Health News Blog


First MERS Case Reported in Mecca as Cases Spike in Saudi Arabia

The first MERS-CoV cases have been reported in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Cases of the mysterious disease have spiked in recent weeks. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus. The SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 was also caused by a coronavirus.

Reuters reports that 11 new cases were discovered yesterday. This brings the total number of cases to 272 with 81 deaths. At least 60 cases have been reported in the past ten days or so. The Mecca case is a 24-year-old man who is stable condition. Reuters says the new cases in Saudi Arabia are a concern because many Muslims will pilgrimage to Mecca in July. A spreading incurable coronavirus is concerning even without an event involving a mass gathering of people.

A recent CNN story quotes a Saudi health official who downplays the spike in cases by saying there was a similar spike in cases near the end of winter last year. However, it appears the spike this year is more significant. There are reports of the virus spreading in hospital workers.

A Time story also says there are major concerns over how Saudi officials are handling the MERS outbreak. Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, tells Time that Saudi Arabia is not even reporting the sex in of the patient in some of the cases. Mackay also provides a chart here that shows the time it takes for there to be 100 new MERS cases is getting shorter.

Antibodies against the MERS coronavirus have been found in camels. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking coranivirus infections, including MERS, here on its website.

Posted on April 23, 2014




French Lab Loses Over 2,300 SARS Vials

Institut Pasteur in Paris has lost over 2,300 vials of the SARS virus. The deadly SARS coronavirus killed nearly 800 people in Southeast Asia and Canada during in outbreak in 2002 and 2003. The virus killed about 10% of those it infected. The latest cases, reported in May, 2004, resulted from a research lab exposure. The Local reports that 2,349 vials in 29 boxes are missing. The vials were discovered missing during an inventory.

The Institute says the vials are have "no infectious potential" and carry a "nil risk." The Institute says the vials could have been accidentally destroyed, but they cannot confirm this because no record was made.

A statement from the French lab can be found here.

Update: France24.com reports that the refrigerator holding the vials malfunctioned and defrosted in 2012, which the Institute says would have killed the virus. The Institute has asked the authorities to investigate the disappearance of its vials even though it believes human error is most likely reason for the loss of the vials of deadly disease.

Posted on April 17, 2014

Researchers Warn Chikungunya Virus Will Invade Americas

French and Brazilian researchers are warning that the Chikungunya virus will invade the Americas. The researchers say the risk of a major epidemic of the virus carried by mosquitoes is boosted by the upcoming FIFA World Cup, which will be held in brazil next month. Chikungunya can cause severe joint pain, which can sometimes lead to permanent disability. People stricken with the disease are sometimes noted for their "bent down" or contorted appearance. This is also what the name Chikungunya means in the Tanzanian Makonda language.

Ricardo Lourenco-de-Oliveira of the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and his collaborators compared the ability of 35 populations of the two Aedes mosquito species to transmit three different genotypes of chikungunya. These populations ranged all over the Americas from Buenos Aires to Tyson, Missouri. The researchers say that even in temperate Missouri, A. albopictus was found to have a high dissemination and transmission ability for two of the three chikungunya genotypes.

Lourenco-de-Oliveira says in a statement, "The danger of chikungunya virus spreading all over the tropical, subtropical, and even temperate regions of the Americas is a risk greater than ever. Our results showed that the [Americas are] very receptive and vulnerable to CHIKV [chikungunya virus] transmission, and extremely exposed to the occurrence of an immediate chikungunya epidemic, since most regions are highly infested with both vectors."

The research paper can be found here in the Journal of Virology.

Posted on April 7, 2014

Ebola Outbreak Confirmed in Guinea

TEM of an ebola virus virion


An Ebola outbreak has been confirmed in Guinea. The deadly virus has killed up to 59 people. There are 59 deaths out of 80 suspected cases. Reuters reports that six of twelve samples have tested positive for Ebola. A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith is pictured above.

Reuters also says WHO (World Health Organization) officials say the virus may have spread to neighboring Sierra Leone. WHO officials told Reuters that similar cases with people suffering from vomiting, fever, diarrhea and bleeding have been reported in Sierra Leone near the border with Guinea. The cases have not yet been confirmed as Ebola.

Aljazeera is reporting that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) already has a team of 24 experts in Guinea and will be adding to it. 33 tons of medicine and isolation and sanitation equipment is also being sent to the region.

Ebola is highly contagious and it has a very high mortality rate. Fortunately, Ebola outbreaks in Africa are usually contained fairly quickly after tight quarantine and sanitation measures are put in place by experts. This is the first reported outbreak of Ebola since 2012. The last outbreak that killed more than 100 people was in Uganda in 2007-2008. A chart listing some of the recent outbreaks can be found here on Wikipedia.

Image: CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith

Posted on March 22, 2014

Researchers Say Handwriting Offers Clues to Early Parkinson's Diagnosis

Researchers from Haifa University say handwriting can offer an early diagnosis of Parkinson's. Prof. Sara Rosenblum, of the University of Haifa’s Department of Occupational Therapy, who initiated the study, says in a release, "Identifying the changes in handwriting could lead to an early diagnosis of the illness and neurological intervention at a critical moment."

Prof. Rosenblum also says patients tend to feel a change in cognitive abilities before they notice any change in their motor abilities, which is why a handwriting test may help diagnose it earlier. The test use a special pen with pressure-sensitive sensors. Computer analysis of the test examines writing form, time required and the pressure the patient exerts on the surface when writing. The researchers say people with Parkinson's write with smaller letters, exert less pressure on the writing surface and take more time to complete the assignment. They also hold the pen in the air longer between writing letters.

Prof. Rosenblum says, "This finding is particularly important because while the patient holds the pen in the air, his mind is planning his next action in the writing process, and the need for more time reflects the subject's reduced cognitive ability. Changes in handwriting can occur years before a clinical diagnosis and therefore can be an early signal of the approaching disease."

Reuters reports that the scientists say the can detect the disease simply by having someone write their own name. There is no cure for Parkinson's but early diagnosis may help patients control symptoms before they worsen. Take a look:



Posted on February 27, 2014

Five California Children With Mysterious Polio-Like Illness

Researchers have identified a cluster of a polio-like illness in five California children. The researchers say the syndrome is very, very rare. The five children experienced paralysis of one or more arms or legs. The paralysis came on suddenly and reached the height of its severity within two days of onset. Three of the children had a respiratory illness before the paralysis symptoms began. All five children had been previously vaccinated against poliovirus.

Keith Van Haren, MD, a case report author Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., says in the announcement, "Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome. "In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California."

The researchers say the children still had poor limb function after six months despite treatment. Two of the children tested positive for enterovirus-68, which can cause polio-like symptoms. No cause for the paralysis was determined in the other three children. CNN reports that only 47 cases of enterovirus 68 in the U.S. since 2000.

The case report will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Posted on February 24, 2014

Rancho Feeding Corporation Recalls Over 8 Million Pounds of Unwholesome Meat Products

The USDA released a scary sounding press release about 8.7 pound of recalled meat. The USDA says the unwholesome meat product was recalled because Rancho Feeding processed "diseased and unsound animals" without the benefit or full benefit of a federal inspections.

There are many types of meats listed in the release, including 30-lb boxes of beef lips and 50-lb boxes of beef feet. The unwholesome meat was sent to distribution centers and retail outlets in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Fortunately, no reports of illness have been reported linked to consumption of these meats.

ABC 7 in San Francisco says the company has been under scrutiny lately by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Posted on February 11, 2014


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