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Archive for the ‘Ebola’ Category

Scientists ‘can’t explain’ Black Death plague outbreak

Monday, October 30th, 2017

An image of the Ebola virus under a microscope.

PLAGUE warnings were being issued for nine countries in south-east Africa this week, as authorities rushed to contain an outbreak of Black Death.

It’s the same virus that led to one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, killing an estimated 25 million people in Medieval Europe.

The recent outbreak is believed to have started in Madagascar, an island nation off the African coast, and at least 1300 people have been infected.

It’s a serious bacterial infection transmitted by fleas, and can be easily treated with antibiotics, but so far 124 have been reported dead.

“Plague, though terrifying, is nothing new in Madagascar, where about 600 cases are reported annually,” the World Health Organisation said on its website.

However, WHO officials warned there is “something different” about this outbreak, and “health officials couldn’t explain it”.

“Plague is a disease of poverty, because it thrives in places with poor sanitary conditions and health services,” said Dr Arthur Rakotonjanabelo.

However, he said the plague had spread to new parts of the country, which hadn’t seen the plague since at least 1950.

SO WHEN WILL THE NEXT OUTBREAK BE?

Scientists have known about it since 1976, but it took the world by surprise three years ago.

Global health authorities are constantly trying to predict the next outbreak – bacterial or viral – so it can be stopped before it becomes an epidemic or pandemic.

The Global Virome Project, which was proposed in 2016 and is just beginning to take shape, is one ambitious initiative which aims to find all viruses in birds and mammals that could spill over to humans in the next decade.

Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development has spent the past eight years cataloguing threats, identifying 1000 new viruses.

However, experts estimate 99.9 per cent of viruses are still unknown.

A new Australian study, published this week by Jemma Geoghegan from Macquarie University and Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney, argued it’s impossible to predict a global outbreak because there are too many variables.

They said efforts will fail because the enormous number of unknown viruses could evolve and appear in humans at any time.

“The [Global Virome Project] will be great for understanding more about viruses and their evolution, but I don’t see how it’ll help us work out what’s going to infect us,” Dr Geoghegan told The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong.

“We’re only just coming to terms with the vastness of the virosphere.”

Once a virus achieves human-to-human transmission, it’s really just a matter of luck as to how severe and contagious it is, and whether or not it can be treated quickly.

EVOLUTION CAN BE GREAT, AND TERRIBLE

Scientists are always trying to identify the next threat before it reaches epidemic or pandemic proportions

Both humans and diseases are constantly changing, so it’s a bit like trying to hit a moving target from a moving car.

“We’re trying to predict really, really rare events from not much information, which I think is going to fail,” Dr Geoghegan said – and history agrees.

For example, scientists discovered the Zika virus in Uganda way back in 1947, and yet there was an outbreak on the other side of the world, in Brazil, two years ago.

The disease is spread by mosquitoes, and can cause severe birth defects in babies if the mother is bitten while pregnant.

Similarly, the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 in South Sudan, but it claimed a reported 11,315 lives in west Africa three years ago.

It is highly infectious and spreads through transmission of bodily fluids, causing a gruesome death as the whole body haemorrhages.

Still other diseases emerge totally out of the blue.

One example is the SARS virus – a severe form of pneumonia – which broke out in China after a researcher accidentally caught it in a lab in 2002.

Another is HIV, a sexually transmitted virus which attacks the body’s immune system, which has claimed an estimated 35 million lives in the past 40 years.

Probably the most famous of all is the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people – or five per cent of the world’s population – in 1918.

The other variable is changes to possible treatments – which vary widely depending if the outbreak is bacterial or viral.

Vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to treat viruses, because they require living hosts to multiply and can only really be fought off by the body’s own immune system, but they are a prevention and not a cure.

Bacteria, on the other hand, can be effectively treated with antibiotics – however, health experts warn an “antibiotic apocalypse” is fast approaching, as overuse of drugs like Penicillin lead to a significant increase in drug-resistant infections.

DOES SCIENCE HAVE A WAY FORWARD?

Dr Geoghegan thinks the best way forward is to focus just on the “fault lines”.

The Atlantic reports that means regions where people are more likely to be exposed to animal viruses because they are chopping down forests, setting up dense animal markets, hunting wild creatures for meat, or moving around a lot because of political instability.

