News Round-Up: Sausage, Soil, Skeeters, Camping, China, Chimps And Other Hazards

This has been my week: Oh, wow: I should write about that. No, wait — that. Damn, new news; I’ll blog this paper instead. Except, hold on — this one is great too…

So to solve my indecision before the week ends, here you go: Most of this week’s most interesting news, in round-up form.

West Nile virus outbreak largest on record: Every state except Alaska and Hawaii has reported West Nile virus cases so far this summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: There were 1,590 known cases as of Wednesday, making this the largest outbreak since West Nile was identified in the United States in the summer of 1999. That number is probably an under-count, the agency cautioned, because most people with mild disease, known as West Nile fever, never get diagnosed or identified by health authorities. There have been 889 cases of the more serious form, known as neuro-invasive disease, which can be meningitis or encephalitis or produce paralysis; only about one-third of neuro-invasive patients make a substantial recovery. The CDC expects more cases will be reported well into the fall.

Identical resistance genes in soil bacteria and pathogens: Gene cassettes conferring resistance to five major classes of antibiotics are moving back and forth between soil bacteria and human pathogens, according to systems biologists from St. Louis and Denmark who described their work in Science. They were not able to say whether the traffic is from soil to human or vice versa — or both — but raise the possibility that manure from livestock treated with antibiotics may be one link.

Legal antibiotic residues in meat create a food-safety risk: Writing in mBio, researchers from Ireland and Denmark say that traces of antibiotics in meat — leftovers from farm antibiotics used to prevent or treat animal diseases, present in  levels low enough to be permitted under law — are creating an unexpected food-safety hazard. It’s a several-step finding: Makers of aged meat products such as salami and pepperoni inoculate the meat mixture with Lactobacilli, which acidify the mixture and thus create an environment that is not friendly to the growth of disease-causing organisms. But, the researchers found, antibiotic residues kill the friendly bacteria; without their beneficial action, the meat mixture’s pH remains at a level that encourages the growth of disease organisms instead. The antibiotic residues do not affect the disease-causing bacteria; the lactobacilli appear to be more sensitive.

Extensively resistant tuberculosis is widespread: An eight-country study published in The Lancet finds that 6.7 percent of 1,278 TB patients had XDR-TB, the form that is resistant to not only the first-choice drugs but to at least two of the four or five “second-line” drugs, which take longer to effect a cure and are much more difficult for patients to tolerate. That 6.7 percent is an average across the study: The worst incidence was in South Korea (15.2 percent of patients) and Russia (11.3 percent). For a discussion of why the rise of XDR-TB is so alarming, this 2010 Lancet paper is worth a read as well.

Chimps carrying MRSA: Chimps that are sheltered in sanctuaries in Uganda with the intention of being released back into the wild are acquiring MRSA, drug-resistant staph, probably from their human caretakers — and thus pose a risk of bringing the organism into primate populations where infection is likely and surveillance and treatment would be impossible. The report, from German and Ugandan researchers as well as two from Emory University in Atlanta, was published advance-access in the American Journal of Primatology.

1,700 California campers at risk for hantavirus: Two people have died and four others are ill with hantavirus, the rare infection transmitted by the urine and feces of white-footed mice, which they may have picked up in a tent campground in Yosemite National Park. The National Park Service has closed the campsite, called Curry Village, and warned 1,700 other visitors that they may have been exposed. Maggie Fox, at (formerly MSNBC), has been covering this (and I talked about the outbreak with A Martinez on KPCC-FM, Southern California Public Radio).

Chinese counterfeiting: An investigation by Reuters finds that — despite promises to clean up its industry — China is responsible for a flood of substandard and counterfeit drugs flowing into the world pharmaceutical market. Of particular importance: The issue is not just already-compounded capsules and tablets, but rather the “active pharmaceutical ingredients,” APIs, which go to make up compounded drugs, sell in vast quantities and are much harder to trace.



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