Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bird Flu Vaccine

The AP reports on a bird flu vaccine recently tested by Sanofi pasteur (Sanofi-Aventis):

After inoculating 300 healthy volunteers with a vaccine candidate for H5N1, the bird flu strain of most concern, immune responses were "at levels consistent with requirements of regulatory agencies for licensure of seasonal influenza vaccine" in a significant number of volunteers, the company said in a statement.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


ProMED-mail reports on the medical consequences of the benzene spill in China as it makes its way toward Russian border towns and more Chinese cities:

Benzene exposure increases the risk of leukemia. Toxic metabolites may also play a role in affecting bone marrow. Consequently, hematopoiesis is affected and aplastic anemia is very likely. Inhalation of benzene vapors has been linked to lung cancer.
Clinical signs associated with ingestion of benzene, short term exposure, include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, headache, drowsiness, symptoms of drunkenness, disorientation, visual disturbances, bluish skin color, lung congestion, lung damage, liver damage, paralysis, convulsions, and coma. However, long term ingestion of benzene has resulted in impotence and cancer.
Gastric lavage may be the best means of evacuating the gastric track in the event of benzene ingestion. However, the residences in the affected towns may not know when or if they have consumed benzene in the water.
Although there is a large risk of exposure, we know nothing about the actual dose that these people may be exposed to.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ebola Bats

Via ProMED-mail: In the current issue of Nature, scientists consider Fruit bats as reservoirs of Ebola virus:

The first recorded human outbreak of Ebola virus was in 1976, but the wild reservoir of this virus is still unknown. Here we test for Ebola in more than a thousand small vertebrates that were collected during Ebola outbreaks in humans and great apes between 2001 and 2003 in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. We find evidence of asymptomatic infection by Ebola virus in three species of fruit bat, indicating that these animals may be acting as a reservoir for this deadly virus.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

SciAm on the Upcoming Flu Pandemic

Via Slashdot: This month's Scientific American has an article on Preparing for a Pandemic:

The threat of a flu pandemic is more ominous, and its parallels to Katrina more apt, than it might first seem. The routine seasonal upsurges of flu and of hurricanes engender a familiarity that easily leads to complacency and inadequate preparations for the "big one" that experts admonish is sure to come.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Murder Most Contagious

CTV reports on a man in Ontario charged with two counts of first-degree murder for transmitting HIV to two women who have since died.

That precedent was set in 1998, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a B.C. man was who failed to disclose his HIV-positive status before having consensual sex with two women was nevertheless guilty of aggravated assault.
When the two women died, that meant the assault charges were automatically bumped up to first-degree murder.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bird Flu Reaches the Middle East

CTV reports a confirmed case of H5N1 influenza in a flamingo in Kuwait.

Mohammed al-Mihana of Kuwait's Public Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries said tests showed the flamingo had the deadly H5N1 flu strain, while a second bird -- an imported falcon -- had the milder H5N2 variant.
[...] There have been worries about outbreaks of bird flu in the Middle East because the region sits on important migratory routes. Migratory birds earlier spread the virus to Russia, Turkey and Romania.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Wave-Like Spread of Ebola Zaire

PLoS Biology published an article this month about the spread of Ebola:

In the past decade the Zaire strain of Ebola virus (ZEBOV) has emerged repeatedly into human populations in central Africa and caused massive die-offs of gorillas and chimpanzees. [...] Phylogenetic analyses place the earliest known outbreak at Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo, very near to the root of the ZEBOV tree, suggesting that viruses causing all other known outbreaks evolved from a Yambuku-like virus after 1976. The tendency for earlier outbreaks to be directly ancestral to later outbreaks suggests that outbreaks are epidemiologically linked and may have occurred at the front of an advancing wave.

Not in My Front Yard

Here in Boston, Maura Hennigan is running for mayor. She is against the construction of a biosafety level four lab in the city of Boston:

Over 150 scientists, including two Nobel laureates from Harvard have openly opposed the Biolab by sending a letter to Tom Menino. These 150 scientists, physicians, public health specialist, and academics oppose the Biolab being built in a densely populated urban area; there are 50,000 people within one mile and more than one million people within 10 miles of the proposed site.

