Thursday, December 09, 2010

Mmm-mmm Melamine, Part MII

In the wake of the latest incident of melamine-contaminated milk in China, the Epoch Times reports that wealthy Chinese are now growing their own vegetables to ensure food safety.

In recent years, Chinese people have fought hard but ineffectively against poor food safety standards. There are simply too many tainted foods, from raw food products to cooking oil and food utensils. Waste oil, toxic chopsticks, and toxic lunch boxes can still be cleaned up, but there are three sources of poisoning which are most difficult to handle.

The three areas are: pesticides, food "additives" like melamine, and pollution.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The End of Rinderpest

Via twitter: The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN reports the likely eradication of rinderpest, a disease of cattle.

"The disease has affected Europe, Asia and Africa for centuries and has caused widespread famine and decimated millions of animals, both domestic and wild. In the 1880s, rinderpest caused losses of up to one million head of cattle in Russia and central Europe," said Diouf.
When it entered Africa in the nineteenth century, it decimated millions of heads of livestock and wildlife and triggered widespread famine. It is estimated that in that pandemic alone, up to one-third of the human population of Ethiopia died of starvation as a result. The last known outbreak of rinderpest occurred in 2001 in Kenya.
A joint FAO/OIE announcement of global rinderpest eradication is expected in mid-2011, pending a review of final official disease status reports from a handful of countries to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Wikipedia is already referring to rinderpest in the past tense. PlagueBlog, however, cannot help wondering whether there's still some stashed in a freezer somewhere...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Prion Disease Discovered

Via ProMED-mail: last month ScienceDaily reported the publication of a journal article on a new spontaneous prion disease:

In 2008, Pierluigi Gambetti, MD, and Wen-Quan Zou, MD, PhD, with collaborators, reported the discovery of this novel disease, which affected patients who exhibit only one of the three types of the prion protein gene. In this follow-up study, they discovered that all three genetic groups can be affected also by this novel disease which now joins sCJD in displaying this feature. However, VPSPr is associated with an abnormal prion protein that exhibits characteristics very different from those of sCJD, as well as other prion diseases, suggesting that it may be caused by a different mechanism, perhaps more akin to other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. This finding may exemplify, for the first time, the possibility that the prion protein affects the brain with different mechanisms.

Some claim there's a smoking cow behind this new variant.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Childhood Schizophrenia

Via twitter: the LA Times reports on a tragic case of childhood schizophrenia.

Doctors and other mental health experts don't fully understand the disease, which has no cure. Jani's extreme early onset has left them almost helpless. The rate of onset in children 13 and under is about one in 30,000 to 50,000. In a national study of 110 children, only one was diagnosed as young as age 6.
"Child-onset schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe than adult-onset schizophrenia," says Dr. Nitin Gogtay, a neurologist at the National Institute of Mental Health who helps direct the children's study, the largest such study in the world on the illness.
"Ninety-five percent of the time they are awake these kids are actively hallucinating," Gogtay says. "I don't think I've seen anything more devastating in all of medicine."
For Jani's parents, the most pressing issue is where Jani should live. She has been on the UCLA psych ward -- where she was placed during an emergency -- since Jan. 16. The ward is not designed for long-term care.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Abortive Rabies

Via ProMED-mail: the CDC reports on a rabies case from last year in which the victim was intermittently symptomatic ("severe frontal headache, photophobia, emesis, neck pain, dizziness, and paresthesia of face and forearms") for two and a half weeks before rabies vaccine and immune globulin were administered. She soon appeared to recover without intensive care.

This is the first reported case in which certain clinical and serologic findings indicate abortive human rabies and in which, despite an extensive medical investigation, no alternate etiology for the illness was determined. The patient's positive serologic results offer evidence of rabies virus infection; IFA and Western blot assays indicated the presence of antibodies capable of binding to rabies virus antigens before the patient received rabies PEP. Rabies virus can crossreact serologically with other members of the Lyssavirus genus, distributed in Australia, Eurasia, and Africa (5) or, theoretically, with as yet uncharacterized rhabdoviruses. However, this patient had no history of foreign travel and no evidence of infection with KCV, the only other rhabdovirus associated with bats in North America.
Certain other clinical and laboratory findings also support a diagnosis of abortive rabies in the patient described in this report. First, the onset of acute encephalopathy approximately 2 months after exposure to bats is compatible with documented incubation periods after rabies virus exposure. Second, central nervous system (CNS) findings (e.g., fever, photophobia, emesis, neck pain, dizziness, paresthesia, limitation of visual field, and altered behavior with agitation and combativeness) are compatible with clinical aspects of rabies. Although this patient did not have classic symptoms such as laryngeal spasms (manifested as hydrophobia) or autonomic instability, the lack of such symptoms has been documented in other rabies patients (1,2,6). Finally, despite an extensive medical workup, no alternate infectious etiology was identified for the patient's neurologic symptoms, increased intracranial pressure, and CSF pleocytosis.

