Stories tagged infectious disease

Feb
12
2010

Do you remember last year's story about the laser-filled future of mosquito killing? Some folks were working on an automatic mosquito-killing device that could identify a mosquito flying dozens of feet away, and then blast it to death with a little laser.

Ah, it was like The World of Tomorrow, but yesterday. And so... I guess that means that The World of Tomorrow is now today! Let's check where our mosquito-zapper is at...

Here it is! Check out that link for slow-motion video of mosquitoes being fried to crisps in mid-air. It's a little pathetic, and a little hilarious. (Patharious.)

And here's the site for the company working on it.

Jan
06
2010

I just came across the following article in The Scientist. It made me say, are you serious!?!?!

The Scientist: NewsBlog:
Test a vax, fly to Mexico
Posted by Jef Akst
[Entry posted at 6th January 2010 03:00 PM GMT]

Want to go to Central America for free? All it takes is your participation in a clinical trial for a diarrhea vaccine. A patch worn on the arm can earn you a complimentary trip to one of nine cities in Mexico and Guatemala, courtesy of Intercell AG.

The Austrian drug company is recruiting 1800 volunteers for the phase III clinical trial of a vaccine against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli -- a major cause of traveler's diarrhea, which affects about 20 million visitors to countries such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as illness in more than 200 million children living in those countries each year. If approved, it would be the first vaccine for traveler's diarrhea available in the US.

A couple years ago, we looked at the question of how researchers and companies decide on compensation for subjects' participation in clinical trials. But the trip offered by the Austrian company seems to be an entirely new recruitment tactic, the BMJ reports.

Intercell joined forces with Inclinix, Inc., a North Carolina-based clinical trial enrollment solutions provider, to devise a strategy including partnerships with major travel and tourism websites, as well as a variety of social networking outlets, including Twitter and YouTube. "Social communication avenues allow Inclinix to reach a unique audience," Diane Montross, director of patient recruitment for Inclinix, told Medical News Today. "We are defining the next patient recruitment landscape."

In addition to the flight to Central America, participants will receive at least six nights of three star accommodations, pre-paid mobile phones, welcome kits with useful travel tools, and $1,500 in cash upon completion of the study. Participants will be given either the active vaccine or a placebo before travel, give blood within 48 hours of arrival, keep a stool diary throughout their trip, and provide additional blood and stool samples if they develop diarrhea.

For more information go to the TREK Research Study site.

Jan
03
2010

Pretty bacteria: Do not be fooled by the pastel colors- these things will kill you.
Pretty bacteria: Do not be fooled by the pastel colors- these things will kill you.Courtesy esterase
I bet regular bacteria have posters of their favorite superbug hung on their bedroom walls. I mean superbugs are just so much cooler than regular bacteria; they’re kind of the bad boys of the bacteria world. Regular bacteria do what they are told: they keel over when exposed to disinfectants and antibiotics. But not those rebellious superbugs. Superbugs have some kind of genetic mutation that allows them to survive in hostile, antimicrobial environments. Basic principles of natural selection come into play: the mutant bacterium survives in the presence of the antibiotic/disinfectant and then goes on to produce other bacteria with the same mutation, ultimately creating a new resistant colony. In this scenario, exposure to the antimicrobial agent (the antibiotic or disinfectant) is imperative. However, scientists now think that another scenario exists; one in which exposure is not required. In a recent study, these scientists found that the use of disinfectants in hospitals can lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, even if the bacteria haven’t been exposed to the antibiotics.

Researchers from the National University of Ireland added increasing amounts of disinfectant to petri dishes full of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a bug that causes pneumonia in hospital patients, among other things) and the bug became immune not only to the disinfectant, but also to ciprofloxacin- the antibiotic used to treat the bug. Superbugs are essentially using their exposure to disinfectants as “teachable moments” for resisting antibiotics.

This is significant because now it seems that bacteria have one less hurdle to overcome in their mission to cause serious harm to patients (that’s not really their “mission,” I say that for dramatic effect). If superbugs can resist the disinfectant slathered on the countertops and doorknobs of hospitals, it’s possible that they could go on to infect patients who “for some reason” won’t respond to the antibiotics. Man, regular bacteria must be so jealous.

Officials in Cardiff confirmed today the world's first cases of human-to-human transmission of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 influenza. It's not unexpected, but it is worrisome. Even though flu cases are down here in Minnesota and across the US, keep washing your hands!

Oct
20
2009

The first 2009 H1N1 vaccines are starting to arrive in Minnesota. So I'm wondering, will you be vaccinated? How about your kids? A national study out of the University of Michigan says only 40% of parents plan to get their kids vaccinated. Why? I think Michael Specter sums it up best in a New Yorker article:

In fact, the new H1N1 virus is similar to seasonal flu in its severity. In the United States, influenza regularly ranks among the ten leading causes of death, infecting up to twenty per cent of the population. It kills roughly thirty-five thousand Americans every year and sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital. Even relatively mild pandemics, like those of 1957 and 1968, have been health-care disasters: the first killed two million people and the second a million.

We are more fortunate than our predecessors, though. Scientists produced a vaccine rapidly; it will be available within weeks. And, though this H1N1 virus is novel, the vaccine is not. It was made and tested in exactly the same way that flu vaccines are always made and tested. Had this strain of flu emerged just a few months earlier, there would not have been any need for two vaccines this year; 2009 H1N1 would simply have been included as one of the components in the annual vaccine.

Meanwhile, the virus has now appeared in a hundred and ninety-one countries. It has killed almost four thousand people and infected millions of others. The risks are clear and so are the facts. But, while scientists and public-health officials have dealt effectively with the disease, they increasingly confront a different kind of contagion: the spurious alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent.

I'm planning on getting the vaccine if I can and I'll make sure my kids get the vaccine. It is all about the risk vs. benefit for me. What are your plans and why?

How much do you really know about the new H1N1 flu? CNN's testing your knowledge about the virus. Answer these 10 questions and see how you do.

Requiem for a sore throat

by Anonymous on Aug. 19th, 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Drawn about 2 years prior to his death.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Drawn about 2 years prior to his death.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
A new study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests musical wunderkind, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, may have died from complications of strep infection caused by what's commonly known as "strep throat". Mozart's death is officially recorded in the city of Vienna's death registry as "military fever", a general description for a condition with symptoms of rash and high fever. But researchers from Amsterdam dug deeper into the city's death records and discovered a high level of edema-related deaths had been recorded right around the time of the composer's death in 1791. Edema is a build-up of fluids in the body's tissue caused by such things as kidney failure, which can be brought on by rheumatic fever. Untreated infection by A Streptococcus bacteria (the source of strep throat) can develop into rheumatic fever. The researchers suspect an epidemic of strep throat may have originated in a local military hospital where crowded conditions would have been ideal for spread of the airborne bacteria. Their conclusion that strep was ultimately responsible for Mozart's death may be the most reasonable one in light of what was happening in the community at the time.

LINKS
Death of Mozart abstract in Annals of Internal Medicine
USnew.com story
CNN.com story

Aug
13
2009

Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.
Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.Courtesy bug_girl_mi
Remember stumbling through the world as a stupid little kid? You touched bugs. You dug holes. You explored mud. And then… then you heard about killer bees. Killer bees and flesh-eating diseases. Killer bees, flesh-eating diseases, and tiny eggs that could come off a picnic table, get into your body, and hatch into something that would eat your brain.

It wasn’t the end of your childhood, it just gave you something to think about all the time. No, you’re childhood didn’t end until you were able to convince yourself that these things—killer bees, flesh-eating bacteria, brain eggs—were harmless… if they even exist at all.

Well guess what: they do. They exist, and they are dangerous! Your childhood is long gone, and now so is your adulthood. Welcome to the next stage in your life: The childhood nightmare spotlight!

Today’s feature: raccoon poop brain parasites! They’re real, and they’re all up in your brains!

So, what’s nice about raccoon poop brain parasites as a childhood nightmare—as opposed to childhood nightmares like killer bees, or one of those little fish that will swim up your urethra—is that even we fancy city-folk are vulnerable to it.

See, there is, in this world, a thing called Baylisascaris procyonis. B. procyonis is a species of roundworm. It is a parasitic species of roundworm, in fact, known to infest the guts of raccoons. Should procyonis eggs find their way into a human (and more on ust how they might do that in a minute), there’s no need to worry about them turning into worms and going crazy in the intestines—the parasite really only wants to do that to raccoons. Instead, the eggs hatch into larvae, and enter the blood stream, traveling about the body to wherever suits them. I think that whoever wrote the wikipedia article on them puts what happens next rather well:

A great deal of damage occurs wherever the larva tries to make a home. In response to the attack, the body attempts to destroy it by walling it off or killing it. The larva moves rapidly to escape, seeking out the liver, eyes, spinal cord or brain. Occasionally they can be found in the heart, lungs, and other organs.

This can lead to a whole range of symptoms from skin irritation to blindness to brain damage (and what doctors call “craziness”) to death.

So how do they get in you? You have to eat poorly cooked raccoon, or uncooked raccoon feces.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Phew! It’s been years since I’ve had undercooked raccoon, and I almost never put raccoon feces in my mouth anymore. Not since college! I don’t even know where to get raccoon feces these days!”

Shows what you know. Raccoons are everywhere, even in your precious, safe cities. And when they pick a spot to relieve themselves, they really go for it. Raccoons, as it happens, us communal “latrines.” That means that multiple raccoons will pick a spot in, say, your back yard, to all go to the bathroom on. Each gram of raccoon feces can contain up to 20,000 worm eggs, so when you’ve got a latrine full of raccoon mess, you’ve got plenty of potential brain parasites. Especially if you’re in the habit of putting everything in your mouth, or of cleaning your yard with a leaf-blower. (The leaf blower would fill the air—and possibly your mouth—with tiny particles of raccoon feces and brain parasite eggs.)

Not many people get the disease (only 14 in the last 30 years, says this article, or possibly 25 in the last 6 years, like this article says) but getting it is bad enough that you might want to give it a little thought. Or lots of though, late at night. Don’t believe me? Read this article again.

The best way to avoid it is to keep that raccoon feces out of your mouth. And to follow the simple tips on cleaning up raccoon latrines offered in this article (which you already looked at). My favorite anti-raccoon latrine tip? “Flame” the latrine with a propane torch! It’s like Aliens!

At any rate, you’re probably safe. Possibly safe. Safe-ish.

You really could have raccoon poop brain parasites, you know. There were probably some on your deck, and you didn’t even think about it when you were eating that watermelon.

You probably have a headache right now.

We have other things to worry about now, obviously (MJ, anyone?), but, um, the H1N1 swine flu virus is still out there, and some scientists are still pretty concerned about it.

A new study seems to show that the 2009 A/H1N1 virus might be significantly more dangerous than we had previously thought. While regular ol' seasonal flu generally just infects cells in your upper respiratory tract, scientists have found that H1N1 can thrive deep in your lungs. That means that it's more likely to cause pneumonia. Similar characteristics in the infamous 1918 swine flu exacerbated the danger of that outbreak. So, you know, don't start sticking your fingers in other peoples' mouths and then rubbing them on your eyes again just yet.

Jun
29
2009

I've recently heard about someone living in MN who went to back to Africa to visit family and he came back with a case of malaria. This is exactly the situation advisors to the exhibition Disease Detectives highlighted as a growing problem. Did you know that if you've developed immunity to malaria you lose that immunity when you move away from a region where malaria is endemic?

Exciting news on the diagnostic front comes from Glasgow University where scientists have developed a new test to quickly diagnose malaria. Currently to diagnose malaria researchers look at a patients sample of blood under a microscope and look for signs of the parasite. You need to be highly trained to be good at diagnosing this way. The new procedure is not only faster and more accurate but it can tell if the parasite is resistant to the first line of drug treatment. Go to this link for an article from the university and this link for a BBC video about the new diagnostic technique. In Disease Detectives we highlighted another new diagnostic technique which can easily be used away from expensive labs called a rapid diagnostic test which uses a "dipstick" method to indicate if certain proteins from the parasite is in a patient's blood. We've highlighted two professionals working on the test on the Disease Detective's website. Find out information about Norman Moore and Sara Hallowell who both work on this rapid diagnostic test.

I wonder what is the best way to get these tests to the people who most need them?