It's a microbial world
Become a disease detective!

CDC has released an Android version of theSolve the Outbreak app, the popular, free app puts you in the shoes of a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. The app has exciting outbreaks, giving you the opportunity to climb the ranks and achieve your Disease Detective badge. Do you have what it takes to solve “The Queens Killer” scenario, or are the clues “Hiding in Plain Sight”?

More here
Also, the CDC has a program called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (love the name!) that gives training to health officials in applied epidemiology.  So if you love the app, EIS could be something to aspire too

Become a disease detective!

CDC has released an Android version of theSolve the Outbreak app, the popular, free app puts you in the shoes of a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. The app has exciting outbreaks, giving you the opportunity to climb the ranks and achieve your Disease Detective badge. Do you have what it takes to solve “The Queens Killer” scenario, or are the clues “Hiding in Plain Sight”?

More here

Also, the CDC has a program called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (love the name!) that gives training to health officials in applied epidemiology.  So if you love the app, EIS could be something to aspire too

heythereuniverse:

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy | NewScientist

Stick an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these “electric bacteria” are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

[Read more]

currentsinbiology:

Mosquitoes transmit chikungunya in continental US (Nature News)

Two people have acquired the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus in the continental United States, the state of Florida’s Department of Health announced today. The cases, one in Miami-Dade County and another in Palm Beach County, confirm that the virus has infected US mosquitoes.
Chikungunya is an illness marked mainly by discomfort: a high fever, rashes, and severe joint, back and muscle pain. It is rarely fatal, and most recover within days or weeks. However, joint pain can sometimes persist for months. Chikungunya cannot be transmitted from person to person; it can be contracted only from a mosquito.
The United States is only the latest destination for the globetrotting virus. First described in the 1950s in East Africa, it has spread throughout central and southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia, generally through the mosquito Aedes aegypti. But a mutation that is suspected to have occurred in a 2005–06 outbreak on Réunion Island appears to have allowed it to infect Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito. This enabled the virus to spread as far north as Italy in 2007.
The photo is the structure of a Togaviridae family virus and represents the photo of a Chikungunya virus. The structure has a diameter of about 50nm to 70nm. Chikungunya virus consists of a single stranded positive sense RNA.

It’s here!

currentsinbiology:

Mosquitoes transmit chikungunya in continental US (Nature News)

Two people have acquired the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus in the continental United States, the state of Florida’s Department of Health announced today. The cases, one in Miami-Dade County and another in Palm Beach County, confirm that the virus has infected US mosquitoes.

Chikungunya is an illness marked mainly by discomfort: a high fever, rashes, and severe joint, back and muscle pain. It is rarely fatal, and most recover within days or weeks. However, joint pain can sometimes persist for months. Chikungunya cannot be transmitted from person to person; it can be contracted only from a mosquito.

The United States is only the latest destination for the globetrotting virus. First described in the 1950s in East Africa, it has spread throughout central and southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia, generally through the mosquito Aedes aegypti. But a mutation that is suspected to have occurred in a 2005–06 outbreak on Réunion Island appears to have allowed it to infect Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito. This enabled the virus to spread as far north as Italy in 2007.

The photo is the structure of a Togaviridae family virus and represents the photo of a Chikungunya virus. The structure has a diameter of about 50nm to 70nm. Chikungunya virus consists of a single stranded positive sense RNA.

It’s here!

nprglobalhealth:

Feeling The Heat, Burning The Suits: Reporting On Ebola From Sierra Leone

NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Sierra Leone, covering the Ebola outbreak that began in March in Guinea and has spread to neighboring countries. When we spoke Thursday, he had just toured the treatment center built by Doctors Without Borders in the town of Kailahun. With 64 beds, it’s the largest Ebola isolation ward ever built. Currently there are 31 patients.

How’s it going?

Never a dull day here.

Can you describe the treatment center?

It’s basically a compound with a series of different tents. There are tents where people get suited up to go in. Another tent seems to be for storage, and one of the tents contains a lab. Then there’s a double fence about 3 1/2 feet high, made of orange plastic mesh. They designed the fence so people can see where the patients are, so it wouldn’t seem as if the patients are completely walled off.

Why a double fence?

