Entries in Virus (20)


SARS-Like Virus Continues to Spread Through Middle East

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- A new virus spreading through the Middle East has claimed three more lives, according to Saudi health officials, bringing the death toll to 30.

At least 50 people have been sickened by the virus, newly-dubbed MERS-CoV for “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.” The majority of cases have clustered in Saudi Arabia. But infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

A Frenchman, who became ill after traveling to Dubai, died earlier this week roughly one month after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms. His roommate at the hospital also contracted the virus, reaffirming suspicions that MERS-CoV can be passed from person-to-person.

The virus has also spread through a health care facility Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, where at least 22 patients have been sickened and 10 have died. In light of such cases, doctors on Wednesday recommended quarantining patients for at least 12 days.

Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the “SARS-like virus” because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS so far.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


CDC Warns of New Deadly Virus, No US Cases Yet


(ATLANTA) -- Health officials are warning of a new virus that has sickened at least 14 people worldwide, with eight fatalities, though no cases have been reported in the United States yet.

The novel coronavirus virus, known as hCoV-EMC, is associated with severe respiratory illness and renal failure. It was first recognized last September and caused alarm because it is genetically and clinically similar to the SARS virus, which caused hundreds of deaths worldwide.

The Middle East seems to be the nexus of all the coronavirus cases. There have been eight recorded deaths so far; five in Saudi Arabia, two in Jordan, and one in the U.K.

The U.K. case came about after a 60-year-old U.K. man returned home after visiting Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in late January. He went to the hospital, as did an adult household member who was also suffering from the flu. The later man died, perhaps, as the Center for Disease Control suggests, because the flu "might have made him more susceptible to severe respiratory infection."

There have been no instances of the coronavirus in the United States yet, but the CDC is urging doctors with patients who have an unexplained respiratory illness after traveling to the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries to report the cases to the CDC.

Doctors should also report patients with known diseases who don't respond to appropriate treatment. Close contacts of a symptomatic patient should also be evaluated.

The CDC has posted updated guidance for health care providers on its website.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Response to SARS-Like Virus an Improvement over 2003 Outbreak

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Health officials detected a SARS-like virus that started in the Middle East this month. Still, the global response is drastically different from what it was in 2003, when the world learned about the original SARS virus only after it had already taken hold of Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Sunday that two cases of a SARS-like virus have been reported: a 49-year-old Qatari man in critical condition in a U.K. hospital and a 60-year-old Saudi woman who died earlier this year.  They suffered from a 99.5 percent identical coronavirus that caused acute respiratory syndrome and renal failure.  (Coronaviruses include a range of viruses from SARS to the common cold.)

“It took the outbreak in Hong Kong and subsequent spread to bring that to our attention,” Dr. William Schaffner said of the 2003 SARS outbreak.  Schaffner chairs preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University. “The surveillance for viruses that cause disease, particularly respiratory viruses, has improved enormously over the last 10 years worldwide.  What happened here demonstrates that.”

The man with the new SARS-like virus first showed symptoms on Sept. 3 and was admitted to an intensive care unit in Qatar on Sept. 7, according to a WHO statement.  He was transferred to a hospital in the United Kingdom four days later, where the Health Protection Agency conducted lab testing to determine that he had a never-before-seen coronavirus similar to SARS. The U.K. informed WHO of the discovery on Sept. 22, and WHO made the announcement on Sept. 23.

In short, the whole world found out about the new SARS-like virus less than three weeks after its second known victim first presented symptoms.

A decade ago, SARS infected 8,098 people from November 2002 through July 2003, killing 774 of them.  It is believed that the virus began in Chinese horseshoe bats in 2002 before spreading to cats sold at animal markets for food, and spreading from there to humans. New cases tapered off and stopped around 2003, with the exception of eight new cases in China in 2004.

Schaffner said scientific and technological advances in the last 10 years allowed health officials to shift from reaction to anticipation this time around.  Not only are hospitals sending specimens of the viruses to labs earlier, he said, but technicians can do molecular testing that wasn’t easily or cheaply available in 2003.

Ralph Baric, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health who has studied SARS for eight years, said it’s important to realize that this SARS-like virus could actually be very different from the original, however, given that it’s named for the symptoms (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) rather than the virus’s makeup.

“In this case, this has been caught earlier, and that is probably really good news, but again at this point it’s just speculation and guessing,” he said, adding that there have been many new coronaviruses over the last 30 years.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Virus Could Be New Weapon Against Zits

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It might be possible some day to apply a cream that contains a virus that kills acne-causing bacteria to ward off zits, a new study suggests.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal mBio, analyzed the genomes of viruses that attack the skin bacteria linked to acne problems from 11 volunteers.