However, others argue global scientific efforts shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

Professor Jonna Mazet, global director for PREDICT, a European Union organisation that aims to prepare for the “domino effect” in crisis situations, told Ed Yong it’s too early to know how things will pan out.

She said if the same complaints had been made about meteorology a century ago, “we wouldn’t have created the data that lets us forecast the weather, which we can do pretty well now”.

Henry Sapiecha

Bats may be part of Ebola solution as well as source of outbreak: Scientist

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Fruit bats for sale at a food market in Brazzavile, Republic of Congo, December 15, 2005. image www.newcures.info

Fruit bats for sale at a food market in Brazzavile, Republic of Congo, December 15, 2005

A CSIRO research scientist says bats’ immune systems could hold the key to fighting viruses like Ebola.

Bats are suspected of being the natural host for the Ebola virus.

Dr Michelle Baker says the animals are capable of carrying large loads of the virus without suffering so much as a fever.

“If you’re a virus and your primary goal in life is to reproduce and survive, you don’t necessarily want to kill your host really quickly, so bats and viruses have achieved a nice equilibrium,” she said.

Bats live with Ebola by having certain components of their immune system constantly switched on so they are prepared before the virus enters their system.

“What we need to do now is learn how bats tolerate high levels of activation of the immune system, constantly, without any detrimental effects,” Dr Baker said.

In contrast, the immune system of humans is only activated after contact with the virus.

Initially the virus shuts down the early response which then leads to a deadly overreaction.

“By the time our immune system is activated, the virus is already out of control,” Dr Baker said.

“At this point, our immune system produces a huge pro-inflammatory response.

“The immune system’s primary role is to destroy the virus but in the case of an infection such as Ebola, when the immune system is activated to a very high level, it’s actually more damaging to the host than it is beneficial.

“A lot of the internal and external bleeding we see is actually a consequence of the immune system over-responding to the infection.”

The way bats respond to viruses could provide a clue to successfully treating deadly infections like Ebola, but translating bat immunity into humans is also problematic because over-activation of the immune system can be so damaging.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go until we come up with a therapeutic we can translate from what we’re learning from bats into humans.”

Eating, butchering fruit bats causing Ebola transmission to humans

African fruit bats first pass the virus to primates and then to humans.

Dr Baker said transmission usually occurred through meat derived from a wild animal.

“A lot of the small villages in West Africa rely on bush meat as a primary form of protein in their diet,” she said.

“So the primary risk factor is butchering and handling of the raw meat.

“We know that primates get very sick from Ebola virus so they may be acting as a secondary reservoir for Ebola.”

CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship director Dr Kurt Zuelke said the Ebola outbreaks and others like it, such as Hendra, Avian Influenza and SARS were the result of increased interaction between humans and wildlife.

“We see animals and people living in closer proximity as urban areas move into more rural areas,” he said.

“Three quarters of the new diseases in people are coming from animals as we see increased mobility of people.

Henry Sapiecha

EBOLA EIGHT MEDICAL AID WORKERS BRUTALLY SLAUGHTERED BY WEST AFRICAN VILLAGERS WITH THEIR THROATS CUT

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Seven months, thousands of dead and a global crisis later, the murders occurred where it all began — in the remote forests of southeast Guinea, where superstition overwhelms education and whispers of Ebola stoke fear and sometimes violence.

The team of journalists and health workers arrived this week at the distant village of Womey to spread awareness of Ebola, the Guardian reported, where mention of lethal disease are met with denials and suspicion. Despite that, the initial meeting with villagers was promising.

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“The meeting started off well,” one resident who was present at the talks told the Guardian. “The traditional chiefs welcomed the delegation with 10 kola nuts as a traditional greeting. It was afterwards that some youths came out and started stoning them. They dragged some of them away, and damaged their vehicles.”

Initially, Guinea officials claimed the aid workers and journalists had been taken captive and that distrustful residents had torn down bridges, prohibiting entry into the village. And then on Thursday night the news arrived. “The eight bodies were found in the village latrine,” government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters. “Three of them had their throats slit.” He added in a separate interview: They were “killed in cold blood by the villagers.”