The election is Tuesday, November 8th.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Typhoid Helga

Via ProMED-mail: Eurosurveillance reports on a tuberculosis outbreak at a Stockholm nursery school:

A female assistant at a nursery in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm was diagnosed with smear positive advanced pulmonary tuberculosis in August 2005. She had lost weight and been coughing for several months before diagnosis. The chest x ray showed bilateral cavitary lesions. Infection with an isoniazid-resistant strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was confirmed on culture.
All children and adults with a presumed exposure at the nursery were listed and examined. One three year old boywas found to be ill with fever, was admitted to hospital immediately, and diagnosed with primary tuberculosis with hilar adenopathy.
In total 141, children were exposed and of these, 35 (25%) had a TST ≥ 10mm and/or an abnormal chest x ray. Out of 20 children with an abnormal chest x ray, eight had bronchoalveolar infiltrates with hilar adenopathy and 12 hilar adenopathy only. One seven year old girl had a disseminated tuberculosis.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pandemic Prep

Dr. Grattan Woodson provides detailed advice [pdf] for preparing for the coming bird flu pandemic.

This monograph is dedicated to, and written for my patients. I wrote it both to inform them about this health threat, and to provide them with some practical guidance on how they can survive the pandemic.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Tamiflu Resistance Paper

Via ProMED-mail: The BBC reports on the case of bird flu resistance to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Nature publishes a paper about it online.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bird Flu in Europe?

The Guardian reports on three duck deaths in Romania that are suspected to be due to H5N1.

The Romanian government warned that it feared that the ducks were infected with the strain, and strong security measures were put in place in the village of Ceamurlia, in eastern Romania, where the birds died late last month. Restrictions were placed on the movement of people and animals into and out of the village near the Black Sea and there were plans to vaccinate people. Nearly all the domestic fowls in the village have been slaughtered.

Reuters reports on 2,000 turkey deaths in Turkey from bird flu, but details are scarce. The cause may not be H5N1.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Spanish Flu Rises Again

Nature reports on a CDC researcher's reconstruction of the Spanish Flu, killer of a hundred million people back in 1918 according to some estimates.
When they used the strain to infect mice they found it was extremely virulent, and after 4 days had generated 39,000 times more virus particles in the animals' lungs than a modern flu strain. "I didn't expect it to be as lethal as it was," says Tumpey.

Neither did those hundred million people...

Friday, September 30, 2005

Tamiflu Resistance

Reuters reports that bird flu is proving resistant to Tamiflu:

"Manufacturers should think about producing an injectable form of Relenza because resistance to Tamiflu has been seen in Japan and Vietnam."

Thanks to JAD for the link.

From the Don't Eat the Guano files...

The New York Times reports that two groups of researches have independently identified the Chinese horseshoe bat as the natural reservoir for the SARS virus.

The bats apparently are healthy carriers of SARS, which caused severe economic losses, particularly in Asia, as it spread to Canada and other countries. In Asia, many people eat bats or use bat feces in traditional medicine for asthma, kidney ailments and general malaise.

Thanks to an unnamed source for the link.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rise in Bird Flu Cases

Channel NewsAsia reports 57 suspected cases of avian influenza in Indonesians. Other sources report 54 cases; either number is an increase over the last count of 42 suspected cases.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Coming Flu Pandemic

Via an anonymous source: ABC News reports on the coming flu pandemic.

The prospects have become so bleak that in planning meetings held in New York City, veteran emergency responders have walked away.
"They just don't know how we're going to get through," says Osterholm of those responders. "If we have a repeat of the 1918 life experience, I can't imagine anything to be closer to a living hell than that experience of 12 to 24 months of pandemic influenza."

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dog Flu II

The New York Times reports on canine flu, a H3N8 strain related to equine influenza:

Dr. Cynda Crawford, an immunologist at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine who is studying the virus, said that it spread most easily where dogs were housed together but that it could also be passed on the street, in dog runs or even by a human transferring it from one dog to another. Kennel workers have carried the virus home with them, she said.
How many dogs die from the virus is unclear, but scientists said the fatality rate is more than 1 percent and could be as high as 10 percent among puppies and older dogs.
Dr. Crawford first began investigating greyhound deaths in January 2004 at a racetrack in Jacksonville, Fla., where 8 of the 24 greyhounds who contracted the virus died.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Virtual Plague

The BBC reports on a virtual "corrupted blood" plague infecting the World of Warcraft. Despite attempts to eradicate the infection, the problem continues:

Blizzard tried to control the plague by staging rolling re-starts of all the servers supporting the Warcraft realms and applying quick fixes.
However, there are reports that this has not solved all the problems and that isolated pockets of plague are breaking out again.

