Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pandemic Fiction

Via Futurismic: "Pandemic" by J. F. Bone is an old (1962) story from Analog about a pathologist working on a species-threatening pandemic with a new, grim (but still plucky) nurse. Copyright has apparently lapsed.

Generally, human beings don't do totally useless things consistently and widely. So--maybe there is something to it--
"We call it Thurston's Disease for two perfectly good reasons," Dr. Walter Kramer said. "He discovered it--and he was the first to die of it."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Perils of Being a Disease Maven

Via ProMED-mail: The New York Times reports on the perils of being a bioterrorism expert--or even an amateur--when the FBI is on the prowl.

Another casualty was Kenneth M. Berry, an emergency room physician with a strong interest in bioterrorism threats. In August 2004, agents raided his colonial-style home and his former apartment in Wellsville, a village in western New York, as well as his parents’ beach house on the Jersey Shore.
In scenes replayed for days on local television stations, the authorities cordoned off streets as agents in protective suits emerged from the dwellings with computers and bags of papers, mail and books.
“He was devastated,” Dr. Berry’s lawyer at the time, Clifford E. Lazzaro, said in an interview. “They destroyed his marriage and destroyed him professionally for a time.”

Friday, August 08, 2008

Whole Foods and E. coli

Via Universal Hub: the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services reports that seven cases of E. coli in the state have been traced to ground beef from Whole Foods.

Officials from the supermarket chain have cooperated with staff from DPH during the agency’s investigation to determine the source of the contamination. Preliminary findings suggest that ground beef products that were previously identified as part of a nationwide recall may have entered the retail supply at Whole Foods during June and July.
Last month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the extension of a national recall for ground beef produced by Nebraska Beef, Ltd. due to possible E. coli contamination. Nebraska Beef produces products under the Coleman brand name, and a review of records from Whole Foods indicates that some of the stores received product from the recall list. At this time, it is not known why the food listed under the USDA recall was sold to the public after the recall date.

The state recommends throwing away any ground beef purchased at Whole Foods between June 2nd and August 6th.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Mother of All Parasites

Via The Anti-Toxo: Future Microbiology reports the discovery of a missing-link apicomplexan and its implications.

Symbiosis and parasitism are thus wide-spread in both the dinoflagellates and apicomplexans, suggesting that modern parasites like Plasmodium spp. and Toxoplasma likely started out as mutualistic symbionts that initially nourished their animal hosts before turning to parasitism. These symbiotic/parasitic relationships thus extend back in evolutionary time to the earliest origins of the animals, which means that either as parasites or symbionts, these protists have been interacting with the animal immune system since its inception. As a consequence of this protracted dance, malaria parasites are exquisitely well-equipped to evade our immune system: a sobering harbinger for malaria vaccine prospects.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Prions are Forever

Via ProMED-mail: in June ScienceDaily reported on prions surviving waste water treatment.

Until now, scientists did not know whether prions entering sewers and septic tanks from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, or private game dressing, could survive and pass through conventional sewage treatment plants.
Joel Pedersen and colleagues used laboratory experiments with simulated wastewater treatment to show that prions can be recovered from wastewater sludge after 20 days, remaining in the "biosolids," a byproduct of sewage treatment sometimes used to fertilize farm fields.

I suppose if you can get prions from squirrels, you can get them anywhere.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Adjustable Glasses

Via plime: The World Bank reports on the bright prospects of cheap, adjustable corrective eyeglasses with oil-filled lenses.

For too many of the world’s poorest people, life is just a blur. WHO estimates that roughly a billion people—mostly in developing countries—need eyeglasses to read, write, work, and go about their daily lives. But they cannot find them, let alone afford the high price tag. It can take as much as three months’ wages or more to afford glasses in many African countries.
At least 10 % of this group is made up of youngsters of school age.
These vision problems could eventually be corrected on a large scale through use of cheap, self-correcting spectacles, invented by Oxford University physicist Josh Silver, and being made by a British NGO for between $5–$10, with the ultimate target price being about $1 a pair.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Achilles' Heel of HIV

Via plime: The Daily Texan reports on progress towards an HIV vaccine.

Along with fellow researchers, Paul has identified one region on the surface of the virus that is mostly unchanging. He explained that this small region is critical for the virus to bind to cells; without this section, the virus would not be able to infect the cells.
The UT researchers call this small region the "Achilles heel" of HIV, which causes AIDS.
"We identified this region as a suitable target for antibodies," Paul said.

On the dissent front (not that they intended it that way) Discover reports on a connection between schistosomiasis and HIV:

Schistosomiasis, seen primarily in developing countries, is caused by tiny flatworms that live in snail-infested freshwater like rivers and lakes. When people wade, swim or bathe in contaminated water, worms bore through the skin and travel in the blood, causing anemia, diarrhea, internal bleeding, organ damage and death.

HIV sounds like the least of their problems.