC News has learned.

    David Kwiatkowski, a former lab technician at Exeter Hospital inNew Hampshire, had allegedly been stealing the Fentanyl syringes intended for patients, injecting his own arm and then refilling those empty syringes with another liquid-like saline, according to astatement from the United States Attorney's Office in New Hampshire.

    Since Kwiatkowski tested positive for Hepatitis C in June 2010, he passed it on to the hospital patients who were injected with his used, saline-filled syringes, according to the affidavit.

    "If he knew that he was infected and he put those needles back on the shelf, that is the definition of evil," Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor, told Good Morning America. "Anyone who was in those hospitals when he was working there is potentially at risk. We're talking tens of thousands of people."

    Kwiatskowski, 32, was a temporary employee at Exeter Hospital who has worked in at least eight hospitals in 13 states, Besser said.

    Exeter Hospital issued a press release this week, indicating that the state department of Health And Human Services and its Division of Public Health Services have decided to expand Hepatitis C testing to anyone who was a patient in one of the hospital operating rooms or the intensive care unit. Government health officials are urging about 6,000 patients to get tested in Exeter Hospital alone, according to the release.

    "You go under and you wake up hours later and you don't know who was around you," a former patient told The Boston Herald on condition of anonymity this week. "I'm scared. I have no idea who was around me when I was under and unfortunately, I was there three different times."

    Kwiatkowski was arrested and indicted on July 19 for acquiring a controlled substance by fraud and tampering with a consumer product with "reckless disregard" for the risk of others, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.

    "The evidence gathered to date points irrefutably to Kwiatkowski as the source of the Hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital," U.S. attorney John P. Kacavas said in a press release. "With his arrest, we have eliminated the 'serial infector' posed to public and health safety."

    But Marlborough Police actually picked Kwiatkowski up at a Massachusetts Holiday Inn nearly a week before his arrest, on a July 13 medical call, according to police narrative obtained by ABCNews.com. After finding Kwiatkowski intoxicated and surrounded by pills and a note, officers determined he was "trying to harm himself."

    "I noticed he was very unsteady on his feet and had a strong odor of alcohol coming from his breath," Officer James O'Malley wrote in the report.

    O'Malley said he noticed pills strewn about the floor and on a glass table. He also found what appeared to be a suicide note signed by Kwiatkowski.

    "Please call [redacted] and let her know I've passed away," it said. "Tell her I couldn't handle this stress anymore."

    Officers took six medication bottles from the room and transported Kwiatkowski to a nearby hospital, where he was arrested a week later.

    Exeter Hospital employees discovered the outbreak in May 2012, prompting an investigation that spanned several local, state and federal government agencies, including the FBI, according to court documents obtained by ABCNews.com.

    Investigators wrote that they suspect Kwiatkowski grabbed the loaded Fentanyl syringes when he brought lead aprons into the procedure room, into an area he didn't need to be inside at all. They suspect Kwiatkowski then replaced the Fentanyl syringes with saline syringes that were tainted with his strain of Hepatitis C.

    Fentanyl, an anesthetic more powerful than morphine.

    Kwiatkowski was known for erratic behavior and suspected of abusing controlled substances, according to the affidavit. Other hospital employees said he would often sweat through his scrubs and made frequent trips to the bathroom.

    One employee told investigators she saw "fresh track marks" when she tried to draw his blood. Another told investigators he remembered seeing Kwiatkowski with "a red face, red eyes and white foam around his mouth" during a shift at the lab.

    Kwiatkowski also had a tendency to lie, employees told investigators. He told coworkers that he played baseball in college, and that his one-time fiancée died "under tragic circumstances," neither of which were true. He also once excused bloodshot eyes by saying he was crying all night about a dead aunt who never existed.

    When his roommate inquired about the needles in his laundry, Kwiatkowski told her he had cancer and was being treated at Portsmouth Regional hospital, according to the affidavit. Investigators found no documentation to prove this.

    Kwiatkowski was arrested on July 19 in Massachusetts, where he was being treated at a hospital. He faces up to 24 years in prison. Each offense could also result in a $250,000 fine.

    ABCNews.com reached out to Kwiatkowski's lawyer this morning, but he was unavailable for comment (Yahoo News, 2012)

    Title: It’s Time To Get Serious About Chemical And Biological Preparedness
    Date: July 28, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: In Washington, attention has shifted from the daily grind towards a hyper-partisan presidential campaign. Battle lines are sharply cast between Republican challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, and the incumbent, President Barack Obama.

    While all eyes are on the economy, national security challenges abound. Obama’s killing of Bin Laden and targeting terrorists with Predator strikes argues his prowess on terrorism. Iran’s nuclear weapon pursuits are hindered by cyber-sabotage.

    Growing Syrian violence raises the specter of civil war, but a UN mandate is needed to enable U.S. action. Civil war, however, is not the only risk. Concerns percolate about Bashar al-Assad’s chemical and biological weapons. The State Department quietly warned our allies in February. In March, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Army General Martin Dempsey, publicly and ominously warned that these weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.

    Panetta recently mentioned that planning is underway for “any contingency.” DoD’s imperative will be to secure and deny terrorists these weapons, destroy a stockpile that Panetta describes as “100 times” larger than Libya’s, and prepare for the consequences should these efforts fail.

    Meanwhile, Congress is working through minor differences between bills co-authored by Senators Burr (R-NC), Harkin (D-IA) Enzi (R-WY) and Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Rogers (R-MI), Myrick (R-NC) and Green (D-TX) reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. This legislation renews -- but provides no funding for -- key Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) authorities for the development and stockpiling of life-saving medical countermeasures to protect Americans from chemical, biological and radio-nuclear (CBRN) threat agents. These bi-partisan efforts will improve bio-preparedness, but excessive bureaucracy and funding cuts threaten progress and may nullify these advances.

    Congress created the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to be solely responsible for development and procurement of civilian medical countermeasures. However, BARDA is not the final word on such matters. It is part of a larger Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise (PHEMCE). PHEMCE is a series of committees representing other HHS stakeholders that coordinates, validates and decides on which countermeasures -- and how much -- to buy.

    Surprisingly, funding concerns are not behind the long-delayed procurement of anthrax and radiological treatments and next-generation smallpox vaccines. In 2004, Congress wisely provided 10 years of procurement monies to ensure our nation’s preparedness would not be held hostage to political whims. The PHEMCE nullifies that advantage by engaging in a process that has multiple layers of review, each requiring internal approvals by unanimous consent.

    For companies accustomed to streamlined business practices, which have candidate products involved in the PHEMCE process, the extensive bureaucracy resembles the Politburo. Delays not only cost companies money, but they also result in not having countermeasures available in the event of an emergency.

    Further compromising the nation’s bio-preparedness is the decline of the Strategic National Stockpile. Countermeasures that have already been bought and stockpiled are at risk of being eliminated because the Centers of Disease Control’s bioterrorism funds have been cut. Many of the expiring vaccines, antibiotics and chemical antidotes will not be replaced and funds are inadequate to maintain what is at the ready. The money spent to prepare us over the last 10 years -- upwards of $5 billion -- may be wasted and protect no one because of insufficient funding. The White House and Congress must ensure this does not happen.

    At a time when we worry about the risk of terrorists obtaining Syria’s chemical and biological weapons, the means to protect Americans in case those weapons are used appears to be declining. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said recently at the American Enterprise Institute, that these kinds of weapons "will be used in war. They will be used in terrorism."

    While DoD is preparing for near-term worse case scenarios, HHS is “business as usual.” Whether this represents cognitive dissonance or dereliction of duty will depend on what ultimately happens (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: DARPA's Blue Angel - Pentagon Prepares Millions Of Vaccines Against Future Global Flu
    Date: July 28, 2012
    Source: 
    RT

    Abstract: The Pentagon’s DARPA lab has announced a milestone, but it doesn’t involve drones or death missiles. Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency say they’ve produced 10 million doses of an influenza vaccine in only one month’s time.

    In a press release out of the agency’s office this week, scientists with DARPA say they’ve reach an important step in being able to combat a flu pandemic that might someday decimate the Earth’s population. By working with the Medicago Inc. vaccine company, the Pentagon’s cutting edge research lab says that they’ve used a massive harvest of tobacco plants to help produce a plethora of flu-fighting vaccines.

    “Testing confirmed that a single dose of the H1N1 VLP influenza vaccine candidate induced protective levels of hemagglutinin antibodies in an animal model when combined with a standard aluminum adjuvant,” the agency writes, while still noting, though, that “The equivalent dose required to protect humans from natural disease can only be determined by future, prospective clinical trials.”

    Researchers have before relied on using chicken eggs to harvest compounds to use in influenza vaccines. With a future outbreak requiring scientists to step up with a solution as soon as possible, though, they’ve turned to tobacco plants to help produce the vaccines.

    “Vaccinating susceptible populations during the initial stage of a pandemic is critical to containment,” Dr. Alan Magill, DARPA program manager, says in an official statement. “We’re looking at plant-based solutions to vaccine production as a more rapid and efficient alternative to the standard egg-based technologies, and the research is very promising.”

    The World Health Organization has gone on the record to say that as much as half of the people on the planet could be affected by a pandemic in the near future, and it could take as much as nine months for a vaccine for a pandemic virus strain to become made available. With the lives of billions of people across the world at stake, DARPA has been trying to determine new ways of churning out antidotes in as little time as possible. Now its researchers say, that in only a month, scientists “produced more than 10 million doses (as defined in an animal model) of an H1N1 influenza vaccine candidate based on virus-like particles (VLP).”

    Through DARPA’s previously established Blue Angel program, researchers have spent several years searching for new ways to produce mass quantities of vaccine-grade protein that could be used to combat what they say are very real emerging and novel biological threats.

    Andy Sheldon, Chief Executive Officer of Medicago , says in the company’s own press release that "The completion of the rapid fire test marks a substantial achievement in demonstrating our technology and the potential for Medicago to be the first responder in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.”

    Medicago’s research was conducted in a 97,000-square-foot vaccine facility in North Carolina that was funded through a $21 million Technology Investment Agreement with DARPA (RT, 2012)

    Title: Uganda Ebola Outbreak: Patients Flee Hospital Amid Contagion Fears
    Date: July 29, 2012
    Source: 
    Guardian

    Abstract: Terrified patients fled from a hospital in western 
    Uganda as soon as news broke that a mysterious illness that killed at least 14 people in the region was Ebola, one of the world's most virulent diseases.

    Ignatius Besisira, an MP for Buyaga East County in the Kibaale district, said people had at first believed the unexplained deaths were related to witchcraft. "Immediately, when there was confirmation that it was Ebola … patients ran out of Kagadi hospital (where some of the victims had died)," he told the Guardian. "Even the medical officers are very, very frightened," he said.

    Government officials and a World Health Organisation representative confirmed the Ebola outbreak at a news conference in Kampala on Saturday. "Laboratory investigations done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute ... have confirmed that the strange disease reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola haemorrhagic fever," they said in a joint statement.

    Health officials said at least 20 people had been infected and of those 14 had died.

    There is no treatment or vaccine against Ebola, which is transmitted by close personal contact and, depending on the strain, can kill up to 90% of those who contract the virus.

    It has a devastating history in Uganda, where in 2000, at least 425 people were infected, of whom more than half died. Ebola was previously reported in the country in May last year, when it killed a 12-year-old girl.

    During an outbreak in 2007, which claimed at least 37 lives, President Yoweri Museveni advised people not to shake hands and public gatherings were also discouraged.

    One of those who succumbed to the outbreak in Kibaale was a clinical officer, Besisira said. The other fatalities came from a single household in Nyamarunda subdistrict, he added.

    Joaquim Saweka, WHO's representative in Uganda, said the suspected infections emerged in the region in early July but the confirmation came only on Friday.

    The Ugandan government said a national emergency taskforce had been set up and urged the population to remain calm. The government, WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control have sent experts to Kibaale to tackle the outbreak.

    Besisira said officials in Kibaale had released radio broadcasts outlining precautionary measures on Saturday. "We have assured (the people) that we have a very strong team … who are making sure the disease is controlled … I am very confident we can contain it," he added.

    Besisira had not heard of people moving out of the region, but the Daily Nation newspaper in neighbouring Kenya said on Sunday that people were leaving the area around Kagadi town, where the disease first appeared.

    "We have to move to safer places because we can easily get infected by this disease here," the paper quoted a resident, Omuhereza Kugonza, as saying.

    The WHO describes Ebola as "a viral haemorrhagic fever and one of the most virulent diseases known to humankind". It says the disease was identified in 1976 in a western equatorial province of Sudan and a nearby region of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). It takes its name from a river in the DRC.

    Kibaale is near Uganda's border with the DRC.

    Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids and tissues of infected persons. It can also be transmitted by handling sick or dead infected wild animals, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and fruit bats.

    Symptoms include sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, impaired kidney and liver function and bleeding (Guardian, 2012)

    Title: Panic In Uganda As Outbreak Of Deadly Ebola Virus Spreads
    Date: July 30, 2012
    Source: 
    RT

    Abstract: The Ugandan Government has created an emergency task force to deal with an outbreak of the Ebola virus. Dozens of terrified patients have fled hospitals afraid of contracting the disease, making quarantine near-impossible.

    The onset of the virus outbreak – the third in the last 12 years – has caused the deaths of at least 14 people in western Uganda.

    Depending on the strain the Ebola fatality rate can be up to 90 per cent. 

    Health officials said the first cases were registered at the beginning of July, but only now have been confirmed as Ebola. In total, 20 people have been infected over the course of the month. Six more cases have been confirmed on Monday, bringing the total number of registered Ebola infections to 26.

    The first cases came from a single village, where at first the sudden deaths were explained as witchcraft.  Health officials say this slowed the identification of the virus increasing the number infected.

    But as soon as news broke of the onset of one of the deadliest virus known to man, patients at the Kagadi hospital where some of the ill have died, fled in terror of being infected.

    Ugandan Health Secretary Stephen Bayaruhanga said many sick people who may have been infected with the virus refused to get tested at hospitals, fearing they may contract the disease there if they don’t already have it. In Kampala, where at least two of the cases have been treated, seven doctors and 13 health workers are under quarantine.

     Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff attend an Ebola patient inside an isolation ward in Bundibugyo December 12, 2007 in this picture released by MSF on December 20, 2007. (Reuters/Claude Mahoudeau/MSF/Handout)

    There’s no treatment or vaccine against Ebola, which is transmitted by close personal contact, through body fluids and tissues of infected persons. It can also be transmitted by handling sick or dead wild animals infected with the virus, such as gorillas, forest antelopes and fruits bats. 

    The disease was identified in 1976 in Sudan; its symptoms include sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, impaired kidney and live function and bleeding. 

    Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged people to avoid physical contact, and not bury possible Ebola victims on their own.

    “Instead call health workers because they know how to do it,” he said.

    Museveni said an emergency taskforce has been set up to contain the outbreak, aided by the World Health Organization and US Centers for Diseases Control officers.

    This is the third outbreak of Ebola in Uganda. It struck first in 2000 infecting more than 400 people, of who nearly half died. It hit again in 2007, claiming 37 lives.

    Other major epidemics of Ebola have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, also in 2007, with more than 180 dead, and in 2002-2003 in the Republic of Congo, killing 128 people (RT, 2012)

    Title: Ebola Outbreak Prompts Ugandans To Stop Kissing
    Date: July 30, 2012
    Source: 
    ABC News

    Abstract: The president of Uganda is calling on people in the East African country to avoid physical contact, including handshaking and kissing, to prevent the spread of the deadly and highly contagious Ebola virus that is believed to have killed 14 people in the last few weeks.

    The disease has no known cure or vaccine and some strains can kill up to 90 percent of victims within days. Ugandans are so fearful of the disease that residents in Kibaale province where the outbreak was reported said that people immediately fled the hospital after hearing patients with Ebola were there.

    In a nationally televised speech today, President Yoweri Museveni said health officials are working to contain the disease to the rural district where the outbreak was confirmed Saturday, but at least one of the suspected victims was taken to a hospital in the capital city of Kampala.  Now, nearly two dozen medical workers at Mulago Hospital are being held in isolation.

    “We have asked people in the whole country to be careful and aware of those who present with symptoms.  We have informed health facilities of the right way to respond,” said Dr. Anthony Mbonye at Uganda’s Ministry of Health.

    Mbonye said no other patients at Mulago Hospital in Kampala are at risk, and he is optimistic the outbreak in the Kibaale district 125 miles west of the capital city can be contained soon.

    “I have hope because since Friday we have not had any new suspected cases of Ebola,” he said.

    However, another health official from the affected district told the Associated Press up to six more patients suspected to have Ebola have been admitted to a hospital there and said people in other villages are reporting possible Ebola infections.

    Mbonye said people are frightened because many illnesses that are common in the region, such as malaria, have the same symptoms as Ebola.  He said health officials have to balance the need to inform the public while not wanting to cause unnecessary panic. In Kibaale, schools are closed and social gatherings have been cancelled.

    Experts from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in Uganda to advise health officials responding to the outbreak.

    People infected with Ebola usually have flu-like symptoms at first.  They can then begin bleeding internally and externally as their vital organs shut down.

    Ebola was named for the river near where it was first reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.  Scientists believe an Ebola outbreak usually begins when a human contracts the disease from an infected animal.

    The CDC operates a laboratory in Uganda where a team of scientists is studying Ebola and other deadly viruses in Africa.  In the past couple of years, U.S. defense officials expressed concern that terrorists could try to use Ebola as a biological weapon.  The threat posed by Ebola and other little understood viral diseases has been dramatized by best-selling books such as “The Hot Point” and Hollywood movies like “Outbreak” and “Contagion.”

    This is the third outbreak of Ebola in Uganda since 2000 when 224 people were killed.  At least 42 people were killed in another outbreak in 2007, and there was a single confirmed case in 2011 (ABC News, 2012)

    Title: Ebola Virus Spreads To Uganda Capital
    Date: July 30, 2012
    Source: 
    Telegraph

    Abstract: Fourteen people have already died and as many as 26 more are feared to be carrying the disease, which kills nine out of ten people who become infected.

    Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s President, went on national television to tell people to avoid those who appeared to have Ebola symptoms, which include fever, headaches, diarrhoea and vomiting.

    “I therefore appeal to you to be vigilant,” Mr Museveni said.

    “When you contact each other physically, then Ebola spreads. Avoid shaking of hands. We discourage the shaking of hands because that can cause a contact through sweat which can cause problems. Do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms which look like Ebola.

    “Avoid promiscuity because these sicknesses can also go through sex.”

    The outbreak began almost a month ago in a village in western Uganda, but medical workers initially failed to diagnose the illness because it did not present typical symptoms.

    Stephen Byaruhanga, health secretary of the Kibaale district, first hit by the disease, said cases of Ebola, at first concentrated in a single village, are now being reported across the region.

    “It’s no longer just one village. There are many villages affected,” he said.

    Barnabas Tinkasimire, a lawmaker from the region, accused Uganda’s central government of being too slow to react to the outbreak.

    “It took long for the government to respond, and up to now many people don’t know how to guard against Ebola,” he said.

    During the first three weeks of cases, people began fleeing their villages as more and more people died, and those who had come into contact with earlier victims then also caught the virus.

    One family lost nine members, and a clinical officer and her 4-month-old baby also died.

    Officials from Uganda’s health ministry only confirmed that the disease was Ebola at the weekend, by which point it had reached the capital.

    This is the fourth occurrence of Ebola in Uganda since 2000, when the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatised in northern Uganda.

    At least 42 people were killed in another outbreak in 2007, and there was a lone Ebola case in 2011.

    Ebola was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognised.

    Ebola is one of the most feared infectious diseases in the world and there is no specific treatment or vaccine. But despite being extremely virulent the disease is containable because it kills its victims faster than it can spread to new ones (Telegraph, 2012).

    Title: Deadly Ebola Outbreak In Ugandan Capital
    Date: July 30, 2012
    Source: 
    Yahoo News

    Abstract: Uganda's president on Monday warned against shaking hands and other physical contact after the first death from the deadly Ebola virus in the capital Kampala.

    "The Ministry of Health are tracing all the people who have had contact with the victims," Yoweri Museveni said in a state broadcast, adding that 14 people had died in total since Ebola broke out in western Uganda three weeks ago.

    One person who contracted the virus in western Uganda died in Kampala's Mulago Hospital, Museveni said, calling on people not to shake hands to avoid the spread of the virus.

    "Ebola spreads by contact when you contact each other physically... avoid shaking of hands, because that can cause contact through sweat, which can cause problems," Museveni said.

    "Do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms that look like Ebola -- instead call health workers because they know how to do it... avoid promiscuity because this sickness can also go through sex," he added.

    Seven doctors and 13 health workers at Mulago Hospital are in quarantine after "at least one or two cases" were taken there, with one later dying, he said.

    The latest outbreak started in Uganda's western Kibale district, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Kampala, and around 50 kilometres from the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The fatal case in Kampala was a health worker who "had attended to the dead at Kagadi hospital" in Kibale, Health Minister Christine Ondoa told reporters.

    She is believed to have travelled independently to Kampala -- possibly on public transport -- after her three-month old baby died, Ondoa added.

    World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic confirmed the death in Kampala, but noted that "so far no infections have occurred" there.

    "I appeal to you to first of all report all cases which appear to be like Ebola, and these are high fever, vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea, and with bleeding," Museveni added.

    "When you handle this case well you can eliminate Ebola quickly."

    According to experts, despite being extremely virulent the disease is containable because it kills its victims faster than it can spread to new ones.

    It has a fatality ratio of between 23 and 90 percent, according to the WHO.

    Seven people suspected of having the virus have been isolated in Kigadi hospital, Ondoa said.

    The nearest death to the capital previously had been in May 2011 in Bombo, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Kampala, a city of some 1.5 million people.

    The rare haemorrhagic disease, named after a small river in DR Congo, killed 37 people in western Uganda in 2007 and at least 170 in the north of the country in 2000.

    However, Museveni said that the virus had not been immediately identified this time, resulting in a delay.

    "The bleeding which normally accompanies Ebola did not take place initially among these patients," he said, adding that health workers at first did not therefore realise what the problem was.

    "Because of that delay the sickness spread."

    Health officials said that the source of the outbreak had yet to be confirmed but that the villages affected were located close to forests famous for several species of primates.

    "The site where most of the cases occurred are close to Kibale forest where there are a lot of monkeys and birdlife," said WHO representative for Uganda, Joaquim Saweka, adding that "so far the WHO does not recommend any restriction of movement."

    Local communities had initially also delayed reporting the outbreak because "evil spirits" had been blamed, said Ondoa.

    Ebola is characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding, according to the WHO.

    It spreads by direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of infected persons.

    "I wish you good luck, and may God rest the souls of those who died in eternal peace," Museveni added (Yahoo News, 2012)

    Title: 'Virtual Bacteria' Created By Scientists
    Date: July 31, 2012
    Source: Telegraph


    Abstract: The computer programme developed by researchers at Stanford University is an exact replica of the Mycoplasma genitalium bacterium, including its DNA and all the other components of its single cell.

    The scientists hope that the simulation will help them explore the subtleties of how a cell works, unravel the genetic causes of disease, and predict how new therapies could prevent or treat illness.

    Prof Markus Covert, who led the study published in the Cell journal, told the BBC: "The public hear about a new 'cancer gene' being discovered ... cancer is not a one-gene problem.

    "There are thousands of factors interacting in very complicated ways and for us to understand a disease like that, we really need to start going back and trying to see if we can understand the whole cell."

    To help understand the complexity of a cell Prof Covert and his team decided to recreate the entire life cycle of M. genitalium, a sexually transmitted parasite, which was chosen for its biological simplicity.

    Information about the biology of the bacterium was taken from more than 900 scientific journals and programmed into the computer simulation, with each cell comprising half a gigabyte of data.

    The researchers hope the model, which anyone can download, will be as useful to biologists studying disease as similar computer simulation tools are to other professionals such as engineers (Telegraph, 2012)

    Title: A Bird Flu Spreads In Seals. Could Humans Be Next?
    Date: July 31, 2012
    Source: 
    TIME

    Abstract: Last fall, 162 harbor seal pups mysteriously washed up dead on the shores of 
    New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Puzzled, scientists conducted autopsies on five of the animals, which suggested that a respiratory infection had killed them. Samples of the seals’ tissue were then analyzed further and a common virus was discovered: a new strain of influenza that appeared to have evolved from H3N8, a bird flu virus first isolated in North American ducks in 2002.

    The virus’ potential leap from birds to mammals raises questions about whether it could jump to humans as well. Avian flu viruses have spread to humans before — notably H5N1, the scariest type. But while H5N1 spreads easily among birds, often killing them, it infects humans only rarely, though when it does, it’s highly lethal: since 2003, there have been 607 cases of human H5N1 worldwide, leading to 358 deaths.

    In late 2011, an even scarier development: researchers in the U.S. and the Netherlands announced that they’d managed to create mutated strains of deadly H5N1 in their labs that passed easily between mammals, developments that led to fierce debate over the wisdom of publishing the findings (the fear was that the data could be dangerous in a bioterrorist’s hands) and to a moratorium on all further research. (Eventually, a federal advisory board allowed the two scientific teams to publish their findings in Nature and in Science, but the moratorium remains.)

    Meanwhile, it seems that Mother Nature has been tinkering too. Researchers, 
    reporting in the journal mBio, found that the new seal virus was distinct from H3N8 by 37 mutations, some of which have been previously identified as being necessary for flu to adapt to mammals. The new strain, being called seal H3N8, evolved the ability to spread from seal to seal, killing them; bird flu has been found in seals before, but it hasn’t spread between the animals. “[H3N8 is] something that’s been circulating for a while in birds, but we’ve not had this sort of die-off relating to this virus in the past,” study author and virus expert Dr. Ian Lipkin of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University told the BBC.

    The authors say the new virus has mutations that allow it to live in both birds as well as mammals. It has also evolved to make it more likely to cause severe symptoms, and has the ability to target a protein found in the human respiratory tract, the BBC reports. Although birds carry a wide variety of flu viruses, which sometimes make the jump into mammals, they almost never acquire the ability to spread from mammal to mammal.

    The worry is that if the new virus continues to adapt and thrive in seals, it will acquire other mutations that could make it likely to pass to humans. Further, the scientists’ study of seal cells found that they have receptors for both bird and mammalian flu viruses, making the animals a potentially good host for flu viruses to mix, evolve and learn how to adapt to other hosts. Pigs also have this hosting ability, which is why they’re known for giving rise to new hybrid flu strains — such as H1N1, the “swine flu” of 2009 — that infect humans.

    The seal “could be the equivalent of an aquatic pig,” Lipkin told the New York Times, noting that the new seal H3N8 virus is “clearly a virus for which we need some surveillance.”

    It’s still not clear what exactly the findings mean for seals or humans, but the authors conclude that the natural emergence of a virus that can be transmitted between mammals and that was discovered in a mammal that can be infected with multiple flu viruses “must be considered a significant threat to both wildlife and public health.”

    In any case, the discovery of the new virus is a reminder that we need to step up our efforts to monitor potential new pandemics and prepare for them. “It’s important to realize that viruses can emerge through routes that we haven’t considered. We need to be alert to those risks and ready to act on them,” said study editor Anne Moscona of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, in a statement (TIME, 2012)

    Title: New Bird Flu Strain Could Pose Threat To Humans
    Date: July 31, 2012
    Source: 
    Telegraph

    Abstract: The virus, which is very similar to a form of bird flu identified among North American birds since 2002, has developed mutations which allowed it to pass to mammals.

    Independent experts said it was too early to guess whether the virus could be infectious to humans, and how severe its effects might be, but added that it warranted close monitoring to identify and quickly combat any potential risk.

    Humans have in some circumstances contracted and died from existing forms of bird flu, but only through close contact with infected birds, meaning such cases are extremely rare.

    But the new virus has evolved in a way which is known to make it more easily transmissible, in particular developing a mutation which may allow it to target a protein found in human lungs.

    Writing in the mBio online journal, the research team said: "This outbreak is particularly significant, not only because of the disease it caused in seals but also because the virus has naturally acquired mutations that are known to increase transmissibility and virulence in mammals."
    Seals can be infected with several types of flu, raising the possibility of the virus evolving still further, they added, meaning it "must be considered a significant threat to both wildlife and public health".

    Prof Mark Fielder of Kingston University, who was not involved in the study, said further research was needed to understand the nature of the mutations and the risks they could potentially pose.

    He said: "It is clear from this study that these initial findings are of great interest but the real impact of the data will be revealed once further studies on the importance of the mutations have been carried out" (Telegraph, 2012)

    Title: Flu That Leapt From Birds To Seals Is Studied For Human Threat
    Date: July 31, 2012
    Source: 
    New York Times

    Abstract: Four times in the past century, a new strain of flu has emerged that can spread quickly in humans. One of those strains, which emerged in 1918, killed an estimated 50 million people.

    All human flu strains evolved from flu viruses that live in birds. To understand how these transitions happen, scientists have recently been tinkering with a strain of bird flu to see how many mutations it takes until its spreads from mammal to mammal.

    When news of their efforts emerged last fall, a fierce debate broke out about the wisdom of publishing the experiments in full.

    Eventually, the scientists got the go-ahead from a federal advisory board, and earlier this year they described how a few mutations of a strain called H5N1 enabled it to spread among ferrets. But the controversy still rages: Responding to worries about an accidental release of an engineered virus, leading flu scientists agreed in January to a moratorium on further research, and experts are debating when it should be lifted.

    Scientists may respect moratoriums, but nature does not. Evolution recently carried out an influenza experiment of its own on the coast of New England. Last fall, 162 dead harbor seal pups washed up on the beaches of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

    In a paper published Tuesday in the journal mBio, a team of scientists reports that the pups were killed by a new strain of influenza. Their research indicates that the virus evolved from bird flu, gaining the ability to spread from seal to seal — a real-life example of the transformation that scientists have been exploring in their labs.

    “It’s a beautiful study,” said Eddie Holmes, an expert on flu evolution at Penn State who was not involved in the research. He praised the scientists’ speed in identifying the new virus and convincingly tying it to the seal die-off.

    Dr. Holmes believes the new virus needs to be carefully monitored to see what sort of threat, if any, it poses. “The question mark is what it means for seals, and what it means for us,” he said.

    Waterfowl like ducks and geese carry a wide range of flu strains. These bird flu viruses sometimes infect mammals, but they rarely, if ever, spread from one mammal to the next.

    Since 2003, H5N1, the most worrisome subtype of bird flu, has spread across Asia and Africa. But hospitals have recorded only 607 cases of H5N1 infection in humans.

    In rare cases, a bird flu virus strain gains the mutations necessary to multiply quickly inside a mammal and spread to others. Flu viruses have adapted to several mammal species, including pigs, dogs and horses.

    In September 2011, beachgoers noticed dead seal pups on New Hampshire beaches. “Surfers were surfing into seals floating in the water,” said Katie Pugliares, a senior biologist with the New England Aquarium’s rescue program.

    Unlike typical seal cadavers, the seals were not malnourished, suggesting they had died suddenly.

    An examination of tissues from the seals pointed to a respiratory infection. To identify the pathogen, tissue samples from five pups were sent to the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University. Simon Anthony, a postdoctoral researcher at the center, led a search for viral genes in the tissue.

    Within 24 hours, Dr. Anthony and his colleagues had discovered that all five seals carried an influenza virus. There have been a few documented flu outbreaks in seals, the most recent having hit in 1992. As far as scientists can tell, these outbreaks came directly from birds; the virus could not spread from mammal to mammal.

    Within another 24 hours, the researchers had determined that the virus was a strain of the flu never seen in seals. The virus belongs to a flu subtype known as H3N8. H3N8 viruses have crossed over from birds to dogs and horses several times since 1960.

    Dr. Anthony and his colleagues found flu genes at high concentrations in the lining of the seals’ airways. From such evidence, the scientists concluded that H3N8, no innocent bystander, had killed the seals.

    “Now we have a nice legal case against this virus,” said W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and an author of the study.

    The scientists then searched for the origin of the seal virus. Its closest relative is a virus isolated in Ohio in 2002 from a species of duck called the blue-winged teal.

    They identified 37 mutations that set the seal virus apart from bird flu. A number of the mutations have been previously documented as important for flu viruses to adapt to mammal hosts.

    A new strain that can spread among seals is a reason for serious concern, Dr. Anthony said. “What we fear is that it would allow the virus to persist within the seal population,” he said. “And if it persists, who knows what other changes may accumulate over time?”

    “If it adapts better to mammal hosts, it may well start to move into humans,” Dr. Lipkin said. “This is clearly a virus for which we need some surveillance.”

    Pigs, Dr. Lipkin noted, are especially good at producing new flu strains because they can be infected by bird flu and mammal flu at the same time. Two kinds of virus can combine, giving rise to new hybrid strains.

    Dr. Lipkin and his colleagues found evidence that seal cells can also be invaded by both kinds of viruses — raising the possibility that they could produce new hybrid flu strains as well.

    “It could be the equivalent of an aquatic pig,” Dr. Lipkin said.

    Dr. Holmes wanted to see more evidence for the idea that flu viruses can mix in seals. He also pointed out that H3N8 has never crossed from dogs or horses to people.

    “Just because we find a seal with mammal-adapted H3N8 does not mean we’re going to get a human pandemic,” Dr. Holmes said. “At the moment, it’s hard to say what the threat really is.”

    Still, Dr. Pugliares will be on the lookout for a new outbreak in September on the beaches of New England. And she and her colleagues will be taking extra precautions with any seals that show signs of the flu.

    “We are going to definitely step it up a notch,” she said (New York Times, 2012)

    Title: Could The Ebola Outbreak Spread To The U.S.?
    Date: July 31, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: Sixteen people have died so far from the Ebola outbreak that began earlier this month in Western Uganda. According to the World Health Organization, the first case is believed to be from the Nyanswiga village in Nyamarunda, a sub-county of the Kibaale district of Uganda.

    So far, 36 suspected cases have been reported, WHO spokesman Tariq Jasarevic said Tuesday. Nine of the deaths are reported to have occurred in one household; a health official who was treating one of the patients also died.  Unfortunately family members and health officials - those caring for the already sickened - are the most likely to be infected as well.

    When was Ebola First Discovered?
    The Ebola virus was first detected in 1976 in the central African nation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The virus is named after a river in that country, where the first outbreak of the disease was found. There are five species of Ebola viruses, all named after the areas they were found in: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston, according to the WHO. (There can be different strains of Ebola within each species).

    Health officials have determined that the Sudan species is the culprit in this current outbreak, which is among the three more lethal species of Ebola. The fatality ratios of Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks in Africa are between 25% and 90%, according to a WHO fact sheet.

    So far only the Reston species of Ebola has been found to infect humans and not cause serious illness or death.

    What are the Symptoms of Ebola and is there a Cure?
    Initial symptoms of Ebola can be mistaken for other illnesses like the flu because they can be very similar: sudden high fever, joint and muscle pain and sore throat.  But Ebola victims then often get bloody diarrhea and/or start vomiting, followed by rashes, red eyes, and internal and external bleeding (bloody nose or gums).

