Thursday, December 30, 2004

Acute Eosinophilic Pneumonia

From HealthDay News via MedicineNet: Government Studies Rare Pneumonia Outbreak Among Iraq Troops.
[...] acute eosinophilic pneumonia (AEP), is so rare that the entire medical literature contains only about 150 published accounts of it, according to lead study author Dr. Andrew F. Shorr, chief of the pulmonary clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. And none of that literature has accounts of the disease striking in clusters, as it apparently did in Iraq.
There seems to be no explanation for the unusual cluster, which included two deaths, except for one salient fact -- all of the patients were smokers, and nearly all of them were new to the habit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Flu Quiz

The Delaware Coast Press posts a flu quiz from Delaware state health officials.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami News

Via ProMED-mail: Reuters reports on the potential for post-tsunami epidemics. The biggest concern is the spread of waterborne diseases.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Flu Pandemic Warning of the Week

This week's dire forecasts of flu pandemic decimation come from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. No new mortality rate was mentioned in the MedBroadcast article, though the WHO's previous estimate of up to 7 million dead was repeated.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Quahog Parasite Unknown

Via ProMED-mail: Cape Cod is suffering an outbreak of QPX disease (quahog parasite unknown). The quahog, Mercenaria mercenaria, is a clam native and beloved to Southeastern New England. Although harmless to quahog consumers, QPX has no known cure and threatens to devastate grants around the Cape.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Polio Outbreak in the Sudan

Via ProMED-mail, as usual: a massive polio outbreak in Sudan has WHO officials concerned that poliomyelitis may spread from there into the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Nobody Expects the Bubonic Plague

Via ProMED-mail: A Pueblo, Colorado man dies of plague.
Local health department Director Chris Nevin-Woods [...] said the man had an open wound on one of his hands and probably was exposed while skinning an infected rabbit that he had shot.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Michigan Mystery Bug

Via ProMED-mail: a flu-like illness has broken out in a nursing home in Troy, Michigan. WXYZ News reports:
The outbreak occurred in the Alzheimer's unit, which has been quarantined. There are 39 people who live there, and 16 have fallen ill with the same flu like symptoms.
Paramedics were on the scene, suited up in biohazard in uniforms. Sick patients have been evacuated from the building to three area hospitals.
The outbreak started Wednesday night. 4 people became ill with flu like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. All of these people were taken to the hospital, where one man went into cardiac arrest and died.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

New Improved Scrapie

Via ProMED-mail: a new strain of scrapie has been detected in Great Britain, with some cases occurring among the most scrapie-resistant sheep. This bodes ill for the National Scrapie Plan to breed TSE-resistant sheep.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Fatal Familial Insomnia

A Wired article (Sleep Disorders Traced to Genes) reminded me of Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) and introduced me to a sleep disorder, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome:
Patients typically are unable to fall asleep before 2 a.m. and have extreme difficulty waking early (e.g., by 7 a.m.). People with DSPS are sometimes called "night owls" or are described as "not being morning people." If they are able to sleep a full 7 to 8 hours (e.g., until 10 a.m.), they feel rested and function normally.

I'm typically unable to get to bed before 2 a.m., but I don't think that qualifies without the accompanying insomnia.

So back to FFI. It's exciting because it's a prion disease like the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, but it mainly affects the thalamus, leading to insomnia-related death before the rest of the brain is seriously involved. Here's an overview of FFI by Ann M. Akroush.

I also found a couple of interesting journal articles available on-line: Fatal familial insomnia- clinical, neuropathological, and genetic description of a Spanish family -- Tabernero et al. 68 (6)- 774 -- Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (full text), and an abstract of Fatal insomnia in a case of familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with the codon 200(Lys) mutation -- Chapman et al. 46 (3)- 758 -- Neurology.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bird Flu Transmission in Russia

ProMED-mail is skeptical about reports of two cases of human-to-human transmission of bird flu in St. Petersburg.

Everyone's a skeptic until the first 20 million die.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

vCJD News

Via ProMED-mail: concerns are rising about the transmission of mad cow disease (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease a.k.a. vCJD) through blood transfusions and also about wider genetic susceptibility to the disease than previously expected. Experiments with transgenic mice also point towards universal human susceptibility to some form of vCJD.

For a chattier introduction to genetic vCJD susceptibility and transmission through the blood supply, see this August BBC report.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Bird Flu in France?