Thanks to an unnamed source for the tip.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Plague Mice

ABC News reports that at least three mice infected with Yersinia pestis have been missing from the Public Health Research Institute in Newark, NJ for at least two weeks. The FBI Joint Terror Task Force and the CDC are investigating.

"We're satisfied that there is no public safety risk, and there doesn't seem to be any nexus to criminal activity or terrorism," he added.
Nevertheless, federal authorities, including the FBI, have criticized the lab for lax procedures that resulted in a potential public health menace.
"This is the black death," said Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University. "This is the disease that killed a quarter of Europe's population."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cows Eating People

Via ProMED-mail: The BBC reports on a new theory of the origin of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy--cows eating human remains.

Some raw materials for fertiliser and feed imported from South Asia in the 60s and 70s contained human bones and soft tissue, the Lancet reports.
Bone collectors could have picked up the remains of corpses deposited in the Ganges river to sell for export.
If infected with prion diseases, they could have been the source for BSE.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Post-Hurricane Diseases II

Despite their earlier optimism, the CDC reports five deaths from Vibrio vulnificus.

The patients, evidently evacuees, appear to have been infected with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, a water-borne pathogen that is related to the bacteria that cause cholera and is common in water off the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Post-Hurricane Diseases

The CDC has an encouraging report on infectious disease after a hurricane:

Unless a disease is brought into a disaster area from elsewhere, any outbreaks that occur are almost always from diseases that were already in the disaster-affected area before the disaster struck.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Vaccine Against All Flus

BBC News reports on a UK company that's developing a one-time vaccine against all flu strains:
Current flu vaccines work by giving immunity to two proteins called haemagglutinin and neuraminidase, which are found on the surface of flu viruses.
However, these proteins keep mutating which means doctors have to keep making new vaccines to keep up.
Scientists at Acambis' laboratory in the US, together with Belgian researchers at Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology, are focusing their efforts on a different protein, called M2, which does not mutate, as well as other technology that they cannot disclose yet for commercial reasons.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pig Strep

CNN reports on the mysterious outbreak of Streptococcus suis among humans in China:

While not uncommon in pigs, streptococcus suis is seldom seen in people and never dozens of cases all at once -- raising bigger questions about whether the germ has mixed with some other bacteria or virus.

Thanks to JAD for the tip.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bird Flu Confirmed in Indonesia

Via ProMED-mail: Reuters reports that Indonesia has confirmed three deaths from avian influenza.
Last month, Indonesia reported its first human case in a poultry worker, but the man did not develop symptoms and is healthy.
The agriculture ministry has reported sporadic H5N1 virus outbreaks killing more than nine million fowl in 21 provinces, out of a total of 33, across the archipelago since late 2003.
Indonesian policy favours vaccinating animals rather than culling to stop the spread of bird flu, due to lack of funds to compensate farmers.
The World Health Organisaton has questioned the effectiveness of vaccines and say culling is the best weapon.
The virus has already jumped species in Indonesia and was discovered in pigs in May on densely populated Java island.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tularemia on Martha's Vineyard

Via ProMED-mail: the Vineyard Gazette reports an unusual case of oropharyngeal tularemia contracted by a landscaper on Martha's Vineyard who handled a dead rabbit.
Tularemia is a powerful but rare bacterial disease. Rabbits are the most common carriers in addition to rodents such as squirrels, voles and muskrats, but a bite from a dog tick is the most typical way the disease is transmitted to people.
On the Vineyard, though, the pneumonic cases have dominated, making the Island the only place in the United States to experience an outbreak of pneumonic tularemia.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Q Fever

The AP reports on a mysterious case of Q fever in Texas.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From the Don't Kiss The Chickens department....

Via ProMED-mail: the CDC has revised their bird flu travel warning again.
Avoid all direct contact with poultry, including touching well-appearing, sick, or dead chickens and ducks. Avoid places such as poultry farms and bird markets where live poultry are raised or kept, and avoid handling surfaces contaminated with poultry feces or excretions.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Record Red Tide in Maine

The AP reports that Maine has joined Massachusetts with record red tide levels:
Toxin levels in some shellfish tested in Maine have reached record highs as the red tide maintains its grip.
The red tide outbreak is also reaching into waters where it has never appeared before.
Marine experts say a number of gulls and ducks have been dying along the Maine coast -- possibly from eating tainted clams and mussels.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Boston TB Scare

Via ProMED-mail: Channel 5 reports on a tuberculosis scare involving a surgical intern and possibly 1600 exposed patients at four local hospitals. State health officials are investigating.
Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed should contact their physician, the hospital or the Boston Public Health Commission at 617-534-5611.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mad Cow News

Via ProMED-mail: Portugal reports its first case of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, not surprising for the country ranked third in mad cows. The United States thinks about reporting its second mad cow.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Elephant Ebola

ProMED-mail has some interesting speculation about elephants being the unknown natural reservoir of Ebola, Marburg, and other filoviruses.