    Early reports from this outbreak suggest more patients were suffering from vomiting and diarrhea than visible external bleeding. But health officials caution that information about this outbreak is still very scattered and the investigation has just begun.

    There is no treatment for Ebola and no vaccine. All doctors can do is provide patients with supportive care, like replenishing fluids and electrolytes, keeping their blood pressure and oxygen levels in check and treating any infections that might occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There's a lot that's not known about this disease, but researchers suspect that "patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death," according to a CDC fact sheet.

    How does it Spread?
    Researchers do not know what the natural reservoir of the Ebola virus is. But they have found its cousin virus - Marburg, which also causes hemorrhagic fever - in fruit bats in Africa.

    While there are no known cases of a human being directly infected with Ebola by a bat, sources tell CNN, there are two documented cases of humans being infected with the Marburg virus after being in a cave full of fruit bats.

    However, researchers believe humans are infected either by handling of dead or alive infected animals (like chimpanzees, gorillas and forest antelopes), or by being in direct close contact with someone who is sick with or has already died from Ebola.

    The virus can be found in bodily fluids like blood, urine, diarrhea and saliva,  so direct contact with these fluids from infected humans or animals, can lead to the transmission. People can also become infected by coming into contact bodily secretions found on needles, scalpels, soiled clothes and linens.

    Can Ebola be Contained?
    Once an outbreak has been identified, the transmission of the virus can be prevented, if proper precautions are taken. Avoiding contact with body fluids from someone sickened with Ebola is key. That means wearing proper personal protection equipment like gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection. Hospitals will also set up isolation wards to isolate Ebola patients from other patients.

    Officials tell CNN that while those caring for the actively sick need to wear PPE (personal protection equipment), someone walking through a village where a patient was sick wouldn't need to wear a mask because the virus isn't airborne.

    Could this Outbreak Spread to the U.S. or other Distant Countries?
    Experts think it's unlikely the current outbreak would spread to the United States. While the only example of transmission of Ebola in the United States came with the importation of research monkeys (no humans were sickened), there was a situation four years ago where two tourists traveling in Uganda were infected with Marburg hemorrhagic fever.

    Both patients returned to their home countries, according to the CDC.  One survived and the other died, but nobody else was infected because proper protections were taken during treatment.

    When is an Outbreak Considered 'Finished'?
    The incubation period for Ebola is two to 21 days, according to the WHO. Health officials tell CNN an outbreak is considered to be over following two incubation periods after the last person becomes ill - a total of 42 days (CNN, 2012).

    Title: Infections After Caesarean Birth 'Higher' Than Other Operations
    Date: August 1, 2012
    Source: 
    Examiner

    Abstract: It suggests that 15,000 women a year in England suffer an infection after their caesarean birth, the researchers said.

    The study found that 9.6 per cent of women having caesarean section births developed an infection afterwards compared with just 6.6 per cent of women having a hysterectomy.

    As one in four births are by caesarean, experts said the infections are a serious problem for both patients and add extra costs for the NHS.

    Being overweight, aged under 20 and having the operation performed by a more junior doctor than a consultant increased the risk of infection even more.

    The study investigated almost 400 infections in more than 4,000 caesarean births during 2009.

    The findings were published in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecologysurprised experts because the operation is considered relatively 'clean' unlikely surgery involving the large bowel which results in 13 per cent of patients suffering infections.

    Of the 394 women who developed an infection, the majority had been given antibiotics as a precaution.

    Most infections were not serious however seven per cent were more serious and would have required an additional stay in hospital and a further five per cent were deep infections which may have required further surgery.

    Women who were overweight were 60 per cent more likely to develop an infection and those who were obese were almost 2.5 times more likely to have an infected wound.

    Women aged under 20 were almost twice as likely to have an infection compared with those aged 25 to 30 and having an associate specialist or staff grade doctor perform the operation instead of a consultant increased the risk by 60 per cent.

    Dr Elizabeth Sheridan, Head of Healthcare Associated Infections at the HPA, said: “Reducing rates of surgical site infections following a caesarean should be made a priority.

    "Given that one in four women deliver their baby by caesarean section, these infections represent a substantial burden. They will impact not only directly on the mother and her family but also are a significant cost in terms of antibiotic use, GP time and midwife care and every effort should be made to avoid them.

    "Women choosing to have caesarean section for non-medical reasons should be aware of the risk of infection, particularly if they are overweight.

    “As has been seen in both this study and several others, there is an established link between BMI and an increase in the risk of developing a surgical site infection.

    "Monitoring infections in women having a caesarean section is important as a means to drive down infection rates.

    "As levels of obesity are rising, optimising surgical techniques and identifying the most appropriate dosing of antibiotics could provide a means for reducing wound infections in obese women.”

    Lead author Dr Catherine Wloch, Department of Healthcare Associated Infection and Antimicrobial Resistance at the Health Protection Agency said: “This study has identified high rates of surgical infection following a caesarean with one in ten women developing an infection. Whilst our study didn’t measure this, these infections are likely to have an impact on a woman’s experience and quality of life.

    “Although most caesarean section wound infections are not serious, they do represent a substantial burden to the health system, given the high number of women undergoing this type of surgery. Minor infections can still result in pain and discomfort for the woman and may spread to affect deeper tissues. The more serious infections will require extended hospital stays or readmission to hospital.

    “Prevention of these infections should be a clinical and public health priority.”

    John Thorp, BJOG Deputy-Editor-in-Chief said: “With the rise in numbers of women having a caesarean section and the rise in obesity rates, this issue is an important one.

    "Post-surgical infection can seriously affect a woman’s quality of life at a critical time when she is recovering from an operation and has a new born baby to look after. More needs to be done to look into this and address ways of reducing infection.”

    Gail Johnson, education and professional development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This further supports the need to ensure that any caesarean section is performed only where clinically indicated, following full and detailed discussion with the woman, the midwife and the obstetrician in accordance with guidelines.

    "Women who develop an infection postnatally are likely to feel less able to provide care to their baby and will take longer to recover from the birth (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Ugandan Officials, International Experts Tackle Ebola Outbreak That's Killed 14
    Date: August 1, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: Teams in Uganda are trying to track down anyone who came into contact with patients infected with the Ebola virus, which has killed at least 14 people there this month, authorities said Monday.

    "This is very, very important, to trace every contact and to watch them for an incubation period of 21 days," World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

    The teams -- consisting of officials from Uganda's ministry of health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO -- are part of an aggressive approach to try to stamp out the outbreak of the highly infectious virus.

    Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke on state and private television Sunday urging his countrymen to be cautious.

    "I therefore appeal to you to be vigilant. Avoid shaking of hands; do not take on burying somebody that has died from symptoms which look like Ebola. Instead, call the health workers to be the ones to do it. And avoid promiscuity because these sicknesses can also go through sex," he said.

    This month's outbreak in western Uganda initially went undetected because patients did not show typical symptoms, Health Minister Dr. Christine Ondoa told CNN on Sunday. Patients had fevers and were vomiting, but did not show other typical symptoms, such as hemorrhaging.

    The Ebola virus is a highly infectious, often fatal agent spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, a measles-like rash, red eyes and, at times, bleeding from body openings.

    But diagnosis in an individual who has only recently been infected can be difficult since early symptoms, such as red eyes and skin rash, are seen more frequently in patients who have more common diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Uganda's Ministry of Health declared the outbreak in Kibaale district Saturday after getting confirmatory results from the Uganda Virus Research Institute identifying the disease as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Sudan strain.

    The fatality rate for those infected with that strain is about 65%, Hartl said.

    "One can recover, but there's no medicine that can help one recover, so you just have to pray that your own body is strong enough," he said.

    Patients with symptoms of Ebola infection had been reported early in the month in Kibaale district.

    Some people delayed seeking treatment, in part, because they believed that "evil spirits" had sickened them, according to a report from district health authorities.

    "This caused civil strife among the community, requiring police intervention to quell the animosity," the Health Ministry said.

    An emergency team of 100 volunteers was undergoing training Monday to help spread the word in vulnerable communities about the disease and its transmission, the Uganda Red Cross Society said in a statement.

    Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, was helping set up an isolation center at Kibaale's hospital.

    National health authorities say that in addition to the 14 deaths, at least six other people have been infected. Nine of the deaths were from a single household in the village of Nyanswiga, according to WHO.

    A medic who had treated other victims is among the dead, Ondoa said.

    Officials were trying to determine the extent of the outbreak, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said Sunday. The Atlanta-based organization was sending about five people to join CDC staffers permanently based in Uganda, he said.

    "These outbreaks have a tendency to stamp themselves out, if you will, if we can get in and ... stop the chain of transmission," he said.

    In Kibaale, a national task force has been mobilized in an effort to stem the outbreak.

    As of Monday, two people with the virus remained hospitalized in stable condition, said WHO. One was a 38-year-old woman who had attended to her sister, the medic who died, and the other was a 30-year-old woman who had helped bury another victim.

    Though both patients had symptoms that included fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, neither had shown signs of hemorrhaging, the ministry said Sunday.

    One patient suspected of being infected with the virus ran away from a hospital Sunday morning, but was tracked to her home and returned to the hospital in Kibaale, Catherine Ntabadde, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Red Cross in Kampala, told CNN in a telephone interview.

    "The concern is where she could have gone to when she ran away," she said.

    Health officials urged the public to report any suspected cases, to avoid contact with anyone infected and to wear gloves and masks while disinfecting bedding and clothing of infected people.

    Officials also advised avoiding public gatherings in the affected district.

    The WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied to Uganda because of the outbreak.

    The U.S. Embassy in Kampala issued an emergency message for U.S. citizens that said the outbreak appeared to be centered in Nyamarunda Sub County, Kibaale district, although one suspected victim is reported to have traveled to Kampala for treatment at Mulago Hospital, where he died on July 22.

    It urged avoiding contact with dead animals, especially primates, and refraining from eating "bushmeat" (CNN, 2012).

    Title: HIV Epidemics Emerging In Middle East, North Africa: Study
    Date: August 2, 2012
    Source: 
    Reuters

    Abstract: Epidemics of HIV are emerging among gay and bisexual men in the Middle East and North Africa and high levels of risky sexual behavior threaten to spread the AIDS virus further in the region, researchers said Tuesday.

    In the first study of its kind in a region where homosexuality and bisexuality are taboo, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar found evidence for concentrated HIV epidemics -- where infection rates are above 5 percent in a certain population group -- in several countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia.

    In one setting in Pakistan, HIV rates reached up to 28 percent, they said in a study in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal.

    The researchers stressed the need for at-risk countries to act quickly to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services for men who have sex with men in an effort to halt further spread.

    An estimated 33.3 million people worldwide had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS in 2009, according to the latest United Nations data, and 22.5 million of those live in sub-Saharan Africa.

    There is little published data on the Middle East and North African regions and Ghina Mumtaz, who led the study with colleague Laith Abu-Raddad, said this had been driving misconceptions that there is no reliable information at all.

    "It's like the black hole in the global HIV map -- and this has triggered many controversies and debates around the status of the epidemic," she said in a telephone interview.

    But when they looked more closely, the researchers found that data was indeed available, although often it had been gathered by various groups and not made public.

    After analysing various reports, they found "considerable and increasing epidemiological evidence on HIV and risk behavior among men who have sex with men" in the region.

    "It's important to see what's there to get an evidence-based understanding of the dynamics of the epidemic," Mumtaz said.

    The findings were worrying, but not surprising, the researchers said. They found that by 2008, HIV transmission via anal sex among men was responsible for more than a quarter of notified cases of HIV in several countries in the region.

    "All over the world there are actually newly-emerging epidemics in men who have sex with men and ... this region is no exception," said Abu-Raddad.

    He added that more testing, surveillance and access to HIV services would help limit the size of the epidemics and prevent HIV transmission from reaching other population groups such as women and heterosexuals. He stressed that this did not have to require uncomfortable public statements by governments.

    "Men who have sex with men are still a highly hidden population in the region and there is stigma around this behavior, but some countries have been able to find creative ways of dealing with the problem and at the same time avoiding the social, cultural and political sensitivities," Mumtaz said.

    Morocco, Lebanon and Pakistan have supported NGOs to deliver services to this highly hidden population without any direct government involvement, Mumtaz added.

    "We are seeing some very effective programs by NGOs who can provide an avenue for the governments to address their growing HIV problems," she said. "These programs need to be expanded and initiated in the rest of the countries" (Reuters, 2012)

    Title: CDC: West Nile Season Off To An Early Start
    Date: August 2, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: More serious illnesses from West Nile virus have been reported so far this year than any since 2004, health officials said Wednesday.

    Through the end of July, 241 human cases have been reported in 22 states, including four deaths. Texas, especially around the Dallas area, has seen the bulk of them.

    Health officials believe the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer have fostered breeding of the mosquitoes that spread the virus to people.

    Most West Nile infections are reported in August and September, so it's not clear how bad this year will be. But it doesn't look good.

    "Unless the weather changes dramatically, we'll see more cases (in 2012) than we have in the last couple of years," said Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is chief of the CDC branch that tracks insect-borne diseases.

    Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.

    Only about one in five infected people get sick. One in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.

    Of the 241 cases reported so far this year, 144 were severe cases in which the virus spread to the brain and nervous system and caused encephalitis or other problems. The last time so many serious cases were reported this early was 2004, when the number was 154.

    West Nile virus was first reported in the United States in 1999 in New York, and then gradually spread across the country. Its peak occurred in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses numbered nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260.

    Last year was a mild one, with fewer than 700 human cases reported.

    In recent years, the general pattern has been cases scattered across the country along with hot spots with more illnesses. The recurring hot spots include southeast Louisiana, central and southern California, and areas around Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.

    Those areas seem to have a combination of factors that include the right kinds of virus-carrying mosquitoes and birds, along with large numbers of people who can be infected, Nasci said.

    The best way to prevent West Nile disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellants, screens on doors and windows and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage mosquito breeding (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: CDC Uncovers Small Population With Natural Resistance To Rabies
    Date: August 2, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: If left untreated, the rabies virus is considered to be fatal 100 percent of the time – with less than 10 known cases of survival among people who did not receive the vaccine.  

    However, new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is challenging that established theory by unveiling a small population in South America that may have natural protection against the disease.  

    As part of a project meant to better understand bat-human interactions and their relation to rabies and other diseases, CDC scientists travelled to two remote villages in the Peruvian Amazon where villagers were at risk of contracting rabies from vampire bats.  After conducting interviews and collecting blood samples from the villagers, the scientists found that 11 percent of them contained antibodies that neutralize the rabies virus.

    Most notably, only one of these individuals reported receiving the rabies vaccine prior to the study – meaning ten percent appear to have survived the virus without ever receiving treatment.

    “Typically these are antibodies that develop after you are exposed to the pathogen – in this case, the [rabies] virus,” Dr. Amy Gilbert, with the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases as well as the study’s lead author, told FoxNews.com.  “These people were exposed to the rabies virus at some point; the evidence is suggestive they were exposed to a vampire bat bite – which is highly endemic in this area.

    “The idea is that they developed an immune response which potentially made it so they were able to sort of clear that virus in their body before the virus was able to get into the nervous system,” Gilbert said.

    Rabies – which is transmitted through a bite or scratch from a rabid animal – may be fatal if untreated, but it is also 100 percent treatable through vaccination.  Once someone becomes infected, there is an incubation period in which symptoms do not present.  According to the National Institute of Health, this period of time can range from 10 days to seven years, typically averaging between three to seven weeks.

    If someone believes they have contracted the virus, it is recommended they receive a series of injections known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) during the incubation period.  The vaccinations work by introducing “rabies virus neutralizing antibodies” into the body that prevent the disease from reaching the central nervous system.

    These same antibodies were found in the small population of villagers who had protection but had not received treatment.  To conduct their research, Gilbert and fellow scientists traveled to the two remote villages of Truenococha and Santa Marta in the Peruvian rainforest.  The area has had regular outbreaks of fatal rabies infections due to bites from vampire bats.  

    The scientists interviewed 92 people in the two villages, 50 of whom reported being previously bitten by a bat. They then took blood samples from 63 of those individuals, ultimately finding seven (11 percent) people with the antibodies.  According to the researchers, this immune response could help them to better understand how to more thoroughly get rid of the disease.

    “We know antibodies are important in protecting people against the disease,” Dr. Brett Peterson, a fellow CDC researcher on the project, told FoxNews.com.  “…What we don’t know however is what level of antibody is needed for complete protection.  Even people who have been vaccinated against rabies in past, those people are still recommended to receive booster vaccines after exposure.”

    In order to better understand the reason behind this natural immunity, Gilbert and Peterson hope to do further genetic testing to see which biological pathways lend to this rabies resistance.  

    “Equally important,” Gilbert wrote in the report, “knowing that there is a continuum of disease, even for infectious diseases like rabies, should push us harder to try for cures when confronted by so-called untreatable infectious diseases…”

    While deaths from rabies are on the decline in the United States (an average of two per year), the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the virus is responsible for 55,000 deaths worldwide per year, with the most at-risk populations living in Asia and Africa.  Since deaths from the disease have also been on the rise in Central and South America, Gilbert and Peterson hope their research will help educate those in the area about the importance of getting vaccinated.

    “I think that what we’re hoping is this raises the level of awareness of the problem in the Amazon, not just problem of rabies in Amazon, but the health disparities in this region and the difficulties of obtaining treatment,” Gilbert said.  “Our collaborators at the Ministry of Health will move forward with pre-exposure vaccination campaigns which will give them some level of protection against the disease.  This is sort of a scenario of improved strategies for prevention and control.”

    The study, done in collaboration with the Peruvian Ministry of Health, was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Ebola Outbreak Suspected Among Uganda Prisoners
    Date: August 2, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: The hospital at the center of an Ebola outbreak in Uganda is now dealing with 30 suspected cases, including five from Kibaale prison, Dr. Dan Kyamanywa said Thursday.

    Three patients at Kagadi hospital have been confirmed as having the virus, said Kyamanywa, a district health officer.

    Doctors are now testing the suspected cases urgently so they can separate confirmed cases from those who do not have the disease,Doctors Without Borders said.

    Suspected cases are still trickling into the hospital, Kyamanywa said.

    At least 16 people have died in the current outbreak.

    The five prisoners have been showing 
    Ebola-like symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever, the doctor said.

    "We do expect the number of suspected cases to increase," he said. "It's important to break transmission and reduce the number of contacts that suspected cases have."

    There is a fear that the outbreak will spread to the capital, but it is unlikely, he said.

    Many patients fled Kagadi hospital when Ebola was confirmed, he said, and the hospital is struggling to respond to all the call-outs to suspected cases.

    "Right now there is no treatment for Ebola, so the most effective measure we can take is to contain the spread of the disease," said Olimpia de la Rosa, the Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator for Uganda Ebola intervention.

    "That is why we need to start working immediately. Other cases need to be rapidly identified because containment is what can stop it," said the expert from the aid group, which is also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres.

    The Ugandan government has asked people in western Uganda to travel by public transport only if it is necessary.

    The outbreak began in the Kibaale district in western Uganda.

    The deaths have stoked heightened fear about the spread of the virus, a highly infectious, often fatal agent spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, a measles-like rash, red eyes and, at times, bleeding from body openings.

    Market day was canceled Wednesday after Uganda's president warned people not to gather in large groups.

    Health officials urged the public to report any suspected cases, to avoid contact with anyone infected and to wear gloves and masks while disinfecting bedding and clothing of infected people. Officials also advised avoiding public gatherings in the affected district.

    Teams in Uganda are taking an aggressive approach, including trying to track down anyone who came into contact with patients infected with the virus and health workers have been gearing up for better protection of health workers and an influx of cases.

    The workers include people from Uganda's ministry of health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

    The outbreak initially went undetected because patients did not show typical symptoms, Ugandan Health Minister Dr. Christine Ondoa told CNN on Sunday. Patients had fevers and were vomiting, but did not show other typical symptoms, such as hemorrhaging.

    Diagnosis in an individual who has only recently been infected can be difficult since early symptoms, such as red eyes and skin rash, are seen more frequently in patients who have more common diseases, the CDC said.

    Uganda's Ministry of Health declared the outbreak in Kibaale district Saturday after the Uganda Virus Research Institute identified the disease as the Sudan strain of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

    The Ebola virus was first detected in 1976 in the central African nation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The virus is named after a river in that country. There are five strains of Ebola viruses, all named after the areas where they were found: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston, according to the WHO (CNN, 2012)

    Title: Beware At Fair: New Flu Virus Can Pass From Pigs To People
    Date: August 3, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: A cluster of flu cases linked to contact with pigs has doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning people to wash up and avoid eating around animals as they attend county and state fairs. 

    The new influenza strain sickened at least 12 people last week. All cases involved recent contact with pigs at agricultural fairs. Hawaii and Indiana each has one case, and 10 were linked to last week's Butler County Fair in Ohio. Four other cases have been linked to a county fair in Indiana that ran July 8-14. None resulted in hospitalization or death.

    The new flu goes by the name influenza A (H3N2) variant, or H3N2v, and was first identified in humans a year ago, says Joseph Bresee of the CDC Influenza Division. Of the 29 cases that have been reported so far, 80% "had swine contact before getting ill and most of that contact was at county fairs," he said.

    The flu is clinically identical to the regular seasonal flu, with fever, cough, sore throat and body aches. H3N2v is not a food-borne illness, Bresee says. You can't get it from eating pork. But you can get it from being around sick pigs.

    To avoid H3N2v, people attending agricultural fairs and other events involving swine should take these precautions, CDC says:

    • Wash hands with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.

    • Avoid eating, drinking or putting anything in the mouth in animal areas.

    • Don't take food or drink into animal areas.

    • Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should avoid exposure to animal areas.

    • If you develop flu symptoms after attending an agricultural fair, tell your doctor.

    • Avoid sick pigs.

    How do you know whether a pig is sick? Look for "a pig that's got a runny nose, goop in their eyes or they're standing away from other pigs in the enclosure," says Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture's National Animal Health Policy Program.

    The newly evolved virus isn't considered highly pathogenic. Of the 29 people who've had it since it was first identified, only three were hospitalized and both had underlying illnesses that made them more susceptible to the flu. Influenza is a very changeable disease, with the human form evolving yearly and requiring new vaccines. Flu in animals is much the same, with the CDC typically finding between one and seven new animal flu variants a year, Bresee says.

    Scientists believe the H3N2 influenza virus, which is commonly found in pigs, managed to add a gene from the H1N1 flu virus that caused a world-wide pandemic among humans in 2009. That gene made it easier for the virus to be transmitted from pigs to people.

    The good news is that although the new flu variant seems to move more easily between pigs and humans, it doesn't move easily between people. "Because influenza viruses are always evolving, we'll watch closely to see if the virus has gained the capacity for efficient human to human transmission," Bresee says. "So far we haven't see that."

    H3N2v is different enough from seasonal human flu that flu vaccine won't provide protection, he said. A possible human vaccine for H3N2v has been prepared, and clinical trails are being planned for this year (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: US Officials Warn Of Swine Flu Outbreak At Fairs
    Date: August 3, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: US health officials on Friday warned the public to be careful around pigs after an outbreak of flu among visitors to county fairs.

    The virus does not appear to have evolved to the point where it spreads easily among humans, but it does contain a gene from the pandemic H1N1 flu that sickened millions worldwide in 2009 and 2010.

    "We are concerned that... may confer the potential for the virus to infect or spread among humans to a greater extent," said Joseph Bresee, an influenza epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The virus was first detected in July 2011 and there have since been a total of 29 known cases -- 16 of them in the past three weeks -- in the United States.

    It is a relatively mild flu -- everyone recovered and only three people were hospitalized. As a result, many more cases have likely occurred without being reported to health officials.

    The bulk of the reported cases were among children, who are more susceptible to swine flu.

    With county fair season in full swing, health officials expect more people will get sick.

    "We also expect some of the cases may be severe," Bresee cautioned.

    Bresee urged people to go to the doctor if they feel flu symptoms after coming into contact with pigs so that public health officials can better track the outbreak.

    "What we're really going to be looking for is evidence that the virus has made that change to spread efficiently among humans," he explained. "So far we haven't seen that."

    Simple hygiene -- hand washing after contact with animals and not eating, drinking or putting things like cigarettes in your mouth while in animal areas -- can prevent the flu's transmission.

    Pregnant women, children younger than five, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should avoid exposure to pigs and swine barns (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: Prisoner With Suspected Case Of Ebola Escapes From Hospital In Uganda
    Date: August 3, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: One of five prisoners receiving treatment for a suspected case of 
    Ebola virus in Uganda escaped overnight Friday from the hospital at the center of the outbreak, a health official said.

    "Should his results come back and he is positive, that causes us a lot of worry. So right now, we have resolved that the remaining prisoners will be cuffed on the beds for fear that they might also escape," said Dr. Jackson Amune, commissioner at the Ministry of Health.

    The inmates from Kibaale prison are among 30 people at Kagadi hospital with suspected cases of the virus. Two additional patients have confirmed cases, according to Doctors Without Borders.

    The prisoners have been showing Ebola-like symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever, Dr. Dan Kyamanywa said Thursday.

    "We do expect the number of suspected cases to increase," Kyamanywa said. "It's important to break transmission and reduce the number of contacts that suspected cases have."

    Many patients fled Kagadi hospital when Ebola was confirmed, he said, and the facility is struggling to respond to all the call-outs to suspected cases.

    The outbreak began in the Kibaale district in western Uganda with 53 confirmed cases. At least 16 people have died. An additional 312 people have suspected cases of the virus and have been isolated, pending further testing.

    The deaths have stoked heightened fear of the virus, a highly infectious, often fatal agent spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, a measles-like rash, red eyes and, at times, bleeding from body openings.

    "I would like to stress that the disease is under control," said Joaquim Saweka, the World Health Organizationrepresentative to Uganda.

    Health officials urged the public to report any suspected cases, to avoid contact with anyone infected and to wear gloves and masks while disinfecting bedding and clothing of infected people. Officials also advised avoiding public gatherings in the affected district.

    Read more: Could the Ebola outbreak spread to the U.S.?

    Teams in Uganda are taking an aggressive approach, including trying to track down anyone who came into contact with patients infected with the virus, and health workers have been gearing up to protect themselves and deal with an influx of cases.

    The workers include people from Uganda's Ministry of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

    Meanwhile, officials in Kenya were taking extra precautions after at least two patients showed symptoms of the virus, according to Jackstone Omoto, a medical official in Siaya, western Kenya. One man tested negative. A second man and two relatives have been isolated at the Moi Teaching & Referral Hospital in Eldoret, pending test results. The man was traveling from South Sudan to Kenya through Uganda.

    "We are tracing the bus that he (traveled on), and we have requested the company to contact the ministry so we can know who else was in the bus," said Beth Mugo, public health minister.

    The Ebola virus was first detected in 1976 in the central African nation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The virus is named after a river in that country. There are five strains of the virus, all named after the areas where they were found: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston, according to the WHO (CNN, 2012).

    Title: WHO Official: Ebola Under Control In Uganda 
    Date: August 3, 2012
    Source: 
    AP

    Abstract: Uganda (AP) -- Doctors were slow to respond to an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda because symptoms weren't always typical, but a World Health Organization official said Friday that authorities are halting the spread of the deadly disease.

    Joaquim Saweka, the WHO representative in Uganda, told reporters in the capital Kampala that everyone known to have had contact with Ebola victims has been isolated. Ugandan health officials have created an "Ebola contact list" with names of people who had even the slightest contact with those who contracted Ebola. The list now bears 176 names.

    "The structure put in place is more than adequate," Saweka said. "We are isolating the suspected or confirmed cases."

    Ebola was confirmed in Uganda on July 28, several days after villagers were dying in a remote corner of western Uganda. Ugandan officials were slow to investigate possible Ebola because the victims did not show the usual symptoms, such as coughing blood. At least 16 Ugandans have died of the disease.

    Delays in confirming Ebola allowed the disease to spread to more villages deep in the western district of Kibaale, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said.

    "The doctors in Kibaale say the symptoms were a bit atypical of Ebola," Museveni said in a national address Monday. "They were not clearly like Ebola symptoms. Because of that delay, the sickness spread to another village."

    Saweka said that organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are helping Ugandan officials to control the spread of Ebola.

    This is the fourth outbreak of Ebola in Uganda since 2000, when the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatized in northern Uganda.

    Ebola is highly infectious and kills quickly. The disease was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognized, according to the CDC.

    The aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a statement on Wednesday that the first victim of the Ebola outbreak was a 3-month-old girl and that of the 65 people who attended her funeral, 15 later contracted the deadly disease.

    Funerals in Uganda are typically elaborate affairs that draw huge crowds. Health officials have now taken on the task of safely burying the bodies of Ebola victims, Saweka said (AP, 2012)

    Title: West Nile Virus On The Rise In The U.S., Health Officials Say
    Date: August 4, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: The United States is experiencing its biggest spike in West Nile virus since 2004, with 241 cases of the disease reported nationwide this year so far, including four deaths, health officials said.

    Of the 42 states that have reported infections in people, birds or mosquitoes, 80% of them have been in Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, the CDC said in a statement. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also listed a breakdown of infections by state.

    "It is not clear why we are seeing more activity than in recent years," said Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. "Regardless of the reasons for the increase, people should be aware of the West Nile virus activity in their area and take action to protect themselves and their family."

    The virus is transmitted through infected mosquitoes.

    In the United States, most infections occur between June and September, and peak in August, according to the CDC.

    Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash, the CDC said in a statement this week.

    "Less than 1% develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues)," it said.

    People over age 50 and those with conditions such as cancer, diabetes and kidney disease or with organ transplants are at greater risk.

    There are no medications to treat West Nile virus or vaccines to prevent infection. People with milder illnesses typically recover on their own but those more seriously affected may need hospital care.

    Health experts say prevention measures include avoiding mosquito bites, using insect repellent and getting rid of insect breeding sites (CNN, 2012)

    Title: CDC Preparing Vaccine For New Swine Flu
    Date: August 4, 2012
    Source: 
    Philly.com

    Abstract: Only 29 human cases of a new strain of "swine" flu have been identified in two years, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making sure it's prepared should the H3N2 strain become more widespread.

    "This virus is still principally a swine virus, but it doesn't seem to have onward spread. It's still not a human virus," Dr. Joseph Bresee, from the CDC's influenza division, stressed during a noon press conference Friday.

    "Even so, a H3N2 candidate vaccine has been prepared and clinical trials are being planned for this year," he said.

    The reason the CDC is concerned about this particular virus is that it contains an element seen in the pandemic 2009 swine flu strain, H1N1, which may make it more likely for the virus to spread from person-to-person.

    All 29 cases were infected with strains of H3N2 "that contained the matrix (m) gene from the influenza A H1N1 pandemic virus," Bresee explained. "This 'm' gene may confer increased transmissibility to and among humans, compared with other variant influenzas viruses."

    In addition, the virus appears to have become more active recently, the CDC said. "The virus was first detected in humans in July 2011, and since then there have been 29 total cases of H3N2 variant virus detected, including the 16 cases occurring in the last three weeks," Bresee said.

    Of the 12 cases reported this week, 10 were from Ohio and one each came from Hawaii and Indiana, the CDC said.

    According to Bresee, "29 cases of infection with this H3N2 virus since 2011 is a significant increase for these types of viruses that we have seen in recent years."

    Flu viruses commonly circulate in pigs, Bresee noted. But they are generally different from those that spread to people. Sometimes these viruses can spread to people, however, which happens most often when someone comes into close contact with an infected animal, he explained.

    "Swine influenza viruses have not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating, or handling pork or other products derived from pigs. It is not a food-borne disease," Bresee said.

    Each of the recent 16 cases were among people who had direct contact with pigs. In 15 cases, contact happened at a county fair, he added.

    It may yet be possible, however, to transmit this virus from one infected person to another, Bresee said.

    No human-to-human transfer of the virus occurred in the more recent cases, Bresee said, although scientists did find evidence of limited human-to-human transmission in three cases in 2011.

    Fortunately, sustained person-to-person transmission of the virus hasn't happened yet, he added.

    Of the 16 new cases, 13 arose in children, according to the CDC. Studies indicate that children may be more susceptible to the infection than adults, as occurred during the 2009-2010 pandemic H1N1 flu outbreak, Bresee said.

    Right now, there is no cause for alarm, the CDC said. Symptoms of this flu are similar to seasonal flu, none of the recent 16 cases required hospitalization and there were no deaths. This flu did hospitalize three people with underlying disease last year, he noted.

    "We expect more cases from contact with pigs and through limited human-to-human spread," Bresee said. "We also suspect that some of the cases might be severe."

    Reported cases usually represent a small number of actual cases, since most people don't see a doctor and many doctors don't report flu cases.

    Bressee said, however, it's too early to hazard a guess about how many cases of this flu there might actually be.

    "Because influenza viruses are always evolving, we will watch closely for signs that the virus has gained capacity for efficient and sustained human-to human transmission," Bresee said.

    "Thus far, we have not seen this type of transmission and therefore are not seeing features consistent with an influenza pandemic."

    To prevent contracting this flu, the CDC advises people to limit their contact with swine and avoid contact with sick swine. People who have contact with these animals should take precautions such as washing their hands, not eating or drinking in areas with swine and controlling their cough (Philly.com, 2012).

    Title: Ebola At Large? Prisoner With Suspected Case Escapes Ugandan Hospital
    Date: August 4, 2012
    Source: 
    RT

    Abstract: A World Health Organization official has stated that the Ebola outbreak in Uganda is now “under control.” However, a prisoner suspected of being infected with the deadly virus managed to escape from a hospital, spurring fears of further contagion.

    The inmate’s test results are yet to be determined.

    Should his results come back and he is positive, that causes us a lot of worry,” Dr. Jackson Amune, a commissioner at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, was quoted by CNN as saying. 

    The prisoner broke out on Friday night, prompting hospital officials to handcuff the four remaining prisoners to their beds. The prisoners are among the 30 people suspected of carrying Ebola at a hospital in the western town of Kagadi, the center of the outbreak.  

    We do expect the number of suspected cases to increase,” Dr. Dan Kyamanywa, a local health officer, noted. “It's important to break transmission and reduce the number of contacts that suspected cases have.

    In the meantime, Joaquim Saweka, the WHO representative in Uganda, said the disease was “under control.

    The structure put in place is more than adequate,” he told reporters in the capital Kampala. “We are isolating the suspected or confirmed cases.

    He went on say that everyone known to have had contact with Ebola victims has been isolated. He also said that Ugandan health officials have written up a so-called “Ebola contact list,” containing the names of 176 people who had even the slightest contact with those infected with Ebola. 

    Saweka noted the fact that local officials trying to contain the virus were being assisted organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  

    The Ebola outbreak was confirmed on July 28, several days after villagers in the western district of Kibaale died from it. 