It was the most horrific act of Ebola-related violence to date in any of the affected countries. But it was far from the first display of local aggression. As the numbers of dead has surged, so has the violence: from an attack on a Guinea medical center in early April through the brandishing of knives in July to this week’s murders. The dangers under which health workers try to function appear to be heightening, as frightened locals continue to blame doctors for perpetuating the virus. And as Ebola spreads — 700 more cases were announced this week and the number of dead doubled this month — so may the acts of violence.

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“We don’t want them in there at all,” Marcel Dambadounou, a Guinea village chief told the New York Times in July, referring to doctors and aid workers battling Ebola. “We don’t accept their presence at all. They are the transporters of the virus in these communities.” He added: “We are absolutely afraid, and that’s why we are avoiding contact with everybody — the whole world.”

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The increase in violence marks a new dark chapter in the fight against Ebola, which has now killed at least 2,622 people, infected at least 5,335 people and pushed three West African nations into a state of emergency. Also troubling is the impact on aid workers of threats, harassment and violence. Some doctors and nurses, reported Inter Press Service, have stopped wearing their uniforms because they’re scared they will provoke attacks on the street.

“Health staff actually get [stones thrown at them] and it can become very violent,” Fabio Friscia, a United Nations coordinator for the Ebola awareness campaign, told GlobalPost. “…It is absolutely something we could expect. The population is being attacked by an absolutely new disease no one [in Western Africa] has ever seen before.”

During other outbreaks as well, some locals, driven by a combination of fright and superstition, attacked health workers. In a 2003 Ebola flare-up in Congo, volunteers with the Red Cross were chased by locals wielding clubs and knives, according to the Toronto Star. “You come roaring in with a team dressed in white suits and masks … you’ll have problems,” Ronald St. John, an infectious disease expert who has worked with the World Health Organization, told writer Scott Johnson.

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Some say they have more confidence in tribal doctors, who prescribe remedies that do little to combat the pandemic. “This is very unusual, that we are not trusted,” Marc Poncin, emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, told the New York Times earlier in the summer. “We’re not stopping the epidemic.”

So in some villages such in Kolo Bengou, Guinea, youths equipped with slingshots and machetes guard local roads against aid workers, the Times reported. “We don’t want any visitors,” their leader said. “We don’t want any contact with anyone,” referring to Doctors Without Borders. “Wherever those people have passed, the communities have been hit by illness.”

EBOLA CURE CENTRE

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The 10 Ebola treatment centers in West Africa are based on a design of three wards, which help separate patients suspected of having the disease from those with a confirmed diagnosis. Because there are not nearly enough such treatment centers, Liberia and the World Health Organization plan to set up much scaled-down versions, called community care centers, which will provide only rudimentary care. The community care centers would separate suspected and confirmed cases.

EbolaClinic structure image www.newcures.info

1…TriagePatients with symptoms suggesting an Ebola infection are examined in a tent by medical workers wearing protective clothing.

2…Low-probability ward Patients who might not have Ebola wait here for hours or days until tests reveal whether they have the virus.

3…High-probability wardIf the medical staff suspects that someone has Ebola, the person is cared for in this tent until test results are in.

4…Ebola wardConfirmed cases are treated here. Because no cure exists, the medical staff can provide only supportive care, which increases the chance of survival

5…Morgue In some areas, as many as 75 percent of Ebola patients die. Bodies are stored temporar-ily in a morgue until medical workers can bury them

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A…Dressing roomMedical staff entering the clinic put on protective equipment: dressing gown, apron, respirator, surgical cap, goggles, boots and two pairs of gloves. Clinic employ–ees work in twos, checking each other’s suits for tears or openings.

B…Undressing roomWorkers must undress very slowly and carefully to prevent infection, washing hands after removing each item of protective clothing. Some equipment can be reused after disinfection; other items are incinerated.

C…Patient exitRecovered patients take an antiseptic shower, put on clean clothes and step through decontamination basins before leaving the clinic. No longer infec–tious, they carry antibodies against the virus for as many as 10 years

D…Direct entryPatients with clear signs of an Ebola infection are taken straight to the Ebola ward, without going through triage.

E…Cemetery and incinerator Bodies are buried nearby but off site. Medical waste is burned a short distance away from the treatment center.

Henry Sapiecha

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