The WHO has the lastest numbers on the Marburg epidemic:
As of 5 June, the Ministry of Health in Angola has reported 423 cases of Marburg haemorrhagic fever. Of these cases, 357 were fatal. The vast majority of cases have occurred in Uige Province, where 412 cases and 346 deaths have been reported.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ebola and Marburg Vaccine

Thanks to Veronica for this breaking news: vaccines have been developed for Ebola and Marburg.
New vaccines against two killer viruses, Ebola and Marburg, have been proven 100 percent effective in monkey tests, scientists reported on Monday.

Red Tide

On the disaster watch, ProMED-mail reports red tides in both Florida and Massachusetts. The record red tide recently spread from Cape Cod to Martha's Vineyard.
The toxic algae bloom already has forced officials to shut down shellfish beds from Maine to Cape Cod so that people do not eat infected clams, mussels and oysters.
The closures off Edgartown meant the outbreak, possibly caused by an unusually cold and wet winter and spring, was continuing south, scientists said.
"It's an unprecedented closure," said Shelley Dawicki, spokeswoman at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "We don't know how far it's going to spread." [AP]

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bird Flu Blog

Via ProMED-mail: Avian Flu, a blog devoted to the coming bird flu pandemic, joins Fludemic on the flu-blogging beat.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ebola in the Congo

The BBC reports nine deaths and a quarantine in effect in the Congo town of Etoumbi. The epidemic has been attributed to consumption of bushmeat, and is not the first in the region. In 2003, 120 people died in one Ebola epidemic.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Marburg Tops 300

The WHO reports a current total of 311 Marburg deaths in Angola out of 337 cases (92% mortality). On the bright side,
No cases have been reported outside Uige for the past five weeks.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bird Flu Jumps to Pigs

Via ProMED-mail: Reuters and the AP report that an Indonesian researcher found the H5N1 strain of influenza in pigs living near infected birds.
Pigs, which are genetically similar to people, often carry the human influenza virus. Experts worry that pigs infected with both bird flu and its human equivalent could act as a ``mixing bowl,'' resulting in a more dangerous, mutant virus that might spread to people more easily - and then from person to person.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dog Flu

Yesterday the Metro reported that dog racing at Wonderland (Boston, MA) had been shut down due to a mysterious canine epidemic. Autopsies on three dogs indicated pneumonia.

Today the CDC is on the case as well as the Boston Herald, warning locals that they and their pets may also be in danger.

Plagueblog recommends against living in close proximity to animals. Get some fish instead.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Marburg Numbers Rise

CIDRAP News reports an unexpected increase in the number of Marburg cases and deaths in Angola:
The tally yesterday stood at 313 cases, including 280 deaths, with another 208 people under observation, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Angolan health ministry announced yesterday, according to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP). The WHO had reported 275 cases with 255 deaths as of Apr 27, which included only 9 new cases in the preceding week.

Monday, May 02, 2005

More Marburg

The AP reports a death toll of 257 in Angola's Marburg outbreak. The story also mentions the first recovery:
But while the number of fatalities had risen, Espirito-Santo said that for the first time an infected patient had recovered and was discharged from an isolation ward at the Uige provincial hospital.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Exploding Frogs in Germany

Via ProMED-mail: the BBC reports on mysterious exploding German frogs:
Thousands of the amphibians have died in recent days in a pond in Hamburg's Altona district, with their bodies swelling to bursting point.
The toads' entrails are propelled for up to a metre (3.2ft), in scenes that have been likened to science fiction.
Scientists are baffled. Possible explanations include a unknown virus or a fungus in the pond.