    The first victim of the virus was a three-month old girl, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement on Wednesday. Fifteen of the 65 people that attended her funeral ended up contracting the disease. 

    Officials did not respond immediately, as the victims' symptoms were not the usual ones, such as regurgitating blood. The slow response allowed the disease to spread to other villages, as well as the towns of Kagadi and Mulago. 

    The doctors in Kibaale say the symptoms were a bit atypical of Ebola,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stated in a national address on Monday. “They were not clearly like Ebola symptoms. Because of that delay, the sickness spread to another village.

    Another problem doctors encountered was that many suspected cases refused to go to hospital as they feared they would get infected there. Other suspected Ebola patients, dissatisfied with poor hospital conditions, broke out of their wards to protest the way they were being treated. The Ugandan Ministry of Health also stated that a number of people were refusing treatment “because they believed that the cause of the illness was due to ‘evil spirits.’”

    So far, the disease has claimed the lives of at least 16 people. 

    The Ebola virus was first detected in Zaire (today called the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1976, and was named after a river in the country. The disease spreads through bodily fluids, and the incubation period can last from two days to two weeks. 

    The latest outbreak is the fourth in Uganda since 2000, when over 220 people died from the virus in the north of the country (RT, 2012)

    Title: Ebola Fear Hits Kagera
    Date: August 5, 2012
    Source: 
    IPP Media

    Abstract: A team of medical experts from Dar es Salaam was yesterday dispatched to Kagera region to further examine the two patients believed to be suffering from the Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

    But as the team of medical experts was sent to Kagera region, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare subsequently confirmed the outbreak of the deadly fever in the western part of the country. Confirming the reports, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Seif Seleman Rashid, also said that a team of medical experts was still diagnosing a patient in efforts to establish the symptoms.

    In the meantime, reports from Nyakahanga designated hospital in Karagwe district, Kagera region indicate that there were two patients including a child, suspected to be suffering from the deadly fever that has rocked neighbouring Uganda.

    According to one of the doctors who diagnosed the patient at Karagwe’s Nyakahanga hospital, preliminary findings show that the victim might have contacted the Ebola virus.

    However, the doctor who requested anonymity told the Guardian on Sunday that ‘further medical examination’ would be conducted to gather more evidence about the possible outbreak of Ebola, adding that the patient had since been quarantined pending final results.

    According to the doctor, the ‘Ebola patient’ was brought to the hospital on Friday morning and, upon diagnosis, it was established that the patient had suffered from Ebola. The patient who is a six-year-old child was brought to the Mulongo hospital by his mother from a village close to the Uganda-Tanzania boarder after the child developed severe symptoms.

    “We are doing further medical examination on a patient … we will tell the general public once it is confirmed that we are dealing with Ebola virus infections,” the doctor said, adding that currently the patient alleged to have been infected was admitted in a separate room and now lives in isolation from other patients at the hospital.

    He said preliminary check-ups found out that the diagnosis had all signs showed clear symptoms of Ebola – after which he ordered the patient to be admitted for closer monitoring locally, and further medical examination by medical experts from the ministry headquarters.

    He added that the patient had since been placed in a special intensive care room which is out of bounds for all other people -- apart from his mother who is taking care of the patient. However, he said, this was a medical rule aimed at avoiding quick spread of the deadly disease

    Another patient also believed to have crossed the boarder from Uganda was admitted at the hospital as well, but medical investigations of his deteriorating health conditions were still not completed by Saturday evening.

    As a precaution, the doctor said his hospital team and the district health workers had since started warning people in surrounding villages to take immediate measures whenever they come across such patients. He has also warned the people living closer to the border with Uganda to be careful not to come into contact with any person whom they see vomiting or bleeding – clear signs of someone suffering from Ebola.

    On Wednesday this week, Dr. Mwinyi told visibly alarmed legislators in Dodoma that a team of medical experts had been dispatched to the border with Uganda, fully equipped with protective gear and medical supplies.

    The minister advised the general public especially those living in the northern regions of Kagera, Mara, Mwanza and Kigoma -- some of which share the border crossings with Uganda -- to take precautions because the disease was highly contagious.

    Earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) had alerted Tanzania on the Ebola threat, prompting the ministry to issue a press statement elaborating that Ebola

    (Ebola HF) was a severe, often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.

    The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), where it was first recognized.

    The virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae; there are five identified subtypes of the Ebola virus -- four of which have been known to cause disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast and Ebola-Bundibugyo. The fifth, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans (IPP Media, 2012)

    Title: New Hampshire DHHS Calling Patients For Hepatitis C Tests
    Date: August 6, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: New Hampshire health officials are calling thousands of people who may have been exposed to hepatitis C by a hospital technician now facing criminal charges.

    David Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing drugs from Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization lab and infecting 30 patients with contaminated syringes. Officials originally asked only patients of the cardiac lab to get tested, but later expanded the request to roughly 3,300 people who had surgery or were admitted to the intensive care unit during his employment.

    In addition to sending letters, the state on Monday will begin calling patients to tell them about testing clinics that will be held in Stratham, Plaistow, Rochester and Manchester. Patients also can go to two Portsmouth Hospital satellite offices or to Exeter Hospital (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: 8 Million Birds Killed To Prevent The Spread of Flu In Mexico
    Date: August 9, 2012
    Source: 
    HSN

    Abstract: Some 8 million birds have been slaughtered in the western Mexican state of Jalisco to prevent the spread of the avian flu virus, the National Food Health, Safety and Quality Service, or Senasica, said.

    A total of 65.8 million birds have been vaccinated at 245 farms in Jalisco’s Los Altos region, the Senasica said in a statement.

    The virus is under control in the region, which is home to 42 cities, and 87 health specialists have taken 40,190 samples from 401 farms, the agency said.

    The AH7N3 virus has been found at 41 farms, while the number of farms declared free of the virus has risen from 335 to 360, the Senasica said.

    Hens found to be infected during the vaccination process are destroyed, the health agency said.

    Inspections have been conducted at 342 farms in 19 states, the Senasica said, adding that the highly pathogenic virus was not found at the various sites.

    Poultry farmers have been asked once again to avoid moving live birds and remains into areas that are free of the virus, the health agency said.

    Bird flu does not pose a risk to people consuming meat or eggs, and the measures being taken are “aimed at protecting poultry production in the area,” the Senasica said.

    Mexican health officials said in late June that the presence of the avian influenza virus had been detected in Jalisco and took emergency measures to prevent its spread.

    The vaccine is being produced by the National Veterinary Biological Production Agency, or Pronabive, with assistance from three private pharmaceutical companies.

    Mexico, according to National Poultry Producers Association figures, produces nearly 2.5 million tons of eggs and 1.2 million tons of meat annually (HSN, 2012)

    Title: CDC Moves To Keep New Resistant Gonorrhea At Bay
    Date: August 9, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: Federal health officials took steps Thursday to head off the emergence of a new gonorrhea "superbug" that's resistant to standard antibiotics. 

    Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that infects 700,000 Americans a year, already has become resistant to all but one class of antibiotics and could soon become untreatable, federal health officials warned. Doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new treatment guidelines, hoping to delay the inevitable day when standard drugs no longer work. The guidelines call for withholding a potent oral antibiotic now commonly used to treat the infection. Instead, doctors should use an injectable form to which the gonorrhea bacteria seems less likely to develop resistance, along with a second type of antibiotic pills.

    "Gonorrhea for years has developed resistance to every antibiotic we've thrown at it," says Kimberly Workowski, an infectious-disease expert at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

    Now, "we're at the end of the line on standard therapies," says P. Frederick Sparling, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

    Gonorrhea is a major cause of infertility among women. It increases the risk that people will be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and that they will spread it to their partners, according to the CDC.

    As recently as 2007, doctors could treat gonorrhea with a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, which include the drug Ciprofloxacin, or Cipro. Now, those drugs no longer work for gonorrhea. Instead, doctors have turned to a class of drugs called cephalosporins, also used to treat serious conditions such as bacterial meningitis and salmonella poisoning, says Sparling.

    Yet even these antibiotics may not be useful for long, he says.

    Doctors reported their first possible treatment failure in Japan in 2003 and detected a highly resistant "superbug" form of gonorrhea there in 2009. That superbug — which resisted treatment with an antibiotic called ceftriaxone — has also been detected twice in France and once in Spain, Sparling says.

    While the superbug hasn't yet been detected in the USA, "it is likely a matter of time" before drug-resistant gonorrhea spreads here as well, says Susan Philip, director of STD prevention and control services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Doctors are already seeing the beginnings of drug resistance on the West Coast, especially in gay and bisexual men, Philip says.

    In a February report in The New England Journal of Medicine, Sparling wrote that nearly 2% of gonorrhea samples showed reduced susceptibility to cefixime, an oral drug commonly used for initial treatment.

    In the western USA, 4% of samples showed reduced susceptibility to cefixime; in men who have sex with men, nearly 5% showed reduced susceptibility to that drug, Sparling wrote.

    Once resistance to gonorrhea develops, patients won't have good options, Sparling says. Only one new antibiotic against gonorrhea is currently in development, although researchers are also testing combinations of currently available drugs.

    Patients who become infected with a resistant strain of gonorrhea would have to be treated with alternative medications that aren't proven to work and which could cause more toxic side effects, Sparling says. For now, he says, experts are advising doctors to test patients who aren't helped by current treatments, and test them for resistance. Because gonorrhea tends to be especially common among the poor, doctors typically try to treat patients with a single dose of medication on the same day they arrive at the clinic, along with treating their sexual partners, Sparling says. The CDC is now urging that initial treatment of gonorrhea be with a single injection of ceftriaxone, which still is usually effective.

    In some ways, gonorrhea has always been a "canary in the coal mine," for doctors, because "it picks up resistance very easily," says Carlos del Rio, a physician on the board of directors for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and an author of the new CDC treatment guidelines. Gonorrhea became resistant to the first antimicrobial drugs used against it, as early as the 1930s. Doctors began using penicillin, one of the first antibiotics, in the 1940s. But the bacteria eventually mutated to become resistant to penicillin, too.

    Doctors have been concerned about the rise of resistant strains of all kinds of bacteria for years, as antibiotics are overused both in medicine and agriculture.

    Antibiotic resistance is so common that doctors now have to think carefully about the drugs they prescribe for common conditions, such as ear infections, sinus infections and urinary tract infections, says Judith O'Donnell, head of infectious diseases at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia.

    More ominously, doctors are now combating antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis and staph infections, says Sparling, director of the North Carolina Sexually Transmitted Diseases Cooperative Research Center.

    "People are dying in hospitals with pneumonias and other diseases that we aren't able to treat anymore, because we don't have effective drugs," del Rio says.

    In April, the Food and Drug Administration banned certain agricultural uses of cephalorosporins, such as to prevent disease in turkeys, chicken, cattle and pigs. The agency cited the need to make sure that cephalosporins remain potent weapons against human disease.

    "We desperately need new antibiotics to fight infections," del Rio says. "The pharmaceutical industry has very little incentive to do the research and development for an antibiotic that you take for five to 10 days, though, compared to something like a cholesterol drug, that you take for the rest of you life."

    Del Rio notes that the infectious disease society supports federal legislation that would provide financial incentives to drugmakers who create new antibiotics.

    In the age of an incurable and often fatal disease such as AIDS, some people no longer take gonorrhea seriously.

    But Philip says gonorrhea — spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex — can cause a variety of serious problems, especially in women, who often have no symptoms.

    Gonorrhea increases the risk of a dangerous condition called ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes, rather than the uterus. It also can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility. Gonorrhea also can harm newborn children of untreated mothers, although this rarely happens in developed countries such as the USA, where women and babies receive preventive screening and care, Workowski says. People can protect themselves by being monogamous and using condoms.

    The concentration of gonorrhea cases among the poor is especially evident in African Americans in the South, with infection rates 30 times higher in Mississippi than in Wyoming, according to the CDC (USA Today, 2012)

    Title: CDC: 158 Cases Of New Swine Flu Strain From Pigs 
    Date: August 9, 2012
    Source: 
    AP

    Abstract: Don't pet the pigs.

    That's the message state and county fair visitors got Thursday from health officials who reported a five-fold increase of cases of a new strain of swine flu that spreads from pigs to people. Most of the cases are linked to the fairs, where visitors are in close contact with infected pigs.

    This flu has mild symptoms and it's not really spreading from person to person.

    "This is not a pandemic situation," said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But any flu can be a risk for some people, and people should be cautious when they can, he added.

    The case count jumped from 29 a week ago to 158 this week, thanks to a wave of new cases in Indiana and Ohio, said Bresee, the agency's chief of influenza epidemiology.

    Most of the infected patients are children - probably because many were working closely with raising, displaying and visiting pigs at the agricultural fairs, Bresee said.

    The recent cases include at least 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, Bresee said in a conference call with reporters.

    The count is changing rapidly. Indiana health officials on Thursday afternoon said they had seven more confirmed cases than Bresee noted. That would raise the grand total to 165 so far.

    Also, diagnosis of cases has become quicker in the last week. CDC no longer must confirm a case with its own lab. Now states are using CDC test kits to confirm cases on their own on, speeding the process along. The newly reported cases were likely infected a week or two ago.

    The CDC has been tracking cases since last summer. A concern: The new strain has a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain that might let it spread more easily than pig viruses normally do.

    The good news is the flu does not seem to be unusually dangerous. Almost all the illnesses have been mild and no one has died. Two of the recent cases were hospitalized, but both recovered and were discharged, Bresee said.

    More good news is that all of the recent cases appear to have spread from pigs to humans, meaning it's not very contagious, at least between people. But there probably will be more cases in the weeks ahead, and it won't be surprising if at least a few of them involve person-to-person transmission, Bresee said.

    Pigs spread flu virus just like people do, with coughing, sneezing and runny noses, so people can get it by touching pigs or being near them.

    Health officials don't think it's necessary to cancel swine shows, but are urging people to take precautions.

    Fairgoers should wash their hands and avoid taking food and drinks into livestock barns, officials said, while pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be particularly careful (AP, 2012)

    Title: CDC: Cases Of New Swine Flu Strain Rising
    Date: August 9, 2012
    Source: 
    CNN

    Abstract: A new strain of swine flu in humans continues to spread, health officials said Thursday, with more than 100 cases reported.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 145 cases of the influenza A (H3N2) variant have been found in four states since mid-July: 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Illinois and one in Hawaii.

    The CDC says it expects the case count to increase. Two people were hospitalized, but both have been released, officials said.

    The agency's numbers did not include seven new cases reported in Indiana. Dr. Gregory Larkin, Indiana state health commissioner, said the number of cases has risen to 120 as of Thursday.

    "Surprisingly, the greatest, overwhelming percentage (of cases) is in people 16 years and younger," Larkin said. "As our investigation continues, we're seeing transmission from ill or infected swine, or hogs, to their handlers, which in most of these cases are kids."

    Dr. Joseph Bresee, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Influenza Division, said that there has been a predominance of cases in children and young adults and that all of the cases have been associated with close or indirect exposure to swine, often at state or county fairs. The other pig-to-human transmissions occurred in farmers or veterinarians.

    "This time of the year is the time when you have fairs around the country ... thousands of them," Bresee said. "That accounts for the increased transmission more than anything else."

    The CDC says people exposed to pigs should take precautions to protect themselves from this new strain of flu, namely:

    • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching pigs.

    • Don't drink or eat near pigs, and don't take food into animal areas.

    • Avoiding contact with animals such as pigs may be the best protection if you are among those likely to suffer severe symptoms if you get the flu: people with lung disease or diabetes, for instance.

    Swine flu: Your questions answered

    According to the CDC, H3N2 flu viruses are common among pigs. H3N2 viruses are a subgroup of influenza A viruses, and they are known to adapt in humans.

    What makes this new version of the H3N2 flu virus different is that it has picked up a gene from the novel H1N1 flu virus that became a pandemic three years ago. This can happen when a person or an animal is exposed to two different viruses at the same time.

    Somewhere along the line, H3N2 and H1N1 viruses were present in a mammal at the same time, and the "matrix-gene" (or m-gene) from the H1N1 pandemic virus was picked up by the H3N2 swine flu, creating a new or variant version of H3N2.

    It is this m-gene that has experts on the lookout, because the presence of the m-gene can make it more easily transmissible to humans.

    Health officials point out that this flu is not a foodborne illness. Instead, it spreads like any other flu: someone sneezes or coughs, spreading the virus to other mammals (humans included) and onto surfaces.

    Dr. Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian for the National Animal Health Policy Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said this variant of swine flu was first detected in 2010.

    Bresee said the first human cases were reported in July 2011.

    Even though the regular seasonal flu vaccine contains a strain of the A-flu virus group, it will not prevent you from getting sick if you come into contact with the new flu strain.

    Bresee said last week that preliminary steps have been taken to develop an H3N2 vaccine, part of the overall pandemic preparedness planning of the CDC and other health agencies.

    When a new flu virus pops up, "we immediately begin to think about the process of making a vaccine," Bresee said.

    The incremental process involves finding a good vaccine candidate, reassessing and testing the virus, developing seed vaccines and ensuring their safety. The goal is to have a vaccine quickly available in case a pandemic occurs, as with H1N1 in 2009 (CNN, 2012)

    Title: New Strain Of Swine Flu Increasing
    Date: August 10, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: Don't pet the pigs.

    That's the message state and county fair visitors got Thursday from health officials who reported a five-fold increase of cases of a new strain of swine flu that spreads from pigs to people. Most of the cases are linked to the fairs, where visitors are in close contact with infected pigs.

    This flu has mild symptoms and it's not really spreading from person to person.

    "This is not a pandemic situation," said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But any flu can be a risk for some people, and people should be cautious when they can, he added.

    The case count jumped from 29 a week ago to 158 this week, thanks to a wave of new cases in Indiana and Ohio, said Bresee, the agency's chief of influenza epidemiology.

    Most of the infected patients are children -- probably because many were working closely with raising, displaying and visiting pigs at the agricultural fairs, Bresee said.

    The recent cases include at least 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, Bresee said in a conference call with reporters.

    The count is changing rapidly. Indiana health officials on Thursday afternoon said they had seven more confirmed cases than Bresee noted. That would raise the grand total to 165 so far.

    Also, diagnosis of cases has become quicker in the last week. CDC no longer must confirm a case with its own lab. Now states are using CDC test kits to confirm cases on their own on, speeding the process along.

    The newly reported cases were likely infected a week or two ago.

    The CDC has been tracking cases since last summer. A concern: The new strain has a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain that might let it spread more easily than pig viruses normally do.

    The good news is the flu does not seem to be unusually dangerous. Almost all of the illnesses have been mild and no one has died. Two of the recent cases were hospitalized, but both recovered and were discharged, Bresee said.

    More good news is that all of the recent cases appear to have spread from pigs to humans, meaning it's not very contagious, at least between people. But there probably will be more cases in the weeks ahead, and it won't be surprising if at least a few of them involve person-to-person transmission, Bresee said.

    Pigs spread flu virus just like people do, with coughing, sneezing and runny noses, so people can get it by touching pigs or being near them.

    Health officials don't think it's necessary to cancel swine shows, but are urging people to take precautions.

    Fairgoers should wash their hands and avoid taking food and drinks into livestock barns, officials said, while pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be particularly careful (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Swine Influenza: New Cases Spread From Pigs To People
    Date: August 10, 2012
    Source: 
    Fox News

    Abstract: Health officials reported a five-fold increase of cases of a new strain of swine flu that spreads from pigs to people. Most of the cases are linked to the fairs, where visitors are in close contact with infected pigs.

    This flu has mild symptoms and it's not really spreading from person to person.

    "This is not a pandemic situation," said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But any flu can be a risk for some people, and people should be cautious when they can, he added.

    The case count jumped from 29 a week ago to 158 this week, thanks to a wave of new cases in Indiana and Ohio, said Bresee, the agency's chief of influenza epidemiology.

    Most of the infected patients are children — probably because many were working closely with raising, displaying and visiting pigs at the agricultural fairs, Bresee said.

    The recent cases include at least 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, Bresee said in a conference call with reporters.

    The count is changing rapidly. Indiana health officials on Thursday afternoon said they had seven more confirmed cases than Bresee noted. That would raise the grand total to 165 so far.

    Also, diagnosis of cases has become quicker in the last week. CDC no longer must confirm a case with its own lab. Now states are using CDC test kits to confirm cases on their own on, speeding the process along. The newly reported cases were likely infected a week or two ago.

    The CDC has been tracking cases since last summer. A concern: The new strain has a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain that might let it spread more easily than pig viruses normally do.

    The good news is the flu does not seem to be unusually dangerous. Almost all of the illnesses have been mild and no one has died. Two of the recent cases were hospitalized, but both recovered and were discharged, Bresee said.

    More good news is that all of the recent cases appear to have spread from pigs to humans, meaning it's not very contagious, at least between people. But there probably will be more cases in the weeks ahead, and it won't be surprising if at least a few of them involve person-to-person transmission, Bresee said.

    Pigs spread flu virus just like people do, with coughing, sneezing and runny noses, so people can get it by touching pigs or being near them.

    Health officials don't think it's necessary to cancel swine shows, but are urging people to take precautions.

    Fairgoers should wash their hands and avoid taking food and drinks into livestock barns, officials said, while pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be particularly careful (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Louisiana Records The Most Neuroinvasive WNV Cases Since 2006
    Date: August 12, 2012
    Source: 
    Examiner

    Abstract: The number of West Nile Virus (WNV) cases continues to rise in the Bayou State as health officials report another 15 cases of the mosquito borne disease along with four more fatalities.

    This brings the totals to 68 human cases of WNV and six deaths so far this year according to a Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Friday press release.

    In addition, a troublesome figure reported is that more than half of the cases seen this year in Louisiana have been the more serious type, neuroinvasive disease (NID).

    The DHH reports 37 cases of NID as of Friday making this the worst year for this type in six years.

    Eight of the 15 new cases reported were NID and were from the following parishes: Bossier, Caddo, Concordia, Jefferson, Tangipahoa, Union, Washington and Webster.

    So far this year, St. Tammany Parish has reported the most West Nile Virus infections, with six neuroinvasive disease cases, four West Nile fever cases and one asymptomatic case.

    DHH State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard warns the public about the seriousness of WNV saying, "We know from 10 years of surveillance that this disease is active in every corner of the state, and people are at risk of getting it regardless of whether cases or deaths occurred in their parishes. Everyone should own their own health and take precautions against mosquito bites."

    West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation.

    West Nile virus was first detected in North America in 1999 in New York. Prior to that it had only been found in Africa, Eastern Europe, and West Asia.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.

    Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.

    About one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

    There is no specific treatment for WNV infection (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Parasites May Get Nastier With Climate Swings: Study
    Date: August 12, 2012
    Source: 
    Reuters

    Abstract: Parasites look set to become more virulent because of climate change, according to a study showing that frogs suffer more infections from a fungus when exposed to unexpected swings in temperatures.

    Parasites, which include tapeworms, the tiny organisms that cause malaria and funguses, may be more nimble at adapting to climatic shifts than the animals they live on since they are smaller and grow more quickly, scientists said.

    "Increases in climate variability are likely to make it easier for parasites to infect their hosts," Thomas Raffel of Oakland University in the United States told Reuters, based on findings about frogs and a sometimes deadly skin fungus.

    "We think this could exacerbate the effects of some disease," he said of the report he led with colleagues at the University of South Florida. It will be published in Monday's edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.

    A U.N. panel of experts says that global warming is expected to add to human suffering from more heatwaves, floods, storms, fires and droughts, and have effects such as spreading the ranges of some diseases.

    And climate change, blamed on greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels, is also likely to mean more swings in temperatures.

    "Few...studies have considered the effects of climate variability or predictability on disease, despite it being likely that hosts and parasites will have differential responses to climatic shifts," they wrote.

    The scientists exposed Cuban treefrogs in 80 laboratory incubators to varying temperatures and infections of a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, that is often deadly for the amphibians.

    In one experiment, frogs kept at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77F) for four weeks suffered far more infections when they were shifted to incubators at 15C (59F) and exposed to the fungus than frogs already used to living at 15C.

    "If you shift the temperature a frog is more susceptible to infection than a frog that is already adapted to that temperature," Raffel said.

    In another test, frogs that were exposed to predictable daily temperature variations between 15 and 25 Celsius, typical of shifts from night to day, were much better at resisting the fungus.

    Based on factors including their size, life expectancy and factors such as their metabolisms, the scientists said frogs probabably took 10 times as long as fungus to get used to unexpected temperature changes, a process known as acclimation.

    Raffel said that more tests were needed of other parasites and hosts to confirm the findings. "This study was only done on an single tropical frog species," he said.

    He said he was unaware of studies about how other parasites such as malaria, for instance, might be affected by temperature swings that affect both its mosquito and human hosts. "It's an open question," he said.

    Still, he said that there was speculation that cold-blooded creatures such as frogs, insects, reptiles or fish might be more susceptible to parasites as temperature shifted than warm-blooded birds and mammals (Reuters, 2012).

    Title:
     MRSA Strikes More Hospital Patients, Study Finds
    Date: August 13, 2012
    Source: Fox News

    Abstract: The rate of MRSA infections in hospital patients has increased in recent years, according to a new study.

    Results show that in 2003, an average of 21 out of every 1,000 hospital patients developed an infection with the bacteria commonly called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. In 2008, that number was 42 out of 1,000 patients. The study involved patients at nonprofit academic medical centers in the United States.

    MRSA is a strain of bacteria that's resistant to the antibiotics used to treat staph infections.

    "This means that MRSA infections are very common, and that many of them — and an increasing number in 2003 to 2008 — were serious enough to require hospitalization," said study researcher Dr. Michael David, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

    The study was based on data gathered from 160 academic medical centers, along with 260 of their affiliated hospitals. Researchers examined patients' billing records and medical charts. There were between 2.7 million and 3.7 million hospital discharge records during each year of the study.

    People who must be hospitalized can take some steps to lower their risk of infection, David said. "Patients in hospitals can themselves wash their hands and remind visitors and health care workers to wash their hands, as well, upon entering their room," he said.

    "It is believed that most MRSA transmission in hospitals occurs on the hands of health care workers," he said. "The most important intervention may be hand washing."

    The findings seem to counter the results of a study published in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which reported a decrease in MRSA infections between 2005 and 2010 in both hospitalized patients and people who contracted the bacterial infection elsewhere in their communities. However, that study was based on data collected by the Department of Defense on more than 9 million military personnel, whereas the new study was based on general population patients treated at academic medical centers.

    A 2010 study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggested a decline in MRSA infections. But the CDC study included only invasive cases of MRSA, in which the infection has spread to the blood. The new study, in contrast, also included infections of the skin, which make up the majority of MRSA infections, David said.

    It is not known whether the new study's findings are representative of MRSA infection rates at all U.S. hospitals, David noted. Additionally, it's not known what has happened to the infection rate since 2008, he said. There are no data available on hospitalized patients in the general population since that time.

    More research is needed to figure out how to stop the spread of MRSA outside the health care setting, and how to prevent infections in people who are carrying the bacteria, but don’t have any symptoms of infection, he said.

    The new study is published in the August issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

    Pass it on: MRSA infections may be on the rise (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Dallas Mayor Declares Emergency Over West Nile Virus
    Date: August 15, 2012
    Source: 
    Reuters

    Abstract: The mayor of Dallas declared a state of emergency in the ninth largest U.S. city on Wednesday to combat the spread of West Nile virus infections, which have been more prevalent than usual in Texas and other states this year.

    There have been more cases of West Nile virus reported so far this year than any year since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control said on its website.

    Nearly half of the 693 human cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus infections reported this year to the CDC have been in Texas, along with 14 of the 26 deaths confirmed by the federal agency as of Tuesday.

    The Texas health department said the number of cases of West Nile in the state had reached 465 and there had been 17 deaths. There is a lag in the CDC confirming cases and deaths.

    The emergency declaration by Mayor Mike Rawlings followed a similar action last week by Dallas County officials and paves the way for aerial pesticide spraying to begin this week.

    Aerial spraying also is being used elsewhere, including in neighborhoods in New York City and Sacramento, California, to combat the spread of West Nile virus. Officials say such spraying is the most effective way to fight the mosquitoes that carry the disease despite safety concerns about exposing people to chemical pesticides.

    "We are on track to have the worst year ever for West Nile virus in Texas," said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas health department, adding that the number of cases was triple the previous high year of 2003.

    It is not clear why the number of West Nile cases in Texas is so high. It could be related to a warmer winter and rainy spring that has contributed to an increased mosquito population, Mann said.

    West Nile virus usually flares up in the summer because it is most often transmitted by mosquito bites. People infected can suffer fever and aches that can become severe or even cause death, especially of the elderly, children and other at risk groups. There is no specific treatment for the West Nile infection (Reuters, 2012)


    Title: Zebra Herpes Virus Kills Zoo Polar Bears
    Date: August 16, 2012
    Source:
    Discovery

    Abstract: When the polar bears started dying, nobody suspected the zebras. Jerka was the first. The 20-year-old polar bear 
    was born in captivity, and had lived in Germany’s Wuppertal Zoo since the age of two. In the summer of 2010, she started suffering from epileptic seizures and eight days later, on the 16th of June, she finally passed away. Lars, a male bear who lived in the same enclosure, also became seriously ill. He was hooked up to an IV drip and treated with anti-seizure medicine. It took several weeks, but he eventually made a full recovery.

    When the zookeepers dissected Jerka’s body, they found signs of inflammation in her brain. The pattern of damage pointed to a viral infection, but no one knew which virus was responsible. A team of scientists led by Alex Greenwood from the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research searched Jerka’s brain tissue for the genetic material of many possible viruses, from rabies to canine distemper virus. They found only one hit, and it looked a lot like EHV1 – a virus that infects horses.

    EHV1, or equine abortion virus, is a herpesvirus that’s related to the ones that cause herpes and chickenpox in humans. It affects the lungs, airways and brains of horses and donkeys, and it’s widespread among zoo zebras. Greenwood thinks that the virus probably jumped into Jerka from Wuppertal’s zebras, but it’s not clear how this happened since the zebras live 68 metres away from the bears and never came into direct contact. Maybe the zookeepers ferried the virus between them, or perhaps rodents did by sneaking in and out of the two enclosures.

    The virus that killed Jerka wasn’t a pure strain of EHV1. One of its genes contained DNA from a close relative called EHV9. It’s what is known as a “recombinant virus”. At some point, EHV1 and EHV9 infected the same zebra and fused to form a hybrid virus that went on to infect both Jerka and Lars.

    This isn’t the first time that EHV1 has caused problems in zoos. In another German zoo, it killed four black bears. In yet another, it finished off two Thomson’s gazelles and 18 guinea pigs, all from brain damage.  Meanwhile, EHV9 killed a polar bear at San Diego zoo, which had been housed around 200 feet away from a herd of Grevy’s zebras. These catholic tastes are unusual, especially since herpesviruses usually stick to one specific host.

    To make things worse, herpesviruses can infect hosts without any of the obvious symptoms that killed Jerka and sickened Lars. Greenwood found that another polar bear called Struppo, who died of an unrelated kidney disease in 2006, was also infected with EHV1. His strain was identical to Jerka’s strain, albeit without the extra fragment of EHV9 DNA. He was also only carrying the virus in his blood rather than his brain, which may explain why he never developed any fatal symptoms.

    So, we don’t know how common EHV1 and EHV9 are among captive animals, how they spread, or how to control them. All we know is that they can infect mammals from at least five distinct groups. That spells big trouble for zoos, which offer up a platter of new and unexpected hosts to these promiscuous viruses.

    Greenwood’s study highlights one of the many problems that zoos face. By bringing together animals from different continents and habitats, they create breeding grounds for new viruses that could undo the zoos’ valuable conservation work (Discovery, 2012)

    Title: Health Officials Watching For Unusual Diseases During RNC
    Date: August 16, 2012
    Source:
    Tampa Bay Times

    Abstract: Police will be on a heightened state of alert during the Republican National Convention.

    Doctors, too.

    The Hillsborough County Health Department's epidemiology program is asking health care providers to be "extra vigilant" when reporting diseases to public health officials from Monday to Sept. 6.

    This is because of "the nature of this high-profile event," according to a notice sent Wednesday.

    In particular, health officials want to hear immediately from health care professionals who see any patients with:

    • an unusual rash.

    • a food-related illness.

    • one case of bloody diarrhea.

    • any unexplained severe infectious illness or death in an otherwise healthy person.

    • any suspected illnesses from potential bioterrorism, such as anthrax, botulism, brucellosis, glanders, plague, Q fever, tularemia or viral hemorrhagic fevers.

    Not surprisingly, health officials also want to know about clusters or patterns of death or illnesses.

    That would include two or more patients with unexplained flulike illness, pneumonia, adult respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, or neurologic, gastrointestinal or dermatological disease.

    "We are also asking that providers report whether or not a patient is visiting for the RNC or has attended any RNC events," the Health Department's request says. "We understand that this information would not normally be collected, but it would be especially useful for us during this period."

    Esquire's Tampa Bay Area Recommendations
    In its September issue, Esquire offers these RNC recommendations: "The Refinery, for the John Denver breakfast. • El Puerto, for the steak sandwich. • For dinner: Remember that it's Cooters, not Hooters. • Mons Venus, if you have a little free time."

    Last RNC Town Hall Scheduled Tonight
    It will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kate Jackson Community Center, 821 S Rome Ave. Information on road closings, traffic, downtown parking, garbage pickup, security plans, school bus routes and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus and trolley service. Plus Q&A.

    Curtis Hixon Park will be closed until Sept. 4
    The convention this week took over Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park so a private contractor could build a "popup" nightclub.

    The good news: It's an impressive structure, and it's going up fast. For a look from above, check out the Tampa Downtown Partnership's Facebook page.

    The bad news: The park — including Curtis Hixon's section of the Riverwalk, its dog park, the playground and the kid's fountain near Ashley Drive — will be closed for nearly three more weeks.

    Jamestown Entertainment of Washington, D.C., is partnering with the Butter Group of New York to create a Tampa version of the 1 OAK nightclubs found in Manhattan and at the Mirage Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

    The private club is expected to have room for 2,000 partygoers in a 30,000-square-foot, air-conditioned temporary facility, complete with its own concert space, plus cigar, scotch and video game lounges.

    As part of its agreement with the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the city agreed to make Curtis Hixon and several other parks available for the convention's exclusive use.

    Curtis Hixon is expected to reopen to the public on Sept. 4.

    And if some lovers of the park grouse in the meantime?

    "Just bear with us," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "As we have said from Day 1, there will be some inconveniences and we all have to understand that, given the magnitude of what we're attempting to do."

    Tampa City Hall to set up RNC info call center
    City Hall is setting up a call center to provide information about street closures, parking, directions and hospitality information during the Republican National Convention.
    The toll-free RNC call center number is (866) 762-8687 .

    The call center will start taking calls at 8 a.m. Monday and will stop at noon Aug. 31. It will be staffed 24 hours a day during that time, with someone who speaks Spanish available.

    For online information about the convention, road closures, detours and city services, visit tampagov.net/RNC. City officials also encourage residents to sign up for the Alert Tampa messaging service to their email, mobile device or landline telephone. To sign up, go to tampagov.net/AlertTampa or call (813) 231-6184 (Tampa Bay Times, 2012)

    Title: Far More Could Be Done To Stop The Deadly Bacteria C. Diff
    Date: August 16, 2012
    Source: 
    USA Today

    Abstract: Just days after doctors successfully removed a tumor from Bailey Quishenberry's brain, the 14-year-old was spiraling downhill, delirious and writhing in pain from an entirely new menace. 
    Her abdomen swollen 10 times its normal size and her fever skyrocketing, Bailey began wishing she could die, just to escape the agony.

    Bailey had contracted a potentially fatal infection called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, that ravages the intestines. The bacteria preys on people in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities — the very places patients trust to protect their health.

    A USA Today investigation shows that C. diff is far more prevalent than federal reports suggest. The bacteria is linked in hospital records to more than 30,000 deaths a year in the United States— about twice federal estimates and rivaling the 32,000 killed in traffic accidents. It strikes about a half-million Americans a year.

    Yet despite a decade of rising C. diff rates, health care providers and the government agencies that oversee them have been slow to adopt proven strategies to reduce the infections, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented, the investigation shows.

    "People are dying needlessly," says Christian John Lillis, a New Yorker who lost his 56-year-old mother, Peggy, to the infection two years ago. "It's outrageous."

    Indeed, while the medical community has cut rates for virtually all other health care infections in recent years, C. diff hovers at all-time highs.

    "Looking at the data for C. diff and looking at what's being presented at infection control meetings, we're not doing a very good job," says William Jarvis, who spent 17 years heading the health care infection division at theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We know what to do (to lower rates). It's not rocket science. And we know the barrier is cost."

    To assess the C. diff epidemic, USA TODAY conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed an array of state and federal data, government studies and academic papers. The reporting revealed:

    Deaths and Illnesses are Much Higher than Reports have Shown
    In March, the
    CDC said in a report that the infection kills 14,000 people a year. But that estimate is based on death certificates, which often don't list the infection when patients die from complications, such as kidney failure.

    Hospital billing data collected by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that more than 9% of C. diff-related hospitalizations end in death — nearly five times the rate for other hospital stays. That adds up to more than 30,000 fatalities among the 347,000 C. diff hospitalizations in 2010. Thousands more patients are treated in nursing homes, clinics and doctors' offices.

    "We're talking in the range of close to 500,000 total cases a year," says Cliff McDonald, a C. diff expert and senior science adviser in the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. And annual fatalities "may well be … as high as 30,000."

    Health Care Facilities have Stopped Short of doing what's Necessary
    Many hospitals and nursing homes lack programs to track and limit the use of antibiotics that allow C. diff to thrive. And studies show that patients' rooms often aren't cleaned sufficiently.

    During the recession, many health care facilities cut spending on infection control and housekeeping, and they often lack a tightly coordinated approach to track and kill the bacteria.

    C. diff is "a big concern," but limited Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements strain budgets, says Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association's vice president for quality and patient safety. "Nurses on the front line, pharmacists that provide crucial medication, therapists that provide hands-on treatment, cleaning technicians that need to be there to keep rooms clean and infection rates down — there's no good place to cut."

    Other Countries are Racing ahead of the U.S. in Battling the Bacteria
    In England, the government requires hospitals to report all C. diff cases, underpinning a regulatory campaign that has slashed infections more than 50% since 2008. A new C. diff reporting rule for U.S. hospitals isn't scheduled to take effect until 2013.

    England and other European countries also require health care institutions to have antibiotic control programs and meet targets for reducing C. diff. There are no such rules for U.S. facilities: The federal government doesn't track antibiotic use in hospitals, nursing homes and other care settings, and there is no penalty under Medicare and Medicaid for facilities that have high C. diff rates.

    Thirty-four states now require hospitals to publicly report their rates of infections, but fewer than a quarter of those include C. diff, according to an analysis by Julie Reagan at HAI Focus, an organization that studies health care infections. Reporting requirements for nursing homes are even less common.

    In 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched an "action plan" to reduce six high-priority infections, including C. diff. Infection rates for five of those have dropped significantly, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

    Rates for C. diff, targeted for a 30% reduction by 2013, haven't budged.

    "As it relates to C. diff, absolutely, we have a lot of work to do," says Don Wright, deputy assistant secretary of health and leader of the prevention initiative. "It's important to take lessons learned. … We will begin to see a reduction if those are followed closely."

    One lesson came in 2003.

    That's when the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates hospital disinfectants, learned that none of its approved products actually killed C. diff spores — though many claimed on their labels that they were effective against the bacteria. Five years passed, with C. diff rates skyrocketing, before the agency ordered manufacturers to remove the claims and began to identify new disinfectants that work.

    "The agency blew it," says Jim Jones, EPA's acting assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which handles disinfectant regulation. "We missed something we totally had the capacity to catch."

    'I Couldn't Move'
    Like most C. diff patients, Bailey Quishenberry's symptoms began with severe diarrhea. Within days, her intestines were shutting down. Her colon was so swollen that it pushed pressure up to her lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

    Bailey's doctors at California's Loma Linda University Medical Center diagnosed her with toxic megacolon, a sometimes fatal complication that often requires removal of the colon and use of a colostomy bag.

    "It was so painful, I couldn't think, I couldn't keep track of what I was saying. … I couldn't move," she recalls. "It was like … 'I wish this would be over and I could just die.' "

    With a colectomy looming, Bailey's mother, Shannon, persuaded the doctors to try an unusual alternative, a fecal transplant. The goal is to repopulate the colon with healthy bacteria by implanting a feces from a relative, often via a colonoscopy or enema. Within days, Bailey's blood white cell count fell, the swelling in her abdomen receded. After a month in the hospital, she was allowed to go home.

    Bailey's ordeal would continue, but she survived. Many patients aren't so fortunate.

    Regina Mulligan was diagnosed with C. diff after entering a New York hospital for heart surgery and died from complications three months later at 83.

    "When someone you love goes in for something like heart surgery, you don't expect that they'll die from an infection because they are in the hospital," says Mary Schultz, Mulligan's daughter. "At one point the doctors told us that she had C. diff, but no one ever explained what it was or told us how deadly it could be."

    Kimberly Ratliff's baby girl, Charlee, lived only eight months before dying with the infection in 2010 after heart surgery. The medical community doesn't talk about C. diff because it wants to downplay the problem, she says.

    "I wish doctors were more forthcoming. … You don't learn about it until after it's too late."

    How to Attack the Problem
    There's no mystery to cutting C. diff rates.

    The spore-forming bacteria exists throughout the environment: water, soil, human and animal feces. It typically sickens people taking certain stomach medicines or antibiotics, which diminish healthy bacteria in the gut as they attack infections. When levels of healthy bacteria get low, C. diff can take over, producing toxins that cause intense diarrhea, often with grave complications.

    The germ thrives in settings where antibiotics are in wide use, and its proliferation has accelerated as a new, hyper-virulent strain has emerged over the past decade. C. diff spores spread through fecal contamination: They get on people's hands, often from bathroom fixtures, and move to other surfaces by touch, from light switches to bed rails to tables and trays. The tough-to-kill spores resist many disinfectants and can survive for months. Once they're on patients' hands, it's a short trip to their mouths — and their intestines.

    The challenge is twofold: Control the use of antibiotics that allow C. diff to flourish, and prevent the bacteria's spread from infected patients via dirty hands, dirty rooms or dirty equipment.

    Some U.S. hospitals have confronted those challenges head-on:

    1. In Cincinnati, The Jewish Hospital-Mercy Health slashed its high C. diff rate by half in less than a year by adopting stricter antibiotic controls and new room-cleaning protocols. The program costs the 209-bed hospital about $10,000 a year.

    2. In Pittsburgh, the 792-bed UPMC Presbyterian cut C. diff 71% from 2000 to 2006 with new cleaning protocols, better identification and isolation of infected patients, and antibiotic controls.

    3. In Oak Lawn, Ill., the 695-bed Advocate Christ Medical Center reduced C. diff cases 55% by retraining housekeepers, coordinating care with infection prevention specialists, and adopting new disinfection standards for high-touch areas.

    Although such strategies are well documented, many facilities don't use them, says Wright, the head of the federal infection-prevention initiative. "One of the tasks at hand is to ensure that these practices that have been shown to have success are broadly disseminated and broadly applied."

    Standing in the way are concerns about costs, staffing and the complexity of creating and implementing new procedures that require interdisciplinary teams to work together.

    Hospitals have cut housekeeping budgets up to 25% in recent years, according to the Association for the Healthcare Environment, an arm of the American Hospital Association. And the group's surveys show that many hospitals spend as little as 18 minutes cleaning a patient's room. That's well below the 25-30 minutes the group's studies have identified as optimal.

    There is also limited tracking of antibiotics. In 2010, about 42% of infection control specialists nationwide said their facility had no antibiotic stewardship program, based on a survey by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Such programs typically track the use of antibiotics to ensure proper use, which can reduce opportunities for infection.

    The challenge is more daunting in nursing homes, where antibiotics are prolific, staffing often is thin and it's tougher to isolate patients.

    'All Hands on Deck'
    Three weeks after Bailey Quishenberry left the hospital, her symptoms returned — diarrhea, high fever and white blood count, distended colon. She went back in the hospital for another eight days and, after another fecal transplant, her symptoms subsided and she was released again.

    During those weeks at Bailey's bedside, her mother, Shannon, became a self-educated C. diff expert. She got her own bleach wipes to clean Bailey's room. She made sure visitors wore gowns and gloves. She enforced hand-washing rules.

    As hospitals and nursing homes struggle with tight budgets and limited staffing, patient advocates say its critical that the public become more engaged in minimizing infection risks.

    "We need all hands on deck, including patients," says Pat Mastors, whose father, Bob Stegeman, died at 76 after developing toxic megacolon from C. diff. Mastors was "shocked" when she learned how common the infection is, and she helped pass a Rhode Island law requiring hospitals to advise patients on protecting themselves.

    "Hospitals don't want to tell patients the room might be contaminated," says Betsy McCaughey, founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. The committee prints cards with steps patients can take to minimize infection risks, and they offer the cards free to hospitals, McCaughey says. But "many hospitals don't want them."

    Money, Staffing Challenges
    The big challenge in curbing C. diff is getting all the players to work together — from health care administrators and the government regulators that guide them to doctors and nurses and the housekeeping staffs that clean up behind them.

    "We're kind of in the early stages in a more coordinated response," says Arjun Srinivasan, associate director of the CDC's Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Program. "There are simply many, many more moving parts that have to be addressed."

    Other health care infections have been stemmed by ensuring that certain medical procedures are done properly. Catheter-related infections were cut by getting doctors to change protocols for installing the devices. Infections linked to surgical incisions and ventilators were reduced by getting doctors and nurses to alter practices.

    Strategies to combat C. diff are more complicated and costly. Successful initiatives often require interdisciplinary teams. Pharmacists tackle antibiotic protocols. Medical staff look at how infected patients are isolated and handled. Environmental-services supervisors review cleaning practices. And administrators have to deal with the costs.

    Though infection control programs are shown to save facilities money in the long run, Jarvis, the former CDC infection control chief, says administrators often balk at the upfront investments because they worry about operating margins.

    "Saving money is not the same as making money," he adds.

    Meanwhile, "a lot of opportunities are being missed," says Christian Lillis, who set up thePeggy Lillis Memorial Foundation with his brother, Liam, after their mother's C. diff death to help curb infection rates.

    In a 2009 survey of 2,000 infection prevention specialists from U.S. hospitals, 41% said their facility had cut spending on infection control. In a 2010 follow-up by APIC, 53% said their institutions were taking new steps to cut C. diff, but most said more staff was needed.

    The C. diff reporting rule that takes effect next year should spur facilities to boost their efforts, says McDonald, the C. diff expert at the CDC.

    "Having people track these data and report probably does the most to move this whole (prevention) yardstick forward," McDonald says. Healthcare facilities "care about their reputation."

    But there are few other regulatory incentives for facilities to improve. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has begun reducing reimbursement to hospitals for care tied to certain health care infections it deems preventable, such as those related to catheter use. But C. diff is not on that list.

    It's difficult to hold facilities accountable for C. diff because it can be impossible to know where a patient was infected, CMS spokeswoman Ellen Griffith says. With patients moving between hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings, a case diagnosed at a particular site may not have been contracted there, she adds.

    That hasn't been a roadblock in England, where hospitals must meet strict targets for reducing infection rates or face sanctions. In fiscal 2011-12 through March, the country had just 18,000 C. diff cases — 17% below the prior year.

    The British experience "has shown that substantial reductions are possible," says Don Goldmann, senior vice president at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "We can do better, and we really need to."

    A 'Transformation' for Bailey
    Last August, three months after Bailey's C. diff ordeal began, her symptoms returned a third time. She got another fecal transplant — it often takes several — and improved steadily.

    By last fall, Bailey's colon size was normal, her white count good, the fevers and nausea less frequent. Her gastroenterologist was impressed, telling her he'd never seen such a severe C. diff case where the patient's colon wasn't removed. In March, Bailey finally returned to school after missing six months. In April, she played Eve in an Easter play.

    "We see such a rebirth in our young lady," Shannon wrote this spring in the final entry of an online journal chronicling her daughter's illness. "It is an amazing transformation."

    At Loma Linda medical center, C. diff rates have declined and officials continue taking steps to reduce them, including changes in room-cleaning procedures, antibiotic controls and testing protocols for patients showing C. diff symptoms.

    "We formalized things we were already doing and started adding new things," says James Pappas, patient safety officer. "We've seen our rates drop in half, so that certainly makes us happy. But … if you're having one case a year, that's still a problem."

    Last month, Bailey and her family went on vacation. She kayaked, hiked, swam. But Shannon kept C. diff medication close at hand. The infection still lurks in Bailey's gut, held in check by the healthy bacteria that have come back to the fore.

    "I still worry," Shannon says. "If Bailey starts to get sick, she goes to deathly ill immediately.

    "For us, it will be a lifestyle forever" (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: TB Is Very Much Alive At Olive View-UCLA Hospital In Sylmar
    Date: August 18, 2012
    Source:
    LA Times

    Abstract:
    Matthew Kennedy spent his 39th birthday at the hospital learning to walk again.

    Three months ago, the Venice Beach resident started having trouble moving his legs. When a chest X-ray at a Santa Monica health center revealed a shadow in his lungs, he was quickly transferred to a highly specialized tuberculosis ward 25 miles across the county at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

    Doctors think the bacterial disease attacked his nerves — unusual for TB, which typically infects the lungs. But rare is normal for the Olive View unit, one of only four such centers in the nation specialized in tuberculosis. "Something that the average physician would only see maybe once in a lifetime, we see kind of routinely here," said Dr. Glenn Mathisen, director of the infectious diseases department at Olive View.

    The high-tech isolation unit opened last August as part of a $53-million federally funded renovation of the public hospital's emergency room to equip it for a bioterrorism attack. For now, it serves highly infectious or difficult-to-treat tuberculosis patients, reflecting positive and negative crosscurrents in TB medicine: Infections are down dramatically but getting more complicated.

    "You're getting to those that are much more challenging to treat medically, that require longer hospitalization," said Dr. Frank Alvarez, who directs the county's tuberculosis control program.

    For Olive View, which opened 90 years ago as the largest TB sanitarium west of the Mississippi, the new ward represents a bit of deja vu with a cutting edge. "We've come sort of full circle," Mathisen said.

    The facility, which can handle up to 30 patients, has a state-of-the-art, pressure-controlled air circulation system designed to keep the airborne disease from spreading. An alarm system sounds if anything is amiss, and air leaving the ward gets zapped with UV light to kill any tuberculosis germs.

    Once known as consumption, the killer disease that claimed Emily Brontë and Frederic Chopin, tuberculosis is now viewed as a bygone threat by many in developed countries.

    But the illness remains widespread in poorer countries and still surfaces in the United States in places like Los Angeles, with large and diverse immigrant communities. "It's still a fatal disease," said Alvarez. "It needs to be taken still very seriously in terms of public health and safety."

    TB cases in Los Angeles County have dropped nearly 70% over the last two decades. Still, 680 infections were confirmed last year and nearly 80% of those involved people born in other countries, primarily Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam and China.

    Olive View's ward is designed to accommodate the most demanding cases, thereby freeing up beds in infectious disease wards at other county hospitals. Mathisen said the severity of the 68 tuberculosis cases that have come through the unit in the last year caught the staff by surprise. "They're sicker than we thought they would be," he said.

    Many of the center's patients are homeless or low income and have a host of other conditions that complicate tuberculosis treatment, including diabetesHIVheart diseasesubstance abuse or mental illness.

    By keeping the patients for a few months, "we have time to counsel and educate them on their different illnesses" and medications, said Leona Mason, a nurse practitioner in the ward. "It's a lot for some of these people to take on."

    People with weak immune systems are particularly at risk for tuberculosis, including children, the elderly and people with HIV. In Los Angeles, about 6% of tuberculosis cases occur among people with HIV, and nearly a quarter occur in people with diabetes.

    Homeless patients or those with young children are required — by court order if necessary — to remain at Olive View until they are is no longer contagious. If a patient's tuberculosis is resistant to first-line drugs, he or she may stay at Olive View to receive harsher medications that are more toxic and require closer monitoring.

    Kennedy, who was adopted from Korea, contracted his infection as a child, but it remained dormant for decades. The disease emerged suddenly, taking him by surprise. Indeed, although about a third of the world's population carries dormant tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization, only about 10% of those infected will develop the disease.

    In his hospital gown, tan socks and a paper face mask, Kennedy pushed a walker last week as he shuffled a lap around the hallways with the help of a physical therapist. He has improved significantly since arriving at Olive View three months ago, almost completely bedridden.

    "I didn't think it would do this to me," Kennedy said, settling back into a wheelchair after his physical therapy session. Relearning to walk — something he always took for granted — has been his biggest challenge.

    Recovering from tuberculosis can be a lengthy process. An infection that occurs only in the lungs takes a minimum of six months to fully treat. But infections in other organs — such as the brain or the bowels — other compounding illnesses or drug-resistance can require patients to take daily medication for as long as two years. Such factors can also drive up the cost of treatment from $25,000 to $250,000, Alvarez said.

    Kennedy's leg condition could require several more months to fully recover. In the meantime, he looks forward to seeing his friends who visit on the weekends.

    It's a hard way to spend a summer. "You look outside and it's nice and sunny out, and I'm stuck in here," he said (LA Times, 2012)

    Title: Anthrax Drug Death Sparks Fear Of Europe-Wide Pandemic
    Date: August 18, 2012
    Source: 
    RT

    Abstract: A drug addict in Blackpool, UK, died from an anthrax infection, sparking concerns of a pan-European outbreak of the rare disease.

    Medical experts suggested that the death was caused by contaminated heroin, Reuters reported. The incident comes in the wake of similar anthrax outbreaks in Europe. The Blackpool infection is the only fatal case thus far.

    Since June, three incidents were recorded in Germany, two in Denmark and one in France. A heroin addict was also hospitalized in Scotland a month ago.

    “It's likely that further cases among PWID [People Who Inject Drugs] will be identified as part of the ongoing outbreak in EU countries. The Department of Health has alerted the NHS of the possibility of people who are injecting drugs presenting to emergency departments and walk-in clinics, with symptoms suggestive of anthrax” Dilys Morgan, an expert at the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) told the Guardian.

    Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria. Infection in humans is rare, usually involving the skin, gastrointestinal tract or lungs. Anthrax commonly affects animals such as sheep and goats, but humans who come into contact with infected cattle may also become infected. People traditionally considered to be at high risk of anthrax infection include farm workers and veterinarians.

    Since 2009, drug users have also come into contact with the deadly bacteria. A wave of 124 anthrax infections swept the UK in 2009 and 2010, resulting in 19 deaths. Scientists traced the outbreak to an infected goat in Turkey, which was used to transport heroin to Europe. There are fears that the batch responsible for the current incidents could be linked with the 2009-2010 cases, Wired magazine reported.

    The UK healthcare system has responded to the potential threat by posting public warnings, and increasing national educational programs that explain the dangers of the rare bacteria and drug use.

    The disease, which has a death rate of up to 75 percent once contracted, “can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early. It is, therefore, important for medical professionals to know the signs and symptoms to look for, so that there are no delays in providing the necessary treatment," Morgan said (RT, 2012).

    Title: Tampa Health Officials Preparing For Bioattacks At Republican Convention
    Date: August 20, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: Epidemiologists with the Hillsborough County Health Department are requesting that health care providers in Tampa, Florida, quickly report diseases to public health officials before, during and after the Republican National Convention.

    Public health officials expressed a desire to hear immediately from health care workers who see patients with food-related illnesses, bloody diarrhea, unusual rash or any unexplained severe illnesses. The officials also want to hear of any suspected illness from possible bioterrorism, including plague, brucellosis, botulism, anthrax or viral hemorrhagic fevers, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

    “We are also asking that providers report whether or not a patient is visiting for the RNC or has attended any RNC events,” the request from the department said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “We understand that this information would not normally be collected, but it would be especially useful for us during this period.”

    Health officials also want to hear about two or more patients with unexplained adult respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, flu-like illness, sepsis, neurologic disease, dermatological disease or gastrointestinal disease, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

    The convention will be held between August 27 and August 30 in Tampa. The officials want health care workers to be on the alert until at least September 6 (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Burning Question: Do Germs Spread On Airport Security Lines?
    Date: August 20, 2012
    Source: 
    Wall Street Journal

    Abstract: We live in a germy world, says William Schaffner, infectious-disease specialist and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "If we went down to Times Square and began culturing people's noses, something like 10% to 20% of them carry the antibiotic-resistant staph infection MRSA," he adds.

    For the most part, however, those bacteria are harmless since we all have immunities against them. Simple hygiene—showering, washing hands—"will keep the bad guys at bay," he says.

    Same goes for the barefoot march through airport security. The risk of catching athlete's foot or another fungus from fellow travelers is very low.

    "It's in prolonged dampness that a toe fungus can get a foothold, so to speak," says Dr. Schaffner. "So unless you're in the middle of a monsoon and the airport has flooded, you're not going to be sloshing through a sea of water and spreading foot germs." Even in the humid month of August, when sweaty feet traipse through airport security, the area is essentially a dry environment.

    Still worried? Wear socks, "not sandals or flip-flops that oblige you to go barefoot through security," he says. Should your fashion sense not permit socks, then wipe your feet with disinfecting cloths after security—"although I travel quite a bit and have never seen anyone do that," he says.

    Those dirty bins—where you might set your mobile phone in the same spot a road warrior just put his smelly shoes—may carry some of the typical bacteria circulating around us, but again, the risk of infection is likely to be very low.

    "There is nothing in the medical literature about catching hand, foot and mouth disease or anything else from airport security," Dr. Schaffner says.

    If you're one of those people who considers wearing a face mask on long-haul flights, he adds, bring a pack of disinfecting wipes or sanitizing gel and slather some over your phone before putting it to your face.

    Just don't overdo it. Covering yourself in hand sanitizer and wiping down everything that comes into contact with other humans is not only impractical, it may work against you, says Dr. Schaffner. "There is a growing body of research that says that all of us benefit from exposure to the germy world," he says.

    It increases our immune system and makes us more resistant to harmful germs when they do get into the wrong place. "Growing up, there was a saying that 'you've got to eat a peck of dirt.' To me that still holds true. A little germ exposure can be good for you."

    So, wear socks and carry hand sanitizer, says Dr. Schaffner, "just don't obsess" (Wall Street Journal, 2012)

    Title: Porn Industry Announces Moratorium After Syphilis-Case Reports
    Date: August 20, 2012
    Source: 
    LA Times

    Abstract: Jolted by the possibility of a 
    syphilis outbreak among its ranks, a Los Angeles-based trade group that represents the adult film industry announced a nationwide moratorium on X-rated productions while more than 1,000 porn performers are tested.

    The Free Speech Coalition issued the call on its website after reporting that one performer tested positive for syphilis, a 
    sexually transmitted disease, and had begun notifying sexual partners of that information.

    The moratorium was announced Saturday, a day after Los Angeles County's Public Health Department said it was investigating a cluster of possible syphilis cases within the porn industry. The agency said it had received reports of at least five cases involving adult performers within a week.

    The head of the coalition would not agree to an interview, but on its website, the group said that it was calling for a temporary halt to film shoots while the "entire population" of performers is examined by doctors.

    "A determination will be made by the doctors on the appropriate time to lift the moratorium as more information is revealed," the group said.

    Michael Weinstein, president of the 
    AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said Monday the developments show that adult film companies are incapable of policing themselves. His group said the syphilis incident would be used as part of the campaign for Measure B, a proposal on the Nov. 6 countywide ballot mandating the use condoms during professional X-rated shoots. And it accused adult film productions of being "bad corporate citizens," saying that no other business would tolerate transmission of any diseases, sexual or otherwise.

    "We don't settle for that in food preparation. We don't settle for that in factories," said Tom Myers, general counsel for the group. "I can't think of any other [workplace] where there's an acceptable level of transmissible diseases as a normal course of business "

    The number of syphilis cases in California jumped 18% from 2010 to 2011, according to state health officials. If left untreated, the bacterial disease can cause permanent damage to the heart, brain, and other organs. In Los Angeles, officials are trying to map out a strategy for inspecting adult film shoots, part of an ordinance passed by the City Council this year.

    City officials are hoping voters will approve Measure B, which would allow the city to rely on the county's health department to conduct spot inspections.

    Weinstein said city officials had overcome the "ick factor" surrounding the condom issue and are making progress developing an enforcement strategy. But Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, criticized them for devoting taxpayer resources on the matter.

    "In a time when multiple California cities are going bankrupt, L.A. itself has a significant budgetary problem, and city services are being cut drastically, I find it unconscionable that the city would create a new bureaucracy to monitor condoms on adult film performers," she said in a statement.

    Duke also said in an email that Measure B would ultimately endanger porn performers by pushing adult film shoots "underground" or out of the county. She also accused Weinstein's group of waging "a relentless attack on the adult industry" since 2009.

    Weinstein, in turn, accused the adult film industry of doing too little to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. He said producers make performers pay for their own testing and require that syphilis screening be done only twice a year.

    "If we look at the fact that syphilis has up to a 90-day incubation period and the fact that the industry only tests these employees every six months … a person could go as long as nine months without being diagnosed" with syphilis, he said 
    (LA Times, 2012)

    Title: Infections Among Homeless Could Fuel Wider Epidemics
    Date: August 20, 2012
    Source:  
    Fox News

    Abstract: Homeless people across the world have dramatically higher rates of infection with tuberculosis (TB), HIV and hepatitis C and could fuel community epidemics that cost governments dear, a study showed on Monday.

    With an estimated 650,000 homeless people in the United States and around 380,000 in Britain, experts said high levels of infection would not only cause yet more poverty and distress for those without homes, but could also become a wider problem.

    "Infections in homeless people can lead to community infections and are associated with malnutrition, long periods of homelessness and high use of medical services," said Seena Fazel, a senior research fellow in clinical science at the University of Oxford who led the study.

    Fazel and his team analyzed more than 40 research papers on levels of HIV, hepatitis C and TB among homeless people from 1984 to 2012.

    They found that in the United States, for example, TB rates were at least 46 times greater in the homeless than in the general population, and the prevalence of hepatitis C viral infection was more than four times higher.

    In Britain, TB rates were about 34 times higher in homeless people than in the general population, and the prevalence of hepatitis C viral infection was nearly 50 times higher.

    For HIV, rates of infection were typically between 1 and 20 times higher in homeless people in the United States than the general population, but no studies were found for Britain.

    Fazel said his findings suggested the best way to fight back against these and other infectious diseases was to focus on the homeless as one of the highest risk groups.

    "Because ... numbers of homeless people are high in some countries, improvements in care could have pronounced effects on public health," he said.

    Fazel, whose study was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, said similar patterns were found in most other countries where data were available. Other countries covered in the study included France, India, Sweden, Ireland and Brazil.

    According to United Nations estimates, about 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It is well known that rates of illness and premature death are particularly high in this group.

    TB kills an estimated 1.4 million people annually, and about 9 million people are newly infected each year around the world.

    Because it is a bacterial infection that spreads through the air in droplets when infected people cough and sneeze, it can develop into community outbreaks.

    Anyone with active TB can easily infect another 10 to 15 people a year, and because successful treatment for TB requires months of antibiotics, patient care can be expensive.

    In the United States, nearly 60,000 new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS are reported nationally every year.

    The researchers said this research focused on HIV, Hepatitis C and TB because their initial work suggested these were the most heavily studied infections among homeless populations.

    But they noted the homeless also have high rates of other infectious diseases, including hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, foot problems and skin infections (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Olive View-UCLA Hospital Treats Severe Tuberculosis Cases
    Date: August 21, 2012
    Source: Vaccine News

    Abstract: The Olive View unit of UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar is now one of only four centers in the country specializing in tuberculosis.

    “Something that the average physician would only see maybe once in a lifetime, we see kind of routinely here,” Dr. Gleen Mathisen, the director of the infectious disease department at Olive View said of the unit, the Los Angeles Times reports.

    The high-tech isolation unit was opened last August and currently serves highly infectious, difficult-to-treat tuberculosis patients. The unit was built as part of a $53 million federally funded renovation of the public hospital’s emergency room to equip it for a bioterrorism attack. The unit has noticed that TB infections are down dramatically but are becoming much more complicated.

    “You’re getting to those that are much more challenging to treat medically, that require longer hospitalization,” Dr. Frank Alvarez, the director of the county’s tuberculosis control program, said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    Olive View opened 90 years ago as the largest TB sanitarium west of the Mississippi. The facility now can hold up to 30 patients, offering them a state-of-the-art, pressure-controlled air circulation system designed to keep the airborne disease from spreading. If anything is amiss, an alarm system sounds and UV light zaps the air in the unit, killing any tuberculosis germs.

    Tuberculosis was once a common and deadly threat known as consumption, though it is now viewed by many developing countries as a bygone disease. The illness remains widespread, though, in poorer countries and in areas in developing countries with large and diverse immigrant communities. Alvarez warned that it should still be taken very seriously.

    In Los Angeles County, cases of TB have dropped nearly 70 percent in the last 20 years, but 680 infections were reported last year, 80 percent of which involved people born in other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam and China.

    Olive View takes on the most demanding cases, some of which have caught Mathisen and his colleagues by surprise.

    “They’re sicker than we thought they would be,” Mathisen said, the Los Angeles Times reports.

    The center also works with patients who are homeless or low income and suffering from conditions that make tuberculosis treatment more difficult, including diabetes, HIV, heart disease, substance abuse or mental illness.

    Olive View keeps patients for a few months, giving them the opportunity to be counseled and educated on their illnesses and medications, according to Leona Mason, a nurse practitioner in the ward, the Los Angeles Times reports.

    In Los Angeles, approximately six percent of TB cases occur among people with HIV and nearly 25 percent occur in people with diabetes.

    Recovering from tuberculosis can be a long process often made more difficult by compounding illnesses or drug-resistance. Treatment can last six months at minimum or up to two years in more severe cases, which may drive the cost of treatment to upwards of $250,000, according to Alvarez, the Los Angeles Timesreports (Vaccine News, 2012)

    Title: Hospital's Bioterrorism Isolation Unit In Use For TB Patients
    Date: August 21, 2012
    Source:
    Health Leaders Media

    Abstract: When a chest X-ray at a Santa Monica health center revealed a shadow in his lungs, Matthew Kennedy was quickly transferred to a highly specialized tuberculosis ward 25 miles across the county at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar. Rare is normal for the Olive View unit, one of only four such centers in the nation specialized in tuberculosis. The high-tech isolation unit opened last August as part of a $53-million federally funded renovation of the public hospital's emergency room to equip it for a bioterrorism attack. For now, it serves highly infectious or difficult-to-treat tuberculosis patients, reflecting positive and negative crosscurrents in TB medicine: Infections are down dramatically but getting more complicated
    (Health Leaders Media, 2012)

    Title: Hepatitis C Test For Baby Boomers Saves Lives
    Date: August 21, 2012
    Source:
    LA Times

    Abstract: I consider myself to be a fortunate person. I have a good education, a great job and excellent health insurance. I am a baby boomer who has aged reasonably well and can look forward to a fairly comfortable retirement. I am also fortunate because I was diagnosed with 
    hepatitis C by a proactive and knowledgeable doctor in the late 1990s and had the opportunity to be treated and cured. The odds are that if I had not been diagnosed and treated, I would be on a liver transplant list right now, have liver cancer or even be dead from this disease.

    The odds were against my being diagnosed early or at all, since testing wasn't routinely done back when my hepatitis was caught. That's why I was happy to learn that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its new screening guidelines calling for all baby boomers to get tested once for the disease. For more than 95% of boomers, that means a simple blood test followed by reassuring news. But for the 3% to 5% of people who are infected, the test could mean the difference between life and death.

    The recommendations are aimed at baby boomers because that generation has the highest likelihood of having been infected with the hepatitis C virus. According to the CDC, an estimated 2 million baby boomers have the disease. Many of us contracted the blood-borne virus more than 30 years ago, through injection drug use, or through blood transfusion or organ transplants before 1992, when measures to test donated blood and organs were adopted.

    There are a lot of ways to contract hepatitis C, and not only baby boomers are susceptible. These days, transmission still occurs from shared syringes, including those used for performance enhancement drugs. But thanks to better knowledge about the risk of sharing needles, the advent of needle exchange programs and legalization of needle purchases in pharmacies in many states, this route of transmission has been curbed to a great degree.

    Hepatitis C can also be transmitted when tattoos are done with crude homemade devices or unsterile equipment. That may be how I acquired the disease. When I was 18 years old, I went to a party, where we got group tattoos done. About 5% of babies born to moms who have hepatitis C also have it.

    Less probable, but still possible, methods of transmission are sharing toothbrushes or razors with someone who is infected (if the blood of an infected person gets onto the razor or toothbrush), and, in rare cases, through sexual transmission. I had been married for more than 20 years when I was diagnosed, and my husband doesn't have hepatitis C.

    More than 15,000 Americans die of hepatitis C annually, yet most people who have the virus don't know they do, because often symptoms are unnoticeable or mild. I had walked around feeling tired for years before I was diagnosed, but dismissed it, thinking I just needed more sleep. It wasn't until I finished 48 weeks of treatment that I realized that feeling that tired wasn't normal.

    When I was treated in 1999, the routine was three interferon shots a week for nearly a year, along with an oral medication. There was only about a 30% cure rate with that regimen. I was one of the lucky ones. Soon thereafter, a longer acting interferon was introduced, which meant one shot a week and the oral medication. This raised the cure rate to about 50%.

    Last year the Federal Drug Administration approved two protease inhibitors to treat hepatitis C, and when one of these drugs is added to the mix, the cure rate goes up to as high as 80%. Some people breeze right through treatment, but most have some side effects, including flu-like symptoms of headache, nausea and fever. There are several drugs in development that may eliminate the need for interferon entirely in a few years, so a lot of people are waiting for these drugs before getting treatment.

    My advice is to anyone diagnosed with hepatitis C is to have a good medical work-up to determine how advanced your disease is, and then ask your doctor how quickly you need to get treatment. When I was diagnosed, the once-a-week shot was just on the horizon, and I thought about waiting for it, but my physician said my liver was already quite compromised. For a lot of people, care for hepatitis C patients means just taking it easy on your liver by quitting alcohol and tobacco, losing weight if you need to, and monitoring your condition.

    There's another benefit to screening all baby boomers: elimination of the stigma that is attached to hepatitis C. By automatically adding age to the list of risks for hepatitis C, doctors don't have to ask embarrassing and invasive questions about a patient's distant past.

    About 75% of people with hepatitis C don't know it. Offering a one-time hepatitis C blood test to baby boomers could identify more than 800,000 additional people with the disease and save lives along with billions in medical care costs. But this can happen only if we educate the public and providers.

    Martha Saly is the director of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, a coalition of more than 200 public, private and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity and mortality from viral hepatitis in the United States (LA Times, 2012)

    Title: An Increase In Cases And Deaths Reported In Congo Ebola Outbreak
    Date: August 21, 2012
    Source: 
    Examiner

    Abstract: The number of cases, deaths and health zones has all increased since the 
    Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Ebola outbreak was first reported last Friday.

    According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Alert and Response (GAR) published Tuesday, as of 20 August 2012, a total of 15 (13 probable and 2 confirmed) cases with 10 deaths have been reported in Province Orientale in Eastern DRC. This is up from 10 suspected cases and 6 deaths late last week.

    In addition to reporting cases in the Isiro and Dungu Health Zones of Province Orientale, there are now at least two cases and 1 death in the Pawa health zone.

    The Congolese Ministry of Health has convened a National Task Force and is working with several partners including WHO, UNICEF, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Suisse, MSF Belgique and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    The outbreak in the DRC follows an outbreak in neighboring Uganda late last month where at least 16 people died from the lethal virus (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Heroin User’s Anthrax Death Sparks Outbreak Fear In England
    Date: August 20, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: The recent death from anthrax of a British drug user has led to concern in Europe that the outbreak of the rare infection among people who inject heroin may be worsening.

    The drug user could have been infected by contaminated heroin while at least seven other similar cases have been seen across Europe, the Health Protection Agency said, the Chicago Tribune reports.

    The HPA’s Dilys Morgan said that more cases will be identified, though the HPA said anthrax in drug users was very rare. The HPA was set up to guard against infection diseases and environmental hazards.

    A 2009-2010 outbreak in Europe was also traced to contaminated heroin, though the only other case reported before then was a single occurrence in Norway in 2000, the Chicago Tribune Reports.

    The HPA reported that since June of this year several new cases of anthrax among heroin users have been seen – three in Germany, two in Denmark, and one each in France and Scotland.

    “It is unclear as yet whether this (death) and a case in Scotland at the end of July are linked to the outbreak in Europe but the HPA will continue to monitor the situation,” the HPA said, the Chicago Tribune reports.

    The British victim died in a hospital in Blackpool, northern England, though no further details were given.

    Anthrax is a fairly common bacteria with spores that can be used as a biological weapon, the Chicago Tribune reports.

    Anthrax rarely infects humans, but if spores are inhaled the infection can take hold quickly. The infection often takes hold before symptoms show, making antibiotic treatment much more difficult and less likely to succeed.

    Anthrax infection can come in several forms, including skin anthrax, lung anthrax and gastrointestinal forms. It can also progress to blood infection and death. The disease is not transmitted directly from one infected person to another (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Plum Island Facility Fails To Meet Biocontainment Standards
    Date: August 22, 2012
    Source: 
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: A new report by the National Research Council indicates that the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is in need of major improvements.

    The report notes the “imperative” need for a large animal biocontainment laboratory in the United States in order to protect animal and public health, East Hampton Patch reports.

    A new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility or scaled back version could help meet the need, but until such a facility is opened, Plum Island “should remain in operation to address ongoing needs,” the report states.

    Plum Island, though, is in need of updates to its aging infrastructure estimating a total cost of $90 million. The estimate is based on initial estimates for short-term improvements, including improvements to the liquid-waste decontamination facility, Plum Island and Orient Point harbors, information technology upgrades, utility and building upgrades, security hardening, detection and access control, and marine vessel replacement and lighthouse restoration, according to East Hampton Patch.

    Long-term improvements are estimated at $210 million, should the center be expected to operate for another 25 years.

    One drawback of ignoring the needed updates is that the center does not have large animal Biosafety Level 4 Capacity, which contains agents identified as potentially life-threatening, meaning that work would have to go to foreign laboratories.

    The proposed NBAF, which would be in Manhattan, Kansas, would be the world’s fourth Biosafety Level 4 level laboratory capable of large animal research, according to the report. The site would replace the Plum Island facility, but would cost an estimated $1.14 billion.

    The report also says that Plum Island’s aging infrastructure does “not meet current standards for high biocontainment,” according to East Hampton Patch.

    DHS has previously stated that cost of maintaining and operating the Plum Island facility would be costly and that a Biosafety Level 4 facility could not be constructed on Plum Island.

    Due to the crucial need for foot-and-mouth disease research in the United States, improvements must be made, no matter what option is selected, the report states, East Hampton Patch reports (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Fans Possibly Exposed To Rabies After A Bat Swoops In During Last Friday’s Ravens Game
    Date: August 23, 2012
    Source:
    CBS Baltimore

    Abstract:  An unusual health warning goes out to Ravens fans. Some people in the stands at last Friday’s game against the Detroit Lions may have been exposed to rabies.

    Denise Koch has more.

    When Ravens fans filled the stadium for the season’s first home game, they didn’t expect to encounter any wildlife.

    But in section 500, a bat swooped through in the midst of the game against the Lions.

    “I didn’t know, first of all, that bats could fly that high up but I didn’t see the bat,” Dave Rabinowitz, who sits in section 500, said.

    Now, Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) wants to warn people sitting in section 500 that they could be at risk for rabies.

    “Bats can trasmit rabies to people. They’re very small and they have small teeth, so it’s possible that a person could get bitten by a bat and may not notice it right away because the bite is hard to distinguish,” Kim Mitchell, chief of Rabies and Vector-borne Diseases at the DHMH, said.

    But fans say bats in the bleachers won’t keep them from cheering on the Ravens.

    “I think it’s just a fluke, and as long as people get themselves followed up and checked up, then, so be it,” Ravens fan Bob Murray said.

    Health officials say people should not be worried if they see bats flying around outside and they should only call their doctor if they’ve had direct contact with a bat.

    In Maryland, more than 200 animals have been diagnosed with rabies to date this year, including 40 bats and one deer (CBS Baltimore, 2012).

    Title: Brain-Eating Amoeba Came From Faucet
    Date: August 23, 2012
    Source:
    MedPageToday

    Abstract: Two recent cases of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) show that municipal tap water can harbor the amoeba responsible for the fatal disease, according to CDC researchers.

    The deaths of two adults in Louisiana hospitals of infectious meningoencephalitis are the first recorded PAM cases in the country associated with the presence ofNaegleria fowleri in household plumbing served by treated municipal water, wrote Jonathan Yoder, MPH, of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, and colleagues in Clinical Infectious Diseases online.

    The cases also are the first reports of a potential link between PAM and the use of a nasal irrigation device, the group added. As a result, the CDC recommended that patients who use a neti pot or similar device for nasal irrigation distill, filter, or boil the municipally treated tap water before use.

    The authors noted that tap water in the U.S. has not historically been a common source of exposure to N. fowleri, a free-living amoeba commonly found in warm, typically untreatedfreshwater such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. However, it also can be found in warm groundwater and inadequately treated swimming pools.

    PAM symptom onset occurs 1 to 7 days after exposure, and symptoms of infection are similar to bacterial or viral meningitis, including headache, fever, stiff neck, anorexia, vomiting, altered mental state, seizures, and coma.

    In the first case, a 28-year-old man abruptly developed symptoms of severe occipital headache radiating down the neck, neck stiffness, back pain, and intermittent vomiting, as well as confusion, fever, and disorientation at admission to the emergency department.

    "The patient had chronic allergic sinusitis and irrigated his sinuses with a neti pot at least once daily, using tap water to which he added a commercially available salt packet," the authors explained.

    Several amoebae were detected in samples taken from the patient's home, including Hartmannella,Vannella, and Naegleria sp. Water collected from a tankless water heater was polymerase chain reaction (PCR) positive for N. fowleri, although the neti pot was PCR negative for N. fowleri.

    In the second case, a 51-year-old woman had presented symptoms over 3 days of altered mental status, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, listlessness, fatigue, and high fever, as well as neck stiffness and thyromegaly upon examination at an emergency department.

    She also had sinus problems and regularly used a neti pot. Water samples from the kitchen faucet, shower, bathtub, and bathroom sink in her home tested positive for N. fowleri.

    While no amoebae were cultured from the neti pot, the chance of recovering organisms from a dry neti pot after 2 months was unlikely, the authors pointed out.

    Following their deaths, the CDC further investigated the source of the amoebic contamination at the patients' homes and municipal water supplies.

    In both cases, municipal water sources tested negative for the amoeba and identification of PAM only occurred after treatment was not effective -- in the first case, the patient was declared brain dead before N. fowleri infection was confirmed, while in the second, identification occurred during the autopsy.

    The agency noted that although the salt used in neti pot devices can kill off potential contaminants, the "length of contact time found in real world conditions (<1 minute) would probably not effectively inactivate Nfowleri, which probably requires hours for full inactivation."

    They further clarified that the amoebae "were not isolated from the municipal water system in the Louisiana cases; Naegleria sp. were isolated from the premise plumbing, along with other amoebae."

    The authors also cautioned that N. fowleri cysts and trophozoites are fairly resistant to chlorine disinfection, but it remains uncertain how the amoeba arrived at the patients' homes and how it was able to colonize the household hot water systems.

    They noted that the geographic pattern of this climate-sensitive, thermophilic amoeba seems to be shifting up from the southern U.S., with more cases reported in warm freshwater locations after localized heat waves.

    "It is unclear whether the increased temperature and heat waves projected in climate change models will lead to further expansion of the [amoeba's] geographic range," they said (MedPageToday, 2012).

    Title: High Lead Levels Prompt Recall Of Black Licorice
    Date: August 23, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: California health officials warned consumers, especially children and pregnant women, Thursday not to eat Red Vines black licorice twists after discovering it contains levels of lead that exceed state standards, according to the California Department of Public Health.

    Red Vines candy was recalled when candy packages marked with the expiration date 02/04/13 were found to contain up to 13.2 micrograms of lead per serving, according to the California Department of Public Health.

    Any consumers in possession of the candy should dispose of it immediately, according to the Monterey County Health Department.

    Manufactured and distributed by Union City-based American Licorice Co., Red Vines candy is sold in a one-pound, light red package with 'Red Vines' written in bold, white letters (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: NIH Superbug Outbreak Highlights Lack Of New Antibiotics
    Date: August 24, 2012
    Source:
    Washington Post

    Abstract: As doctors battled a 
    deadly, drug-resistant superbug at the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center last year, they turned to an antibiotic of last resort.

    But colistin, as it’s called, is not a fancy new creation of modern biotechnology. It was discovered in a beaker of fermenting bacteria in Japan — in 1949.

    That doctors have resorted to such an old, dangerous drug — colistin causes kidney damage — highlights the lack of new antibiotics coming out of the pharmaceutical pipeline even in the face of a global epidemic of hospital-acquired bugs that quickly grow resistant to the toughest drugs.

    It’s a case of evolution outrunning capitalism.

    Between 1945 and 1968, drug companies invented 13 new categories of antibiotics, said Allan Coukell, director of medical programs at the Pew Health Group.

    Between 1968 and today, just two new categories of antibiotics have arrived.

    In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved one new antibiotic, which fights one of the many bacteria, Clostridium difficile, causing deadly hospital-borne infections.

    “What kept us out of trouble for the last 60 years is that every time drug resistance caught up to us, the pharmaceutical companies would go back to the drawing board and develop the next generation of drugs to keep us ahead of the game,” said Brad Spellberg, an infectious diseases physician in Los Angeles who heads a microbial resistance task force for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “That’s the part of the equation that’s changed. Drug companies are no longer trying to get one step ahead.”

    Experts point to three reasons pharmaceutical companies have pulled back from antibiotics despite two decades of screaming alarms from the public health community: There is not much money in it; inventing new antibiotics is technically challenging; and, in light of drug safety concerns, the FDA has made it difficult for companies to get new antibiotics approved.

    As a result, only four of the world’s 12 largest pharmaceutical companies are researching new antibiotics, said David Shlaes, a drug development veteran and consultant.

    Last year, Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, closed its Connecticut antibiotics research center, laying off 1,200 workers. The company said it was moving the operation to Shanghai. But Shlaes said Pfizer is struggling to open the Chinese facility and has largely abandoned antibiotics.

    While a new antibiotic may bring in a billion dollars over its lifetime, Shlaes said, a drug for heart disease may net $10 billion. Depression and erectile dysfunction drugs — typically taken daily for years, unlike antibiotics, which are used short-term — are also more profitable than antibiotics.

    Congress recognized the problem earlier this year, inserting a provision in an FDA authorization bill to grant an additional five years of market exclusivity — meaning no competition from generics — for companies inventing new antibiotics.

    “It’s a great first step,” said Spellberg, but he added that the provision “is not strong enough to turn things around.”

    Shlaes said that concerns about antibiotic safety — driven by deaths linked to the drug Ketek that came to light in 2006 — have made the FDA reluctant to approve new antibiotics. “They’ve basically made it impossible for companies to develop and market antibiotics in the U.S.,” he said.

    Ed Cox, head of the FDA’s office of microbial products, said the agency is “looking at new approaches” for speeding up the approval of new antibiotics, such as requiring smaller clinical studies and allowing research with patients such as those who have multiple infections. “We’re trying hard to address the challenges” faced by the drug industry in developing antibiotics, Cox said.

    Such changes are “in the discussion and planning stage,” Cox added. “But this is a critical step so that folks in industry wanting to develop [antibiotics] can do so.”

    Shlaes characterized the moves at FDA as “trying to paint themselves out of a corner.”

    It’s an especially tight corner that hospital physicians find themselves in. Ten years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1.7 million annual hospital-borne infections in the United States caused 99,000 deaths. The CDC is now updating those figures.

    In a recent survey of infectious disease specialists, Spellberg said, 60 percent reported encountering infections resistant to every antibiotic.

    “That’s the real crisis,” said Henry Masur, chief of NIH’s Critical Care Medicine Department, who last year watched six patients die from the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae when even colistin, that old warhorse, stopped working. “The problem here is that we’re not developing antibiotics fast enough to keep up with this” (Washington Post, 2012)

    Title: Health Officials: No Need To Call 911 For Mosquito Bites
    Date: August 24, 2012
    Source:
    CBS DFW

    Abstract: With hundreds of human cases of the West Nile Virus being reported across Texas and more than a dozen related deaths in North Texas it seems some people are overreacting and calling 911 when they’re bitten by a mosquito.

    In short, health officials say a mosquito is not a health emergency.

    “We understand peoples concerns regarding the West Nile Virus, but in the absence of any symptoms of West Nile then a simple mosquito bite is really not a reason for someone to call 911,” said Matt Zavadsky, public affairs director for MedStar Emergency Medical Services.

    One woman called Fort Worth 911 requesting assistance because her young nephew had a bump on his arm.

    While Fort Worth 911 has a nurse triage program during the day, at night the options are different for emergency workers.

    “So our only option at that point is to send an ambulance to that call which takes that emergency resource out of the system — to respond to the motor vehicle accidents, the heart attacks — while we assess that mosquito bite on scene and then have the patient sign some paperwork for us, to allow us to leave,” Zavadsky explained.

    Health officials say even if the West Nile Virus is transmitted by a mosquito bite the person would have no symptoms while the virus incubates. An individual wouldn’t begin to feel ill until the virus manifested itself several days later.

    If a person is worried that they’ve contracted West Nile health officials say they should contact their personal physician or go to a health clinic. Residents can also get health information by calling 311 in Dallas and 211 in Fort Worth.

    When it comes to staying safe Zavadsky said the battle must be a personal one.

    “The best protection against catching West Nile Virus is a defensive position — wear long sleeve clothes, wear long pants, look into your neighborhood and look into your backyard to make sure that you don’t have a breeding ground for those mosquitos,” he urged. “Just be proactive about it and prevent the mosquito bite and you can sleep better at night” (CBS DFW, 2012).

    Title: Man Steals Ebola Patient's Phone, Gets Infected
    Date: August 27, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: A thief has caught the deadly Ebola virus after stealing a mobile phone from a patient with the disease, an African newspaper has reported.

    Uganda's Daily Monitor reports that the 40-year-old man travelled close to two miles from his home town to the Kagadi Hospital in the Kibaale district, and crept into the isolation ward in the dead of night.

    He then made off with a patient's phone worth $23.

    The patient had the deadly Ebola fever, but before he died he managed to tell police of the theft.

    Officers tracked down a man who had started using the phone, who then confessed to the crime.

    The man claimed he had visited the ward to "comfort" patients, though he didn't know any of them in person, district police commander John Ojokuna Elatu told the Sunday Monitor.

    Soon afterwards he started showing signs of the disease.

    Kibaale District Health Officer, Dr Dan Kyamanywa, said: “The suspect is admitted at Kagadi Hospital with clinical signs of Ebola. He is receiving medication” (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: The Raccoon Spreads Dangerous Diseases As It Invades Europe
    Date: August 28, 2012
    Source:
    PHYS

    Abstract: Furry, agile, intelligent and voracious: the raccoon is far from being a cuddly toy, which is what many people believe when they get one as a pet. It is more like an invader that escapes and is able to adapt and survive in new habitats. According to a study, its expansion across Spain and Europe is bringing infectious and parasitic diseases like rabies. This puts the health of native species and people at risk.

    Originating in North America, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an invasive species that has established itself in Europe due to hunting and the fur trade along with its acquisition as a pet. In Spain, its presence in the wild is already commonplace in Madrid and Guadalajara and is sporadic in other regions such as the island of Mallorca. Its presence is however far from welcomed. "Due to its rapid expansion and the long list of illnesses that it may carry, it poses a health risk that we must bear in mind," as outlined to SINC Beatriz Beltrán-Beck, the lead author of the study published in the 'European Journal of Wildlife Research' and researcher at the Research Institute of Hunting Resources (IREC, joint centre of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the CSIC, and Castilla-La Mancha Council).

    Bearing in mind that its population density could exceed 100 raccoons per km2, the success of the expansion of this small opportunistic carnivore is down to its ability to quickly adapt to different surroundings and omnivorous food habitats, its high reproductive potential and the absence of natural predators. However, as Beltrán-Beck points out, "the impact that their expansion and invasion could have on the environment and the health of native species and humans is unknown." The researcher adds that the increase in population numbers and expansion to other countries and/or urban environments could increase the transmission of dangerous parasites and illnesses to domestic animals and humans.

    The guest that nobody wants in their home The research team gathered all types of information on the infectious and parasitic diseases that raccoons can transmit. The aim was to assess the propagation risk of infections along with possible control methods. But, according to the author, "there is little data in Europe on this species". Ads by Google Ask a Neurologist Online - 4 Neurologists Are Online. Questions Answered Every 9 Seconds.

    Rabies and a very pathogenic parasite to man (Baylisascaris procyonis), which was found in Germany, are some of the most significant illnesses found in the raccoon. But, along with bacterial illnesses, these are added to the West Nile virus which affects human, birds, horses and sheep. Although in Western Europe rabies have been eliminated thanks to the oral vaccination for foxes (Vulpes vulpes), there is still concern that the raccoon could complicate the situation in some areas of Eastern Europe that are still home to rabies.

    In recent years 142 cases of rabies in raccoons have been identified, above all in Ukraine, Estonia, Germany and Lithuania. This small American carnivore has been confirmed to be the host of the nematode worm Baylisascaris procyonis, which is responsible for Larva migrans, an illness caused by larval migration and parasite persistence under the skin, in the brain and in other organs. In the past this disease could only be found in America but is now emerging and on the rise in Europe. "The infected raccoons can scatter millions of nematode B. procyonis eggs, which cause significant environmental contamination," warn the scientists.

    In the USA, between 68% and 82% of mammals have this parasite. Prevalence is also high in Germany although in Japan, for example, the parasite was not detected in any of the 1,688 raccoons captured for the purposes of other studies. According to Beltrán-Beck, "more epidemiological studies are necessary on the current health situation and the implementation of measures that limit the possible impact of invading raccoons."

    An unpleasant "pet" Given its exotic origin and its rapid expansion since the 1970's, the raccoon is considered an invasive species in Europe. However, the majority of European countries, like Spain, do not control the trade of this animal, which is introduced onto the market as a pet. "The case of Spain is a good example. The origin of its expansion is probably due to it escaping from the home where it was kept as a pet and due to the owners releasing it into the countryside when it reaches adulthood and becomes aggressive," adds the researcher. According to the researcher, "this is mainly the case because there is a complete lack of knowledge of the biology, ecology, distribution and population density of the raccoon in Europe"
    (PHYS, 2012)

    Title: Yosemite Officials Say 1,700 Visitors Risk Rare Rodent Disease
    Date: August 28, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: The rustic tent cabins of Yosemite National Park -- a favorite among families looking to rough it in one of the nation's most majestic settings -- have become the scene of a public health crisis after two visitors died from a rodent-borne disease following overnight stays.

    On Tuesday, park officials sent letters and emails to 1,700 visitors who stayed in some of the dwellings in June, July and August, warning them that they may have been exposed to the disease that also caused two other people to fall ill.

    Those four people contracted hantavirus pulmonary syndrome after spending time in one of the 91 "Signature Tent Cabins" at Curry Village around the same time in June. The illness is spread by contact with rodent feces, urine and saliva, or by inhaling exposed airborne particles.

    After the first death, the park sanitized the cabins and alerted the public through the media that the cause might have been diseased mice in the park.

    However, officials did not know for sure the death was linked to Yosemite or the campsite until the Centers for Disease Control determined over the weekend that a second visitor, a resident of Pennsylvania, also had died.

    After every park tragedy, officials stress that Yosemite is a wilderness area and with it come some dangers.

    "We're very concerned about visitors and employees," park spokesman Scott Gediman said. "But we feel we are taking proactive steps in both cleaning the affected areas and in public education. But it's absolutely impossible to eliminate all risk."

    On Sunday night, health officials with the National Park Service sent out an alert asking public health authorities to be on the watch for more potential rodent-related cases of acute respiratory failure.

    Yosemite receives 4 million tourists a year from around the world, and national park officials were trying to determine if the warning should be expanded to include foreign countries.

    "We're discussing whether to do that and how to do that," said Dr. David Wong, chief of the epidemiology branch of the National Park Service Office of Public Health.

    The disease can incubate for up to six weeks before flu-like symptoms develop. It's fatal in 30 percent of all cases, and there is no specific treatment. It is not spread human-to-human.

    Wong said the Yosemite cases are unusual because hantavirus illnesses are most often isolated events.

    "We are seeing more than one person who got it in a narrow space and time," he said. "It makes us wonder why, and those are questions we don't have the answers to."

    All the victims stayed in the cabins between June 10 and June 20, and all four known cases were contracted by people who stayed within 100 feet of each other but not necessarily in the same cabins.

    The National Park Service currently has assigned two epidemiologists to work in the park trapping rodents for testing. Additional studies are being done to determine if the Yosemite rodent population is higher than normal after a record snowpack in 2011 provided ample water for the grass seeds mice favor.

    "Rodents and mice are native to the park, but we are looking at the populations and working with our wildlife biologists to determine if the population is too high," Gediman said. "There are rodents here, and we could never trap them all so that's not going to mitigate it."

    As the Labor Day weekend approaches, some people have cancelled reservations at Curry Village after hearing about the outbreak, Gediman said.

    The camp sits at the base of the 3,000-foot Glacier Point.

    After boulders rained down in 2008, the park permanently closed some cabins. The newer, insulated Signature Cabins were built in 2009 to replace them. Investigators are trying to determine why those cabins were involved in the outbreak.

    Park concessionaire Delaware North Co., which oversees the cabins, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

    Rangers are handing out information brochures at the park entrance warning people to avoid mice in general and mouse droppings in particular.

    People with reservations in the affected cabins are not being notified before arrival, but they are being warned during check-in to report any sightings of mouse feces.

    "This is a serious public health issue and we want to be transparent, but at the same time we don't want people to alter their plans, because we are taking the necessary precautions," Gediman said.

    Since the first illness was reported earlier this month, employees of Delaware North disinfected all 408 canvas-sided and wood-sided cabins in Curry Village. Workers are in the midst of shoring up the cabins in an attempt to keep mice from have easy access.

    Epidemiologists say none of the victims had anything in common other than staying in Yosemite cabins.

    A 37-year-old man from the San Francisco Bay area was the first person to die. Further details have not been released because of medical privacy laws.

    Of the 587 documented U.S. cases since the virus was identified in 1993, about one-third proved fatal.

    Deer mice were determined to be the main carriers of the virus, though other rodents can be infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most of the cases occur in the West, though researchers are not sure why.

    This year's deaths mark the first such fatalities of park visitors, although two others were stricken in a more remote area of the park in 2000 and 2010.

    There have been at least two other fatal cases in national parks in the past few years, including a deputy superintendent at Glacier National Park who died in 2004, and a tourist at the Grand Canyon who was stricken in 2009.

    Wong said health officials never were able to determine whether the victims contracted hantavirus inside the park grounds (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: University of Cape Town Researchers Believe They Have Found a Single Dose Cure for Malaria
    Date: August 29, 2012
    Source:
    National Geographic

    Abstract: The University of Cape Town’s Science Department believes that it has found a single dose cure for Malaria.

    This was announced by researchers that have been working on this compound, from the aminopyridine class, for several years. Unlike conventional multidrug malaria treatments that the malaria parasite has become resistant to, Professor Kelly Chibale and his colleagues now believe that they have discovered a drug that over 18 months of trials ”killed these resistant parasites instantly”.

    Animal tests also showed that it was not only safe and effective, but there were no adverse reported side effects. Clinical tests are scheduled for the end of 2013.

    Potential Impact for Africa
    If this tablet is approved in coming years, this achievement will surely usher in a new age for science in Africa. It will save millions upon millions of lives on the continent, helping avoid at least 24 percent of child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Chibale proudly explains: “This is the first ever clinical molecule that’s been discovered out of Africa, by Africans, from a modern pharmaceutical industry drug discovery programme. The potent drug has been tested on animals and has shown that a single oral dose has completely cured those infected with malaria parasites.”

    This “super pill” could potentially cure millions of people every year, and save the lives of over one million people from around the world each year. This “cure” will most likely save health care systems throughout the developing world billions of dollars and open new areas for development and settlement.

    The South African Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor elaborates: ”The candidate molecule is novel, potent, and has the potential to have a significant impact on global malaria control and eradication. This is a powerful demonstration of how much can be accomplished when open-minded researchers come together for the sake of the greater good of humanity. The discovery that we announce today is a significant victory in the battle to alleviate the burden of disease in Africa. Clearly the war on disease is not yet won, but I am excited by the role that our excellent scientists have played in finding a potential single-dose cure for malaria and possibly preventing its transmission. South Africa in general had built considerable strength in clinical research over the past decade. The main focus had been on HIV/Aids and TB. This development had occurred together with significant growth in the basic sciences that underpinned infectious disease research.”

    From a Personal Perspective
    I have personally had malaria twice while traveling in East Africa and Zanzibar and can say that it is a deeply painful and depleting experience that leaves you in ruins, unable to care for your family, and in a very poor health if you survive.

    I have luckily had test kits and treatment each time, which seemed to make me feel worse before I got better. Months on end working in the African bush means that I have to do without prophylactics and must simply avoid being bitten or accept I may get malaria. The only hope being that the fever gets less severe with each re-infection…

    There is no doubt constant re-infection is not sustainable and has undermined the advancement of rural populations in Africa for thousands of years. As soon as we gather in large numbers in cities like Dar Es Salam and Lusaka, the risk of malaria escalates with huge implications for public health care during the rainy season.

    I am delighted that an effective cure may have been found for malaria. Prevention is, however, still much better than cure, so please do not throw away your mosquito nets and repellent (National Georgraphic, 2012)

    Title: TB Continued: Drug-Resistant Strain Of Deadly Disease Alarms Doctors Worldwide
    Date: August 30, 2012
    Source:
    RT

    Abstract: The world is in the middle of a tuberculosis pandemic, scientists say. What was once a disease of undeveloped nations has raced across continents, with thousands of cases in Asia and Europe. The disease may infect up to two million people by 2015.

    An extensive international study published by the Lancet medical journal shows that the illness, once thought to be the stuff of books by the likes of Charles Dickens, is making a quiet comeback. Cases of tuberculosis in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America are on the rise, and many of them are of a strain resistant to vaccination.

    The study examines two types of tuberculosis: Multi drug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR), both of which are far more widespread than previously believed, experts claim.

    MDR tuberculosis is resistant to at least two first-line drugs – Isoniazid and Rifampicin – used as primary treatment in confirmed cases of the disease. XDR is resistant not only to these two, but also to an antibiotic used as second-line drug.

    "Most international recommendations for TB control have been developed for MDR-TB prevalence of up to around five percent. Yet now we face prevalence up to ten times higher in some places, where almost half of the patients … are transmitting MDR strains," Sven Hoffner of the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control wrote in a commentary on the study.

    Presently, most seem to worry about diseases of the exotic type: Bird or swine flu, or West Nile virus generally tend to dominate headlines in the West. But scientists are warning that the world is in the midst of a tuberculosis pandemic.

    In 2010, 8.8 million people were infected with TB, with 1.4 million dying from the disease.Treating TB is an arduous process. Patients often require a multitude of drugs, with treatment lasting for up to six months. Many patients fail to complete the process correctly – which researchers believe is a factor in the increase of cases of drug-resistant forms of TB.

    Drug-resistant TB is not only more difficult to treat, but also more expensive. Chief Scientific Officer Tom Evans of Aeras, a non-profit group working on development of new vaccines, told Reuters that “without a robust pipeline of new drugs to stay one step ahead, it will be nearly impossible to treat our way out of this epidemic.” But the treatment, Evans said, is “limited, expensive, and toxic.”

    Photomicrograph of a sputum sample containing Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library

    In the US, a case of MDR tuberculosis can cost up to $250,000 per patient. In less developed countries, such costs will likely be unmanageable for patients and healthcare systems.

    According to the study, TB strains resistant to any second-line drugs were found in nearly 44 percent of patients: From 33 percent of cases in Thailand to 62 percent of cases in Latvia.

    XDR tuberculosis was found in 6.7 per cent of all patients in the study. Rates in South Korea and Russia, at 15.2 and 11.3 percent respectively, were more than twice the global estimate made by the World Health Organization.

    The highest prevalence of MDR tuberculosis documented to date – 47.8 percent – was reported in 2011 in Minsk, Belarus, according to the Lancet study.

    Though infection rates vary greatly between countries, scientists warn against stereotyping the disease as an issues solely of poorer, less developed nations: “MDR tuberculosis is not an issue isolated in one city or country, but reflects a wider public health threat resulting from severely resistant forms of M tuberculosis. To adequately address MDR tuberculosis, more solid epidemiological information is needed to increase overall understanding of disease development and transmission,” Sven Hoffner wrote in Lancet (RT, 2012).

    Title: WNV Update: Seasonal Threat Of West Nile Virus Still High
    Date: August 30, 2012
    Source:
    Connecticut Mosquito Management Program

    Abstract: The State Mosquito Management Program reminds residents that the threat of West Nile virus is still high in Connecticut and to take steps to prevent mosquito bites. Currently, towns with the highest activity are located in Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties.

    So far this season, seven Connecticut residents, with an average age of 60 years, have been reported with WNV associated illnesses. The seven cases are residents of Bridgeport (1), Greenwich (2), New Haven (1), Stamford (2) and West Haven. Six of the residents were hospitalized; no one has died.

    “Even though to many people Labor Day marks the end of the summer season, it does not mean the end of the mosquito season. Mosquitoes remain active well into September and people should stay vigilant and protect themselves from mosquito bites,” said Dr. Jewel Mullen, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “This holiday weekend, I ask everyone to take steps to prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent and covering bare skin, especially during dusk when mosquitoes are most active.”

    The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) has trapped WNV-positive mosquitoes in 43 towns since June 27 including: Bethel, Bridgeport, Cheshire, Chester, Danbury, Darien, East Haven, Fairfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Greenwich, Groton, Hamden, Hartford, Killingworth, Meriden, Milford, Monroe, New Britain, New Canaan, New Haven, Newington, Newtown, North Branford, North Haven, North Stonington, Norwalk, Old Lyme, Shelton, South Windsor, Southington, Stamford, Stratford, Voluntown, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Hartford, West Haven, Westbrook, Weston, Westport, Wethersfield, and Wilton. In addition, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) infected mosquitoes have been identified in Chester.

    For information on West Nile and eastern equine encephalitis viruses and how to prevent mosquito bites, visit the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program Web site at www.ct.gov/mosquito (Connecticut Mosquito Management Program, 2012).

    Title: Sri Lanka On Track To Eliminate Malaria By 2014
    Date: August 30, 2012
    Source:
    Ourbreak News

    Abstract: The island nation of Sri Lanka has accomplished a most amazing feat. Despite the fact the country went through decades of conflict, ethnic tensions and insurgencies, the country  has succeeded in reducing malaria cases by 99.9 percent since 1999 and is on track to eliminate the disease entirely by 2014 according to the researchers from Sri Lanka’s 
    Anti-Malaria Campaign and the UCSF Global Health Group.

    In a paper  published  in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE, researchers examined national malaria data and interviewed staff of the country’s malaria program to determine the factors behind Sri Lanka’s success in controlling malaria, despite a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.

    What they found was the program’s ability to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions; for example, to protect hard-to-reach, displaced populations, public health workers deployed mobile clinics equipped with malaria diagnostics and antimalarial drugs, whenever it was safe to do so. Likewise, when it was impossible to routinely spray insecticides in homes in conflict zones, the malaria program distributed long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, engaging non-governmental partner organizations familiar with the areas to help with distribution.

    According to first author of the paper, Rabindra Abeyasinghe, M.D. from the World Health Organiation (WHO), ”Sustaining the gains of elimination efforts and preventing resurgence is even more challenging today, especially in tropical settings such as Sri Lanka.

