It's a microbial world

Nova recently did a whole episode on vaccines that focuses on how the immune system works and how vaccines are made and used to train the immune system against preventable diseases.  Well worth a watch!

Sex in the Sink: gene swapping bacteria are making new superbugs (NBC News)

Bacteria appear to be having the microbial equivalent of inter-species sex in hospital sinks, swapping chunks of DNA that render them impervious to antibiotics, researchers reported Wednesday.
The findings may help explain the rise in drug-resistant “superbugs” in hospitals, and they suggest that they may sometimes be breeding on site, as opposed to being carried in by patients.







The team at the National Institutes of Health found carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) that appeared to have exchanged pieces of genetic material called plasmids that gave them resistance to antibiotics. CRE resist most, if not all antibiotics, and they are becoming more common: they are found in about 4 percent of hospitals now and 18 percent of long-term care facilities.

Yep…bacteria will do it anywhere

Sex in the Sink: gene swapping bacteria are making new superbugs (NBC News)

Bacteria appear to be having the microbial equivalent of inter-species sex in hospital sinks, swapping chunks of DNA that render them impervious to antibiotics, researchers reported Wednesday.

The findings may help explain the rise in drug-resistant “superbugs” in hospitals, and they suggest that they may sometimes be breeding on site, as opposed to being carried in by patients.

The team at the National Institutes of Health found carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) that appeared to have exchanged pieces of genetic material called plasmids that gave them resistance to antibiotics. CRE resist most, if not all antibiotics, and they are becoming more common: they are found in about 4 percent of hospitals now and 18 percent of long-term care facilities.

Yep…bacteria will do it anywhere

nprglobalhealth:

How Will You Die?

So let’s cut to the chase. Depending on where you live on Earth, cooking dinner, having sex and going to the bathroom are either three of life’s many pleasures, or they’re the riskiest things you can do.

Why?

When you dig into global statistics, two interesting facts pop out. The first is that, from a scientific perspective, we all pretty much die the same way: lack of blood to the brain. But how we get to that last stage varies quite a bit. And in a global sense, it varies depending on where you live and how much money you make.

The World Bank says there are 213 countries (but the specific number depends on how you count). It divides them into three groups based on average income per person: high-, middle- and low-income countries.

Continue reading.

Video by John Poole/NPR

Frontline is one of the best longform news shows out there and last week the produced a story on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  The story is enlightening and heartbreaking.  If you want to understand the human toll this outbreak is having, watch this.  For more on what it is like for a person suffering from Ebola, you can listen to this interview with Dr Kent Brantley, who contracted the disease while working in Liberia

nprglobalhealth:

Which Contagious Diseases Are The Deadliest?
No one knows what the death toll in the Ebola epidemic will be. As of Tuesday, nearly 2,500 people have died and nearly 5,000 have caught the virus, the World Health Organization says.
So how does this epidemic compare with the toll taken by other contagious diseases?
Comparing fatality rates could help put the current Ebola outbreak in perspective. Trouble is, getting an accurate value for many diseases can be hard, especially in places where the health care infrastructure is weak.
Take the situation in West Africa right now. “We can only count those who come to the doctor, not those who stayed home and got well, or those who stayed home and died,” says Carol Sulis, an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Medicine and the Boston Medical Center.
Another issue is that “deadliest” can mean two things. It can refer to the fatality rate — the number of deaths per number of cases — or it can mean the number of deaths in total caused by a disease.
What’s more, diseases can take a different toll in different parts of the world. In low- and middle-income countries, only limited medical care may be available, if that. This will raise the fatality rate for many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and infectious diarrhea.
"Similar to Ebola, people’s chances of survival increase for most of these [contagious] diseases, some dramatically, if people receive medical treatment," says epidemiologist Derek Cummings, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Even if lists have their limitations, they can shed light. We spoke to Cummings and Sulis and consulted data from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with two lists: the deadliest contagious diseases by death toll and by death rate if untreated.
See the lists here.
Photo: Do you know what the deadliest disease is? Hint: It’s not Ebola (viral particles seen here in a digitally colorized microscopic image, at top right, along with similar depictions of other contagious diseases) NPR Composite/CDC

nprglobalhealth:

Which Contagious Diseases Are The Deadliest?

No one knows what the death toll in the Ebola epidemic will be. As of Tuesday, nearly 2,500 people have died and nearly 5,000 have caught the virus, the World Health Organization says.

So how does this epidemic compare with the toll taken by other contagious diseases?

Comparing fatality rates could help put the current Ebola outbreak in perspective. Trouble is, getting an accurate value for many diseases can be hard, especially in places where the health care infrastructure is weak.

Take the situation in West Africa right now. “We can only count those who come to the doctor, not those who stayed home and got well, or those who stayed home and died,” says Carol Sulis, an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Medicine and the Boston Medical Center.

Another issue is that “deadliest” can mean two things. It can refer to the fatality rate — the number of deaths per number of cases — or it can mean the number of deaths in total caused by a disease.

What’s more, diseases can take a different toll in different parts of the world. In low- and middle-income countries, only limited medical care may be available, if that. This will raise the fatality rate for many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and infectious diarrhea.

"Similar to Ebola, people’s chances of survival increase for most of these [contagious] diseases, some dramatically, if people receive medical treatment," says epidemiologist Derek Cummings, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Even if lists have their limitations, they can shed light. We spoke to Cummings and Sulis and consulted data from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with two lists: the deadliest contagious diseases by death toll and by death rate if untreated.

See the lists here.

Photo: Do you know what the deadliest disease is? Hint: It’s not Ebola (viral particles seen here in a digitally colorized microscopic image, at top right, along with similar depictions of other contagious diseases) NPR Composite/CDC

Odds are, there’s a virus living inside your gut that has gone undetected by scientists for decades. A new study led by researchers at San Diego State University has found that more than half the world’s population is host to a newly described virus, named crAssphage, which infects one of the most common types of gut bacteria, Bacteroidetes. This phylum of bacteria is thought to be connected with obesity, diabetes and other gut-related diseases.The research appears today in Nature Communications.

New Research Suggests Saharan Dust is Key to the Formation of Bahamas’ Great Bank

A new study suggests that Saharan dust played a major role in the formation of the Bahamas islands. Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science showed that iron-rich Saharan dust provides the nutrients necessary for specialized bacteria to produce the island chain’s carbonate-based foundation.
UM Rosenstiel School Lewis G. Weeks Professor Peter Swart and colleagues analyzed the concentrations of two trace elements characteristic of atmospheric dust – iron and manganese – in 270 seafloor samples collected along the Great Bahama Bank over a three-year period. The team found that the highest concentrations of these trace elements occurred to the west of Andros Island, an area which has the largest concentration of whitings, white sediment-laden bodies of water produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.
“Cyanobacteria need 10 times more iron than other photosynthesizers because they fix atmospheric nitrogen,” said Swart, lead author of the study. “This process draws down the carbon dioxide and induces the precipitation of calcium carbonate, thus causing the whiting. The signature of atmospheric nitrogen, its isotopic ratio is left in the sediments.”
Swart’s team suggests that high concentrations of iron-rich dust blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara is responsible for the existence of the Great Bahama Bank, which has been built up over the last 100 million years from sedimentation of calcium carbonate. The dust particles blown into the Bahamas’ waters and directly onto the islands provide the nutrients necessary to fuel cyanobacteria blooms, which in turn, produce carbonate whitings in the surrounding waters.

Read more

New Research Suggests Saharan Dust is Key to the Formation of Bahamas’ Great Bank

A new study suggests that Saharan dust played a major role in the formation of the Bahamas islands. Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science showed that iron-rich Saharan dust provides the nutrients necessary for specialized bacteria to produce the island chain’s carbonate-based foundation.

UM Rosenstiel School Lewis G. Weeks Professor Peter Swart and colleagues analyzed the concentrations of two trace elements characteristic of atmospheric dust – iron and manganese – in 270 seafloor samples collected along the Great Bahama Bank over a three-year period. The team found that the highest concentrations of these trace elements occurred to the west of Andros Island, an area which has the largest concentration of whitings, white sediment-laden bodies of water produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.

“Cyanobacteria need 10 times more iron than other photosynthesizers because they fix atmospheric nitrogen,” said Swart, lead author of the study. “This process draws down the carbon dioxide and induces the precipitation of calcium carbonate, thus causing the whiting. The signature of atmospheric nitrogen, its isotopic ratio is left in the sediments.”

Swart’s team suggests that high concentrations of iron-rich dust blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara is responsible for the existence of the Great Bahama Bank, which has been built up over the last 100 million years from sedimentation of calcium carbonate. The dust particles blown into the Bahamas’ waters and directly onto the islands provide the nutrients necessary to fuel cyanobacteria blooms, which in turn, produce carbonate whitings in the surrounding waters.

Read more

Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious disease between individuals
Famous germophobe Howie Mandel was right all along, the fist-bump is a better way to great people if you want to prevent the transmission of microbes.  Researchers put E. coli bacteria onto sterile gloves, let them dry, then tried different hand greeting - the handshake, high five, and fistbump - to see how many bacteria would transfer to another researcher wearing a sterile glove.  The fistbump transfered the least bacteria, then the high five, followed by the handshake.  This research may sound silly, but could be important for doctors and nurses, who are a part of the chain of transmission of microbes.  So next time you see you doctor, give him a fist bump instead…it’s good enough for our President and First Lady, right?
Read more

Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious disease between individuals

Famous germophobe Howie Mandel was right all along, the fist-bump is a better way to great people if you want to prevent the transmission of microbes.  Researchers put E. coli bacteria onto sterile gloves, let them dry, then tried different hand greeting - the handshake, high five, and fistbump - to see how many bacteria would transfer to another researcher wearing a sterile glove.  The fistbump transfered the least bacteria, then the high five, followed by the handshake.  This research may sound silly, but could be important for doctors and nurses, who are a part of the chain of transmission of microbes.  So next time you see you doctor, give him a fist bump instead…it’s good enough for our President and First Lady, right?

Read more