So no one can get within 6 feet of someone who has Ebola. In case a patient from the isolation area reaches out or vomits, [Doctors Without Borders] wants to make sure there won’t be any accidental contamination.

How do the doctors record information on the patients?

Doctors go into the isolation area completely suited up, do their rounds and write down what’s happening with patients. Then they stand next to the fence and shout out to people on the other side of the fence [information about each patient]. Say, for patient 105, the doctor says, “diarrhea, vomiting.” Then the doctor’s notes [made inside the isolation area] are burned.

Where do they burn the notes?

They have a big pit in the back.

What else do they burn?

They burn everything. They say nothing comes out of isolation — although obviously they’re taking blood samples out. People come out. They strip off their protective gear, the Tyvek suits they put over their entire body and shoes.

Continue reading.

Top: Construction workers repair the roof inside the isolation area at the Doctors Without Borders treatment center in Kailahun.

Bottom: All workers in the isolation area must wear a head-to-toe protective suit.

Photos by Tommy Trenchard for NPR

Eosin methylene blue (EMB) agar

EMB agar is used to identify coliforms and fecal coliforms (the bacteria they are looking for when testing water quality at the beach, for example).  Coliforms are gram negative lactose fermenting bacteria that can indicate the presence of fecal mater.  EMB agar is selective for gram negative bacteria (the methylene blue dye prevents the growth of gram positive bacteria) and differential for lactose fermentation (eosin dye turns black/purple when acids are produced during lactose fermentation).  The reason this is one of my favorite microbiological media is what happens when you grow a vigorous fermenter like E. coli on the plate (upper picture) - you get this beautiful green sheen to the colonies!  The lower picture on the left shows a regular lactose fermenter (K. pneumoniae), where the colonies have turned a dark purple color, and the lower right picture shows a gram negative, non-lactose fermenter (P. aeruginosa)

Sources: Images, EMB protocol, history and theory

What does a Biosafety Level 4 lab look like?  Watch this video to find out.

With the recent anthrax and smallpox incidents at the CDC, many of you might be wondering what security typically looks like at labs that work with the most dangerous microbes.  Microbes used for research are classified into 4 Biosafety levels, with level 4 reserved for things like the hemorrhagic fevers, smallpox, and weaponized anthrax.  This video shows a tour of the National Emerging Infectious Disease Lab, a BSL4 facility in the Boston Massachusetts area.  It’s long, but really interesting.  A few of the interesting design features:

  • The building and grounds have to be built to the standards of a US Embassy, with fencing that will prevent a truck from driving through it to the building
  • Eyescanning, and lots of other security measures are used to prevent unauthorized people from getting in
  • People working in the labs wear fully sealed suits while they work.
  • The BSL4 lab is separately poured concrete and completely self contained within the larger building
  • All the air in the building is filtered before it is released
The West Africa Ebola outbreak is now the largest on record.  Nearly 1000 people have been infected, with a mortality rate of ~60%.  Ebola has no vaccine or cure, but its spread can be easily prevented by avoiding contact with the body fluids of people sick with Ebola virus.  Doctors suspect that the scope of the outbreak has been caused by fear and misinformation about the cause of the disease and how to prevent the spread.
More information: WHO press release, CBS News

The West Africa Ebola outbreak is now the largest on record.  Nearly 1000 people have been infected, with a mortality rate of ~60%.  Ebola has no vaccine or cure, but its spread can be easily prevented by avoiding contact with the body fluids of people sick with Ebola virus.  Doctors suspect that the scope of the outbreak has been caused by fear and misinformation about the cause of the disease and how to prevent the spread.

More information: WHO press release, CBS News

Chikungunya in the Carribean
Maybe you have heard of this weird sounding viral disease, Chikungunya.  It’s from Africa and Asia and has recently made its way to the Caribbean, where it is now infecting locally.  Chikungunya is transmitted by two species of Aedes mosquito and causes fairly intense fever and joint pain for about a week.  Cases in the Caribbean started showing up last year, and it has since spread to most of the islands.  About 260,000 people have contracted this painful disease in the Caribbean since the outbreak there began.  Cases that have occurred in the US are strictly imported, meaning that the people were infected in the Caribbean and then began to show signs and symptoms when they returned home.  However, the Aedes mosquito can be found in the southern US, so there is no reason why the disease could not eventually spread locally there!