    He continues, ”In this era, sustaining the interest of partners and local decision makers, and ensuring continued funding, are becoming increasingly difficult. To avoid the tragic mistakes of the past, we must resolve to continue to devote the necessary resources and energy to the fight against malaria in Sri Lanka.”

    Gawrie Galappaththy, M.D., a study coauthor who works for the Anti-Malaria Campaign at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health concurs. She notes, ”It is very exciting to document Sri Lanka’s current progress toward malaria elimination, to add another chapter to our country’s ongoing fight against the disease. The reality is achieving zero malaria will require continued investments and hard work.”

    Galappaththy describes one of the hurdles to malaria eradication saying today, even with the country’s great progress, Sri Lanka continues to face hurdles in its goal of driving malaria transmission to zero. Total malaria cases have dramatically dropped, but the proportion of Plasmodium vivax malaria infections — the more difficult to diagnose and treat form of malaria most common in Sri Lanka — is on the rise.

    “Sri Lanka is showing the world how to eliminate malaria,” says Sir Richard Feachem, KBE, FREng, DSc(Med), Ph.D., director of the Global Health Group and senior author of the paper. “The country has made extraordinary progress, reducing malaria by 99.9 percent in the past decade. And all this achieved during a particularly nasty civil war. With continued commitment from the country’s government and supporters, we are confident that Sri Lanka will finish the fight and become a malaria-free country” (Outbreak News, 2012)

    Title: CDC Says 10,000 At Risk Of Hantavirus In Yosemite Outbreak
    Date: August 31, 2012
    Source:
    Reuters

    Abstract: Some 10,000 people who stayed in tent cabins at Yosemite National Park this summer may be at risk for the deadly rodent-borne hantavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

    The CDC urged lab testing of patients who exhibit symptoms consistent with the lung disease, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, after a stay at the California park between June and August and recommended that doctors notify state health departments when it is found.

    Two men have died from hantavirus linked to the Yosemite outbreak and four others were sickened but survived, while the CDC said additional suspected cases were being investigated from "multiple health jurisdictions."

    Most of the victims were believed to have been infected while staying in one of 91 "Signature" tent-style cabins in Yosemite's popular Curry Village camping area.

    "An estimated 10,000 persons stayed in the 'Signature Tent Cabins' from June 10 through August 24, 2012," the CDC said. "People who stayed in the tents between June 10 and August 24 may be at risk of developing HPS in the next six weeks."

    Yosemite officials earlier this week shut down all 91 of the insulated tent cabins after finding deer mice, which carry the disease and can burrow through holes the size of pencil erasers, nesting between the double walls.

    Park authorities said on Friday that they had contacted approximately 3,000 parties of visitors who stayed in the tent cabins since mid-June, advising them to seek immediate medical attention if they have symptoms of hantavirus.

    Nearly 4 million people visit Yosemite, one of the nation's most popular national parks, each year, attracted to the its dramatic scenery and hiking trails. Roughly 70 percent of those visitors congregate in Yosemite Valley, where Curry Village is located.

    Yosemite Logs 1,500 Calls
    The virus starts out causing flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever, muscle ache, shortness of breath and cough, and can lead to severe breathing difficulties and death.

    The incubation period for the virus is typically two to four weeks after exposure, the CDC said, with a range between a few days and six weeks. Just over a third of cases are fatal.

    "Providers are reminded to consider the diagnosis of HPS in all persons presenting with clinically compatible illness and to ask about potential rodent exposure or if they had recently visited Yosemite National Park," the CDC said.

    Although there is no cure for hantavirus, which has never been known to be transmitted between humans, treatment after early detection through blood tests can save lives.

    "Early medical attention and diagnosis of hantavirus are critical," Yosemite superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement. "We urge anyone who may have been exposed to the infection to see their doctor at the first sign of symptoms and to advise them of the potential of hantavirus."

    Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said rangers have answered some 1,500 phone calls from park visitors and others concerned about the disease. But she said the outbreak had not triggered a wave of cancellations

    "Right now it's normal numbers for Friday," she said. "There have been cancellations, but it would be grossly overstated to say they're cancelling en masse. There's quite a bit of people out there still. It's still summer and a holiday weekend. It's still the summer crowds."

    A national park service officials has said that public health officials warned the park twice before about hantavirus after it struck visitors. But it was not until this week that the hiding place for the deer mice carrying the virus was found.

    Hantavirus is carried in rodent feces, urine and saliva, which dries out and mixes with dust that can be inhaled by humans, especially in small, confined spaces with poor ventilation.

    People can also be infected by eating contaminated food, touching contaminated surfaces or being bitten by infected rodents (Reuters, 2012)

    Title: Goodbye Smallpox, Hello...Monkeypox?
    Date: September 3, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: At least as far as the Democratic Republic of the Congo is concerned. This according to researchers led by Anne Rimoin of the UCLA School of Public Health in a study published in the
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Since the last doses of smallpox vaccine were given in 1980 and smallpox was officially eradicated, cases of monkeypox have increased 20-fold according to the study.

    Much of this is likely due to the immunity that smallpox vaccine granted to related viruses like monkeypox. Most of the patients infected with monkeypox were born after the discontinuation of smallpox.

    Unlike smallpox which is strictly a human disease, monkeypox not only spreads from animal to animal but also from animals to humans.

    In areas like the Congo where monkeys and squirrels are everywhere and more and more people have contact with them; the spread of the virus to humans becomes more likely. This makes control of the disease difficult just as most zoonotic diseases are.

    What does this mean in the United States? Monkeypox did 
    rear its ugly head here in 2003 when dozens of people became ill. The virus arrived courtesy of imported African rodents who were infected which eventually spread among the prairie dog population in the Midwest. Some fear that US travelers could import the disease and establish the virus in the rodent population.

    What is monkeypox?

    It is a relatively rare virus found primarily in central and western Africa. The disease is caused by Monkeypox virus. It is closely related to the 
    smallpox virus (variola), the virus used in the smallpox vaccine (vaccinia), and the cowpox virus.

    Infection with monkeypox is not as serious as its cousin, smallpox, however human deaths have been attributed to monkeypox.

    According to the CDC, the symptoms of monkeypox are as follows: About 12 days after people are infected with the virus, they will get a fever, headache, muscle aches, and backache; their lymph nodes will swell; and they will feel tired. One to 3 days (or longer) after the fever starts, they will get a rash. This rash develops into raised bumps filled with fluid and often starts on the face and spreads, but it can start on other parts of the body too. The bumps go through several stages before they get crusty, scab over, and fall off. The illness usually lasts for 2 to 4 weeks.

    People at risk for monkeypox are those who get bitten by an infected animal or if you have contact with the animal’s rash, blood or body fluids. It can also be transmitted person to person through respiratory or direct contact and contact with contaminated bedding or clothing.

    There is no specific treatment for monkeypox.

    As Rimion points out , “Three decades after the eradication of smallpox, pox viruses still deserve our attention” (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Uganda’s Ebola Outbreak Is Coming To An End: WHO
    Date: September 4, 2012
    Source:
    Global Dispatch

    Abstract: There has not been a new confirmed case of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Uganda’s Kibaale district since the beginning of August, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to say the outbreak is nearing it’s end.

    According to a WHO Global Alert and Response issued Monday, all contacts of probable and confirmed cases have been followed up daily and have completed the recommended 21 days of monitoring for any possible signs or symptoms of Ebola.

    The last confirmed case was discharged on 24 August 2012 following recovery.

    The Ebola outbreak resulted in 24 probable and confirmed cases including 17 deaths since the outbreak began in early July 2012.

    The Ebola isolation facilities in Kibaale District Hospital and at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala remain on stand-by for receiving any suspected cases.

    Ebola hemorrhagic fever was first recognized in 1976 and was named after a river in the Congo. It received a lot of popular attention thanks to the best-seller, “The Hot Zone”.

    Infections with Ebola virus are acute. There is no carrier state. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined.

    People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.

    The incubation period for Ebola HF ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.

    The death rate for Ebola HF can be up to 90%. There is no standard treatment for Ebola HF (Global Dispatch, 2012).

    Title: Kenya: Is The Maize Disease An Act Of Bioterrorism?
    Date: September 5, 2012
    Source: All Africa

    Abstract: The first recorded bio warfare act was reported in ancient Egypt when Pharaoh defied Moses and God intervened by cursing the land with pestilence.

    Moses was the adopted brother of Ramses the pharaoh and knew all about the food security situation and vulnerability of Egypt. Many people including Governments have thereafter attempted to play god by manipulating biological agents for war situations.

    In our times, we have all heard about the attack on the Kurds using biological agents by Saddam Hussein, the attack on Iran by their perennial enemy Iraq, the Syrian Government bio attack on its own people, Libya's government under Muammar Gaddafi had also alluded to an attack on its wheat fields by the U.S. Cuba has a case at the FAO where it has accused the US of bio terrorism on its agriculture.

    There are a dozen other cases of malicious introduction of bio agents into our daily lives like the issues of HIV/AIDS, Mad Cow disease, the Avian flu, the US postal corporation anthrax envelopes, wheat stem rust or UG 99, Greening disease in citrus, aflatoxins in maize, maize necrosis disease, agrobacterium in roses etc..

    Parliament should take up and fully investigate this issue of the maize disease and the national security and agricultural committees of our National Assembly should spearhead these investigations. Parliament must find out why there has been a marked decline in food productivity in the country and the reasons we are food insecure 50 years after independence.

    They should ask questions particularly about the rationale of the hurried introduction of new agricultural technologies GMOs without the requisite Biosafety Act being put in place. Shouldn't the Bioterrorism Act have preceded the introduction of these GMOs? Did we factor in the caution and displeasure of our main markets for food in Europe before adopting these technologies that were sold to us as the panacea for our food insecurity?

    Why is it that the US, which is currently facing drought and crop failure, not mitigated the same using these so called panacea technologies to show the way forward. The in-fighting within the departments of agriculture namely KARI, KEPHIS, PCPB, HCDA is a clear testimony of a weak leadership and a house divided at Kilimo House and does not inspire any confidence among Kenyans.

    Instead of Kilimo House offering solutions to the current problems of the maize disease, they are instead engaged in an overdrive campaign in trying to mold public opinion by misusing taxpayers money to cause the publication of many uncoordinated but confusing views on the maize disease so as to obscure the glaring inconsistencies and outright incompetence.

    Agriculture contributes over 22% of the gross domestic product and provides over 65% of employment to our people. Agricultural inputs like pesticides are therefore very strategic and a vital industry for Kenya on account of its importance in contributing to increasing agricultural yields and protecting our crops from the vagaries like the current maize disease.

    In our estimation, the maize disease currently ravaging our country has been introduced by our "friends." This view has been considered after hypothesizing on a litany of issues including when the disease first broke out in 2010. Kilimo House has been approving the importation of bio agents into the country without any legislative frame work.

    Neither has there been any post surveillance monitoring of these foreign bio-agents to determine their half-life or mutation characteristics in the tropics. Might these"friendly pests" be the cause of our current dilemma? The government has been quick to ban the use of Alphadime ostensibly for not meeting European Union residue requirements Alphadime is the only registered Kenyan made broad spectrum insecticide that can eliminate this invasive pest species.

    The timing of the ban of Alphadime was convenient and timely instigated by the same culprits. Was the ban on Alphadime a conspiracy by our "friends" to make Kenya vulnerable by removing our final recourse? Who financed the media campaigns against Alphadime? Tanzania is also facing the same dilemma and will be blamed for allowing their crops to infect ours by our spin doctors at Kilimo House who have a superior propaganda machinery.

    Tanzania has been blamed for introducing a myriad of pestilence to our agriculture and has become the whipping boy for our failures. Remember the infamous LGB (Osama), the Greening Disease on our citrus, the agrobacterium on our roses e.t.c. which have all been blamed on our southern neighbor? Despite this, Tanzania is still able to sustainably feed their population and afford to export their surplus to Kenya at below Kenyan market prices! The evidence adduced here is not merely anecdotal but will require further investigations to extract the truth. We repeat again (All Africa, 2012).

    Title: West Nile Cases In U.S. Up 25 Percent In Latest Week: CDC
    Date: September 5, 2012
    Source:
    Chicago Tribune

    Abstract: The number of U.S. cases of West Nile virus rose 25 percent in the latest week, putting the 2012 outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease on track to be the most severe on record in the United States, health officials said on Wednesday.

    So far this year, 1,993 cases have been reported to federal health officials, up from 1,590 reported the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its weekly update of outbreak data. A total of 87 people have now died from the disease, compared with 66 reported one week ago.

    The disease has been reported in people, birds or mosquitoes in 48 U.S. states, so far absent only in Alaska and Hawaii. About half of all human cases are in Texas, the CDC said.

    Of the nearly 2,000 cases reported to the CDC this year, 1,069, or 54 percent, are of the severe neuroinvasive form of the disease, which can lead to meningitis and encephalitis.

    The milder form of the disease causes flu-like symptoms and is rarely lethal.

    Texas, the outbreak's epicenter, has had 40 deaths and 495 neuroinvasive cases this year, said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

    About a quarter of the cases have been in Dallas County, he said. "This is our worst year ever in Texas," Lakey said.

    The previous Texas record was in 2003, when there were 40 deaths and 439 neuroinvasive cases.

    Texas has had 1,013 cases overall this year, Lakey said.

    CDC figures - which sometimes lag behind state data - show that South Dakota has the next-highest number, with 119 cases and two deaths.

    More than 70 percent of the cases have been reported from Texas, South Dakota and four other states: Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan, the CDC said.

    The CDC said the number of cases so far this year is the highest reported to federal health officials through the first week in September since the disease was first detected in the New York City in 1999. The worst outbreak overall occurred in 2003, with 9,862 cases and 264 deaths for the full year.

    The disease is thought to have originated in Africa.

    This year's outbreak is already nearly three times the size of last year's, when 712 cases were reported nationally, with 43 deaths.

    In Texas, aerial spraying during the last several weeks in Dallas County and neighboring Denton County have been effective in reducing the mosquito population that transmits the virus from infected birds to humans and other mammals, Lakey said.

    West Nile outbreaks tend to be unpredictable. Hot temperatures, rainfall amounts and ecological factors such as the bird and mosquito populations have to align just right to trigger an outbreak like the one this year.

    Drought can reduce mosquito population while heavy rains can wash out breeding sites, said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases for the CDC.

    Cities are more prone to outbreaks even during a drought because of widespread use of sprinkler systems and standing birdbaths that can cause water to pool and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

    "We've seen cases in places like Phoenix, which is in the middle of the desert" because of standing water, Petersen said
    (Chicago Tribune, 2012)

    Title: Health Officials Warn Of Tattoo Skin Infection
    Date: September 5, 2012
    Source: WOBM


    Abstract: Body art continues to grow in popularity. In fact, a recent published report showed 1 in 5 adults are considering or have a tattoo. But did you know there is a downside to getting inked?

    A potentially dangerous skin infection is going around and health officials all across the Garden State are on full alert as a precaution.

    According to figures by the Centers For Disease Control, 21% of adults in the US report having one tattoo. In the last few months, the Nontuberculous Mycobacterial, or NTM, skin infections has reared its ugly head in four states. They include New York, Colorado, Washington and Iowa. Although New Jersey isn’t one of them, officials are taking a pro-active approach just in case.

    Leslie Terjesen with the Ocean County Health Department says, “The nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) skin infections were associated with use of the same nationally distributed, prediluted gray ink. Although there is no specific Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory requirement that explicitly provides that tattoo inks must be sterile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that ink manufacturers ensure ink is sterile and that tattoo artists avoid contamination of ink through dilution with non-sterile water. Consumers should be aware of the health risks associated with getting an intradermal tattoo.”

    The OCHD is taking every step possible to ensure the safety of tattoo artists and tattoo recipients. The OCHD has placed calls to each body art establishment to inform them of the issues concerning tattoo-related skin infections in addition to sending a letter including an article on the skin infections to each body art establishment.

    Other health departments around New Jersey are taking similar measures.

    Recommendations to tattoo artists include:

    1. Avoid using products not intended for use in tattooing

    2. Avoid ink dilution before tattooing, and if dilution is needed, use only sterile water

    3. Avoid use of non-sterile water to rinse equipment (e.g., needles) during tattoo placement

    4. Follow aseptic techniques during tattooing (e.g., hand hygiene and use of disposable gloves)

    To reduce their risk for infection, consumers should:

    1. Use tattoo parlors registered by local jurisdictions

    2. Request inks that are manufactured specifically for tattoos

    3. Ensure that tattoo artists follow appropriate hygienic practices

    4. Be aware of the potential for infection following tattooing, and seek medical advice if persistent skin problems occur

    5. Notify the tattoo artist, the Ocean County or State Health Department, and FDA’s MedWatch program at FDA’s MedWatch program’s website if they experience an adverse event (WOBM, 2012)

    Title: Alleged Agent Orange Victims To Get Scientology Detox Treatment
    Date: September 6, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Alleged victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam are set to receive a controversial "detoxification" treatment developed by the Church of Scientology.

    Scientologists use the "Hubbard Method" -- which involves saunas and vitamins -- to try to cure drug addiction and alcoholism. The church set up a center in New York after the 9/11 attacks offering a similar service for first responders who may have been exposed to toxins.

    Many researchers have criticized the method as pseudoscientific and useless.

    A hospital official and state-controlled media said 24 people were at a Hanoi hospital on Thursday waiting for the program. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

    The U.S. military dumped some 20 million gallons (75 million liters) of Agent Orange and other herbicides on about a quarter of former South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, decimating about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of forest -- roughly the size of Massachusetts.

    Dioxins in it have since been linked to birth defects, though the United States maintains there is no evidence of any link between Agent Orange and health problems among Vietnamese.

    "I hope my wife and I will fully recover completely and will not suffer after-effects to pass on to my descendants," prospective patient Nguyen Xuan Anh was quoted as saying in the Viet Nam News daily.

    U.S. Embassy spokesperson Christopher Hodges said Washington was not funding the program and said "we are not aware of any safe, effective detoxification treatment for people with dioxin in body tissues."

    Last month, the U.S. began a landmark project cleaning up toxins from the site of a former air base in Danang in central Vietnam. Part of the former base consists of a dry field where U.S. troops once stored and mixed the defoliant before it was loaded onto planes.

    Washington has been quibbling for years over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide caused health problems among Vietnamese. It has given about $60 million for environmental restoration and social services in Vietnam since 2007, but the Danang project is its first direct involvement in cleaning up dioxin, which has seeped into Vietnam's soil and watersheds for generations.

    The "Hubbard Method" is named after Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: ‘Highly Toxic’ Bird Flu Strain Hits Vietnam
    Date: September 7, 2012
    Source:
    Raw Story

    Abstract: A new highly-toxic strain of the potentially deadly bird flu virus has appeared in Vietnam and is spreading fast, according to state media reports.

    The strain appeared to be a mutation of the H5N1 virus which swept through the country’s poultry flocks last year, forcing mass culls of birds in affected areas, according to agriculture officials.

    The new virus “is quickly spreading and this is the big concern of the government”, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Diep Kinh Tan said, according to a Thursday report in the VietnamNet online newspaper.

    Experts cited in the report said the new virus appeared in July and had spread through Vietnam’s northern and central regions in August.

    Outbreaks have been detected in six provinces so far and some 180,000 birds have been culled, the Animal Health department said.

    The Central Veterinary Diagnosis Centre said the virus appeared similar to the standard strains of bird flu but was more toxic.

    The centre will test how much protection existing vaccines for humans offer, the report said.

    Some experts suggested that the new strain resulted from widespread smuggling of poultry from China into the northern parts of Vietnam.

    Two people have died this year from the virulent disease — but long before the new strain was identified.

    According to the World Health Organisation, Vietnam has recorded one of the highest numbers of fatalities from bird flu in southeast Asia, with at least 59 deaths since 2003.

    The avian influenza virus has killed more than 330 people around the world, and scientists fear it could mutate into a form readily transmissible between humans, with the potential to cause millions of deaths (Raw Story, 2012).

    Title: New Swine Flu Virus Shows Lethal Signs
    Date: September 11, 2012
    Source:
    Yahoo News

    Abstract: An influenza virus isolated from Korean pigs is deadly and transmissible by air in ferrets, which are used as stand-ins for humans when studying the disease.

    This particular virus is likely not a grave threat to humans, said study researcher Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. However, the findings do highlight the need to understand more about the viruses circulating among pigs, Webby said.

    "We've identified a couple of mutations that seem to be important for swine viruses and potentially increase their risk to humans," Webby told LiveScience. "The more of those type markers we can find, the better our surveillance and the more informative our surveillance can be." [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]

    Virulent Flu
    Pigs can be infected by swine flu, human flu and avian flu, making them a perfect mixing pot for different versions of the virus to swap genes and potentially become transmissible across species. In 2009, an outbreak of swine flu caused by the 
    H1N1 virus led to a pandemic, killing between 151,700 and 575,400 people across the globe in a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of these deaths occurred in Southeast Asia and Africa.

    Webby and his colleagues collaborated with Korean researchers to assess the public health risk from pigs there. They isolated swine flu viruses from swine abattoirs and infected ferrets with the viruses. Ferrets are used to test flu transmissibility because they're about as susceptible to the disease as humans and have similar immune responses and respiratory systems, Webby said.   

    Three of the viruses found in the dead swine caused disease, the researchers report online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Only one, however, was highly lethal and transmissible by respiratory droplet, meaning that other ferrets could contract the disease just by contacting airborne fluids coughed or sneezed by an infected ferret.

    This virulent strain, H1N2, caused classic flu symptoms in the ferrets, from sneezing and labored breathing to weight loss and high fever. All three ferrets inoculated with the disease died or were euthanized humanely within 10 days. Three more ferrets were exposed to the sick animals (before they died); two of them contracted the flu. One died, and the other had to be euthanized because its illness was so severe.

    "This one particular virus was a little bit unexpected," Webby said. "It actually caused quite severe disease and actually transmitted quite freely."

    Monitoring Viruses
    An investigation of the lethal H1N2 strain revealed changes in two proteins, HA225G and NA315N, which seemed linked to the increased virulence. The proteins are involved in binding the virus to its target cells and in releasing it from the cells, Webby said, suggesting that the changes have to do with how the virus interacts with the cells it infects.

    H1N2 is a close cousin of the H1N1 pandemic virus, Webby said, meaning that people who have been vaccinated or exposed to that pathogen are likely safe from this one. That means that even if H1N2 develops the ability to jump to humans, it likely isn't a major threat.

    Nevertheless, "there are a number of threats in animal populations," Webby said. These include strains of H5N1, an avian flu virus that was recently the focus of controversy when scientists outlined the genetic changes necessary to make that strain transmissible between mammals. The findings triggered debate over whether such research should be released, given that terrorist groups or a rogue government could attempt to use the information to bioengineer a pandemic.

    Scientists are currently pretty good at identifying and cataloguing the flu viruses that pop up naturally in domesticated animals, Webby said, but they lack a good way to judge whether a given virus has pandemic potential in humans. Sequencing viral genes and identifying changes linked to transmissibility and lethality will help fill in those blanks, Webby said.

    "We have to keep vigilant about viruses that are circulating in [the pig] population," he said (Yahoo News, 2012).

    Title: West Nile Virus Not Backing Down
    Date: September 12, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Human cases of West Nile virus disease are continuing to increase. 

    As of Tuesday, state health departments have reported at least 2,636 cases; 118 of them fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    These figures are the highest they've been through the second week of September for any year since 2003 in terms of total cases reported. Public health officials say aggressive random testing in 2003 boosted the overall figures for that year, but the number of severe cases in 2012 is the highest reported this time of year since West Nile virus was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.

    "We still believe that this year's outbreak is the largest to date and certainly the most serious," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

    Although the exact reasons behind the severity of this year's outbreak remain unclear, experts believe unusually high temperatures may have been a contributing factor.

    The numbers are up more than 30 percent from last week, when public health officials reported 1,993 cases of West Nile virus in people and 87 fatalities.

    Although the total case numbers continue to increase, CDC officials say they believe this year's outbreak may have already peaked in mid- to late-August, and they expect it to taper off during or after October, following the course of previous West Nile outbreaks.

    Four out of five people infected with West Nile virus do not show any symptoms. However, up to 20 percent develop flu-like symptoms, and about one in 150 develops severe symptoms such as high fever, paralysis or other neurological disorders.

    Public health officials say people can reduce their risk of exposure to West Nile by maintaining screens on windows and doors, draining standing water, using bug repellant and wearing long pants and sleeves, especially during dusk and dawn when many mosquito species are most active.

    According to the CDC, mosquitoes initially contract the virus by feeding on infected birds and then spread the disease to humans they bite. Although the virus is not transmissible through casual human contact, such as touching or kissing, there are rare instances of its spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants and from mother to baby during breastfeeding or pregnancy (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Does The West Nile Outbreak Signal An Epidemic Of Viral Epidemics? Yes And No.
    Date: September 13, 2012
    Source:
    Washington Post

    Abstract: We are swimming in a sea of viruses. A hundred times smaller than bacteria, these tiny things are little more than stripped-down packets of genetic material with some protein padding. By strict definition, they aren’t even alive.

    But viruses are robust and promiscuous in their ability to invade organisms and hijack cellular machinery in order to replicate. The latest virus to seize the country’s attention — and create a run on bug spray — is the mosquito-­borne West Nile virus, which usually has little effect on its human hosts but can sometimes be a killer.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that this year’s West Nile epidemic is on track to be the deadliest since the disease first showed up in New York City in 1999, perhaps inside a stowaway mosquito on a transatlantic jetliner. There have been 2,636 officially reported cases nationally and 118 deaths, including two in Maryland and one eachin Virginia and the District.

    People get the virus from mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds. Most people don’t become sick, but some have a mild fever. One out of 150 develops serious symptoms, such as brain inflammation or polio-like paralysis of the arms or legs. A small number die.

    The outbreaks of so many viruses in recent weeks, years and decades — including hantavirus, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, ebola and the great global scourge of HIV — raise an obvious question: Are we seeing an epidemic of viral epidemics?

    The experts give a complicated, nuanced answer: yes and no. The bottom line is that virologists are hardly in a panic.

    “I think it would be over-exaggeration to think that there are millions of viruses ready to jump on us and bring us back to the 14th century,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the infectious-disease center at the National Institutes of Health. “That would be looking over a ledge that isn’t there.”

    But Fauci is hardly sanguine — and he’s the first to say you should use insect repellent before gardening in a mosquito-infested yard.

    Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, said this year’s West Nile season is on pace for a record number of severe infections, such as brain inflammation. These infections are considered the best indicator of the epidemic’s scope because they are most consistently reported to health authorities. Most people who are bitten by infected mosquitoes don’t develop symptoms, and their cases are not reported.

    Meanwhile, thousands of Yosemite National Park visitors have been warned that they may have been exposed this summer to rodent-borne hantavirus. Of the eight people known to have contracted the virus, three have died.

    The appearance of another rare but potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus, one that causes Eastern equine encephalitis, has spurred Massachusetts officials to ask residents in some communities to cancel evening outdoor events until the first hard frost. And two men in northwest Missouri were hospitalized in 2009 with a virus never before seen and possibly carried by ticks. Scientists named it the Heartland virus, after the hospital where it was identified.

    The broader picture is one of threats and triumphs. Viruses evolve — but so do the medical techniques that can identify and stop them, particularly in highly developed countries with resources to monitor disease outbreaks.

    Ancient threat, Big Target
    So far this year, the West Nile virus has infected more than 2,600 people in 45 states and the District. The number is expected to rise through October.

    Viruses have been part of the planet since long before humans appeared on the scene. They can infect plants or animals. When Tom Ksiazek, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, is asked whether there are more viruses these days, he says, “The short answer is no, because I don’t think any of these things have been dropped off by a flying saucer recently.”

    But there are now 7 billion people on the planet, collectively creating a meaty target for pathogens. We’re also an invasive species, probing exotic habitats and clearing rain forests where viruses lurk. Most dangerous viruses are “zoonotic,” finding a pathway to leap from an animal population into humans; the most notorious example is HIV, originally a disease of chimpanzees.

    Five centuries of global trade and transport have effectively put the planet’s life forms in a blender. After 1492, smallpox and measles wiped out untold millions of people in the New World who lacked immunity to those Old World diseases. Smallpox has been eradicated through relentless vaccination and monitoring, andpolio is almost gone, but there are countless other viruses that exploit the globalized economy to travel the world, perhaps inside an insect in a soggy shipping container.

    Scientists can’t quite decide whether viruses should be considered alive. They aren’t like bacteria, which cause tuberculosis, strep pneumonia, E. coli intestinal infections and hundreds of other ailments. Bacteria are one-cell organisms that can repair themselves, reproduce themselves, defend themselves. They have a metabolism, a self-sustaining chemical interaction with the world. That’s also true of more-complicated microbes, such as the amoebas that cause diarrhea and the protozoa that cause malaria.

    Viruses do none of those things. They have a few genes, providing instructions, and a few molecules of machinery, the equivalent of a pull starter on a chain saw, all packaged in a tough envelope. They sit, do nothing, eat nothing, don’t reproduce and wait for something living to come along. When that something is the right type of cell — viruses are choosy — they can invade, spilling the directions and the starter cord into the cell.

    They use the cell’s machinery to make copies of themselves, and then they take some of the cell’s membrane — like stealing coats from the hall closet — to wrap the new crop of viruses in before they head out to look for new targets.

    This parasitic lifestyle creates a challenge for anyone trying to create an antiviral drug. Antibiotics work on bacteria — living organisms. But you can’t easily target a virus without killing the cell that it has hijacked.

    Better than treating viral infections is preventing them. The first successful vaccine (against smallpox in 1796) and campaigns against other scourges (such as polio, measles, mumps and hepatitis B) all had viruses as their targets.

    There are clinical trials underway for a West Nile vaccine, though it remains to be seen whether companies will find it profitable to develop a vaccine for a disease that is relatively rare and usually benign. Once you get West Nile, you have immunity for life.

    ‘Slips through the Cracks’
    So far this year, the West Nile virus has infected more than 2,600 people in 45 states and the District. The number is expected to rise through October.

    West Nile is not a global health problem like malaria, HIV and schistosomiasis, so big donors aren’t likely to give lots of money for developing and testing a vaccine. And it’s not a “biodefense threat” like smallpox and anthrax, so the federal government isn’t willing to underwrite a long and expensive vaccine program.

    “A disease like that just sort of slips through the cracks,” said Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

    So for now, “put on mosquito repellent” is about all that public health officials can offer as a West Nile preventive.

    Still, in the past, if you came down with a fever or a mysterious cough and visited a doctor, “the physician would say to you, ‘It’s probably a virus,’ ” said W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Now, virologists have tools to identify viruses down to the genetic level. Viruses are more likely to have a name.

    The new Heartland virus was found when researchers were looking for the organism that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is transmitted by ticks. It hasn’t been proved yet that this new virus is tick-borne, but from a public health point of view, the message is the same: Wear long-sleeved clothing when you go outside.

    The hantavirus associated with the Yosemite outbreak is the same virus first identified in 1993 in the Four Corners area of New Mexico. Scientists believe that earlier outbreak was triggered by heavy spring rains that led to a bumper crop of pinion nuts, which allowed deer mice, which carry the virus, to proliferate.

    “In the evolution of the world there has always been emerging and reemerging infectious diseases,” Fauci says. “Some are threats, some are curiosities, but viruses are continuing to emerge. And that’s going to be that way essentially forever.”

    Katherine Spindler, a virologist at the University of Michigan, says: “It’s like with any threat — you have to use the right precautions. . . . And then you have to live your life” (Washington Post, 2012).

    Title: Dallas Copes With Unpredictability Of West Nile Virus
    Date: September 18, 2012
    Source:
    NY Times

    Abstract: Jay Wortham found it under the cabinet below the kitchen sink after his mother died in August — a blue bottle of insect repellent.

    Marjorie Wortham's son, Jay, has also contracted West Nile Virus.

    His mother, Margorie Wortham, 91, died of West Nile virus, the mosquito-borne illness that has spread across this city and other parts of the country, killing 118 people and sickening nearly 3,000 others nationwide.

    Mr. Wortham believes that his mother was bitten by an infected mosquito one hot day in July while she sat on an old wooden bench under a pecan tree in her backyard. Though she had often used the bug repellent, she was not wearing any that day.

    Here in Dallas County, the West Nile outbreak’s hardest-hit county in the United States, a few missed pumps of bug spray can haunt the relatives of those who die from the virus.

    “I wish I had taken her this instead of a vodka and Coke,” said Mr. Wortham, 59, holding the bottle in his hands. “I ask that other people don’t make the same mistake.”

    Ms. Wortham and 14 other people have died in Dallas County from the virus since July. Nine were men, and six were women. The youngest were in their 40s, and the oldest in their 90s.

    Charles H. Pistor Jr., 81, was a well-known figure in Dallas — a retired banking executive, former vice chairman of the board of trustees at Southern Methodist University and past president of the Dallas Assembly civic group.

    Dr. Tom M. McCrory, 92, a retired eye surgeon, died eight days after Mr. Pistor in July.

    Dema Miller lived in the Dallas suburb of Irving and was one week shy of her 84th birthday when she died in August.

    Local and federal health officials said the outbreak that has killed 57 people and sickened hundreds of others in Texas appeared to be waning, with Dallas County seeing a decrease in new cases in recent weeks. Still, the friends and relatives of the county’s fatal victims remain in a state of grief, coming to terms with the seeming randomness of healthy middle-aged people and active retirees cut down by ever-present insects.

    County health leaders said that although some of the 15 people had pre-existing medical conditions like hypertension, kidney disease or a history of cancer, others did not have any conditions that put them at a higher risk of developing the most severe form of the illness, West Nile neuroinvasive disease. The disease affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to brain damage, coma and death. The milder form, West Nile fever, can cause flulike symptoms.

    “You cannot predict with certainty who is going to come down with more severe disease in a situation like this,” said Dr. Wendy Chung, the chief epidemiologist for Dallas County Health and Human Services.

    “We don’t want people to have a false sense of security that they are somehow impervious to the disease because they don’t have an underlying medical condition,” Dr. Chung added. “People feel that West Nile is something that happens to somebody else in some other ZIP code, with some other set of health problems. I think that is counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve on a public health level, which is an appreciation that risk can sometimes be very unpredictable.”

    Many of those who died lived far from one another in the Dallas suburbs of Seagoville, Grand Prairie or Rowlett, in a county that at 871 square miles is nearly three times the size of New York City.

    But 6 of the 15 victims lived in three adjacent ZIP codes a few miles north of downtown Dallas — 75205, 75225 and 75229. The area is a roughly 21-square-mile section of North Dallas and the Park Cities, which include the town of Highland Park and the city of University Park. It is made up of neighborhoods with manicured lawns and some of the wealthiest, most highly educated households in the Dallas area.

    One residence in particular is the best known but least talked about, publicly at least — the house on Daria Place where former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, live. Their ZIP code is 75229, where two people bitten by infected mosquitoes died — Ms. Wortham and another resident.
    The reasons the West Nile outbreak has been so intense in those three ZIP codes and throughout the county are unclear. Local, state and federal health officials said a variety of complex factors could be at play.

    Because West Nile outbreaks are often associated with heat waves, the Dallas area’s hot weather this summer might have contributed, although many parts of the country that had high temperatures did not experience such severe outbreaks. Mosquitoes get the virus when they feed on infected birds, and officials believe that the population of susceptible birds, the infectiousness of the mosquitoes and the environmental conditions that might have changed the interactions between birds and mosquitoes might have also played a role.

    “All of this is something that we’re going to try and sort out in the upcoming weeks and months, as we start to look at the data in more detail,” said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, the director of the vector-borne infectious diseases division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He added that it appeared that ecological factors were responsible, not a change in the genetics of the virus.

    Ms. Wortham and her husband, James Gregg Wortham, an engineer who died in 1980, had two children, and she enjoyed spending time gardening at the house they moved into in 1959. In later years, Ms. Wortham, a grandmother of two and great-grandmother of four, hung a framed passage from a poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney: One is nearer God’s heart in a garden/Than anywhere else on Earth.

    Days after Ms. Wortham was bitten in July, she became increasingly ill and nauseated. She eventually collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. “She was exceedingly weak,” Mr. Wortham said. “She had tremors here, and I couldn’t take care of her in that condition, and that’s when I called 911.”

    She died five days later.

    On a recent afternoon, Mr. Wortham, who had moved home to take care of his mother, sprayed himself with her bottle of bug spray before going out into the backyard. On the coffee table in the living room, he left the medical document he received days ago. He said he was feeling fine, and was neither overly worried nor surprised: he, too, had tested positive for the virus (NY Times, 2012).

    Title: Deadly 'Superbugs' On The Rise: What You Need To Know
    Date: September 18, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Concern has been raised once again over the threat of deadly ‘superbugs,’ after a seventh individual at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., died Friday after contracting an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria.

    According to the Washington Post, the boy from Minnesota contracted the bug while being treated at the hospital for complications from a bone marrow transplant.  So far, he is the 19th patient at the NIH center to have contracted the bacteria – Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC).  The bug’s outbreak was traced back to a single patient who was carrying the bacteria when he was admitted to the hospital in the summer of 2011.  

    While the NIH declined to be interviewed on the matter, the agency released a statement about the incident.

    “We are deeply saddened by the deaths at the NIH Clinical Center related to [KPC],” the NIH said in a statement. “The health and welfare of patients is NIH's top priority, and NIH has – and will continue to – take every measure possible to protect patients at the Clinical Center and quell transmission.”

    The NIH went on to add that “the Clinical Center is taking strong action to keep KPC from spreading further, redoubling its efforts to ensure that all the infection control and isolation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed stringently.”  They agency is also continuing to test for KPC and amp up their de-contamination procedures.

    This latest death raises serious questions about the rise of bugs no longer treatable with antibiotics.  The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria has become a recent dilemma in the past few years.  A notable example has been the rise of the “staph” germ known as MRSA - methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – which caused unease after the CDC reported 18,650 American deaths from MRSA in 2005.

    According to infectious disease experts, both MRSA and KPC are results of the same problem – the overuse of antibiotics.  Utilized in livestock feed, by medical professionals and by consumers just to treat the common cold, the abundance of antibiotics in our society has prompted evolution to select for the antibiotic-resistant trait.

    “Bacteria are becoming more and more resistant as more and more antibiotics are being used – and they’re becoming smarter,” Dr. Joseph Rahimian, an infectious disease specialist at Village Park Medical in New York City, told FoxNews.com.  “….There are limited choices for treatment.  Only a few antibiotics work in that scenario, and they’re typically antibiotics we don’t frequently use – some affect the kidney, some aren’t readily available, and some don’t lead to [good] blood levels.”

    What is KPC?
    K. pneumonia is an organism that lives in the large bowel, which can cause the disease Klebsiella pneumonia – a condition marked by high fever, chills and the expulsion of a thick, viscous fluid called sputum from the lungs. To combat K. pneumonia, a class of antibiotics called Carbapenems is used; however, when the organism becomes resistant to Carbpaenems, it becomes known as Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase.  

    Rahimian noted KPC is one of the more dangerous strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Unlike MRSA – which has some other treatment options apart from antibiotics – KPC has very few options, making it much more difficult to combat.

    The people most susceptible to contracting KPC are those who are critically ill or who have a weakened immune system, which is why outbreaks easily occur in hospitals.  Although most of the cases have occurred at the NIH Clinical Center, all hospitals in the Northeast and beyond should be on the lookout for outbreaks of this kind.

    “Since the 1990s, some drug resistant isolates of KPC have emerged,” Dr. Amy Ray, an infectious disease expert with UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, told FoxNews.com.  “And certainly the Northeast has been a focus of concern, but no hospital in the United States is immune to KPC.  In fact, the organism and KPC producing organism have been described worldwide – in Europe, Asia and South America.”

    KPC spreads through direct contact of the skin, which can eventually lead to infection.  According to Rahimian, a person can also be a carrier of the bacteria and not show any symptoms.

    What You can Do
    “Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do as a patient,” Rahimian said.  “If other people are using unnecessary antibiotics, they are promoting the development of resistance, [which] might affect you even though you didn’t do anything.”

    Because of its difficulty to identify and treat, both Rahimian and Ray say that prevention is key to combating KPC and other antibiotic-resistant bugs.  

    “The single biggest effort the hospitals can undertake is to ensure that their infection control and prevention departments are up to date,” Ray said.  “Also that they are tracking and trending organisms such as these to understand their local epidemiology.  And at the single health care worker level, the most important thing is hand hygiene and the use of standard precautions to prevent the transmission from person to person.”

    For the average individual, taking proper precautions – such as thoroughly washing their hands and making sure their doctors are doing the same – is crucial.  

    Going beyond these anti-infection measures, many health care professionals and others are calling for more judicious use of antibiotics, in hopes to stop the emergence of antibiotic resistance.  Numerous ‘antibiotic stewardship’ campaigns are in effect to stop people from taking or prescribing antibiotics when they are not truly necessary.  

    As far as research goes to develop smarter drugs to combat KPC, experts agree that funding and focus are lacking – meaning proper treatments may not be available for some time.

    “We are facing a critical shortage of anti-microbial agents,” Ray said.  “The field is desperate for drug discovery.”

    For more information on how to combat KPC and similar bacteria strains, the CDC has provided a toolkit for both patients and health care professionals  (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Yosemite Officials Staying On Top Of Hantavirus
    Date: September 19, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Federal and state health officials investigating the hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park say it could take several weeks to determine how nine visitors contracted the illness – three of whom died.

    However, there’s some evidence the park’s population of deer mice, which carries hantavirus, has grown significantly. Park officials have been trapping and killing deer mice for the past few weeks.  They said that while the percentage of those testing positive hasn’t changed, there are simply more deer mice, which could translate into a greater risk of exposure for people.

    Health officials are looking at Curry Village, the popular campsite where all but one of the cases originated. They found deer mice in the insulated walls of some tent cabins. Ninety-one cabins are now closed indefinitely.

    Symptoms of hantavirus mimic the flu, and a patient who waits to seek treatment can go from bad to worse – fast.  Why some people got sick and others did not remains a mystery.

    “The cases have been (visitors from) distinct cabins, different cabins, different families, and along with that, we know there are people that stay with case patients in tents – patients that didn’t get sick,” said Danielle Buttke, a veterinary epidemiologist for the National Park Service.

    This is not the first hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite, but given the cluster of infections, it is the most serious. There are usually just a handful of cases each year in the United States, and it’s particularly worrisome because there is no cure or vaccine.

    One-third of hantavirus cases are fatal, Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist with the University of California, San Francisco, told Fox News.

    Epidemiologists studying hantavirus said all the attention on the Yosemite outbreak could help patients in the future.

    “It is my hope that this particular cluster of cases will drive more interest in developing a vaccine or drug that would be effective against this very deadly disease,” Chiu said.

    Park officials are handing out fliers with information about how to avoid getting sick. Tips include staying away from deer mice and their droppings. The park is also emailing about 230,000 people around the world who stayed overnight at the park since early June, giving them information about the virus and how it is spread.

    The park averages about four million visitors each year, and park attendance is down compared to last August – although last summer was a huge tourist season because of the large snowpack-fed gushing waterfalls.

    Now that the falls are dry, visitor numbers are on par with 2010 and 2009 figures, park officials said; however, park rangers and staff members have noted the scare has caused some people to cancel their hotel reservations (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Schools Unprepared For Pandemics
    Date: September 21, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:  When health disasters strike, schools can easily exacerbate the emergency. With so many kids crammed into one place for so many hours of the day, infectious diseases can spread rapidly.

    Still, fewer than half of schools around the United States have adequate plans in place to deal with the next pandemic, found a new study.

    To assess school readiness for bioterrorist attacks or flu outbreaks, researchers at St. Louis University Medical Center surveyed about 2,000 nurses in 26 states who worked with kids of all ages, ranging from elementary to high school.Description: http://global.fncstatic.com/static/v/all/img/external-link.png

    Eighty-five percent of schools had a written disaster plan as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Infection ControlPlans for health emergencies were particularly lacking.

    Fewer than half of the plans specifically addressed pandemic preparedness. And just over 40 percent of schools had updated their plans since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which spread through 214 countries, killed more than 18,000 people, and hit school-aged children hardest.

    Some models suggest that a future pandemic could make 90 million people sick and cause more than 209,000 deaths in the United States alone. Yet, just 20 percent of schools have stockpiled alcohol-based hand rub, according to the survey's results.

    Most schools also failed to report cases of flu-like symptoms or other worrisome illnesses to, which could hinder efforts to detect outbreaks early.

    "School preparedness for disasters and infectious disease emergencies is essential, yet many schools are lacking in adequate plans," the researchers wrote. "U.S. schools must continue to address gaps in infectious disease emergency planning, including developing better plans, coordinating these plans with local and regional disaster response agency plans, and testing the plans through disaster drills and exercises" (Fox News, 2012)

    Title: Feds Scramble To Halt Stink Bug Invasion
    Date: September 24, 2012
    Source: Washington Examiner

    Abstract: The stink bug is back and in much bigger numbers than last year, giving fear to a potentially historic outbreak next year that has federal officials scrambling to deploy a killer that will stop the Chinese import's march into 38 states so far.

    While last year's breakout was described as mild due to unfriendly weather, this fall's explosion of the brown marmorated stink bug is the second this year, a rare "second generation" of the bug that is now pouring into homes looking for a safe haven until they can emerge next spring to lay eggs.

    "Populations have increased," Tracy Leskey, a lead research entomologist with the Agriculture Department, told Secrets. "This has been a very good year for the stink bug," added one of the nation's leading stink bug experts.

    Orchard and vineyard farms and homeowners in the Washington region have reported massive numbers since last weekend. The bugs don't sting but do puncture fruits, making them quick to blemish and rot, and they often hide in cars, homes and even Craftsman sockets.

    Leskey said that a strong fall second generation is a good indicator that next year's population will be even stronger. "A large population now means a potentially larger population will exit in the spring," she said. It's easy to see why: Each female stink bug carries 10 egg sacks with 28 eggs each.

    But help might be on the way. Leskey and other researchers have expanded their list of potential killers to include baited traps and a native bug, the even uglier "wheelbug." Those are being studied at speeded up pace as a tiny wasp that is the stink bug's known killer in China.

    "It will take multiple tactics" to stop the stink bug, said Leskey. But for now her advice to homeowners is a simple and smart one: "seal your homes."

    Also to keep the public up to date on the fight against stink bugs, a research website has been created at http://www.stopbmsb.org (Washington Examiner, 2012)

    Title: MRSA Found On 80 Percent Of Dollar Bills According To SPC Study
    Date: September 24, 2012
    Source: Examiner


    Abstract: A St. Petersburg College biological sciences professor and some of her students set out to discover how much, if any, “bad bacteria” is found on frequently handled fomites like paper 
    money and credit cards. The preliminary findings from the study titled, “"Cash or Credit: Spreading the Wealth of Virulence Genes?", were released Monday.

    Shannon McQuaig, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Natural Sciences at St. Petersburg College spoke to the Infectious Disease Examiner Monday about the study and their preliminary findings.

    Dr. McQuaig and her students tested paper money and plastic currency for this “bad bacteria” using molecular techniques looking for various antibiotic resistance and virulence-associated genes.

    What they found was the high prevalence of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on both the paper money and the plastic credit cards.

    McQuaig said of the “non-hospital” (malls, fast food restaurants, gas stations, etc.) dollar bills tested, approximately 80 percent of the cash tested had MRSA on it. This compared to just 20 percent of the “hospital” cash (health care workers for example).

    When asked about whether she was surprised by this finding, because the health care setting are a well-known source for MRSA, Dr. McQuaig responded, “Initially, I expected hospital-associated dollar bills would harbor the highest percentage of MRSA; however, after observing the lower percentage I did a little research into the matter and found a few things that may be contributing to the lower percentage.

    “First, hospitals have advertised hand-washing/hand-sanitizing practices with flyers in bathrooms and on walls throughout the lobby, which increases awareness. Second, hospital bathrooms tend to use soap containing triclosan, while some organisms have developed resistance to triclosan; however, MRSA is still sensitive to this antimicrobial chemical. Third, according to the CDC hospital-associated MRSA infections have actually been decreasing over the past few years while community-acquired MRSA infections have been increasing.”

    In addition, McQuaig and her students reported that 50 percent of the credit cards tested also tested positive for MRSA.

    Being a higher percentage than expected, Dr. McQuaig told Examiner.com that credit cards are less porous and many sources have suggested the switch to plastic currency because of decreased contamination.

    “I believe there has been a general trend to use plastic currency more frequently, as a simple convenience (I hardly ever carry cash), but as it is used more frequently it is exposed to more hands and thus possibly more contamination.

    “Although, on average, credit cards are still not handled as much as dollar bills. Volunteers in this study estimated using them from once per month to 10-20 times per week”, she notes.

    The study was paid for by a grant from The Foundation at St. Petersburg College. The goal of the Foundation is to provide student enrichment and faculty professional development.

    Dr. McQuaig says once the study is complete, they plan to publish the data in a peer reviewed journal.

    Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium found colonizing (without causing infection) the skin and nose in one quarter to one third of people.

    Methicillin –resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a highly resistant type, in which beta-lactam antibiotics (penicillins and cephalosporins) are ineffective in treatment.

    What was once restricted to hospital infections, MRSA is becoming increasingly common in community acquired infections.

    MRSA is primarily spread person to person via close skin contact, through cuts and abrasions and poor hygiene (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Yosemite Workers Tested For Hantavirus, Ordered To Keep Quiet
    Date: September 27, 2012
    Source:
    CBS San Francisco

    Abstract: California public health officials have tested 100 workers at Yosemite National Park to determine whether they were exposed to the deadly mouse-borne hantavirus.

    Nine people who spent time at the park this year have been infected with the rare virus, the majority after staying at the “Signature” cabins in Curry Village. Three of them died.

    KTVU-TV Oakland said 100 park workers submitted to voluntary testing on Wednesday and they have been ordered not to discuss the testing.

    It was not known when the tests will be completed or if they would be made public.

    Yosemite National Park officials plan to offer testing to all employees in the park to determine whether they’ve been infected with the virus.

    Park spokesman John Quinley said Thursday the voluntary testing will be available to all employees of the National Park Service and the park’s concessionaire, DNC Parks and Resort. He declined to say when the testing would start.

    The California Department of Public Health conducted a pilot testing program Wednesday, taking blood samples and questionnaires from 96 National Park Service employees.

    There have been no confirmed or suspected hantavirus cases among employees so far. But nine people who visited the park this summer have been infected, the majority after staying at the “Signature” cabins in Curry Village. Three of them have died (CBS San Francisco, 2012)

    Title: Health Officials Push For More People To Get Flu Shot
    Date: September 27, 2012
    Source:
    USA Today

    Abstract: There are plenty of flu shots available this year, and health officials urged Americans on Thursday to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated -- if not for their own sakes, then for the health of their communities.

    About 85 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed, part of a total of 135 million doses for this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "Influenza is predictably unpredictable," said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, who spoke at a news conference in Washington organized by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease.

    "In 2009-2010, we had a pandemic with thousands hospitalized and many deaths," Koh said. "Last year, we set a record for the lowest number of hospitalizations and the shortest influenza season."

    In spite of the "mild" flu season last year -- brought about partly because the flu strains in circulation were similar to those the year before -- 34 children died of the disease, Koh says. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone over age 6 months.

    "Even mild seasons can lead to suffering and death," said Koh, who was vaccinated at the news conference. "People cannot become complacent this season. When it comes to the flu, we cannot look to the past to predict what will happen this season."

    Yet most Americans choose to skip the flu shot. Forty-two percent of Americans got a flu shot last year, about the same rate as the year before, according to the CDC.

    Vaccination coverage fell sharply with increasing age, peaking at a high of 75% of babies ages 6 to 23 months but falling to 39% of adults and 34% of teens ages 13 to 17. Forty-seven percent of pregnant women were vaccinated against the flu last year, according to the CDC. That's about the same as last year, but far below the CDC's goal of vaccinating 80% of pregnant women.

    Flu shots are safe at any stage of pregnancy and are especially important for expectant mothers and their babies, said Laura Riley, director of obstetrics and gynecology infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. That's because pregnant women are five times as likely as other people to become severely ill if they get the flu, a condition that can cause miscarriage or preterm delivery, Riley says.

    By getting a flu shot during pregnancy, women develop antibodies that go through the placenta to their fetuses, protecting babies after birth for their first six months of life, before they are old enough to get their own shots.

    Each year, 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu, causing up to 200,000 hospitalizations, 20,000 of which are in children, Koh said. Even health care workers aren't getting recommended vaccines. Sixty-seven percent of all health care providers get flu shots, although doctors who work in hospitals did slightly better: 87% got vaccinated against influenza, according to the CDC. That's an improvement from 2002, when 32% of health care workers were vaccinated.

    Some hospitals require all employees to get flu shots, says William Schaffner, past president of the infectious disease foundation. Those include members of the Hospital Corp. of America, Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, he says. Schaffner said even some health workers believe flu shots can cause the flu, which is untrue.

    "This is an ethical and professional responsibility" for physicians, who should get vaccinated to set an example to patients, Schaffner said. "It's a patient safety issue, so we do not transmit our influenza infection to patients. It's also so that when influenza strikes, we are vertical and not horizontal."

    Schaffner predicts more hospital workers will become vaccinated once the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires those vaccination rates to be published.

    The flu shot, as usual, protects against three types of flu viruses. Next year, flu shots will be available that protect against four viral strains, Schaffner said. That's a big improvement, given that it can be difficult for scientists to predict in the spring which viruses will be circulating the following winter.

    Though flu shots aren't perfect, they reduce the risk of becoming sick by 50% to 60% when there is a good match between the vaccine strains and those circulating in the community, Schaffner said.

    Several kinds of flu shots are available: the traditional shot in the arm, a nasal mist for those ages 2 to 49, a high-dose flu shot for senior citizens and a new intradermal shot for adults over 18 that is supposed to be less painful (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: Ebola: Uganda Muslims Barred From Pilgrimage To Mecca
    Date: September 28, 2012
    Source:
    Africa Review

    Abstract: Some 900 Ugandan Muslim pilgrims could miss taking part in the annual pilgrimage in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina following Saudi Arabian authorities’ refusal to issue visas to the group on the basis that the country is not yet Ebola-free.

    Sheikh Ibrahim Kirya, the chairperson Uganda Hajj Mission, said despite Ebola being contained, the Saudi Arabian Government was not yet convinced to clear the pilgrims.

    “We have done our part to convince the Saudi authorities, but we have not achieved much yet. We are now seeking the intervention of our government so that Hajj companies don’t lose huge sums of money they have spent,” he said.

    The annual Hajj begins on October 18.

    Plans by medical officials to declare Kibale District Ebola-free have been pushed to October 4 following advice from the World Health Organisation.

    “We received technical advice from WHO to extend the counting from 21 to 42 days after discharging the last positive patient from the hospital,” the district health officer, Dr Dan Kyamanywa, told the Daily Monitor on Tuesday.

    There were plans to declare the district Ebola-free on Friday.

    “Patients who were discharged are fully integrating in communities. But we are continuing with public sensitisation and mobilisation. We have noted remarked improvement in public and personal hygiene after the (Ebola) outbreak was confirmed,” Dr Kyamanywa added.

    However, Mr John Mugabi, 35, a farmer, who was discharged from Kagadi Hospital after testing negative claimed he has never fully integrated in the communities.

    “People still shun me. They think I am Ebola positive. I feel stigmatised. I have failed to resume my business,” Mr Mugabi, a resident of Butumba B Village, Nyanseke Parish, said.

    Kagadi Hospital last received two suspected Ebola cases in mid September and they tested negative (Africa Review, 2012).

    Title: Killers On The Loose: The Deadly Viruses That Threaten Human Survival
    Date: September 28, 2012
    Source:
    Guardian

    Abstract: Astrid Joosten was a 41-year-old Dutch woman who, in June 2008, went to Uganda with her husband. At home in Noord-Brabant, she worked as a business analyst. Both she and her husband, Jaap Taal, a financial manager, enjoyed annual adventures, especially to 
    Africa. The journey in 2008, booked through an adventure-travel outfitter, took them to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to mountain gorillas. While there, the operators offered an optional trip, to a place called the Maramagambo Forest, where the chief attraction was a peculiar site known as Python Cave. African rock pythons lived there, languid and content, grown large and fat on a diet of bats.

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    Most of the other travellers didn't fancy this trip, Taal told me. "But Astrid and I always said, maybe you come here only once in your life, and you have to do everything you can."

    Inside the cave, the footing was bad: rocky, uneven, slick with guano. The ceiling was thick with bats, big ones, many thousands of them, agitated at the presence of human intruders. Astrid and Jaap kept their heads low and watched their step, trying not to slip, ready to put a hand down if needed. "I think that's how Astrid got infected," he told me. "I think she put her hand on a piece of rock [covered with bat droppings]. And so she had it on her hand."

    No one had warned Joosten and Taal about the potential hazards of an African bat cave. They knew nothing of a virus called Marburg, first identified in 1967 and thought to be carried by bats (though they had heard of Ebola, another filovirus). They stayed in the cave for only about 10 minutes. Then they left, visited the mountain gorillas, did a boat trip, and flew back to Amsterdam. Thirteen days after the cave visit, at home in Noord-Brabant, Astrid fell ill.

    At first it seemed no worse than flu. Then her temperature went higher and higher. After a few days she began suffering organ failure. Her doctors suspected Lassa fever and moved her to a hospital in Leiden, where she developed a rash and conjunctivitis; she haemorrhaged. She was put into an induced coma, a move dictated by the need to dose her more aggressively with antiviral medicine. Before she lost consciousness, Taal went back into the isolation room, kissed his wife and said to her, "Well, we'll see you in a few days." Blood samples, sent to a lab in Hamburg, confirmed the diagnosis: Marburg. Astrid worsened. As her organs shut down, she lacked oxygen to the brain, suffered cerebral oedema, and before long she was declared brain-dead. "They kept her alive for a few more hours, until the family arrived," Taal told me. "Then they pulled out the plug and she died within a few minutes." The doctors, appalled by his recklessness in kissing her goodbye, had prepared an isolation room for Taal himself, but that was never needed.

    The news of Astrid Joosten's death carried far. She was the first person known to have left Africa with an active filovirus infection and died. Back in 1994, a Swiss graduate student from Ivory Coast had recovered. Did any other person, apart from those two, ever pass through an international airport and depart the continent with Ebola or Marburg virus incubating in his or her body? No one of whom the experts were aware. Astrid Joosten's case proved that Marburg could travel in a human, though it didn't travel as well as Sars or influenza or HIV-1. Five thousand miles away, in Colorado, another woman heard the news with a shudder of recognition. She had visited Python Cave, too.

    Infectious disease is all around us. It's one of the basic processes that ecologists study, along with predation and competition. Predators are big beasts that eat their prey from outside. Pathogens (disease-causing agents, such as viruses) are small beasts that eat their prey from within. Although infectious disease can seem grisly and dreadful, under ordinary conditions, it's every bit as natural as what lions do to wildebeests and zebras. But conditions aren't always ordinary.

    Just as predators have their accustomed prey, so do pathogens. And just as a lion might occasionally depart from its normal behaviour – to kill a cow instead of a wildebeest, or a human instead of a zebra – so a pathogen can shift to a new target. Aberrations occur. When a pathogen leaps from an animal into a person, and succeeds in establishing itself as an infectious presence, sometimes causing illness or death, the result is a zoonosis.

    It's a mildly technical term, zoonosis, unfamiliar to most people, but it helps clarify the biological complexities behind the ominous headlines about swine flu, bird fluSars, emerging diseases in general, and the threat of a global pandemic. It's a word of the future, destined for heavy use in the 21st century.

    Ebola and Marburg are zoonoses. So is bubonic plague. So was the so-called Spanish influenza of 1918–1919, which had its source in a wild aquatic bird and emerged to kill as many as 50 million people. All of the human influenzas are zoonoses. As are monkeypox, bovine tuberculosis, Lyme diseaseWest Nile fever, rabies and a strange new affliction called Nipah encephalitis, which has killed pigs and pig farmers in Malaysia. Each of these zoonoses reflects the action of a pathogen that can "spillover", crossing into people from other animals.

    Aids is a disease of zoonotic origin caused by a virus that, having reached humans through a few accidental events in western and central Africa, now passes human-to-human. This form of interspecies leap is not rare; about 60% of all human infectious diseases currently known either cross routinely or have recently crossed between other animals and us. Some of those – notably rabies – are familiar, widespread and still horrendously lethal, killing humans by the thousands despite centuries of efforts at coping with their effects. Others are new and inexplicably sporadic, claiming a few victims or a few hundred, and then disappearing for years.

    Zoonotic pathogens can hide. The least conspicuous strategy is to lurk within what's called a reservoir host: a living organism that carries the pathogen while suffering little or no illness. When a disease seems to disappear between outbreaks, it's often still lingering nearby, within some reservoir host. A rodent? A bird? A butterfly? A bat? To reside undetected is probably easiest wherever biological diversity is high and the ecosystem is relatively undisturbed. The converse is also true: ecological disturbance causes diseases to emerge. Shake a tree and things fall out.

    Michelle Barnes is an energetic, late 40s-ish woman, an avid rock climber and cyclist. Her auburn hair, she told me cheerily, came from a bottle. It approximates the original colour, but the original is gone. In 2008, her hair started falling out; the rest went grey "pretty much overnight". This was among the lesser effects of a mystery illness that had nearly killed her during January that year, just after she'd returned from Uganda.

    Her story paralleled the one Jaap Taal had told me about Astrid, with several key differences – the main one being that Michelle Barnes was still alive. Michelle and her husband, Rick Taylor, had wanted to see mountain gorillas, too. Their guide had taken them through Maramagambo Forest and into Python Cave. They, too, had to clamber across those slippery boulders. As a rock climber, Barnes said, she tends to be very conscious of where she places her hands. No, she didn't touch any guano. No, she was not bumped by a bat. By late afternoon they were back, watching the sunset. It was Christmas evening 2007.

    They arrived home on New Year's Day. On 4 January, Barnes woke up feeling as if someone had driven a needle into her skull. She was achy all over, feverish. "And then, as the day went on, I started developing a rash across my stomach." The rash spread. "Over the next 48 hours, I just went down really fast."

    By the time Barnes turned up at a hospital in suburban Denver, she was dehydrated; her white blood count was imperceptible; her kidneys and liver had begun shutting down. An infectious disease specialist, Dr Norman K Fujita, arranged for her to be tested for a range of infections that might be contracted in Africa. All came back negative, including the test for Marburg.

    Gradually her body regained strength and her organs began to recover. After 12 days, she left hospital, still weak and anaemic, still undiagnosed. In March she saw Fujita on a follow-up visit and he had her serum tested again for Marburg. Again, negative. Three more months passed, and Barnes, now grey‑haired, lacking her old energy, suffering abdominal pain, unable to focus, got an email from a journalist she and Taylor had met on the Uganda trip, who had just seen a news article. In the Netherlands, a woman had died of Marburg after a Ugandan holiday during which she had visited a cave full of bats.

    Barnes spent the next 24 hours Googling every article on the case she could find. Early the following Monday morning, she was back at Dr Fujita's door. He agreed to test her a third time for Marburg. This time a lab technician crosschecked the third sample, and then the first sample.

    The new results went to Fujita, who called Barnes: "You're now an honorary infectious disease doctor. You've self-diagnosed, and the Marburg test came back positive."

    The Marburg virus had reappeared in Uganda in 2007. It was a small outbreak, affecting four miners, one of whom died, working at a site called Kitaka Cave. But Joosten's death, and Barnes's diagnosis, implied a change in the potential scope of the situation. That local Ugandans were dying of Marburg was a severe concern – sufficient to bring a response team of scientists in haste. But if tourists, too, were involved, tripping in and out of some python-infested Marburg repository, unprotected, and then boarding their return flights to other continents, the place was not just a peril for Ugandan miners and their families. It was also an international threat.

    The first team of scientists had collected about 800 bats from Kitaka Cave for dissecting and sampling, and marked and released more than 1,000, using beaded collars coded with a number. That team, including scientist Brian Amman, had found live Marburg virus in five bats.

    Entering Python Cave after Joosten's death, another team of scientists, again including Amman, came across one of the beaded collars they had placed on captured bats three months earlier and 30 miles away.

    "It confirmed my suspicions that these bats are moving," Amman said – and moving not only through the forest but from one roosting site to another. Travel of individual bats between far-flung roosts implied circumstances whereby Marburg virus might ultimately be transmitted all across Africa, from one bat encampment to another. It voided the comforting assumption that this virus is strictly localised. And it highlighted the complementary question: why don't outbreaks of Marburg virus disease happen more often? Marburg is only one instance to which that question applies. Why not more Ebola? Why not more Sars?

    In the case of Sars, the scenario could have been very much worse. Apart from the 2003 outbreak and the aftershock cases in early 2004, it hasn't recurred… so far. Eight thousand cases are relatively few for such an explosive infection; 774 people died, not 7 million. Several factors contributed to limiting the scope and impact of the outbreak, of which humanity's good luck was only one. Another was the speed and excellence of the laboratory diagnostics – finding the virus and identifying it. Still another was the brisk efficiency with which cases were isolated, contacts were traced and quarantine measures were instituted, first in southern China, then in Hong Kong, Singapore, Hanoi and Toronto. If the virus had arrived in a different sort of big city – more loosely governed, full of poor people, lacking first-rate medical institutions – it might have burned through a much larger segment of humanity.

    One further factor, possibly the most crucial, was inherent in the way Sars affects the human body: symptoms tend to appear in a person before, rather than after, that person becomes highly infectious. That allowed many Sars cases to be recognised, hospitalised and placed in isolation before they hit their peak of infectivity. With influenza and many other diseases, the order is reversed. That probably helped account for the scale of worldwide misery and death during the 1918–1919 influenza. And that infamous global pandemic occurred in the era before globalisation. Everything nowadays moves around the planet faster, including viruses. When the Next Big One comes, it will likely conform to the same perverse pattern as the 1918 influenza: high infectivity preceding notable symptoms. That will help it move through cities and airports like an angel of death.

    The Next Big One is a subject that disease scientists around the world often address. The most recent big one is Aids, of which the eventual total bigness cannot even be predicted – about 30 million deaths, 34 million living people infected, and with no end in sight. Fortunately, not every virus goes airborne from one host to another. If HIV-1 could, you and I might already be dead. If the rabies virus could, it would be the most horrific pathogen on the planet. The influenzas are well adapted for airborne transmission, which is why a new strain can circle the world within days. The Sars virus travels this route, too, or anyway by the respiratory droplets of sneezes and coughs – hanging in the air of a hotel corridor, moving through the cabin of an aeroplane – and that capacity, combined with its case fatality rate of almost 10%, is what made it so scary in 2003 to the people who understood it best.

    Human-to-human transmission is the crux. That capacity is what separates a bizarre, awful, localised, intermittent and mysterious disease (such as Ebola) from a global pandemic. Have you noticed the persistent, low-level buzz about avian influenza, the strain known as H5N1, among disease experts over the past 15 years? That's because avian flu worries them deeply, though it hasn't caused many human fatalities. Swine flu comes and goes periodically in the human population (as it came and went during 2009), sometimes causing a bad pandemic and sometimes (as in 2009) not so bad as expected; but avian flu resides in a different category of menacing possibility. It worries the flu scientists because they know that H5N1 influenza is extremely virulent in people, with a high lethality. As yet, there have been a relatively low number of cases, and it is poorly transmissible, so far, from human to human. It'll kill you if you catch it, very likely, but you're unlikely to catch it except by butchering an infected chicken. But if H5N1 mutates or reassembles itself in just the right way, if it adapts for human-to-human transmission, it could become the biggest and fastest killer disease since 1918.

    It got to Egypt in 2006 and has been especially problematic for that country. As of August 2011, there were 151 confirmed cases, of which 52 were fatal. That represents more than a quarter of all the world's known human cases of bird flu since H5N1 emerged in 1997. But here's a critical fact: those unfortunate Egyptian patients all seem to have acquired the virus directly from birds. This indicates that the virus hasn't yet found an efficient way to pass from one person to another.

    Two aspects of the situation are dangerous, according to biologist Robert Webster. The first is that Egypt, given its recent political upheavals, may be unable to staunch an outbreak of transmissible avian flu, if one occurs. His second concern is shared by influenza researchers and public health officials around the globe: with all that mutating, with all that contact between people and their infected birds, the virus could hit upon a genetic configuration making it highly transmissible among people.

    "As long as H5N1 is out there in the world," Webster told me, "there is the possibility of disaster… There is the theoretical possibility that it can acquire the ability to transmit human-to-human." He paused. "And then God help us."

    We're unique in the history of mammals. No other primate has ever weighed upon the planet to anything like the degree we do. In ecological terms, we are almost paradoxical: large-bodied and long-lived but grotesquely abundant. We are an outbreak.

    And here's the thing about outbreaks: they end. In some cases they end after many years, in others they end rather soon. In some cases they end gradually, in others they end with a crash. In certain cases, they end and recur and end again. Populations of tent caterpillars, for example, seem to rise steeply and fall sharply on a cycle of anywhere from five to 11 years. The crash endings are dramatic, and for a long while they seemed mysterious. What could account for such sudden and recurrent collapses? One possible factor is infectious disease, and viruses in particular.

    The dangers presented by zoonoses are real and severe, but the degree of uncertainties is also high. There's not a hope in hell, as Webster told me, of predicting the nature and timing of the next influenza pandemic. Too many factors vary randomly.

