Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Plan to Trade in Death

Via an unnamed source: the AP reports on a new bird flu futures market:

Such markets have sometimes proved controversial. In 2003, the Pentagon dropped plans for a futures market that would have allowed traders to profit from accurate predictions on terrorism, assassinations and other events in the Middle East. Some lawmakers attacked the idea as immoral; U.S. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota described it as a "plan to trade in death."
Organizers predicted the bird flu market should prove less controversial, and the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cautiously agreed.
"It might be considered controversial if it's not well understood," said the philanthropy's Robert Hughes.
He noted that public health experts won't be gambling their own money, so opportunities for financial gain are extremely limited.
Also worth noting is the buy-in of ProMed, a respected disease-monitoring program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. ProMed, with a staff of 30, collects disease updates and e-mails them to 40,000 international members, making it the largest such service in the world.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Don't Drink the Water

Via ProMED-mail: The FDA reports a recall of "Jermuk" Brand Mineral Water from Armenia, which may be contaminated with arsenic:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to drink certain brands of mineral water imported from Armenia due to the risk of exposure to arsenic, a toxic substance and known cause of cancer in humans. Symptoms of acute arsenic exposure usually occur within several hours of consumption. The most likely effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Over the period of a few days to weeks, the kidneys, liver, skin, and cardiovascular and nervous systems could be affected. Extended exposure could lead to cancer and death.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Return of the Virion

Via ProMED-mail: Yale Daily News reports on research by Dr. Laura Manuelidis, the head of neuropathology at Yale's School of Medicine, into viral explanations for Creutzfeldt-Jakob and related diseases:

The research team’s goal was to try to identify viral particles in infected cells. They infected cell lines with either scrapie (a sheep disease related to mad cow) or CJD agents and found virus-like particles that did not contain prion protein. An abundance of these particles was related to high levels of infectivity, which was not true of the presence of prion proteins.
“People hypothesize that prion proteins are infectious, but they’re probably part of the disease, not the infectious agent itself,” Manuelidis said.
The virus-like particles had been found by other researchers but were largely ignored. They were first identified in 1968 in synaptic regions of scrapie-infected brain and later found in many other animals with different TSEs. But Manuelidis said that researchers apparently forgot about them once the prion hypothesis became dominant.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Weekend of E. Coli

Channel 7 reports that this weekend's boil-water order in Woburn, Massachusetts(1) has been rescinded after the smoking squirrel(2) was discovered inside the suspect water tank:

That tank is being taken care of, and the mayor has an interesting theory at what caused the problem, a small animal was found inside the tank.
Crews disinfected the water supply by pumping in additional chlorine to affected areas.

(1) PlagueBlog recommends against drinking the water in Woburn, Mass. under any circumstances, boiled or not, boil order or not, brown or not, eating through the pipes or not, for at least a hundred years.

(2) "Smoking squirrel" is a term of art and should not be taken literally. The report did not specify the animal found.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Worse than the Disease

Via ProMED-mail: The Monitor reports nine deaths from [pneumonic] bubonic plague in Masindi, Uganda:

The first measure taken in Masindi was to stop people from sleeping on the floor.
Dr Zaramba said this reduced the prevalence of rats. Smearing floors with cow dung also helps contain the spread of plague as it discourages rats from entering domestic environments.

At least it will discourage humans from sleeping on the floor. PlagueBlog recommends rat poison.