Using over-the-counter pore cleaning strips, the researchers peeled off samples of phages -- viruses that attack bacteria -- from the noses of pimply and unblemished individuals.

The researchers were astounded to find that these viruses were remarkably similar genetically from patient to patient, said corresponding author Graham Hatfull, professor of biotechnology and biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.  The fact that there was so little difference between these viruses from nose to nose suggests that their bacterial prey -- in this case, the bacteria that lead to acne -- are ill-equipped to defend themselves.

These findings "indicate the possibility of using these phages as a targeted approach to acne treatment," the study authors wrote.

Acne is the most common skin problem across the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology's website.  Acne affects 40 to 50 million Americans at any given time, and can lead to disfigurement and problems with self-esteem.

The increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of the skin bacteria linked to acne highlights the need for new and better acne treatments, the study authors wrote.

Dr. Doris Day, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center and author of 100 Questions and Answers About Acne, explained how the common skin bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes -- P. acnes for short -- helps pimples develop.

"You have a follicle, which is a pore," said Day, who was not involved with the study.  "For [some] reason, the skin cells that line it don't slough off as they're supposed to.  Once the opening gets blocked, then the oil and skin cells behind it start to build up. That's your whitehead."

Day explained that when the opening to the pore is clogged, there is little to no oxygen -- the perfect environment for bacteria like P. acnes to thrive.

"Everything it likes to eat is right there," she said.

The hope, Day said, is that dermatologists will be able to tailor treatments to attack and destroy P. acnes in a way that is currently not possible -- a viral smart bomb, if you will, against acne germs.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rare Virus Kills Camper at Yosemite National Park

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A California man has died after contracting a rare virus in Yosemite National Park, according to officials from the California Department of Public Health.

The man, whose name has not been released, died in late July from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a flu-like disease spread to humans by exposure to rodent droppings and urine.  He had been camping in the California park's Curry Village Campground, where hantavirus has been detected in deer mice.

"Nearly 40 percent of people who develop this syndrome die from it," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser.

Since hantavirus was first identified in 1993, fewer than 600 cases have been reported nationwide.Most people are exposed to the virus in their own homes, according to the National Institutes of Health.  But campers might have a heightened risk because of close contact with forest floors and musty cabins.

"You'd want to keep your campsite clean and food-free to keep mice away," Besser said.  "If you see mouse droppings in your cabin, that's probably not a good place to stay."

Like the flu virus, hantavirus can enter the body through the mouth and nose by breathing or ingesting in tiny particles of rodent feces, urine or saliva, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In rare cases, it has also been transmitted through rodent bites.

Hantavirus cannot pass from person to person through touching, kissing or blood transfusions, according to the CDC.

The man from Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay area is the first person to die from the disease contracted in the park, although two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.

Hantavirus causes flu-like symptoms, starting with fever, body aches and fatigue, Besser said.  But in four to 10 days, "the severe symptoms kick in: shortness of breath and coughing as the lungs fill up with fluid," he said.

People with flu-like symptoms who might have been exposed to rodents or their nests should see their doctor immediately, according to the CDC.

"There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection," the CDC warns on its website.  "However, we do know that if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Common Cold Virus Attacks Cancer, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A virus that causes the common cold can also track and attack tumors, according to a new study that opens the door to novel cancer treatments.

British researchers injected reovirus into the bloodstreams of 10 patients with bowel cancer that had spread to the liver and found the virus set up deadly “reproduction factories” in the tumors but not in healthy tissue.

“It seems that reovirus is even cleverer than we had thought,” study author Dr. Alan Melcher, professor of clinical oncology and biotherapy at Leeds University in the U.K., said in a statement. “By piggybacking on blood cells, the virus is managing to hide from the body’s natural immune response and reach its target intact. This could be hugely significant for the uptake of viral therapies like this in clinical practice.”

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggest cancer-killing viruses can target hard-to-treat tumors after being injected into the bloodstream like standard chemotherapies.

“It would have been a significant barrier to their widespread use if they could only have been injected into the tumor, but the finding that they can hitch a ride on blood cells will potentially make them relevant to a broad range of cancers,” study co-author Dr. Kevin Harrington of the Institute of Cancer Research said in a statement. “We also confirmed that reovirus was specifically targeting cancer cells and leaving normal cells alone, which we hope should mean fewer side effects for patients.”