I've been hoping for more news on the bird flu case in France (via ProMED-mail, with a reminder from Fludemic), but Google is giving me no new news.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Nontuberculous Mycobacteria

Some San Jose residents have gotten more than they bargained for from their pedicurists. The Bay City News reports on at least 40 cases of serious skin infections, probably caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria growing in whirlpool foot baths. Whirlpools are bad news in general, bacteriologically speaking; once you add in the natural nastiness of feet, trouble is bound to follow.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Bogus Botox Botulism

Via ProMED-mail: four Florida residents have been hospitalized with suspected botulism. Health officials suspect that one of the victims administered a Botox knock-off to himself and the others as an anti-wrinkle treatment. See the full story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Botulism is normally caused by toxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


ProMED-mail reports on three cases of trichinosis in Russia, caused by consumption of infected pork.

Trichinosis (a.k.a. trichinellosis) is a parasitic disease caused by the trichina worm, Trichinella spiralis. There's a whole Trichinella page devoted to T. spiralis. The CDC factsheet on trichinosis is scary:
When a human or animal eats meat that contains infective Trichinella cysts, the acid in the stomach dissolves the hard covering of the cyst and releases the worms. The worms pass into the small intestine and, in 1-2 days, become mature. After mating, adult females lay eggs. Eggs develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries, and are transported to muscles. Within the muscles, the worms curl into a ball and encyst (become enclosed in a capsule).

Apparently, you can "[f]reeze pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5° F to kill any worms," but this approach doesn't work for game. Microwaves are not enough to kill the parasite.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Anti-depressants are outside of my purview, but I enjoyed Jeff Percifield's history of Survector. Get your own Survector from

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mad Cow #2

Everybody reports on the discovery of a second mad cow in the US. The origin of the cow and the circumstances of its death have not been revealed. Here's the New York Times article.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Mystery Disease in China

The in China is, of course, redundant. Although India has a good number of mystery diseases, it's the ones from China that tend to, say, wipe out Europe. This week's mysterious respiratory disease has infected 28 at a children's hospital. Health authorities have ruled out SARS, Influenza A, and Influenza B. Read all about it at Reuters.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

HPV Vaccine

MedBroadcast reports on the new vaccine against human papilloma virus, the STD responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Inevitable and Overdue

Medbroadcast reports on a two-day conference on infectious diseases at which the flu was the starring disease. An influenza pandemic is "inevitable and overdue."
Based on the experience of the three pandemics of the 20th century, a third or more of the globe's population would be expected to fall ill. A pandemic, even one caused by a mild strain, would be expected to kill millions, experts warn.
The spectre of a pandemic with the extraordinarily virulent H5N1 strain is making for sleepless nights in the community of influenza researchers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Feeling No Pain

Medbroadcast reports on a young girl with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), a genetic defect.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

SARS Civets

Via Medbroadcast: China bans civets. This relative of the mongoose is being blamed for SARS. If you find yourself in China, you may neither kill nor eat a civet.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Plague in Qinghai

China Daily reports that a plague outbreak in northwest China is now under control. Out of 19 cases, eight people died. Wild marmots may have been responsible.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

C. difficile

Medbroadcast reports on a Clostridium difficile epidemic in Quebec that has killed 109 to 217 people. CBC reports that the C. difficile superbug is likely to spread beyond Quebec.

Clostridium difficile is a bacterial infection common in hospitals; what makes the Canadian epidemic unique is its virulence, the lack of private rooms for isolating patients, and the speculation that hospital workers are helping to spread the spores by not washing their hands. Here's another FAQ on Clostridium difficile.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Lymphogranuloma venereum

The CDC is concerned about Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), a rare STD currently spreading among homosexual men in Northern Europe, especially the Netherlands. CNN has the Reuters story.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bird Flu Could Kill One Billion People

Russian Expert Says Flu Epidemic May Kill Over One Billion This Year [MosNews]
The world is on the brink of a major flu epidemic — one that could claim more than a billion lives, the head of the Russian Virology Institute, Academician Dmitry Lvov said at a press conference organized by the RIA-Novosti news agency on Thursday.
“Up to one billion people could die around the whole world in six months,” Lvov said. The expert did not give a timeframe for the epidemic, but said that it is highly probable that it will start this year. “We are half a step away from a worldwide pandemic catastrophe,” the academic said.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Eagles with Bird Flu

From the don't-kiss-the-chickens department: a Thai man came forward after public appeals in Belgium. He had attempted to smuggle infected eagles into the country in his luggage. Belgian officials have killed hundreds of unfortunate birds who were in the airport at the same time, and passengers on the flights are being warned about bird flu.