Check out an great, in depth article at PBS if you want to read more
Sources: CDC, WHO

Chikungunya in the Carribean

Maybe you have heard of this weird sounding viral disease, Chikungunya.  It’s from Africa and Asia and has recently made its way to the Caribbean, where it is now infecting locally.  Chikungunya is transmitted by two species of Aedes mosquito and causes fairly intense fever and joint pain for about a week.  Cases in the Caribbean started showing up last year, and it has since spread to most of the islands.  About 260,000 people have contracted this painful disease in the Caribbean since the outbreak there began.  Cases that have occurred in the US are strictly imported, meaning that the people were infected in the Caribbean and then began to show signs and symptoms when they returned home.  However, the Aedes mosquito can be found in the southern US, so there is no reason why the disease could not eventually spread locally there!

Check out an great, in depth article at PBS if you want to read more

Sources: CDC, WHO

nprglobalhealth:

Last-Resort Antibiotics In Jeopardy As Use Rises Globally
The total doses of antibiotics sold in clinics and pharmacies around the world rose 36 percent from 2000 to 2010, scientists reported Wednesday.
The current study found that three-quarters of the increase in antibiotic consumption occurred in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — countries where most people have incomes high enough to buy the drugs. Last-resort antibiotics are available over-the-counter throughout these nations.
The finding, published in The Lancet Infectious Disease, comes from the first study to look at global antibiotic consumption in the 21st century. And it seems like good news, right?
"More people in poor countries are getting livesaving drugs," says the study’s lead author, Ramanan Laxminarayan, who directs the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. “That’s absolutely good news.”
But the world’s insatiable need for penicillin and Cipro also has a dark side: the rise in drug-resistant bacteria.
Now, even the last-resort antibiotics — the ones that are used after all others fail — are in jeopardy of losing their effectiveness, Laxminarayan says.
"The concern is that the consumption of last-resort drugs has also gone up significantly since 2001," he says. "If drug resistance develops to these antibiotics, we have nothing else left to use."
Over the past decade, bacteria have evolved to evade nearly every type of antibiotic. Most of us are familiar with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which causes deadly skin infections. But there’s also a superbug version of gonorrhea, and a vicious gut pathogen,called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which may kill up to 50 percent of people it infects.
Doctors still have a few potent weapons against these pathogens, such as cephalosporins for gonorrhea and polymixins for CRE. But to keep these antibiotics effective, we need to make sure their use is limited.
"These are second- and third-line drugs that need to be used carefully," Laxminarayan says. "Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of guidance for how these drugs are being used."
Continue reading.
Photo: Medical illustration of the the superbug version of gonorrhea, called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. (Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Soooo, the most errifying part of this is that last line of defense antibiotics are available over the counter in many places, so very little hope of controlling usage!!

nprglobalhealth:

Last-Resort Antibiotics In Jeopardy As Use Rises Globally

The total doses of antibiotics sold in clinics and pharmacies around the world rose 36 percent from 2000 to 2010, scientists reported Wednesday.

The current study found that three-quarters of the increase in antibiotic consumption occurred in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — countries where most people have incomes high enough to buy the drugs. Last-resort antibiotics are available over-the-counter throughout these nations.

The finding, published in The Lancet Infectious Disease, comes from the first study to look at global antibiotic consumption in the 21st century. And it seems like good news, right?

"More people in poor countries are getting livesaving drugs," says the study’s lead author, Ramanan Laxminarayan, who directs the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. “That’s absolutely good news.”

But the world’s insatiable need for penicillin and Cipro also has a dark side: the rise in drug-resistant bacteria.

Now, even the last-resort antibiotics — the ones that are used after all others fail — are in jeopardy of losing their effectiveness, Laxminarayan says.

"The concern is that the consumption of last-resort drugs has also gone up significantly since 2001," he says. "If drug resistance develops to these antibiotics, we have nothing else left to use."

Over the past decade, bacteria have evolved to evade nearly every type of antibiotic. Most of us are familiar with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which causes deadly skin infections. But there’s also a superbug version of gonorrhea, and a vicious gut pathogen,called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which may kill up to 50 percent of people it infects.

Doctors still have a few potent weapons against these pathogens, such as cephalosporins for gonorrhea and polymixins for CRE. But to keep these antibiotics effective, we need to make sure their use is limited.

