Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Plague of Athens Identified

Via ProMED-mail: the BBC and others report on DNA analysis of dental pulp from an ancient graveyard. Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi was found, indicating death by typhoid fever:

The team said in their research: "For an infectious disease to be considered as a likely cause of the Plague of Athens, it must, above all have existed at that time.
"Infectious diarrhoeas and dysentery as described by the ancients, imply that typhoid fever was an endemic problem in the ancient world."
The team added that it was the first time microbiological evidence associated with the plague had been analysed.
Previously assumptions about the cause had been based on the narrations of a the 5th Century Greek historian Thucydides.
Earlier research rejected the idea that typhoid caused the plague because of the symptoms described by Thucydides did not fit with the modern day typhoid.
But the researchers said inconsistencies [may be] explained by the possible evolution of typhoid fever over time.

The researchers also checked for typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii), a better match for the symptoms, without result.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bird Flu Migrates to Nigeria, Greece, and Italy

Reuters reports that the WHO is hoping to prevent human cases of bird flu in Nigeria, after an outbreak in poultry which has already spread to Lagos. Reuters also reports on the recent deaths of wild swans in Greece and Italy:

Greece and Italy said on Saturday they had found swans with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the first known cases in the European Union of wild birds with the deadly strain of the disease.
As the slow creep of the virus around the globe continued, Romania said more infections were suspected in birds in the Danube delta and Bulgaria said the lethal strain had been confirmed among swans in wetlands close to the Romanian border. The region is a haven and transit point for migrating birds.
Nigeria started testing people who have fallen ill close to where the virus has been found among birds, in the first outbreak in Africa of a disease that has spread seemingly inexorably across the Eurasian landmass from China and Vietnam.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Third Transfusion-Related vCJD Case

Reuters reports on the third case of human-to-human transmission of mad cow disease via blood transfusion in Britain:

"The patient developed symptoms of vCJD about eight years after receiving a blood transfusion from a donor who developed symptoms of vCJD about 20 months after donating this blood. The patient is still alive and is under the care of doctors at the National Prion Clinic," the agency said in a statement.
Professor Peter Borriello, Director of the HPA's Center for Infections said: "The occurrence of a third case of vCJD infection in a small group of patients like this suggests that blood transfusion from an infected donor may be a relatively efficient mechanism for the transmission of vCJD, although much still remains unknown.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Technovelgy speculates about Toxoplasma Parasite Mind Control in rats and people:

Oxford scientists discovered that the minds of the infected rats have been subtly altered. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that healthy rats will prudently avoid areas that have been doused with cat urine. In fact, when scientists test anti-anxiety drugs on rats, they use a whiff of cat urine to induce neurochemical panic. However, it turns out that Toxoplasma-ridden rats show no such reaction. In fact, some of the infected rats actually seek out the cat urine-marked areas again and again. The parasite alters the mind (and thus the behavior) of the rat for its own benefit. [...]
Dr. Torrey got together with the Oxford scientists, to see if anything could be done about those parasite-controlled rats who were driven to hang around cat urine-soaked corners (waiting for cats). According to a recent press release, it turns out that haloperidol restores the rat's healthy fear of cat urine. In fact, antipsychotic drugs were as effective as pyrimethamine, a drug that specifically eliminates Toxoplasma.

From the press release from Imperial College London:

Research published today in Procedings of the Royal Society B, shows how the invasion or replication of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii in rats may be inhibited by using anti-psychotic or mood stabilising drugs.
The researchers tested anti-psychotic and mood stabilising medications used for the treatment of schizophrenia on rats infected with T. gondii and found they were as, or more, effective at preventing behaviourial alterations as anti-T. gondii drugs. This led them to believe that T. gondii may have a role in the development of some cases of schizophrenia.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Transmission of devil facial-tumor disease

ProMED-mail reports on a "brief communication" in the latest Nature, Allograft theory: Transmission of [Tasmanian] devil facial-tumour disease:

Scientists suspect infected animals pass on the malignant cells when they bite each other during a fight or courtship.
Pearse and a colleague found the tumors had 13 rather than the normal 14 chromosomes. The chromosomes were abnormal, but their arrangement was identical in tumors taken from different animals. They suspect the low genetic diversity of the animals might reduce their immune response to the cancerous cell transferred during biting.
-- ProMED-mail. DEVIL FACIAL TUMOR DISEASE - AUSTRALIA (TASMANIA). ProMED-mail 2006; 1 Feb: 20060201.0328. Accessed 1 February 2006.

Gory pictures are available from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment.