Zika Alert

The CDC has gone to its highest alert level due to concerns about the Zika virus.

From US News & World Report, February 8, 2016:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the agency’s command center is going to its highest level of alert, a measure reflecting growing concern about the prospect of Zika virus gaining a foothold in the mainland U.S

[snip]

This represents the fourth time that CDC’s command center has declared a Level 1 alert. The other emergencies were Hurricane Katrina, the H1N1 flu threat in 2009 and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

[snip]

So far, 50 cases been identified in the U.S., with several in Texas, Illinois, California and Washington, D.C. Five days ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in four counties, where health officials have diagnosed nine cases of Zika virus in travelers returning from Zika-affected areas.

[snip]

“Once Zika got a foothold in Brazil, it spread like wildfire through Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America. Now it’s on our doorstep,” Vasilakis says. “There’s a lot of traffic between the U.S. and many countries in Latin America. If an infected individual ends up on our shores, it’s quite possible they could infect local mosquitoes and start a transmission cycle in the U.S., especially the southern U.S.”

“We already had three dozen infected individuals in the U.S. Starting in late March and April, when the weather becomes hotter and more rainy, the mosquito population will greatly increase in the Gulf states, increasing the risk,” he says.

[snip]

Since it was first identified in Brazil last May, the virus has spread to more than 25 countries and territories in the Americas and Caribbean. It has been linked with a neurological ailment, called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and at least 4,000 cases of a devastating birth defect, microcephaly. Babies born with microcephaly have malformed craniums and smaller brains, which often leads to lifelong cognitive impairment and disability.

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Ebola has mutated. Asymptomatic carriers.

From the BBC, January 29, 2015

Scientists tracking the Ebola outbreak in Guinea say the virus has mutated.

Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France, which first identified the outbreak last March, are investigating whether it could have become more contagious.

[snip]

“We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases,” said Anavaj Sakuntabhai.

“These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of.”

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H7N9 Flies from China to Canada – On a Plane

From SCMP, January 27, 2015

North America’s first case of bird flu in humans has been identified in a Vancouver-area woman who returned to the city on a flight from Hong Kong this month.

Canadian health authorities said the patient, who tested positive to the H7N9 strain of avian flu on Monday morning, is not gravely ill.

[snip]

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the patient and her husband, both aged in their 50s, had travelled together and both were now sick at home. Tests have not yet confirmed the man’s suspected H7N9 infection.

The newspaper quoted Bonnie Henry, BC’s deputy provincial health officer, as saying the couple “did some touring of areas and villages in China where poultry are seen throughout the village, but there was not a particularly high-risk exposure that we were able to identify.

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H5N1 in the US

From NBC News, January 22, 2015:

A green-winged teal shot by a hunter in northern Washington state has tested positive for H5N1 bird flu — a relative of the virus that’s infected nearly 700 people globally and killed 400 of them.

[snip]

To make matters more complicated, this strain of H5N1 found in the teal appears to be a mix of H5N1 and the H5N8 found in Washington state and elsewhere in the U.S. as well as in Europe, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

The pandemic potential of this version of H5N1 is unknown.

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Ebola Myths vs Facts (with references!)

Myth: New Ebola has not shown any significant mutations.

Fact: New Ebola is accumulating mutations at twice the rate of previous outbreaks. Further, sequence analysis shows that it appears to be under “incomplete purifying selection” (Gire et al. 2014). This suggests that the New Ebola is in the process of adapting to the human host.

Myth: New Ebola is not very contagious. It is hard to get.

Fact: Ebola is now transmitting to people at the same rate as the flu. R0 for seasonal influenza is about 1.3 (Cobum et al 2009). R0 for Ebola is currently calculated to be 1.4 to 1.8 (WHO Ebola response team, 2014).

Myth: The new Ebola hasn’t become more transmissible.

Fact: One of the top experts on Ebola, Dr. Peter Jahrling, has reported: ‘We are using tests now that weren’t using in the past, but there seems to be a belief that the virus load is higher in these patients [today] than what we have seen before. If true, that’s a very different bug.

‘I have a field team in Monrovia. They are running [tests]. They are telling me that viral loads are coming up very quickly and really high, higher than they are used to seeing.

‘It may be that the virus burns hotter and quicker.’ Daily Mail, October 18, 2014.

Myth: Quarantines don’t work.

Fact: Quarantines work very well if they are strictly enforced (McLeod et al. 2007).

References

Coburn BJ, Wagner BG, Blower S. Modeling influenza epidemics and pandemics: insights into the future of swine flu (H1N1). (2009) BMC Med. 7:30.

Gire SK et al (2014) Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak. Science 345: 1369-1372.

McLeod MA, Baker M, Wilson N, Kelly H, Kiedrzynski T, Kool JL (2008) Protective effect of maritime quarantine in South Pacific jurisdictions, 1918-19 influenza pandemic.Emerg Infect Dis. 14:468-70

WHO Ebola Response Team (2014) Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa — The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections. N Engl J Med 371:1481-1495.

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Expellamis Ebolis Scientia! The use of the word “Science” as an incantation to silence different opinions

In Harry Potter world, people with recessive mutations in the Magic gene can point a stick, enunciate some pseudo-Latin and make cool stuff happen.

In Science world, one must observe reality closely, formulate reasonable hypotheses and then test them with carefully designed experiments. A scientist must then make his results and conclusions public so that they can be scrutinized by other scientists. Quite a chore compared to Harry Potter world. But that’s the way it is.

Lately, I’ve noticed that politicians have been using the word science as a sort of magical incantation with which to silence those who disagree with them. They provide no data or even simple logic. They just say “the Science shows”. This is a perversion of the scientific method. And it is time for real scientists to call bullshit on this tactic.

More to come.

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Open thread

For those unable to participate on PFI Forum as commentors, I offer this thread. If I am unable to comment on PFI Forum, for whatever reason, I will attempt to post on this thread.

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