Archive for August 20th, 2013

Tick by tick: Studying Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus carried by ticks

20 August, 2013

See on Scoop.itVirology News

When University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers set out to study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, they faced a daunting challenge.

The deadly virus requires biosafety level 4 containment, and it’s carried by ticks. That meant that if scientists wanted to study the transmission of the virus, they had to do something that had never been done before: find a way to work safely with the tiny, tough bugs in a maximum containment “spacesuit lab.”

“It was completely new territory for us,” said UTMB assistant professor Dennis Bente, senior author of a paper describing the BSL4 tick work in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. “Ticks are very small, and in the BSL4 you have two pairs of gloves on, you have this bulky suit, you have the plastic visor — all these things are a huge handicap. So how do you make sure you contain them?”

The answer: step by painstaking step.

Among other things, the new system will enable the researchers to study the virus’ transmission by a variety of tick species. On the list are North American ticks, to investigate the possibility that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, like West Nile virus, could be introduced into the United States.

Ed Rybicki‘s insight:

Interesting: because the virus is endemic here in South Africa, just a couple of hundred km away from urban Cape Town.  More colloquially known as "Congo Fever" here, we even have isolation wards ready at local hospitals to cope with the rare human infections: rare, because the ticks (bont-legged, or Hyalomma spp.) have only a short window in their life cycle where they like animals our size.  When they are smaller, they go for small animals, and when adult, they go for large ones – like ostriches, cattle, kudu, etc.  In which they do NOT, incidentally, cause disease – so infections are often seen in abattoir workers, from handling viraemic but symptomless carcasses.

I do like the last sentence above: "keeping the US safe from Congo fever!" More important but umentioned, is that the virus is ALSO endemic where the US military likes to go and adventrue: places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia….

Our lab is, incidentally, working on a plant-made vaccine for CCHFV.  We don’t have to wear space suits B-)

See on www.sciencedaily.com

Gardasil researcher is NOT against the HPV vaccine–another myth debunked

20 August, 2013

See on Scoop.itVirology and Bioinformatics from Virology.ca

Because vaccine deniers lack any scientific evidence supporting their unfounded belief system about immunizations, they tend to rely upon unscientific information like anecdotes, misinterpretation of data, or ignorant Italian provincial courts to make their case. It’s rather easy to debunk these claims, but because of the nature of the internet, old news is recycled as “brand new,” requiring a whole new round of blog posts to discredit the misinformation. It’s impossible to recall one single instance where a vaccine refuser made a statement about vaccines that was not, in fact, rather quickly debunked. Not one.

 

Cervical cancer / HPV graphic courtesy of Russell Kightely Media

 

Ed Rybicki‘s insight:

Great article: pity about the originally misleading title, though, which I have fixed for this blog.

See on www.skepticalraptor.com

Damned if you don’t

20 August, 2013

See on Scoop.itVirology and Bioinformatics from Virology.ca

TWO years ago a pair of scientists sparked fears of a devastating virus. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre, in Rotterdam, separately found ways to make a strain of bird flu called H5N1 more contagious. Critics fretted that terrorists might use this knowledge to cook up a biological weapon. American officials ordered that the papers be redacted. Further research was put on hold. But after much debate, the papers were published in full last year. And now, in a letter to Nature and Science published this week, Dr Kawaoka and Dr Fouchier propose that similar studies of H7N9, another strain of influenza now circulating in China, should be carried out.

….

American health officials… explained how they would review studies that tried to enhance the transmissibility of H7N9. The process is similar to that for H5N1. It is unclear exactly how long such a review would take, however, and viruses may adapt more quickly than bureaucrats and academics.

Ed Rybicki‘s insight:

A really good piece from The Economist – as one should expect, I suppose!

I DO like that last paragraph – because it encapsulates everything I think about the nonsense that surrounds discussions of this kind of work.  Really, the viruses are out there doing what it is that viruses do, and influenza viruses in particular do really well: adapting and changing, by exploring sequence and recombination and reassortment space in order to maximise their own transmission and survival.

And if that survival involves adapting to human-to-human transmission, then so be it: the virus doesn’t care.  And we really, really need to be able to determine how close wild viruses are to doing just that, because the alternative could be The Big One.

Like 1918, but worse.

See on www.economist.com