Polio in Yemen

The New York Times reports on a polio outbreak in Yemen, possibly related to the current outbreak in Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

CCHF in Islamabad

The Daily Times reports on a 12-year-old with Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) in Islamabad.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Marburg Update

Agence France-Presse reports the latest Marburg numbers: 235 dead out of 257 known cases.
An additional 513 people are under surveillance, it added.
WHO experts said last week that there was no end in sight for the epidemic, the worst outbreak ever of the virus first detected in 1967 when German laboratory workers in Marburg were infected by monkeys from Uganda.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

From the Yes This IS Your Grandfather's Influenza department...

CNN reports on the unwise distribution of 1957's Asian flu (A, H2N2) to 4,000 laboratories worldwide for testing.
The samples, part of a package of pathogens sent to laboratories to test their ability to identify them, were last seen in nature in the United States in 1968, Gerberding said. Anyone born since then would presumably have no immunity to the virus, she said.
Gerberding said authorities were still trying to determine how many laboratories got the samples of the virus, called Influenza A H2N2.
Thanks to an unnamed source, who also mentioned The Unsung Vaccinologist:
Joining Merck in 1957, he mobilized the production of 20 million doses of flu vaccine, protecting the country from one of the last great flu pandemics.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Marburg Tops 200

ISN Security Watch reports 203 Marburg deaths in Angola as of yesterday, and also describes some of the negative reactions of the populace to foreigners in space suits who are only trying to help.
Health workers also said local residents lacked sufficient information about the disease and that hospitals were failing to observe basic rules of hygiene that could help stem the epidemic.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Asthma and Genetic Damage

Via GNXP: a study suggests that smoking can permanently damage the DNA of your offspring and future generations. See Maternal and Grandmaternal Smoking Patterns Are Associated With Early Childhood Asthma* by Yu-Fen Li, PhD, MPH; Bryan Langholz, PhD; Muhammad T. Salam, MBBS, MS; and Frank D. Gilliland, MD, PhD.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

From the don't-eat-the-downers files

Via ProMED-mail: several NY sources report on at least 5 deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. One of the deer was served at a Verona Fire Department annual dinner (apparently while the brain was languishing at a lab someplace). This means that the state department of health has a few CWD exposures to track, to see whether CWD really poses no threat to humans.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Gene for FASPS

National Geographic News reports that scientists have found the mutation that causes familial advanced sleep phase syndrome (FASPS).
The researchers are not yet certain how the gene mutation works to shift people's sleep time. But laboratory experiments suggest mutation slows the activity of a protein called casein kinase I delta (CKIdelta). "The next step is to figure out why," Fu said.

More Marburg

The WHO reports a new death toll of 173 out of 200 Marburg cases in Angola.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Disease Roundup

Several new and/or interesting outbreaks via ProMED-mail:
  • Agence France-Presse reports that the Marburg death toll in Angola has hit 155, not counting the suspected Marburg death of a South African who left Luanda about a week ago. The virus continues to rage uncontrolled.
  • Reuters reports on two more suspected cases of bird flu (not counting the woman who drank duck blood from earlier this week) as well as a doctor who died of apparent SARS, all in Vietnam.
  • Folha de S.Paulo reports [in Portuguese] on a Brazilian outbreak of the parasite Diphyllobothrium latum in patients who ate raw, smoked, or undercooked fish. Patients consumed their sushi and sashimi at several establishments across Sao Paulo.
  • UPI reports on a French woman who may have had variant CJD 20 years before the mad cow epidemic began.
  • The AP reports that North Korean birds are sick with a different strain of bird flu (H7) than the highly fatal one which has spread to humans in other parts of Southeast Asia (H5).
  • Agence France-Presse reports on the continuing spread of the rare Chlamydia infection lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) among homosexual European males.
  • NYNewsday reports on a rash of E. coli infections acquired from petting-zoo animals. PlagueBlog recommends avoiding contact with animals before their internal temperature has reached 160°F. Use a meat thermometer if necessary.
And don't travel to Angola.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Marburg Marches On

The current Marburg death toll is 146. Rumor has it that the disease was spread to so many victims under 5 by hypodermic needles reused for vaccinations. It's not the kind of news the WHO will be spreading far and wide, if it turns out to be true.

Marburg in Italy?

Although the two suspected Marburg cases in Portugal have been ruled out, AFP reports on nine patients quarantined in Italy and two suspected cases in the Congo.