    I have asked not just Webster, but many other eminent disease scientists the same two-part question: 1) will a new disease emerge, in the near future, sufficiently virulent and transmissible to cause a pandemic on the scale of Aids or the 1918 flu, killing tens of millions of people?; and 2) if so, what does it look like and whence does it come? Their answers to the first part have ranged from maybe to probably. Their answers to the second have focused on various viruses prone to mutation, especially those for which the reservoir host is some kind of primate.

    But the difficulty of predicting precisely doesn't oblige us to remain blind, unprepared and fatalistic. We can at least be vigilant; we can be well prepared and quick to respond. The scientists are on alert. They are our sentries. But we, too, should understand in some measure the basic outlines and dynamics of the situation. We should appreciate that these recent outbreaks of new diseases, as well as the recurrence and spread of old ones, are part of a larger pattern, and that humanity is responsible for generating that pattern. We should recognise that they reflect things that we're doing, not just things that are happening to us.

    We have increased our population to the level of 7 billion and beyond. We live at high densities in many cities. We have penetrated, and continue to penetrate, the last great forests and other wild ecosystems of the planet. We cut our way through the Congo, through the Amazon, through Borneo. We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out. We kill and butcher and eat many of the wild animals found there. We settle in those places, bringing in our domesticated animals. We multiply our livestock as we've multiplied ourselves, under conditions that allow them to acquire infections, to share them with one another, and to infect humans. We export and import livestock across great distances and at high speeds.

    We travel, moving between cities and continents even more quickly than our transported livestock. We stay in hotels where strangers sneeze and vomit. We eat in restaurants where the cook may have butchered a porcupine before working on our scallops. We visit monkey temples in Asia, live markets in India, picturesque villages in South America, bat caves in East Africa – breathing the air, feeding the animals, touching things, shaking hands with the friendly locals. And then we jump on our planes and fly home (Guardian, 2012).

    Title: Cepeda: An Epidemic's Allies Reside In The Schoolhouse
    Date: September 29, 2012
    Source:
    Lubbock Online

    Abstract: It’s been an alarming few days of obesity-related news. First, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released the results of its “F as in Fat” report, projecting half of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030 unless Americans make drastic dietary changes.

    Then The New York Times reported, according to data published by the University of Illinois at Chicago, white people lacking a high school diploma are experiencing sharp drops in life expectancy, reversing generations of progress to extend life spans. There are many possible reasons, including higher rates of smoking and a spike in prescription overdoses, but the skyrocketing rate of obesity is a known suspect.

    Tuesday marked the release of the most recent report from Mission: Readiness, an organization of about 300 retired generals, admirals and senior civilian military leaders who are trying to spread the word that obesity, and specifically childhood obesity, is a dire national security risk.

    The report, called “Still Too Fat to Fight,” takes on cheap junk foods readily available in our schools. According to Mission: Readiness, students in the U.S. consume almost 400 billion calories from junk food sold at schools each year.

    This will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time in high schools — especially those in lower-income communities — where students routinely turn down their free or reduced-price breakfasts or lunches in favor of sacks of salty snacks and high-sugar beverages. And though grade-schoolers usually can’t get away with waiving their federal nutrition guideline-monitored meals, they often have a wide variety of cakes, cookies, candy and chips available to add to them — either in the cafeteria or from vending machines.

    The report features some cringe-worthy statistics: One in four young adults is unable to serve in the military because of excess body fat, and even many of the ones who do manage to enlist are at high risk of injury. The military’s health insurance system, according to Mission: Readiness, spends “well over $1 billion a year on treating weight-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease” in addition to the cost of musculoskeletal injuries resulting from inadequate physical fitness and low levels of bone density that may be related to the plunge in dairy intake and a corresponding rise in childhood consumption of sodas and sugary drinks over the past 35 years.

    In the civilian population, studies recently named obesity the most expensive public health issue, costing the country more than $190 billion annually.

    During a teleconference the American Beverage Association held last May, President and CEO Susan Neely told reporters that over the course of the last three years ABA’s voluntary efforts to curb sugar in schools has resulted in a 97 percent decline in full-calorie soft drinks in schools, and marketing of soft drinks to children under 12 decreased 96 percent since 2004.

    She estimated a savings of approximately 1 trillion calories. In view of recent data establishing a strong causal link between limiting sugary drinks and a reduction in childhood obesity, this is a big step in the right direction.

    So there is reason to be optimistic. We can reduce childhood obesity, we just have to keep pressure on the makers of all the goodies that entice our children when they’re out of our reach.

    At least we’re not alone — if Uncle Sam says we’re all at risk when our kids have full access to junk at school, there’s a good chance more people will begin to demand that schools put a stop to it (Lubbock Online, 2012).

    Title: Suspicions Of The West Hampers Polio Battle
    Date: September 29, 2012
    Source:
    Vancouver Sun

    Abstract: When Bill Gates hears about children like Fahad Usman, a two-year-old Pakistani boy crippled by polio before he learned to walk, the billionaire philanthropist sounds frustrated and fired up.

    Fear and suspicion have prevented thousands of children like Fahad from being protected against the infectious and incurable disease. Now more than ever, it's time that stopped, Gates says.

    Rumours that polio immunization campaigns are "Western plots to sterilize Muslims" or that the vaccine is "George Bush's urine" underline the need to take politics out of the fight to eradicate polio, he says.

    If Gates, the most influential of global health advocates, gets his wish - and in an interview he's pretty sure he will - the world won't stop at the 99 per cent reduction in cases so far, but will rid itself of polio completely by 2018.

    Yet evidence from Pakistan and Afghanistan, two of only three countries where polio is still endemic, suggests a battle lies ahead to overcome Taliban opposition, vaccine refusals, security and funding gaps to beat out that last one per cent.

    "We are working hard to depoliticize the whole thing," said Gates, whose $35-billion Gates Foundation is spear-heading international efforts to eradicate the disease.

    "In no way should this campaign be associated with just the West," he said. "This is the whole world working together to eradicate a disease."

    Polio attacks the central nervous sys-tem and can cause permanent paralysis within hours of infection. Two-year-old Fahad is one of 35 children struck down with it in Pakistan so far this year.

    "Fahad's left leg went completely limp, and slowly, in a day or so, his right leg was gone too," his father says.

    There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented. A polio vaccine given in several doses can protect a child for life.

    The most recent case in Pakistan was recorded on Aug. 30, and because polio spreads from person to person, the World Health Organization says as long as any child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk.

    Afghanistan and Nigeria have recorded 17 and 88 cases so far this year respectively, while Chad, a non-endemic country which borders Nigeria, has had five.

    Gates and experts at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative insist the $2 billion a year needed now will be well worth it. They say if the campaign succeeds, the world would not only declare its second eradicated disease - smallpox was wiped out in 1979 - it would also be billions of dollars richer.

    A 2010 study found that if polio trans-mission were to be stopped by 2015 the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains would be $40 billion to $50 billion by 2035.

    Yet getting the pink drops of protective vaccine into every child - over 90 per cent coverage is needed to succeed in wiping out this highly infectious disease - is complex.

    Immunization campaigns have been disrupted by fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border where villages are home to many of the children missed so far.

    Senior Taliban commanders, Maulvi Raza Shah and Sirajuddin Ahmad, say they oppose polio vaccines because they don't know what is in them and believe they are part of a plot by the West to sterilize Muslims.

    "Every drug has a known formula but polio vaccine has no formula. And then the United States and its allies are giving us this vaccine free of cost when they don't even give free water to their own people," said Raza Shah.

    Experts say if the eradication effort fails and polio rebounds, the virus could cause up to 10 million cases in the next 40 years (Vancouver Sun, 2012).

    Title: Tennessee: Meningitis Outbreak Is Investigated
    Date: October 3, 2012
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: Non-contagious meningitis struck 14 patients -- all but one in Tennessee -- who received steroid injections, leaving two dead, according to health officials investigating the outbreak.

    Thirteen of the victims -- in their late 40s to their early 80s -- received injections at a Nashville medical facility, Woody McMillin, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Health, told CNN on Tuesday.

    The 14th individual contracted the illness in an unspecified state.

    "This is a serious disease," said Marion Kainer, an infectious disease expert with the state health department. "There is not a lot of experience in treating this, but we are getting the best experts together."

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are among the agencies investigating the rare form of meningitis.

    Eleven of the patients are hospitalized, McMillin told CNN.

    St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville contacted 737 patients who had lumbar epidural steroid injections between July 30 and September 20, officials said. The facility was temporarily closed on September 20 and will remain closed until investigating authorities "are confident the current concerns have been resolved," the health department said.

    Between 100 and 200 patients at Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville, Tennessee, may have been exposed or at risk because of lumbar injections during the same time period, according to McMillin.

    Some of the patients may have had multiple procedures.

    Meningitis is a general term for an infection or inflammatory process involving the lining of the brain and central nervous system (CNN, 2012).

    Title: FDA Expands Recall List Of Tainted Drugs As Meningitis Outbreak Grows To 47 Cases
    Date: October 5, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Federal health officials have expanded the recall list of potentially contaminated injectable medications suspected in a multi-state meningitis outbreak and the death of five people.  More and more cases are being reported, with 47 people having contracted meningitis in seven states.  

    The Food and Drug Administration released a list of 34 different drugs this morning that included steroids, epidural anesthetics used to block pain during childbirth, and surgery and saline solutions that are compounded to make different medications.  All of the products on the recall list were made by the New England Compound Center (NECC) in Framingham, Mass., and are administered by injection into the spine.  

    Tests are still underway to identify the exact type of fungus linked to the outbreak among back-pain patients who received injections of Methylprednisolone Acetate, a steroid that is injected into the spinal cord.  FDA inspectors found the fungus in a sealed vial of the steroid at the New England Compounding Center earlier this week when numerous cases of meningitis in multiple states sparked health alerts and recalls.  The NECC voluntarily shut down operations on Wednesday.

    So far, seven states have reported meningitis cases related to the contaminated steroid, including Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana.  Michigan has become the most recent state on the list, reporting four cases.

    In Tennessee, the state hardest hit with the meningitis outbreak, 29 people have been diagnosed with meningitis, and three people have died.  State health officials are working with clinics to contact other patients who might have been exposed to the fungus.  So far, three clinics across the state are confirmed to have administered the tainted steroids to patients.  Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner said they have found no procedural problems with the clinics that administered the injections.

    “These clinics and their staff are trying their level best to treat and improve the lives of patients who come to them in pain, and we respect and support their efforts,”  Dreyzehner said.  “Evidence indicates these clinics and clinicians had no way of knowing about the contamination at the time of the procedure. The evidence indicates this is a product issue.”

    The Centers for Disease Control and FDA have asked the clinics, doctors offices and hospitals in 23 states that have received shipments of medications from NECC to stop using them immediately.  Anyone who has received epidural injections since July 1 should watch for symptoms of meningitis.  Health officials say the most common symptoms are worsening headache, fever, stiff neck, trouble walking or falling and progressing back pain.  Many of these patients have suffered strokes (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Thousands Of Americans At Risk Of Deadly Meningitis
    Date: October 5, 2012
    Source:
    RT

    Abstract: Thousands of patients who got steroid injections in 23 US states may be at risk of acquiring the rare fungal infection meningitis, which has left five people dead in the latest outbreak.

    The fungus has so far sickened 35 Americans who took steroid shots for back pain across six US states. The spinal injections contained a sealed vial of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate, which the US Food and Drug Administration found contains the fungus.

    Compounding pharmacies, which take drugs from several manufacturers, often mix the ingredients found in medication themselves – a process that can be dangerous if sterile conditions are not maintained. Drugs like these – including the injections containing meningitis – are not FDA-approved.

    “[Compounding pharmacies] fall into this gray area and no one supervises in a rigorous fashion their manufacturing process. The state pharmacy boards don’t have the resources or the knowledge or experience,” and the FDA does not get involved unless a problem occurs, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist, told CBS News.

    The New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass. is believed to be the pharmacy involved in the meningitis outbreak, the Associated Press reported. The pharmacy has recalled a total of 17,676 single-dose vials of the steroid, and the FDA has told health care practitioners to avoid using any of the company’s products.

    “There is a possibility that it (fungal contamination) could be elsewhere, not just in this product, but in other products they made,” said FDA pharmacist Ilisa Bernstein in an interview with USA Today.

    The pharmacy has a history of regulatory violations, and voluntarily surrendered its license after the meningitis outbreak was linked to it.

    Health officials are unclear about the number of patients who may have received the tainted injections administered by 75 clinics between July and September. But hundreds of used vials have been returned, indicating that the number could be in the thousands. Health officials said that one clinic in Indiana administered the shot to more than 500 patients, while two clinics in Tennessee gave the tainted drug to more than 900.

    Tennessee has so far witnessed the most cases, with 25 infections and three deaths.

    Meningitis is an infection that inflames the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of the infection typically show up one to four weeks after a tainted injection and include fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, severe headaches and stiff neck. If untreated, meningitis can lead to brain damage and death (RT, 2012).

    Title: The Next Pandemic Will Likely Come From Wildlife
    Date:
    October 6, 2012
    Source:
    ENN

    Abstract: Experts believe the next deadly human pandemic will almost certainly be a virus that spills over from wildlife to humans. The reasons why have a lot to do with the frenetic pace with which we are destroying wild places and disrupting ecosystems.

    Emerging diseases are in the news again. Scary viruses are making themselves noticed and felt. There's been a lot of that during the past several months — West Nile fever kills 17 people in the Dallas area, three tourists succumb to hantavirus after visiting Yosemite National Park, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims 33 lives. A separate Ebola outbreak, across the border in Uganda, registers a death toll of 17. A peculiar new coronavirus, related to SARS, proves fatal for a Saudi man and puts a Qatari into critical condition, while disease scientists all over the world wonder: Is this one — or is that one — going to turn into the Next Big One?

    By the Next Big One, I mean a murderous pandemic that sweeps around the planet, killing millions of people, as the so-called "Spanish" influenza did in 1918-19, as AIDS has been doing in slower motion, and as SARS might have done in 2003 if it hadn't been stopped by fast science, rigorous

    Experts I've interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable. They agree that it will almost certainly be a zoonotic disease — one that emerges from wildlife — and that the causal agent will most likely be a virus. They agree that sheer human abundance, density, and interconnectedness make us highly vulnerable. Our population now stands above seven billion, after all, a vast multitude of potential victims, many of us living at close quarters in big cities, traveling quickly and often from place to place, sharing infections with one another; and there are dangerous new viruses lately emerging against which we haven’t been immunized. Another major pandemic seems as logically inevitable as the prospect that a very dry, very thick forest will eventually burn (ENN, 2012).

    Title: Emergency Vaccinations For Pregnant Women As Whooping Cough Cases Triple
    Date: October 7, 2012
    Source:
    Daily Mail

    Abstract: There has been a sharp rise in the number of whooping cough cases in the UK - 11 babies have died so far this year. 

    This has led to the Department of Health launching an emergency vaccination programme for pregnant women in an effort to combat this serious illness.

    Why has the Department of Health initiated this now?

    Three times as many cases as normal have been reported: 235 babies under three months have been ill. Most babies who get the disease are so ill that they will require hospital treatment.

    Why has there been this rise in cases?

    Parents have been forgetting to get pre-school booster jabs for their children, and many adults vaccinated in the Seventies and Eighties are susceptible as their immunity seems to have waned.

    Is it safe to have a vaccination when I’m pregnant?

    It doesn’t contain the live virus so it cannot give you the disease.

    Why can’t they just vaccinate newborns?

    Their immune systems are probably too immature, but immunity is passed on if their mothers are vaccinated when pregnant.

    When is the correct time to get the vaccination?

    Usually it is between 28 and 38 weeks. But you can still have it if you are already past 38 weeks.

    Will this affect other vaccinations for my baby?

    No, the immunisation programme for infants won’t change (Daily Mail, 2012)

    Title: Farrakhan’s Fiery New Warning To The U.S.: ‘Every Plague That Is Written In The Koran Is Going to Come To Pass In America’
    Date:
    October 16, 2012
    Source:
    The Blaze

    Abstract:
    The Minister Louis Farrakhan has become known for his often-cryptic warnings about the calamity that he believes Allah will inflict upon America. On Sunday, in a speech he delivered at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, the fiery faith leader issued yet another warning to the audience of 6,000, telling them that “every plague that is written in the Koran is going to come to pass in America.”

    From advice for President Barack Obama to words of encouragement for Muslims and the Islamic world, Farrakhan was filled with advice and proclamations delivered with his version of love and kindness — and, at moments, with rage. At one point, while discussing what he claims will befall America, Farrakhan could barely contain himself, as he was so impassioned that he slammed his hand numerous times on the podium in front of him.

    “All of the punishments that are written in the Koran never came to pass in the time of Prophet Muhammad…never — but every plague — every plague that is written in the Koran is going to come to pass in America under the modern Pharaoh, in the modern Rome, in the modern Babylon, in the modern Sodom and Gomorrah — take it or let it alone,” he proclaimed.

    These statements come on the heels of other similar sentiments that the preacher has spewed. In July, he told a separate audience in Chicago, Illinois, that America is crumbling as a result of the nation’s purportedly “imperial” ways and mistreatment of mankind.
    “So you read about the fall of the Roman Empire, the fall of the Persian Empire, the fall of Ancient Egypt, the fall of Ancient Babylon and you’re living now in the fall of the United States of America and Europe and their imperial designs on the masses of the people of the earth,”
    he proclaimed.

    In May, he issued a more detailed warning, including Allah’s purported plan to bring down American skyscrapers:

    “I am warning you: Take it or let it alone. He will take down cities and when I look at the skyscrapers in some of these major metropolis. He’s not going to take the big ones down first. He’s going to show you his power. In the meantime, one calamity after another until you submit, America, and know that judgement is here. You can escape it but you gotta do right by this people. And if you don’t do right by them, you can’t do right by the people outside of America, if you won’t do right for those who have…built your country.”

    In his latest address on Sunday, aside from warning about America’s demise, Farrakhan also lectured the Islamic world about the need to reform. Interestingly, he seemed to allude that he — and the Nation of Islam — will lead the reformation of the East from the West. On a softer note, he highlighted the importance of educating women and he spoke out against honor killings.

    “We challenge Muslims in America rise up and educate your people. Know that you’re in an environment that is lawless,” he said, clearly speaking, again, about America. “And if your daughter slips, be merciful. Bring her home. The dishonor is you killing her.”

    The more bizarre comments during Farrakhan’s most recent address occurred toward the beginning, when he accused the Republican Party of having “a deep racial undercurrent.” He also said that prominent conservatives have worked diligently against Obama.

    “Ever since he has been elected, the Republican right with Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, Fox News…their whole idea has been to get this man out of the White House and nullify any policy or position that he might come up with that might bring success to his presidency and that might possibly give him a second term,” he said. ”It started like an undercurrent, but now it is so overtly hateful and racist in nature that it is polarizing America on the basis of race.

    This latter commentary is ironic, considering that many would claim that Farrakhan is one of the most racial-divisive figures in the U.S. (The Blaze, 2012).

    Title: Family Whooping Cough Shots May Protect Babies
    Date:
    October 19, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:
    Vaccinating moms and older siblings against whooping cough may prevent infants from coming down with the infection, a new study suggests.

    Whooping cough typically isn't dangerous in adults, but it can make babies very sick. Because there isn't a vaccine for newborns, some experts recommend "cocooning" - vaccinating everyone who lives with an infant - as a strategy for protection.

    An alternative that's been proposed is vaccinating pregnant women only against whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis.

    "Everyone agrees that there's more pertussis circulating and there is more infant pertussis and more deaths," said Dr. Janet Englund, an infectious diseases researcher from Seattle Children's Hospital.

    "More people need to be vaccinated and no one is going to be against vaccinating and cocooning," she told Reuters Health. "The question is, is it sufficient?"

    Englund, who wasn't involved in the new study, said cocooning works best if everyone in a baby's life - including grandparents, babysitters and daycare teachers - are vaccinated. But as it stands right now, she added, very few families in the United States with a new baby at home get booster shots against pertussis at all.

    For the new study, researchers in the Netherlands surveyed and tested family members in 140 households for whooping cough between 2006 and 2009. Most of those households were picked because they had an infant with whooping cough, though in a few cases another family member had been diagnosed.

    Michiel van Boven from the Center for Infectious Disease Control in Bilthoven and his colleagues found babies were most susceptible to whooping cough when their moms were infected.

    They calculated, for example, that in a four-person household, infants had a 40-percent chance of getting whooping cough if their mother had it - compared to a 15- or 20-percent chance if their father or older sibling was infected.

    That could be because moms had more close contact with their babies during pregnancy leave, which is offered by law only to mothers in the Netherlands.

    Because older siblings were more likely to get whooping cough in the first place, however, the researchers found that vaccinating moms and siblings would be similarly effective at protecting infants - whereas vaccinating dads seemed to be less important, they reported in the journal Epidemiology.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were close to 19,000 cases of whooping cough reported in the United States last year - but many cases aren't reported. Of the 13 reported whooping cough deaths, 11 victims were babies, in whom the infection can lead to pneumonia and other breathing problems.

    The CDC recommends the pertussis vaccine as part of a combination shot given at ages two, four and six months, and twice more during early childhood.

    The combination vaccine, known as DTaP, runs $20 to $25 per dose.

    Preteens or teens can get another dose of the pertussis vaccine for additional protection, since immunity wears off over time.

    Englund said that pregnant women and their partners who didn't get a booster shot as a teenager should get vaccinated before their baby is born because it takes a couple of weeks to build up antibodies against infection. Ideally, though, all adults who are planning to spend time around young children should be vaccinated.

    "You can't just select who you want to immunize," she said. "For a vaccine to work the best, you have to immunize everyone” (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Iran Urges Punishment Of Western Producers Of Chemical Weapons
    Date: October 2, 2012
    Source:
    PressTV

    Abstract: Iran says the Western producers of chemical weapons that helped the regime of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein develop such arms must be punished.

    At a high-level Monday meeting to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Convention against Chemical Weapons (CWC), Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said more than 455 companies, mostly in Western countries, helped Iraq develop chemical weapons. 

    The meeting was attended, among others, by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu. 

    Nearly 100,000 Iranians were affected by nerve and mustard gases during the eight-year war imposed on Iran by Iraq, and around one in 10 died before receiving any treatment. About five to six thousand are still receiving medical treatment. 

    “As the chief agent in using chemical weapons against Iran, Saddam was brought to justice and now is the time to punish those who helped him produce these inhumane weapons,” the Iranian official said. 

    Mehmanparast added that Iran attaches great importance to the effective implementation of the CWC and the destruction of all chemical weapons. 

    Mehmanparast said the main possessors of chemical weapons who have not fulfilled their obligations to destroy all their stockpiles of chemical weapons must eliminate their entire arsenal as soon as possible.

    Based in The Hague, the OPCW is the implementing body of the CWC. The OPCW is given the mandate to achieve the objective the convention, to ensure the implementation of its provisions, including those for international verification of compliance with it, and to provide a forum for consultation and cooperation among states parties. 

    The convention -- which is marking its 15th anniversary of establishment this year along with the OPCW -- now has 188 states parties
    (PressTV, 2012).

    Title: Should Schools Close During Bad Flu Outbreaks?
    Date:
    October 30, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:
    A new U.S. government study suggests that during a serious flu epidemic, closing schools can keep people - especially kids - out of the ER.

    Now, researchers say, the big questions include, When is it best to close schools? And what are the downsides?

    The study, reported in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at what happened in two Texas communities during the H1N1 "swine" flu epidemic of 2009. In one community, schools were closed as a precaution; in the other, they weren't.

    It turned out that in the district where schools shut down, there were fewer ER visits for the flu.

    What's more, among kids age 6 and up, there was no increase in flu-related ER trips, while that rate doubled in the community where schools stayed open.

    "The effect was most dramatic among school-age children," said Dr. Martin S. Cetron, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    There have been skeptics who've doubted that school closures could have much impact during a major flu outbreak, according to Cetron.

    "They've said, well, people will just congregate in malls or other public places," explained Cetron, who directs the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, and worked on the study.

    But schools are different from malls, Cetron pointed out, with kids being in close contact with each other all day long.

    He said he thinks this study, along with others, "settles" the question of whether school closures are effective. "Should this be an arrow in our quiver? I think the answer is ‘yes,'" Cetron said.

    But lots of other questions remain.

    "Under what conditions could (school closures) be warranted?" Cetron said. "What level of severity is needed?"

    And if schools are closed, he noted, what are the downsides? Parents will have to stay home from work, or find child care. And kids and teachers will have to make up the lost school time somehow. So the expected benefits of school closings would need to be worth the troubles.

    Prediction is Difficult
    Every year, between five percent and 20 percent of Americans get the flu, contributing to some 36,000 deaths. The elderly and people with chronic medical conditions, like heart or lung disease, are among those most at risk.

    But the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic was noteworthy in that it hit children and healthy young adults hard.

    The current study looked at two adjacent counties in Texas: Tarrant County, which closed its schools for eight days after a few kids were diagnosed with H1N1; and Dallas County, where schools did not shut down after a few cases were detected.

    Before Tarrant County's school closures, the flu accounted for about 3 percent of all ER visits to area hospitals; during the closures, that rate inched up to just over 4 percent. But the increase was bigger in Dallas County during the same time period: from 3 percent, to just over 6 percent.

    The impact was most clear among kids ages 6 to 18. In Tarrant County, there was no increase in the proportion of ER visits blamed on the flu. In Dallas County, the figure more than doubled, from about 5 percent to 11 percent.

    "It's important to point out that this was a pre-emptive school closure," Cetron said. "Usually, most closures we see are reactive."

    Predicting how a flu outbreak might affect a local area is far from easy. It's not like tracking a hurricane, for instance, Cetron pointed out.

    Decisions on school closures are made locally. For school districts to make wise decisions, Cetron said communication with local and state health agencies is key (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Hints Of A More Virulent, Mutating West Nile Virus Emerge
    Date:
    November 9, 2012
    Source:
    Washington Post

    Abstract:
    The West Nile virus epidemic of 2012, the worst in a decade, may be notorious for yet another reason: The virus, in some cases, is attacking the brain more aggressively than in the past, raising the specter that it may have mutated into a nastier form, say two neurologists who have extensive experience dealing with the illness.

    One doctor, Art Leis in Jackson, Miss., has seen the virus damaging the speech, language and thinking centers of the brain — something he has never observed before. The other, Elizabeth Angus in Detroit, has noticed brain damage in young, previously healthy patients, not just in older, sicker ones — another change from past years.

    But a scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the federal agency has not seen any evidence that the virus is causing a different type of brain damage. He said doctors may be seeing more-serious cases this year because there are more cases overall. But he acknowledged that the CDC does not collect the granular data needed to quickly determine whether the virus is causing more-severe brain damage.

    Still, Angus, who has treated West Nile patients for a decade, and Leis, who has more experience treating severe West Nile illness than perhaps any doctor in the country, both suspect the virus has changed — a view bolstered by a Texas virologist whose laboratory has found signs of genetic ­changes in virus collected from the Houston area.

    “I’ve been struck this year that I’m seeing more patients where the brain dysfunction has been very much worse,” said Angus, of Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. “It makes you wonder if something’s different, if something’s changed.”

    And while the virus in the past has typically invaded the brain and spinal cord only of people who have weakened immune systems, such as the elderly and transplant or cancer patients, Angus this summer treated a severely affected woman in her 20s and a man in his 40s.

    Leis said he is seeing much more severe encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — than he has in the past. “It is clearly much more neuroinvasive, neurovirulent,” he said.

    Four patients Leis treated this summer had lost their ability to talk or write. Another was paralyzed on one side, as often seen in strokes, not West Nile infections. Others experienced recurring seizures.

    In all, 11 of the first 12 patients Leis saw this year at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson had more severe brain damage than he had seen previously. The outlook for such patients varies, but most will face years or a lifetime of disability.

    “For the first time, we have radiographic evidence, clinical evidence of the virus attacking the higher cortical areas,” said Leis, who has published 15 scientific papers describing previous West Nile patients.

    Marc Fischer, a CDC epidemiologist who tracks the West Nile virus, said the agency has not noticed the ­changes described by Leis and Angus. “There’s just a lot more cases this year than anybody has seen in at least 10 years,” he said. “You’re just going to see more severe cases and probably a broader variety of manifestations.”

    Last month, Leis asked a Food and Drug Administration scientist who studies the genetics of the virus whether a new, more virulent strain was circulating.

    “You are absolutely right . . . that new genetic variants of WNV might have appeared this year,” the scientist replied in an Oct. 23 e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. The scientist continued that “it is not easy to correlate” the new mutations with any specific type of brain damage.

    Thirty minutes after Leis ­received the message, another ­e-mail from the same scientist arrived. It said the previous message had been “recalled.”

    When contacted by phone, the FDA scientist, who works at the agency’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, declined to discuss the messages, saying that his superiors had instructed him not to talk to reporters.

    In an e-mail, FDA spokeswoman Heidi Rebello said that the agency is studying the genetics of West Nile viruses collected from 270 blood donors this year but that “it is premature for us to draw any conclusions about new genetic variants . . . or of any possible association of new genetic variants with increased virulence.”

    West Nile virus, made of error-prone RNA instead of the hardier DNA found in human cells, can evolve rapidly. In 2002, a new strain appeared that quickly churns out copies of itself inside mosquitoes. This fast-replicating version swiftly replaced the earlier dominant variety.

    In 2003, another genetic variant, now dubbed the Southwestern strain, appeared in New Mexico and Arizona.

    The West Nile virus, first described in Uganda in 1937, arrived in New York City in 1999, killing eight in the city. Infected birds transmit the virus to mosquitoes, which then infect people, who cannot infect one another. By 2003, the virus had crossed the country.

    So far this year, health authorities have reported more than 5,000 cases of West Nile illness and 228 deaths in 48 states, with Texas, California, Illinois and Michigan having the most cases. The CDC has classified about half of the illnesses as “neuroinvasive” — meaning the virus has gotten into the spinal cord or brain, causing encephalitis or other brain ailments. That’s the most dangerous type of illness caused by West Nile virus. In the other cases, patients come down with fevers or other flulike symptoms.

    As of Nov. 6, there had been eight cases reported in the District this year, 45 in Maryland and 25 in Virginia, with new cases expected to plummet with the temperature.

    In Texas, the state hit hardest by the epidemic, virologist Alan Barrett said samples of the virus taken from mosquitoes and birds in the Houston area show signs of genetic changes.

    “This year’s virus looks more like the virus from 2002 and 2003” than the virus seen more recently, said Barrett, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Given that the Houston-Galveston area is a major flyway for birds, Barrett speculated that a different virus arrived in the area this year.

    But it is too early to say whether this possible new strain is more virulent than those seen in years past, Barrett said. It will also take a while to study the genetics of viruses from other parts of the country. His laboratory, one of the few studying West Nile genetics, is backlogged with samples. “We’re overwhelmed,” he said.

    North Texas suffered the worst of this year’s epidemic, with 388 cases and 18 deaths in Dallas County alone. Authorities declared a public health emergency and sprayed insecticide from airplanes and helicopters for the first time since 1966.

    The spraying worked, said Christopher Perkins, the county health department’s medical director. “We’re getting one or two new cases a week,” down from 20 to 30 in July and August, he said.

    Neurologists in Dallas also witnessed devastating encephalitis this year, but in different areas of the brain than Leis described. Steven Vernino, a neurologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said he saw damage to the lower brain stem in several patients but not to the higher language and thinking centers.

    Barrett will look at the genetics of viruses from North Texas as soon he gets samples, which he expects any day. “Everybody wants to know what’s going on in Dallas,” he said.

    Leis said it’s crucial to know whether the virus is mutating. “Otherwise,” he said, “we might be unprepared to deal with it in the future” (Washington Post, 2012).

    Title: Growing Concerns Over 'In The Air' Transmission Of Ebola
    Date:
    November 16, 2012
    Source:
    BBC

    Abstract:
    Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of the ebola virus could be transmitted by air between species.

    In experiments, they demonstrated that the virus was transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between them.

    The researchers say they believe that limited airborne transmission might be contributing to the spread of the disease in some parts of Africa.

    They are concerned that pigs might be a natural host for the lethal infection.

    What we suspect is happening is large droplets - they can stay in the air, but not long, they don't go far. But they can be absorbed in the airway” ~Dr Gary Kobinger Public Health Agency of Canada

    Ebola viruses cause fatal haemorrhagic fevers in humans and many other species of non human primates.

    Details of the research were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infection gets into humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids from a number of species including chimpanzees, gorillas and forest antelope.

    The fruit bat has long been considered the natural reservoir of the infection. But a growing body of experimental evidence suggests that pigs, both wild and domestic, could be a hidden source of Ebola Zaire - the most deadly form of the virus.

    Now, researchers from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the country's Public Health Agency have shown that pigs infected with this form of Ebola can pass the disease on to macaques without any direct contact between the species.

    In their experiments, the pigs carrying the virus were housed in pens with the monkeys in close proximity but separated by a wire barrier. After eight days, some of the macaques were showing clinical signs typical of ebola and were euthanised.

    One possibility is that the monkeys became infected by inhaling large aerosol droplets produced from the respiratory tracts of the pigs.

    One of the scientists involved is Dr Gary Kobinger from the National Microbiology Laboratory at the Public Health Agency of Canada. He told BBC News this was the most likely route of the infection.

    "What we suspect is happening is large droplets - they can stay in the air, but not long, they don't go far," he explained.

    "But they can be absorbed in the airway and this is how the infection starts, and this is what we think, because we saw a lot of evidence in the lungs of the non-human primates that the virus got in that way."

    The scientists say that their findings could explain why some pig farmers in the Philippines had antibodies in their system for the presence of a different version of the infection called Ebola Reston. The farmers had not been involved in slaughtering the pigs and had no known contact with contaminated tissues.

    Dr Kobinger stresses that the transmission in the air is not similar to influenza or other infections. He points to the experience of most human outbreaks in Africa.

    "The reality is that they are contained and they remain local, if it was really an airborne virus like influenza is it would spread all over the place, and that's not happening."

    The authors believe that more work needs to be done to clarify the role of wild and domestic pigs in spreading the virus. There have been anecdotal accounts of pigs dying at the start of human outbreaks. Dr Kobinger believes that if pigs do play a part, it could help contain the virus.

    "If they do play a role in human outbreaks it would be a very easy point to intervene" he said. "It would be easier to vaccinate pigs against Ebola than humans."

    Other experts in the field were concerned about the idea that Ebola was susceptible to being transmitted by air even if the distance the virus could travel was limited. Dr Larry Zeitlin is the president of Mapp Biopharmaceuticals.

    "It's an impressive study that not only raises questions about the reservoir of Ebola in the wild, but more importantly elevates concerns about ebola as a public health threat," he told BBC News. "The thought of airborne transmission is pretty frightening."

    At present, an outbreak of ebola in Uganda has killed at least two people near the capital Kampala. Last month, Uganda declared itself Ebola-free after an earlier outbreak of the disease killed at least sixteen people in the west of the country (BBC, 2012).