This just in from ProMed-mail: The Belgian veterinarian who euthanized the two eagles has been hospitalized with bird flu. So much for the Thai Public Health Ministry's assurances that only domesticated birds had been known to transmit bird flu to humans.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Simian Foamy Virus

Canadian health authorities seem unduly concerned about simian foamy virus, a blood-borne retrovirus that has no known effects in any species.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Plague Squirrels

Via ProMED-mail: If you happen to be in Colorado Springs, don't play with the squirrels. They've tested positive for plague.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tigers Catch Bird Flu

Medbroadcast reported yesterday that 23 captive tigers had died of bird flu in Thailand after being fed infected raw chicken. Fludemic notes that 7 more tigers have died and 40 more are being culled. If you check the Reuters article he linked, it sounds like the tigers are suffering 100% mortality. The BBC report is similar:
The tigers earmarked for culling are understood to be displaying early symptoms of infection and are estimated to have just a few days to live. "They all died after three days of showing symptoms," said Thawat Suntrajarn, a disease control expert from the Thai ministry of health, referring to the 30 tigers that have already died.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Banana Bunchy Top

Via ProMED-mail: Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) strikes Pakistan. Read all about it in the Daily Times. I don't normally report on plant diseases, but I couldn't pass up the name. Here's more info on Banana Bunchy Top from Hawaii.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Malaria Vaccine

MedicineNet reports on a new malaria vaccine:
"This is the first convincing evidence that a malaria vaccine can be produced that can impact disease in children living in Africa," said study co-researcher Dr. Filip Dubovsky, of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which helped fund the study.

Vaccine is a rather strong term to be using here. It's not clear to me that the vaccine is any more effective that a good DDT program.
Observing the children for six months after vaccination, Dubovsky reported that "the vaccine reduced the risk of developing the disease by 29.9 percent," while cutting the incidence of severe, life-threatening malaria episodes by 58 percent.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Anthrax in the News

USA Today reports on anthrax contamination within the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). The Fort Detrick biolab did so much testing during the anthrax scare that spores escaped the Level 3 labs to contaminate someone's desk. Thanks to Adam from Fludemic for the link.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

If Found, Please Return to Biohazard Facility

From ProMED-mail:
On 6 Oct 2004 at the railway station of Sants de Barcelona, a blue paper bag was stolen from the owner of a clinical laboratory. It contained 5 glass tubes, 15cm long x 2cm wide, with black stoppers, containing cultures of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. They were wrapped in absorbent paper inside an opaque white plastic container with a black double cap. This was wrapped in brown parcel paper, with a letter describing the contents, which are highly contagious.

The finder is asked to contact urgently the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia, tel. 091, the local police, tel. 092, and the Servicio de Emergencias de la Generalitat, tel. 112.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Spanish Flu Gene

Those Spanish Flu revivalists have sent some results to Nature. They've been killing mice with their Frankenstein Flu. This New York Times article goes into more detail about the deadly hemagglutinin (HA) gene the researchers now suspect caused the extraordinary virulence of the 1918-1919 epidemic.

Even more disturbing than the resurrection itself, the researchers have decided that the virus behind the worst epidemic of all time (20-50 million people dead in the space of a year) no longer requires a Biosafety Level 4 containment; they'll just make do with the Level 3 facilities at the University of Washington.

PlagueBlog recommends against travel to Washington State this winter.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Resurrecting the Spanish Flu

The Simon criticizes efforts to resurrect the Spanish Flu from cadavers at the University of Washington. Thanks to Fludemic for the link.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tularemia in Hamsters

Medbroadcast reports a Canadian health warning in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario about tularemia (type B) in pet hamsters. Both exposed hamsters and their owners are susceptible to the rare disease, which can be fatal.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

In the Northeast

On August 28, 2004, a man aged 38 years residing in New Jersey died from Lassa fever after returning from travel to West Africa.
See the full report from the CDC's MMWR Weekly.

Also a Dartmouth College employee contracted Hantavirus, presumably at a cabin owned by the college. See the full report from ProMed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Human Bird Flu Transmission

Reuters reports a probable case of human-to-human bird flu transmission in Thailand. Both victims have already died.
Experts have long feared the H5N1 bird flu virus, which swept through much of Asia early this year, could mutate into a form that could be passed from person to person and set off a pandemic like the one in 1918, which killed 20 million people.

Experts believe this is a fluke rather than a new, virulent flu strain. Note that at least 20 million people died of the Spanish flu; the real numbers may be twice that.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever

The Pakistan Daily Times reports a Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever death in Rawalpindi. A physician was also infected.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Hepatitis E in Iraq

The International Herald Tribune blames infrastructure problems for an outbreak of hepatitis E in two Iraqi cities.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Lassa Fever in London

ProMED reports that a West African who recently arrived in Britain is being treated for Lassa fever, a contagious haemorrhagic fever transmitted by rodents.
Public health officials are now trying to track down people who came into close contact with the patient, while refusing to release details of the flight which brought him to the United Kingdom.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Ergot (Claviceps purpura, Claviceps paspalum) is a fungus found on rye and some other grasses. It can cause convulsions, hallucinations, and gangrene. Outbreaks are rare; ergotism may explain the Salem witch trials.