Friday, April 01, 2005


Slashdot reports on the spread of a PC-to-human virus, Malwarlaria.B.:
First discovered in the Far East in early 2004 Malwarlaria.A spread in cats and other whiskered creatures as they walked across the keyboards of infected PCs. Infected animals showed flu-like symptoms, slight hair-loss and the appearance of some darkened patches of skin, giving rise to Malwarlaria's other name, the 'Gorbachev virus.'
The mutated version, Malwarlaria.B, causes a similar reaction in humans.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Record Marburg Outbreak

The WHO reports 132 cases of Marburg virus in Angola (127 of them fatal) breaking the previous record outbreak in the Congo. As this is an extremely high death rate (96%) even for Marburg, it seems likely that some survivors are going unrecorded.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Marburg Outbreak Nears Record Death Toll

Approximately 121 persons have died of Marburg virus in Angola since the current outbreak began, rivaling the record outbreak in the Congo between 1998 and 2000, in which 123 people died. A Portuguese national is currently hospitalized in Luanda and another died in Portugal on Saturday, soon after returning from Angola.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Marburg Virus Confirmed in Angola

Reuters reports that the mysterious Angolan hemorrhagic fever has been confirmed to be Marburg virus, a relative of Ebola.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Angola's Mystery Hemorrhagic Fever

Ebola has been ruled out as the hemorrhagic fever that has killed at least 77 people in Northern Angola since first appearing in November. A post on the ProMED-mail list suggested plague, but the geography of the outbreak makes plague spread from the Congo unlikely. Some reports claim that the victims have mainly been children under 5.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Consumption consumption

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warns against consumption of some Mexican cheeses--namely, those contaminated with Mycobacterium bovis (bovine tuberculosis), which can cause illness and (rarely) death in humans.
The Health Department has identified 35 cases of tuberculosis caused by M. bovis in city residents between 2001 and 2004. In one of those cases, a 15-month-old child who died in March 2004 was later determined to have died from complications due to M. bovis infection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Anthrax Scares

The CDC has the latest on recent anthrax incidents.
On March 10th, routine samples from an air sampling device at the Pentagon Remote Delivery Facility were collected and preliminary tests, reported to the Department of Defense (DoD) on March 14, indicated the possibility of the presence of Bacillus anthracis. Also, on March 14th, an alarm at a separate Defense office in the Skyline complex indicated the possibility of the presence of a biohazard. As a result, employees in close proximity to the mail handling at these two facilities and the United States Postal Service (USPS) V-Street feeder facility were placed on a 3-day course of prophylactic antibiotics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Unidentified Hemorrhagic Fever in Angola

Via ProMED-mail: Prensa Latina reports that at least 56 Angolans, including 2 nurses, have died of an as-yet-unidentified hemorrhagic fever:
A medical source from Huige hospital told journalists they have termed this illness gastric hemorrhage. It begins with fever symptoms for two days and then the patient begins to cough up blood, falls into a coma, and dies within four days, he explained.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Typhoid Tran

The AP reports that a second nurse is showing symptoms of bird flu after treating a bird-flu patient in Vietnam:
The 21-year-old man is at the center of a cluster of bird flu cases that include his 14-year-old sister and 80-year-old grandfather, who has the virus without showing any symptoms.
Reuters reports on other asymptomatic cases.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Flesh-Eating Disease in Flagstaff

Via ProMED-mail: the Arizona Republic reports on two related cases of necrotizing fasciitis:
A patient with flesh-eating bacterium spread the infection to a health care worker at Flagstaff Medical Center, leaving both people hospitalized in serious condition.
The state Department of Health Services has asked doctors at the hospital to monitor other workers for symptoms, even though they don't think it has spread.
The DHS said the Flagstaff case represents the first documented case in Arizona of invasive Group A streptococcus spreading from a patient to a health care worker.
Officials at the medical center don't know how the disease was spread.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Growing Family

The New York Times reports on the discovery of two new retroviral members of the H.T.L.V. family, kissing cousins to HIV.
The viruses, found in rural Cameroon among people who hunt monkeys and other primates, were probably transmitted from the animals through blood from bites and scratches received in hunting, butchering and keeping the primates as pets, the scientists said at the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference, which ended here on Friday.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Polio in Ethiopia

The ongoing African polio epidemic has reached Ethiopia, with one confirmed case and another suspected, Reuters reports.. It all started in Nigeria:
Africa's polio epidemic erupted after a 10-month halt in immunization in Kano where Muslim elders said the vaccines were part of a Western plot to spread HIV and infertility, according to WHO officials. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, recorded 763 cases in 2004, accounting for 2/3 of the toll. It resumed immunization in July 2004.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Cryogenic Bacteria

The Environment News Service reports on frozen microbes: they weren't infectious, but bacteria unearthed from the Alaskan tundra five years ago came to life in the lab after 32,000 years at -4° Celsius. It's taken the past five years to prove that it's a new species.