I should note that, after her apparent recovery, the patient returned to the hospital two more times complaining of headaches, and afterwards went missing. ("The current clinical status of the patient or [sic] her boyfriend is unknown.") Judging from the reporting state, the patient was probably in the country illegally. PlagueBlog would not jump to the conclusion that she is still here, or still alive.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mumps in NYC Update

Via ProMED-mail: the CDC reports that the mumps outbreak in New York/New Jersey has reached 1,521 reported cases, with no apparent end in sight. They also speculate about possible demographic causes of the outbreak in a relatively well-vaccinated community:

Like the mumps outbreaks that occurred in 2006 (2), much of the current outbreak is occurring in congregate settings, where prolonged, close contact among persons might be facilitating transmission. Within the affected religious community, cases have occurred predominantly among school-aged boys, who attend separate schools from girls. The higher rate among boys might be a result of the additional hours that boys in this community spend in school compared with girls, including long periods in large study halls, often face-to-face with a study partner.
In addition, transmission in the community overall might be facilitated by relatively large household sizes. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the mean household size in one of the affected communities was 5.7, compared with a mean U.S. household size of 2.6. The limited transmission to persons outside the community might be a result of the relatively less interpersonal contact between persons inside and outside the community.
Although the school settings and large household sizes might be promoting transmission, the high vaccination coverage in the affected community likely is limiting the size of the outbreak. In addition, high vaccination coverage in surrounding communities is the most plausible reason that the few cases outside of the affected community have not caused other outbreaks.

PlagueBlog recommends letting the boys out for recess more frequently and sending them home earlier, poor things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mumps in NYC

Via ProMED-mail: the mumps outbreak in New York City continues, with over 900 cases identified so far. See the link for MMR clinics serving the apparently under-vaccinated population. The NYC Department of Health notes that:

Each site will have separate entrances for women and men and will have separate staff members to vaccinate them. The staff will be culturally sensitive and respectful.

At the risk of sounding culturally insensitive, PlagueBlog must state that there are worse things than getting an MMR shot from a member of the opposite sex who's just doing their job--for example, orchitis.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mmm-mmm Melamine, Part MI

Via ProMED-mail: melamine has once again been detected in milk products in China. AsiaNews reports that the scandal has widened to six dairy companies, one of which was still in operation as of Friday.

China has also banned independent reporting of the scandal and jailed a food-safety activist:

Zhao Lianhai is a 37 year old former government employee from Beijing, who was recently arrested and charged with provoking social disorder.
His son was one of 300,000 kids poisoned by contaminated milk across China.
Mr Zhao used to work for the country's food quality and safety authority, so he started a website advising parents of affected children and campaigned to take responsible companies to court.

In other melamine news, on Friday a federal court sentenced the Chinese-American couple for importing the melamine-tainted wheat gluten from the 2007 pet-food scandal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mmm-mmm Cadmium, Part I

Via ProMED-mail: the Associated Press found cadmium in children's jewelry imported to the US from China. The LA Times reports:

For China's low-cost jewelry makers, it was an open trade secret: The metal cadmium is shiny, strong and malleable at low temperatures, regardless of its health hazards. And it's cheap.
Despite the risks, manufacturers in factories ringing this city on China's east coast say their top priority is profit. So offering cut-rate goods often means using lower quality materials, including cadmium, which is known to cause cancer.
"Business is business, and it's all up to our client," said He Huihua, manager of the Suiyuan Jewelry Shop at International Trade City in Yiwu[...]
Asked what he thought about the health risks associated with cadmium and other toxic metals, He said: "I can't be overly concerned about that."

PlagueBlog recommends a trade embargo.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mmm-mmm Melamine, Part M

Via ProMED-mail: another melamine scandal has broken in China, once again belatedly, and once again involving tainted milk. The Wall Street Journal reports that the two-month investigation of Shanghai Panda Dairy Company began almost a year ago.

Shanghai Panda, one of the nation's smaller dairies, was among 22 companies originally implicated in the 2008 scandal and was briefly shut by quality inspectors.
Now, among the allegations against the company are that instead of destroying its melamine-tainted product that had been recalled in 2008, Shanghai Panda reconstituted the milk into new products.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Prion Evolution

Ed Yong discusses prion evolution in his blog at ScienceBlogs:

Jiali Li from the Scripps Institute in Florida has found that prions - the infectious proteins behind mad cow disease, CJD and kuru - are capable of Darwinian evolution, all without a single strand of DNA or its sister molecule RNA.
Prions are rogue version of a protein called PrP. Like all proteins, they are made up of chains of amino acids that fold into a complex three-dimensional structure. Prions are versions of PrP that have folded incorrectly and this misfolded form, called PrPSc, is social, evangelical and murderous. It converts normal prion proteins into a likeness of its abnormal self, and it rapidly gathers together in large clumps that damage and kill surrounding tissues.
Li has found that variation can creep into populations of initially identical prions. Their amino acid sequence stays the same but their already abnormal structures become increasingly twisted. These "mutant" forms have varying degrees of success in different environments. Some do well in brain tissue; others thrive in other types of cell. In each case, natural selection culls the least successful ones. The survivors pass on their structure to the "next generation", by altering the folds of normal prion proteins.