There's been a rare outbreak of gangrenous ergotism in New Zealand cattle. Thanks again to ProMED for the link.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Jorethang Fever

The Statesman reports on the latest mystery disease in India:
A mysterious fever that’s stalking Jorethang town, Sikkim, near the West Bengal border has affected over a thousand people. According to reports here, the first outbreak of this disease, which the medical fraternity has termed as the Jorethang Fever, was reported on 15 August, this year. Since then more than 1,000 people have been struck by this mysterious virus, whose origin and identity has baffled the local health authorities here. According to health officials, the disease can be identified by symptoms of high fever, body-ache accompanied by repeated vomiting.

Thanks to ProMED for the link.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

SARS Engineering

I missed the speculation back in the spring of 2003 that SARS was genetically engineered. Lev Navrozov thought the Chinese did it, while Dr. Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science in Society thought it could have come from any of a number of genetic engineering labs. The folks at ISIS don't seem to have convinced the scientific community that SARS was anything more that a natural result of living with the livestock, but I'm sure Lev Navrozov would say that we're just hiding our heads in the sand.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Eastern Equine Encephalitis

The Boston Globe reports that Eastern equine encephalitis has spread to 14 communities in Southeastern Massachusetts. (EEE is mosquito-borne, and that's where all the swamps are.) Two people died of EEE in Massachusetts last month. As with West Nile virus, the recommended approach is DEET, long sleeves, and pants.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Autism Again

MedicineNet reports that yet another study has failed to link autism to vaccines. I'd like to see some studies on the assortative mating theory.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

West Nile Virus Endemic

With the report of the first human case in Oregon, West Nile virus is now endemic throughout the contiguous United States.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Breaking Flus

The WHO reports a bird flu death in Thailand today:
9 September 2004
Thailand's Ministry of Health reported today one recent human death caused by avian influenza A (H5N1).
Apparently the guy was giving a sick chicken mouth-to-mouth [ProMED]. Let me be the first to say that is contraindicated.

This follows a report two days ago of a bird flu death in Vietnam:
7 September 2004
WHO has received informal reports of a laboratory-confirmed fatal case of influenza A H5 infection in Viet Nam. The patient is thought to be a child who was hospitalized in Hanoi and who died over the weekend. Further details are awaited from official sources.

If I'm counting correctly, that's a total of 29 bird flu deaths in Vietnam and Thailand this year. And that's just human deaths--kitty isn't safe, either. Ancedotal evidence of bird flu killing cats has been confirmed recently.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sad Child Disease

Here's an article by two doctors about autism and vaccines. The alleged culprit is thimerosal (sodium ethylmercurithiosalicylate - note the mecur[y]), a preservative used in some vaccines. The CDC claims that no one is using thimerosal anymore, and it doesn't cause autism, and the dates for the surge in autism and the introduction of thimerosal don't match, anyway.

The doctors claim that autism and similar developmental difficulties were unheard-of before thimerosal. The theory is mercury poisoning: the affected children are unable to excrete the mercury that comes to them from vaccines and maternal dental amalgams. The CDC is eliminating thimerosal (as a precaution, not an admission of its guilt), but the article claims that "vaccines containing 25 mcg of mercury per dose and carrying an expiration date of 2005 continue to be produced and administered."

The occasion of this article is pending legislation in California to ban thimerosal in vaccines (beyond trace levels) for both children and mothers by July 2006. Whether or not it passes, it seems that thimerosal and mercury dental amalgams are on their way out. If the autism rate then drops suddenly, I'll become a believer.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


I'm reading Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge by David Koplow, so I'm brimming with variola information.

Variolation was a form of smallpox inoculation in which scabs or pus from smallpox victims were powdered and inhaled or inserted under the skin to confer immunity. This method of inoculation was centuries old already when it came to Europe from Asia around 1720. Variolated persons suffered from a mild case of the disease (1 or 2% mortality), but could still infect others with full-blown smallpox (25 to 60% mortality).

Monday, August 30, 2004

Pestilence Publishing

Welcome to The Plague Blog, home of all things viral, bacterial and communicable. If you have a fine appreciation for variola or Yersinia pestis, this is the place for you. Your team of morbid bloggers will keep you up to date on the latest disease news from the CDC and the WHO.

At least, that's the plan.