Commenters at Slashdot note that bacteria have been revived after 25 million years.

Rabies Roundup

Just a few interesting rabies stories from ProMED-mail: two patients died of rabies transmitted by organ transplants in Germany, a hunter died of rabies in Siberia, and a woman was bitten by a rabid coyote right here in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bird Flu Warnings

The front-page story in the Boston Metro today was this AP report on the "very high threat" of a bird flu epidemic.
Julie L. Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said scientists expect a flu virus that has swept through chickens and other poultry in Asia to genetically change into a flu that can be transmitted from person to person.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Pneumonic Plague

Thanks to another unnamed source for the pneumonic plague link. I also heard about it at the plague panel at Boskone this weekend, but I haven't had a chance to blog it until now. The outbreak among diamond miners in the Congo has been going on since December, but the WHO has only recently gotten involved. According to the BBC article, there are at least 60 dead and 350 infected.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Don't Eat the Apes

Via ProMED-mail, of course: Study links Ebola outbreaks to animal carcasses.
Specifically, the researchers found that Ebola infections in wild animals such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and occasionally duikers (a diminutive antelope species), move across the human-wildlife divide through hunters taking either sick animals or carcasses for meat. Hunters can then spread the disease to families and hospital workers, creating the conditions for an epidemic in the process.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Mad Goat

I've gotten behind on reporting, but I did get a friendly tip on the mad goat [ProMED] last week.
Britain said on Tuesday [8 Feb 2005] that a goat confirmed as having the brain-wasting disease scrapie in 1990 may have had mad cow disease. [...]
In January 2005 mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was found in a goat in France, the 1st time the brain-wasting affliction that ravaged European cattle herds and killed at least 100 people had been diagnosed in another animal.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Stuffed Plague

What's the perfect gift for the plague-blogger who has everything? Giant Microbes! Thanks to my personal Epidemic Santa for the Black Death and company.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Bard and the Pox

Steve Baragona of the Infectious Diseases Society of America argues against a recent article in Did Shakespeare have Syphilis?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Quahogs vs. Botulin

The Associated Press reports that quahogs are surprisingly resistant to botulism:
Researchers who injected the clams with enough botulism toxin to kill 1,000 people found the shellfish somehow neutralized the enzyme, which is considered a potential bioterror agent.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tularemia (Lab Exposure)

The dirty bomb scare here in Boston is distracting from another bit of terrorism-related news: three researchers at BU were infected with tularemia in, apparently, at least two separate lab accidents. The cases, which have been attributed to violations of safety procedures, were discovered by November but were concealed from the public during hearings about BU's planned high-security bioterrorism research lab.

These are not the people I want juggling vials of smallpox in South Boston.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


A bioterrorism preparedness exercise shows that we're unprepared for smallpox.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tsunami Tetanus

Tetanus has taken health care workers in Indonesia by surprise, according to this report from Banda Aceh.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tsunami-borne Measles

I wasn't expecting measles to be the first flashy disease of the tsunami-set, but as usual, ProMED-mail has set me straight. Both Indonesia and India report cases.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Scanning for Schizophrenia

The Scotland Sunday Times reports on a new method to detect schizophrenia up to three years before onset.
Researchers at Edinburgh University believe their test — which measures IQ, memory, motor skills and verbal learning — can be used to take action against the illness, which typically strikes people aged between 17 and 30, from being triggered.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Hepatitis C Outbreak in Maryland

Via ProMED-mail: The Baltimore Sun reports a nosocomial outbreak of hepatitis C caused, strangely enough, by a contaminated batch of technetium-99m, a radioactive isotope used in diagnostic procedures.

The one fatality so far is a healthy 79-year-old man who went to a cardiology clinic in October and died at Christmas. Health officials are unsure how the isotope became so contaminated that all patients who received it have tested positive for hepatitis C, but they do believe the contamination took place at the pharmacy that prepared the isotope, rather than the cardiology clinic.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Mad Cow II

More weekend news: a second Canadian mad cow leads to concern about the lifting of the US ban on Canadian cattle imports.

Tsunami Disease Outbreaks

Via ProMED-mail: The WHO reported on Sunday that communicable diseases were being seen in tsunami refugee camps.