Other viral cancer therapies, some of which require direct injection into tumors, are currently in phase 3 testing. But this is the first time reovirus has been shown to safely and effectively home in on tumors through the blood.

In an accompanying editorial, John Bell of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada said the study provides an “important proof-of-concept” for intravenous viral cancer therapies.

“The authors and, more importantly, the patients who participated in this trial have made crucial contributions to the translation of [oncolytic virus]-based therapies,” he wrote.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could a Virus Actually Power Your iPhone?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Viruses might eventually be able to power the very phone, computer or tablet you’re reading this article on. And we’re not talking about those digital viruses or infestations — trojans, worms, and whatnot.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have found a way to generate power using human viruses. Yes, those viruses inside your body. With a harmless specially engineered M13 virus, the group has been able to power a small display. The viruses can convert mechanical force into electricity.

“In near future, we believe that we can develop personal electric generators. Basically, all of our daily activity related to mechanical movement (or vibration): walking, jogging, typing, etc.,” Seung-Wuk Lee, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, told ABC News. “For example, by installing our piezoelectric thin films on your shoes, we can convert our walking energy to electric energy. Therefore, with a phone in our pocket connected to our shoes, we can charge our phone.”

So how does it all work? The scientists tapped a finger on an electrode coated with the viruses and the viruses then converted the force of the tap into an electric charge. And that force is critical to the equation.

This is the first time electricity has been conducted by “harnessing the piezoelectric properties of biological material,” Berkeley Lab’s press release states. What that really means is that it is the first time electricity has been made by a combination of force and viruses.

But the scientists are picturing even broader uses. “In the future, because our M13 virus-based piezoelectric material is biocompatible, we can implant the virus-based piezoelectric power generator in our body and capture our heart perspiration as a electric power source of the biomedical devices or biosensors. Therefore, no more charging of your pacemakers, hearing aids, personal health monitoring sensors,” Lee explained.

However, this is still a ways out. According to Lee, the current power generation from the virus-based generator is not enough to power a phone yet.

“We are currently working on enhancing the power output of the virus-based piezoelectric generators,” Lee said. “Through our approaches, we believe that we can achieve power enhancement 100-1000 times and develop the personal power generator in near future.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


After Slow Start, Flu Season Has Arrived

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- After a late start, the flu season ball has begun to roll, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said it has been the slowest start to a flu season in three decades, but the first week of February seemed to change that tune. The percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza rose from 7.6 percent two weeks ago to 10.5 percent last week.

“The increases we are seeing in the number of respiratory samples testing positive for flu should forecast increases in other flu activity indicators in the coming weeks,” Lyn Finelli, chief of domestic surveillance for the CDC’s Influenza Division, said in a statement.

Still, most of the country hasn’t seen the flu’s full effects yet. Flu season can start as early as October and can last until May, and the timing of the season is quite unpredictable, according to the report.

The western states have seen a small increase in flu activity, but the Northeast and Midwest are reporting minimal cases of flu. California is the first state to report widespread influenza this season.

ABC News reached out to several experts on influenza. A few reported seeing more types of viral activity aside from influenza, but it is unclear whether this indicates true prevalence;  it might just be more noticeable because there are fewer flu cases this year.

“We have had several other viruses, [including] rhinovirus, coronavirus and metapneumovirus,” said Dr. Daniel Hinthorn of the infectious disease department at University of Kansas Hospital and Medical Center. “These can have a cold-like illness with some minor fever and aching but not nearly so bad as influenza. So far, there have been few cases of flu and flu-like illness compared to last year.”

Also, mild weather patterns may be a factor in the mild or late start to the season, experts said.

In New York, Dr. Tracy Zivin-Tutela of the infectious disease department at St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital said the hospital had seen a bigger surge in gastrointestinal viruses.

Nevertheless, “I would not count the flu out yet for the season,” said Zivin-Tutela. “It is possible we will see a delay in the surge of flu activity due to the mild winter.  We could start to see a spike in March or even later.”

Still, flu season is far from over, and experts continue to implore people to get flu shots if they haven’t already.  On top of that, hand-washing is key to preventing the flu. If you get the flu, be sure to stay home and away from people while sick.

“It is not too late to get a flu shot, and it’s a good idea to get one every year,” said Elizabeth Casman, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. “Getting vaccinated not only protects you but also protects the people you would have infected if you had not been vaccinated and caught the flu.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bird Flu Strain That Killed Man Won’t Spread, China Officials Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- A Chinese bus driver died after complications from the bird flu virus Saturday, but after genetic analysis, the strain contracted by the man can’t spread from person-to-person, the country’s health officials announced Monday.