"These are second- and third-line drugs that need to be used carefully," Laxminarayan says. "Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of guidance for how these drugs are being used."

Continue reading.

Photo: Medical illustration of the the superbug version of gonorrhea, called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. (Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Soooo, the most errifying part of this is that last line of defense antibiotics are available over the counter in many places, so very little hope of controlling usage!!

Poliovirus detected in the sewers of Brazil and Israel
More bad news in the fight to eradicate polio.  Wild Poliovirus (WPV) has been found in samples from sewers in Brazil and Israel.  The discovery in Brazil is from one sample only, and is likely related to the recent cases of paralytic polio in neighboring Equatorial Guinea.  The discoveries in Israel are far more troubling, as the virus was found in 30 different samples from 10 different sites around the country.  No cases of paralytic polio have been reported in either country, and both have high vaccination rates.  
This article gives a really great overview of what this all means for the fight against polio, but I’ll summarize a few interesting tidbits here:
Equatorial Guinea has had 5 cases of polio this year, the first cases in the western hemisphere in decades
There are 2 types of polio vaccine - attenuated oral and inacctivated injected.  The oral vaccine contains an attenuated virus that does not make a person sick, but does replicate in the intestine, and people who have had this form of the vaccine can no longer have poliovirus replicate inside them.  The intjected vaccine also gives immunity, but in a different way: the virus can replicate in the intestine, where it does no harm, but the immune response prevents it from jumping to the nervous system, where it can cause paralysis
In countries like Israel, that use the injected vaccine, the virus can replicate and be present in wastewater systems.  As long as people that come into contact with the virus are vaccinated, this is not a problem, but those who are not vaccinated are at risk and can be exposed.
The shift from oral vaccine to injected vaccine is due to the fact that in rare cases the attenuated virus can mutate and become infective.  In countries with no polio, this is seen as an unacceptable risk, but in countries with poliovirus, this has been determined an acceptable risk because the oral vaccine can help get rid of any circulating WPV
So far this year there have been 112 reported cases of polio in 9 countries, outpacing the numbers for the same time last year.  However, there has been only one reported case each in Syria and Somalia this year, the sites of 2 of the larger outbreaks last year, so let’s hold on to this piece of good news.
Sources: WHO (Brazil), WHO (Israel), Wikimedia Commons (image) 

Poliovirus detected in the sewers of Brazil and Israel

More bad news in the fight to eradicate polio.  Wild Poliovirus (WPV) has been found in samples from sewers in Brazil and Israel.  The discovery in Brazil is from one sample only, and is likely related to the recent cases of paralytic polio in neighboring Equatorial Guinea.  The discoveries in Israel are far more troubling, as the virus was found in 30 different samples from 10 different sites around the country.  No cases of paralytic polio have been reported in either country, and both have high vaccination rates.  

This article gives a really great overview of what this all means for the fight against polio, but I’ll summarize a few interesting tidbits here:

  • Equatorial Guinea has had 5 cases of polio this year, the first cases in the western hemisphere in decades
  • There are 2 types of polio vaccine - attenuated oral and inacctivated injected.  The oral vaccine contains an attenuated virus that does not make a person sick, but does replicate in the intestine, and people who have had this form of the vaccine can no longer have poliovirus replicate inside them.  The intjected vaccine also gives immunity, but in a different way: the virus can replicate in the intestine, where it does no harm, but the immune response prevents it from jumping to the nervous system, where it can cause paralysis
  • In countries like Israel, that use the injected vaccine, the virus can replicate and be present in wastewater systems.  As long as people that come into contact with the virus are vaccinated, this is not a problem, but those who are not vaccinated are at risk and can be exposed.
  • The shift from oral vaccine to injected vaccine is due to the fact that in rare cases the attenuated virus can mutate and become infective.  In countries with no polio, this is seen as an unacceptable risk, but in countries with poliovirus, this has been determined an acceptable risk because the oral vaccine can help get rid of any circulating WPV

So far this year there have been 112 reported cases of polio in 9 countries, outpacing the numbers for the same time last year.  However, there has been only one reported case each in Syria and Somalia this year, the sites of 2 of the larger outbreaks last year, so let’s hold on to this piece of good news.

Sources: WHO (Brazil), WHO (Israel), Wikimedia Commons (image)