According to the country’s official Xinhua News Agency, the 39-year-old man contracted the virus after having close contact with infected poultry.

“Though it is highly pathogenic to human beings, the virus can not spread among people,” the Shenzhen Disease Control Center said in a statement, according to Xinhua. “There is no need for Shenzhen citizens to panic.”

Since 2003, 593 bird flu cases have been confirmed and 336 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

The newest case of bird flu came one week after two dead birds tested positive for H5N1 in Hong Kong, which is close to Shenzhen province.

“I am impressed at how thoroughly the Chinese government has investigated this case and how they’re taking the necessary precautions,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Philip Alcabes, associate professor of urban public health at Hunter College’s School of Health Sciences, said it’s important to remember that the H5N1 flu strain is an animal virus and it rarely makes humans ill.

But in a world of increasingly global relationships, Schaffner said this story should emphasize how important it is that public health surveillance activities “continue to function optimally to get early information on all these sorts of events throughout the world.”

“There is going to be a great tendency to want to cut public health budgets in a tough economy, but this could be perilous,” Schaffner said. “We can’t have appropriate pandemic and bioterrorism preparedness teams in place if we put those teams on the bench. That’s like cutting a town’s fire department in hopes there won’t be a fire.”

Schaffner said the fact that one Chinese man’s death from bird flu gains international media attention is a sign of how global the influenza pandemic can be.

“Influenza is an international infectious disease, so we must be sure to maintain a strong public health presence at home and have very close international ties with our colleagues around the world,” Schaffner said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Zoo Gives Gorillas Flu Shots ... and Bananas for Their Trouble

Hemera/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Eighteen-year-old Okie is like many teenagers: He's filling out, he's a bit on the quiet side, and he has a predilection for sweet treats. And like many his age, a seasonal flu shot is highly recommended.

But as any doctor will find, the similarities end at the other end of the needle. Okie is a gorilla.

"They catch colds from us … we catch colds from them," said Shannon Finn, senior zookeeper of Zoo New England's Franklin Park Zoo. "They get miserable just like we do. They feel bad and tired and hot and not hungry ... They get very miserable when they get sick."

Okie is not the only one who is getting a jab this season. Kambiri is a happy, active one-year-old -- but her young age makes her more vulnerable to viruses like the flu. To protect her, a trainer is giving Kambiri her first flu shot.

In total, eight of Zoo New England's gorillas will be getting a flu shot this year, a precaution that the zoo's assistant curator Jeannine Jackle said is as vital to the gorillas' health as it is to humans.

"They're very similar to us physically, so they can catch every disease that we can get," Jackle said. "With a one-year-old, like a human, we're more cautious. We want to get her vaccinated. Also with our 40-year-old, we worry about her too."

Jackle said a gorilla with the flu bears a striking resemblance to humans who are battling the bug, showing symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. If one gorilla gets the flu from another ape or a human, the virus can spread quickly to its primate companions.

So since 2005, Zoo New England has been vaccinating all of its gorillas against the flu, using vaccines donated by Children's Hospital Boston. Al Patterson, the director of pharmacy department for the hospital, said the vaccines they give to the zoo are identical to the ones a human would get.

"It's absolutely the same. We're using the human vaccine," Patterson said. "And it's not just the flu vaccine. We do a normal immunization series for baby apes and gorillas and primates," including shots for the measles, mumps and rubella.

The immune systems of gorillas and other great apes are actually quite similar to a human's, said Linda Lowenstine, professor of veterinary pathology at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Previous studies have found virus-fighting antibodies for influenza A in gorillas, a form of the flu that humans catch too. But Lowenstine said scientists aren't sure if the primates are more or less susceptible to the flu than humans.

According to Lowenstine, there were some reports of apes dying in zoos during the flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919.

Chasing a gorilla with a syringe of vaccine in hand may seem like a terrifying prospect, but Jackle said the process is pretty simple. Most apes in captivity are trained to present their body parts to trainers when given a special cue. Using this process, trainers can examine a cut, take a temperature, check a heartbeat or even give an ultrasound. This process of gorilla health care is an improvement over how things used to go, Jackle said.

"When I started at the zoo, we used anesthesia to treat a gorilla. We've tried to minimize that," Jackle said. "Now they can do it voluntarily."

To give an injection, a trainer gives a word or hand signal, and the gorilla will put its shoulder up to the mesh barrier. The trainer will show the gorilla the needle, perhaps giving the ape's shoulder a test touch with their finger or a stick. Then, after a quick stick with the needle, the newly vaccinated ape gets an apple or banana as a treat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio